The Field Poll reports that for the first time in seven years more California voters believe the state is moving in the right direction (50%) than feel it is on the wrong track (41%). Those living in coastal California are much more likely to have a positive outlook on our state’s future than inland residents. And Democrats are more optimistic than Republicans, so it may be safe to assume that Democrats living in Malibu, Silicon Valley and the Bay Area are much happier than Republicans living in Central Valley and other areas with high unemployment.
Like politicians everywhere, California’s governing class will attempt to claim credit for this reversal of what had been nearly unanimous pessimism. Moreover, they will also claim that this is vindication of progressive policies that have given California one of the most harsh tax and regulatory environments in the nation.
However they explain the voters’ optimism, they are unlikely to bring up the one thing for which they can claim no credit whatsoever; the lower gas prices that existed during the period the poll was conducted, January 26-February 16, just before the cost of a gallon of gas began to vault upward again. With prices in late January down almost 2 bucks per gallon since the high in 2014, many Californians have had reason to smile. It is also interesting to note that the last time more voters than not were positive about their state, gas prices were also down.
Even if there is not an exact correlation, when drivers who fill up their cars two or three times a month see that they are saving money, they are definitely in a better mood.What is ironic is that while the Sacramento political class may want to take credit for voter optimism, they have been working overtime to keep the cost of gasoline high. Between the high gas tax and the additional “carbon tax” imposed on manufacturers that is putting upward pressure on prices, the politicians have proven they are no friend of the millions of average folks who must depend on their cars for transportation. According to State Board of Equalization Member George Runner, even with the price dip, Californians in January were paying as much as 47 cents more per gallon than drivers in other states.
Acknowledging that gas taxes are providing sufficient revenue, the State Board of Equalization last week reduced the state gas tax by 6 cents a gallon beginning this July. The reduction is based on a formula enacted by the Legislature in 2010, a formula that is so complicated that most news reporters don’t understand it. Runner rightfully objects to this confusing system that hides the actual cost of the gas tax by hiding the second carbon tax that is only reflected in the overall price. Currently, Californians pay about 64 cents per gallon in taxes and fees — the second-highest rate in the nation — but we become number one when the hidden tax of about 15 cents is added in.
If the Sacramento politicians really want to see voters smile, they should lay off trying to increase costs for the millions of Californians who depend on their cars to go to work, take their children to school and to do the weekly shopping. Because one thing is certain – the optimism that Californians are feeling now will disappear in a heartbeat if gas prices return to what they were less than a year ago.
Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association — California’s largest grass-roots taxpayer organization dedicated to the protection of Proposition 13 and the advancement of taxpayers’ rights.