Assembly leader: Gas rebates likely ‘before October’

Speaker of the Assembly Anthony Rendon on the dais on May 31, 2022. (Photo by Miguel Gutierrez Jr., CalMatters)

For Californians concerned about sky-high gas prices and a looming increase to the state’s fuel excise tax: Never fear, the Assembly Select Committee on Gasoline Supply and Pricing is here!

What exactly will the committee do? It will “investigate the gas price gouging that has inflated prices at a rate equivalent to 100% per year,” said Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, the Lakewood Democrat who unveiled the group Monday. “The committee aims to answer two basic questions: First, why are we paying so much for gas? And two, how can we stop it?”

When will those questions be answered? It’s unclear, but probably not before the July 1 scheduled increase to California’s gas excise tax, which will tack nearly 3 cents per gallon onto prices at the pump.

  • Assemblymember Jacqui Irwin, the Thousand Oaks Democrat who will lead the committee, said she expects the first meeting will be in “a number of weeks.”
  • But the Legislature is scheduled to begin its month-long summer recess in less than two weeks, on July 1 — incidentally, the same day gas taxes are set to go up.
  • Will the committee meet before then? Joel Price, Irwin’s communications director, told me in an email that “there may be a meeting schedule worked out by the end of this week.”

Republican lawmakers, who have repeatedly sought to suspend California’s gas excise tax, slammed Democrats for seeking to “distract with another dead end investigation,” as GOP Assembly Leader James Gallagher of Yuba City put it. Senate Republicans went a bit further, labeling the move “a CYA” and asking rhetorically, “Remember Newsom’s investigation in 2019?”

  • That year, Gov. Gavin Newsom asked the state Department of Justice to investigate whether oil companies and retailers were engaging in “false advertising or price fixing” and potentially causing Californians to pay a “mystery surcharge” of as much as 30 cents per gallon of gas. Nearly three years later, “the status of the investigation remains unclear,” according to the Los Angeles Times.
  • Asked how the select committee’s investigation would differ from prior investigations, Rendon said, “This is one that will be convened by the Legislature … we will use the full authority of this legislative body to ask these questions of those entities and others.”

So when will Californians see relief? A group of moderate Democrats and one independent implored Newsom, Rendon and Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins in a Friday letter to postpone the gas excise tax for one year, writing, “The cost of doing nothing is unacceptable — Californians will see a state Legislature unconcerned with their pain and out of touch.” On Monday, President Joe Biden said he’s considering a federal gas tax holiday.

But Rendon said that he, Atkins and Newsom still think rebates are the best way to help Californians struggling with high prices — though they haven’t yet reached an agreement on details. But the two sides had a “long, long weekend” of negotiations and “certainly made progress,” Rendon said.

When it comes to the state sending out money to residents, there will “certainly be something before October,” Rendon said.

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