"Higher prices discourage demand."
Those four words uttered by State Senator Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento back in February in support of his proposal to slap a carbon tax on motorists at the pump pretty much sums up the California Legislature's contempt for commuters, farmers, the working man who needs his truck to ply his trade, minimum wage workers, farm workers, as well as the working-class that's struggling from paycheck to paycheck.
Actually we are already paying the tax indirectly. The state currently taxes for emissions on gasoline sold from Valero, Chevron, Shell and other oil companies. That tax is passed on to consumers at the pump. Economists estimate it at an effective tax rate of 12 cents a gallon that is collapsed into the non-tax portion of the retail price paid per gallon.
The morally upstanding state senate leader who waited until three of his political cronies were either convicted or indicted on corruption charges to stop blocking minority party efforts to suspend them believes his buddies at the oil companies that grease political campaigns will reduce the price per gallon accordingly. That will happen about the same time Sacramento politicians emulate Mother Teresa instead of Al Capone.
Steinberg believes if another 15 cents per gallon is slapped on the 41.75 cents you currently pay per gallon in taxes that you will cut back your driving and therefore reduce greenhouse emissions.
Anybody gullible enough to think Steinberg and his buddies filling their vehicles with gas paid by the taxpayers will cut back their driving? Or how about the rich folks that keep lining the campaign pockets of Steinberg & Co? Think another 15 cents a gallon is going to stop them from driving imported Italian sports cars that get 7 miles per gallon?
Steinberg isn't too sure that 15 cents per gallon will be painful enough for you. So his proposal includes jacking the tax up to 24 cents per gallon by 2020.
So where will the $3.6 billion annually that Steinberg wants to siphon out of your pocket go?
First, he wants a third or $1.2 billion to go to subsidy public transit. High speed rail, in case you are wondering, qualifies as public transit.
As for the other two-thirds, he wants it to fund a state earned income tax credit for families making $75,000 or less a year. The obvious question is how does that reduce greenhouse emissions or help clean the air?
But more importantly does Steinberg have any idea of who populates California? The median household income for the state is $61,400. That means more than half of the state's population would qualify for money from a state earned income tax credit that's capped at $75,000 and financed by gasoline taxes. And guess who in California proportionately drives and/or consumes more fuel per mile? There are two primary groups. There are low-income workers who tend to drive older cars that are more often than not gas hogs. The others are those desperately trying to hold onto a middle class lifestyle by commuting longer distances. They do so either to secure somewhat better paying jobs or, if they work in the Bay Area, to find a place where they can actually live on $70,000 a year.
The end result would be the majority of Californians would be paying a tax that would then be redistributed in part back to them.
If Steinberg is worried about the financial health of Californians making less than $75,000 a year shouldn't he simply try his best not to raise taxes?
That, though, goes against the grain of politicians like Steinberg.
It wouldn't allow the state to hire a small army of rank-and-file bureaucrats to essentially monitor the taking of money from struggling taxpayers, skim money off the top for their salaries, and then return pennies on the dollar to them. The state also wouldn't be able to exert even more control over your day-to-day life and your ability to survive independent of government help through dubious transfers of wealth.
Remember the good old days when wealth transfer through the tax code was the equivalent of taking money from the rich and giving it to the poor? Now they want to tax the poor to put them more on the financial edge. Then once a year they'll give part of the money back to them so they can buy bread and milk to feed their families and purchase shoes for their kids. It effectively cultivates the illusion that the government is critical for many families to survive financially.
Perhaps more families would be better off if Steinberg and his buddies stop thinking about more ways to take money out of our collective pockets in a bid not to provide essential government services but to reengineer the market, spending patterns, and personal habits.
This column is the opinion of Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Courier or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.