“Absolutely disgraceful,” was Assemblyman Kevin Kiley’s response to the attempted ambush of his bill to suspend California’s gas tax while in a committee hearing Monday. His words were stronger when the hijack actually happened.
It was a clear partisan hearing Monday on AB 1638, Assemblyman Kevin Kiley’s bill to suspend California’s .51 cent gas tax. Opposed to the bill were building and trades labor unions, operating engineers, laborers and Democrats. Those supportive of AB 1638 was nearly everyone else.
It was a shocker Monday when Kiley Tweeted that his bill was actually going to get a same-day hearing in the Assembly Transportation Committee. But apparently, he knew something fishy was up.
Wow. The Assembly Transportation Committee has suddenly agreed to hear my bill to suspend the gas tax at 2:30 PM today.
— Kevin Kiley (@KevinKileyCA) March 28, 2022
Kiley opened noting that Maryland and Georgia had just reduced their gas taxes, and the people of those states saw immediate results. He said rebates are a good idea, especially with a substantial state surplus, and should be much larger, returning to overtaxed tax payers more of their own money.
Kiley said suspending the gas tax would be far more effective and provide immediate, targeted relief to drivers. “This should not be a partisan issue,” Kiley said, noting that the Connecticut Legislature and Democrat Gov. Ned Lamont just passed and signed a gas tax suspension bill.
“Californians will be dumbfounded if the Legislature refuses to do this,” Kiley said.
Those individuals, parents, taxpayers, librarians, moms, senior citizens, and working poor, who called in to the hearing expressed their support for suspending the gas tax.
Individuals opposing the bill expressed solidarity with the building trades unions. In opposition, Jeremy Smith with the State Building and Construction Trade Council said, “we are creating another crisis out of a crisis.” Smith claimed AB 1638 would be “setting aside jobs,” despite Kiley specifically addressing this earlier in his opening testimony. Kiley said it was actually written into his bill that any of the gas tax funding set aside for state infrastructure construction improvement projects via Senate Bill 1 would be back filled from the general fund, and from the state’s vast surplus ($45 billion and counting).
Assemblyman Devon Mathis (R-Porterville) testified in person his support for suspension of the gas tax “on behalf of the one-half million people in rural California,” District 26.
Two odd calls with the same message even made it through the Assembly operator: “I’m a young person living in a climate catastrophe – I oppose the bill.”
However, as soon as testimony ended, Assemblyman Alex Lee (D-Palo Alto) proposed a set of amendments that would have fundamentally gutted Kiley’s bill. “We are fracking the hell out of the planet,” Lee said.
When Kiley objected to the vast amendments, committee Chairwoman Laura Friedman (D-Glendale) ordered Kiley’s microphone turned off, and told him he had to wait to hear Assemblyman Lee’s amendments.
Assemblyman Vince Fong (R-Bakersfield) made a motion to move the bill in print – Kiley’s bill as written – but the motion was killed by the committee on a 3-9 vote.
Chairwoman Friedman asked Lee if he had his proposed amendments in print. He did not. Lee was given time to produce the amendments, and the bill was held over until the committee could read the proposed amendments.
“Absolutely disgraceful,” Kiley said. “Absolutely disgraceful,” he directed at the committee.
When the amendments came back, Assemblyman Vince Fong unloaded. “Let’s be clear on what’s happening right now. This bill is being hijacked shockingly to raise taxes even more on energy – on a bill to suspend the gas tax.”
“This bill that was going to provide immediate gas tax relief, and this committee proposes increasing taxes,” Fong said. “Completely asinine. It makes completely no sense. So I am asking for a no vote on this bill, unfortunately.”
“Now this bill has been hijacked. That is completely unacceptable. Everyone should be ashamed with this process,” Fong added.
“I find it amazing that no one wants to hear the voices of Californians,” said Assemblywoman Laura Davies (R-Laguna Niguel). “We have almost $60 Billion in surplus – of your money.”
“Why don ‘t we have a debate on suspending the gas tax,” said Assemblywoman Janet Nguyen (R-Huntington Beach). “Let’s have a vote. Just vote on it. Vote no. This is why Californians hate our state government.”
Nguyen said a gallon of gas costs more than a gallon of milk, forcing hurting families to choose between milk and gas. “Putting more taxes on Californians is the wrong thing to do.”
Committee chairwoman Laura Friedman had a different take: “I guess I’m all shocked you are shocked by this.” She blamed the oil industry for “giant surcharges,” and “windfall profits.”
“Don’t tax that, and hope that it trickles down to the common people,” she said. “We leave it up to those corporations to decide. There is nothing that says they don’t just pocket that money.” She then said Lee’s amendments increasing taxes on energy actually go to addressing those oil industry “windfall profits.”
“Of course we could vote this down, but we are trying to help here,” Friedman said.
But California Democrats don’t want their “no” vote registered killing a bill to suspend the gas tax. And that’s what this is really about. Politics.
Kiley offered Friedman the opportunity to put her name on the newly amended bill if she liked it so much. She stammered and accused Kiley of cross-examining her, and then said she hadn’t had enough time to read the amendments.
“So here’s the difference — we have here two proposals. I’m willing to put my name on my proposal,” Kiley said. “We are willing to own our proposal; you aren’t willing to even put your name on yours.”
“Do you ever wonder why more people are leaving our state today than ever,” Kiley asked. “This used to be the state where anyone can get ahead. Now it’s the state people can’t wait to leave behind. The proceedings here today are a perfect example of that.”
Kiley asked, “If gas prices in California are a result of international events, then why are California’s gas prices higher than every other state?”
“If this bill is going to take funding away from roads, why does the plain text of the bill say it is not?” Kiley asked.
“You all have hazed Alex Lee since his taking office,” Kiley said. “You’re making Alex Lee do your bidding and he won’t even put his name on this bill.”
“What’s happened with this bill, sitting on the desk for over two months… Of course I knew you were going to do this – you brought the Parliamentarian with you today,” Kiley added. “I’m trying to help out a lot of hurting people.”
“We are not going to be deterred by these political games. I urge a ‘no’ vote on the bill my colleague is unwilling to put his name on, and a ‘yes’ on my original bill,” Kiley said.
The Assembly Transportation Committee passed the hijacked amended bill, 8-4, raising taxes on energy production in California.
The .51 cent state gas tax suspension is dead.