Legislature’s gas tax hike goes down the memory hole

In George Orwell’s 1984, there is a particularly gripping scene where the protagonist, Winston, is being interrogated by O’Brien, a member of the party leadership.

O’Brien shows Winston a photo that proves that three party members who were executed for treason were, in fact, innocent. O’Brien then drops the photo into what is called a “memory hole” and the photo is incinerated.

“Ashes,” O’Brien says. “Not even identifiable ashes. Dust. It does not exist. It never existed.”

The book is meant as a cautionary tale, but one that was apparently lost on Assembly Democrats last week when they decided to paper over one of their more blatant abuses of power and “memory hole” Kevin Kiley’s AB 1638.

You may remember that a couple of weeks ago in this space we talked about AB 1638. It would have suspended the gas tax for six months.

When the bill was heard in the Assembly Transportation Committee, it was an ambush. Alex Lee, D-San Jose, immediately moved to gut the bill and replace it with a new tax on gas suppliers with the proceeds going to a supposed rebate.

There was no debate. There wasn’t even bill language for these new amendments that the committee could review. The chair of the committee, Assemblywoman Laura Friedman, D-Glendale, admitted that she had “not had the opportunity to dive in depth into this.”

But the bill passed out of committee anyway with an 8-4 vote. The gas tax cut had turned into a gas tax hike.

There was a problem though. Kiley, R-Rocklin, didn’t support the bill that now carried his name and no one on the committee would take ownership of it.

Assembly Republican Leader James Gallagher objected to accepting the committee amendments by unanimous consent. That meant if Assembly Democrats wanted to amend the bill into a gas tax hike, they were going to have to vote for it.

Instead, on the last day of the session before the Legislature slipped out of town for Spring Recess, the Democrats simply struck the bill from the file on a party-line vote. That means the Transportation Committee’s amendments were not made — it’s like they never happened.

Again, there was no debate. The bill wasn’t even referred to as AB 1638 on the floor. It was just “Item Number One.” Even though Kiley’s bill remains in print, it’s effectively dead for the year. Down the memory hole it goes.

“But it did exist! It does exist! It exists in memory. I remember it. You remember it,” Winston replies, back in the interrogation room.

“I do not remember it,” says O’Brien.

But we remember it.

We also remember that Assemblymembers Marc Berman, D-Menlo Park; Richard Bloom, D-Santa Monica; Mike Gipson, D-Carson; Ash Kalra, D-San Jose; Adrin Nazarian, D-Sherman Oaks; Chris Ward, D-San Diego; Buffy Wicks, D-Oakland; and Friedman and Lee voted to turn a gas tax cut into a gas tax hike in the Assembly Transportation Committee.

And, for the record, Bloom, Friedman, Gipson, Kalra, Lee and Ward also voted to memory hole the amendments to AB 1638 they had voted for in committee.

We also remember that these procedural schemes to gut and amend tax cuts into tax hikes and then stealthily kill them when the voters catch on, while technically within the rules, are no way to run our state government’s most important deliberative bodies.

While one-party rule has perverted our political institutions, it has not yet completely corrupted our minds like in 1984. Remember that when you head to the ballot box.

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.