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With deadline looming, pausing California's gas tax may fizzle out

A pause on the California gas tax may not happen after all. Lawmakers are facing a Sunday deadline to pass legislation to make that happen, and, so far, the legislature seems unwilling to do that.

If nothing is done, motorists will see the gas tax increase by 3 cents on July 1, under rules set by state Senate Bill 1, the Road Repair and Accountability Act.

In March, during the height of the gas price increases, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced several proposals meant to ease the burden on Californians. Those proposals included a pause on the scheduled gas tax increase.


But there has been pushback from state lawmakers. In a joint statement, Senate President pro Tempore Toni G. Atkins (D-San Diego) and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Lakewood) said pausing the tax would hurt the state's infrastructure.

“As we’ve said before, suspending the gas tax would reduce critical funds available for road repair and improvement projects," they said in the statement. "The Better for Families Rebate that the Legislature has proposed would provide the most meaningful relief to the most California families."

The legislature is working on a deal with the governor's office to give a $200 tax refund to Californians making less than $125,000 or $250,000 for joint filers. Newsom had proposed a $400 rebate for car owners per vehicle, capping off at two vehicles.

Anlleyn Venegas, spokesperson for Automobile Club of Southern California, said any proposals should ensure that funding for transportation and public transit is not affected.

“We want to make sure that they're still funding for road repairs, traffic safety improvements, better transit options — just a safer way of getting around, not just for cars but also for cyclists and also pedestrians,” she said.


AAA said that, though the gas tax increase might hit some drivers' pocketbooks hard, the tax is funding critical infrastructure needs.

"These funds are used to pay for transportation projects and services, including road repairs and improvements, addressing traffic safety problems, as well as building public traffic projects," Venegas said.

At 51 cents per gallon, California’s gas tax is among the highest in the nation. But San Diego State University economics professor Joe Silverman doesn’t think that pausing the tax would do much to lower gas prices. He said oil companies and retailers might pocket most of the savings.

"Who says that they have to pass the entire reduction in the gas tax to the motorist, to the gasoline buyer?" he said. "They might only pass along, I don't know, $0.38 of that or $0.25 or whatever. It really depends on market conditions more than anything else."

He thinks that tax rebates might make more of an impact on lower-income people who may depend more on public transit.