Will Democrats betray working class with gas tax hike?


Eric Eisenhammer

Bay Area Democrats Jim Beall and Jim Frazier recently introduced a gas tax increase proposal that would raise gas taxes 12 cents a gallon and taxes on diesel by 20 cents.

Their justification is that the poor state of California’s roads requires higher gas taxes to pay for repairs. In the past, Republican legislators have been able to block gas tax increases because California’s Constitution requires new statewide taxes to be approved by a two thirds legislative supermajority.

However, Democrats recently won a supermajority, giving them the ability to jam through tax increases with no Republican support if they so choose.

With a gas tax increase under consideration, now is an appropriate time to remind Democrats of their repeated claims to be the party that cares most about helping the poor and working poor. High gas taxes and bureaucratic red tape imposed on fuel producers have already resulted in some of the country’s highest gas prices, as shown by GasBuddy data. According to the nonpartisan Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP), in comparison to other taxes, gas taxes are 16 times harder on the poor than the rich and eight times harder on the middle class.

That’s why supporting higher gas taxes would be tremendously hypocritical for Democrats. California leads the nation in the U.S. Census Bureau’s Supplemental Poverty ranking, which estimates the number of Californians living in poverty at almost 1 in 4. Democrats claim to be so concerned about this state of affairs that they have included “poverty elimination” among the top goals named in their 2016 official platform. Of course, making people choose between food and gas doesn’t show much concern for the poor.

Let’s examine what Democrats say about their commitment to helping the poor:

America’s greatness must not be measured by how many millionaires and billionaires we have, but by how few people we have living in poverty. – Cory Booker, U.S. Senator, New Jersey

Taxing poor families runs counter to decades of effort to help people lift themselves out of poverty through work. – Nicholas Johnson, former Federal Communications Commission commissioner, Iowa

I believe that, as long as there is plenty, poverty is evil. – Robert Kennedy, former U.S. Senator, New York

We have weapons of mass destruction we have to address here at home. Poverty is a weapon of mass destruction. – Dennis Kucinich, former U.S. Representative, Ohio

It is unacceptable that someone can work full time – and work hard – and not be able to lift themselves out of poverty. – Sherrod Brown, U.S. Senator, Ohio

Liberalism, above all, means emancipation – emancipation from one’s fears, his inadequacies, from prejudice, from discrimination, from poverty. – Hubert H. Humphrey, former Vice President

Does it seem to you that raising gas taxes would be the exact opposite of the sentiments expressed above? Do top Democrats actually care more about their wealthy donors than they do about working people? Many Democrats think exactly that. Raising the gas tax would only add to the sense of betrayal among the rank and file. A recent poll by the Pew Research Center found 62 percent of Democrats feel their party does too little to address the concerns of lower-income people.

The 20 cent per gallon proposed diesel tax increase is aimed at the trucking and transportation sector that brings consumer goods people use on a daily basis. But because these costs will be passed down to consumers, the diesel tax represents a hidden tax on all of us regardless of what type of fuel our vehicle uses. Necessities, such as socks, soap, shampoo, toothpaste, and band aids must be brought to the store by truck.

Perhaps the problem is not too little money available for roads but Sacramento’s priorities? Multiple tax increases were just passed this last November (Income taxes, tobacco taxes, bag taxes and multiple bonds around the state). The budget Governor Brown signed last year provided for no spending reductions but did contain billions in new spending for a multitude of projects, including $1.3 billion for new and renovated offices for Sacramento politicians and bureaucrats.

Eric Eisenhammer is the Founder of the Coalition of Energy Users, a nonprofit grassroots organization for access to affordable energy and quality jobs.