Hidden gas tax will hit our region harder than others

08/10/2014 12:00 AM

08/08/2014 3:58 PM

Perhaps if you’re just driving your Prius over to the mall for a new sweater, or popping into the bakery for a fresh croissant, you won’t notice the increase in the gas tax that’s coming our way. But if your job’s in the Bay Area, or you have to visit far-flung customers once a week, or you’re hauling tomatoes from fields to processing plants, that increase is going to hurt.

That’s why we believe Assemblyman Henry Perea of Fresno is justified in asking for a three-year delay on the cap-and-trade rule that would require energy companies to purchase greenhouse-gas emission credits for transportation fuels beginning Jan. 1. The costs of those credits will likely cause the price of gasoline and diesel to go up 12 to 17 cents a gallon – and potentially more, depending on demand for credits in state auctions.

Perea says he’s trying to protect the parts of California struggling with double-digit unemployment, low wages and limited public transportation options. That’s us.

“The economics of inland California are very different than those of the rest of the state, especially the wealthy coastal areas,” Perea said.

Like Perea, we all want cleaner air. That was the purpose of Assembly Bill 32, the state’s landmark 2006 legislation seeking to reverse climate change. At the same time, we also support some kind of relief for those who will be hurt by higher gas prices.

Perea’s AB 69 would exempt transportation fuels until 2018. Urban Democrats say Perea’s legislation is simply an effort to protect Big Oil and trucking companies.

Our sister newspaper in Fresno doesn’t believe Perea is shilling for Big Oil. Instead, this is a battle that demonstrates the widening gap between the haves and have-nots. Most people in the Bay Area, for example, can easily handle a bump at the pump. It’s a different story here.

“The cap-and-trade system should not be used to raise billions of dollars in new state funds at the expense of consumers, who are struggling to get back on their feet after the recession,” Perea told the Los Angeles Times. “In some areas of the state, like the Central Valley, constituents need to drive long distances and they will be disproportionately impacted by rising gas prices.”

Assembly Minority Leader-elect Kristin Olsen of Riverbank and Sen. Anthony Cannella, R-Ceres, wrote an op-ed in April saying this “hidden” gas tax could hit 40 cents per gallon. Using research from environmentalists, they pointed out that rural residents drive 46 percent more than urban residents and that low-income families already spend 19 percent of their income on transportation. Unlike on the coast, where median incomes are up to 20 percent higher than in the Valley, we tend to drive older, less fuel-efficient cars.

In early July, 16 Democrats sent a letter urging the Air Resources Board to delay the credit requirements. That was countered by 32 Democrats asking Gov. Jerry Brown to make certain the deadline stays put. Maybe there’s room for compromise. The governor could send part of that money back to low-income drivers in gas rebates. Or maybe the state can buy us all Priuses.

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