Sacramento Democrats kill gas tax relief, transparency

As a participant in capital politics for more than 30 years, I’ve observed many abuses of power. Corruption, pettiness, gross narcissism, and dirty tricks have all increased in recent years both in terms of frequency and shock value. The latest incident, and honestly one of the more disturbing I have seen, occurred in the Assembly Transportation Committee last week.

Californians are reeling at the pump as our gas prices are the highest in the nation. The working poor and middle class are begging the Legislature for relief, which is why Assemblyman Kevin Kiley, R-Rocklin, introduced AB 1638. The bill would simply suspend the gas tax for six months.

Democrats are loath to return money to those who earned it, which is why they planned to ambush Kiley’s proposal. But their plan, much like Putin’s ill-advised invasion of Ukraine, backfired badly.

Although the bill hadn’t appeared on the agenda for the day’s hearing, Kiley was told it would be heard in committee on just a couple of hours’ notice. When he arrived, he noticed an Assembly parliamentarian was in the room, strong evidence that some procedural scheme was being cooked up.

Following the legislative formalities, the first member of the committee to speak on the bill was Alex Lee, D-San Jose. After railing on the oil companies, he immediately moved to strike all the contents of Kiley’s bill and replace it with a new tax on gas suppliers. Revenue from that tax would supposedly be sent out to people in the form of a rebate. So, in a matter of minutes, Kiley’s gas tax cut had somehow turned into a gas tax increase.

This was a gross abuse of power. No one had been supplied with a copy of the new amendments for review. When lawmakers finally received more information, it came not as bill language, but as a single piece of paper with eight bullet points on it. Kiley and the Republican members of the committee were rightfully stunned.

That’s when the chair of the committee herself expressed faux outrage. “I’m a little appalled and shocked that you all are so appalled and shocked by this,” Assemblywoman Laura Friedman, D-Glendale, said. “This is exactly our process. That we debate a problem and what the solution is going to be.”

But there had been no debate. This was all a set-up. Whether you agree or disagree with the merits of Kiley’s bill, what transpired was a total farce of the deliberative process. So much so that no one was willing to take ownership of what had just happened.

Kiley’s name was now on a bill he opposed. He asked for it to be removed. Since the amendments had come out of the Assembly Transportation Committee, he offered the chair the pleasure of putting her name on the bill instead.

“No,” Friedman replied. “I have not had the opportunity to dive in depth into this.”

“The bill you’re about to vote on?” Kiley questioned incredulously.

The bill passed out of committee on an 8-4 vote, with Friedman voting yes. But to no one’s surprise, as of this writing, the bill’s language hasn’t been updated on the Legislature’s website, nor has a vote been recorded. It’s almost as if they are embarrassed about what occurred. And if they aren’t, they should be.

Democrats in the state Legislature have no one to blame but themselves. They control the process. This isn’t a bug; it is now a feature. The chilling of debate in this way is just another example of the toxic effects of one-party rule. These committee hearings have largely become just a formality, as the real decisions are being made in the Democratic caucus chambers and behind closed doors.

This is not what democracy should look like. The concentration of power in one party without any meaningful check has perverted our political institutions in ways that will prove difficult to reverse until voters act. California desperately needs legislative reforms that enhance transparency, and that permit all citizens and their elected representatives to participate meaningfully in the process of solving the state’s problems.w

But I won’t hold my breath.

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.