BY EMILY HOEVEN, CalMatters
California gas prices are the highest in the nation, posing political challenges for Newsom and lawmakers ahead of the 2022 election.
That was the average price of a gallon of regular gas in California on Monday — a record high that shattered the record of $5.29 set just one day before, according to the American Automobile Association.
The double whammy of skyrocketing inflation and the possibility of Western bans on Russian oil due to that country’s war on Ukraine — which became real with President Biden’s announcement Tuesday of a U.S. ban on imports — has led to an unprecedented rate increase: Just last week, California’s average price for a gallon of regular gas was $4.83. A year ago, it was $3.75.
While California continues to post the nation’s highest gas prices, the United States set its own record Monday with an average price of $4.104 per gallon — breaking the previous all-time high of $4.103 set in 2008 just before the Great Recession, according to GasBuddy.
- Patrick De Haan, head of petroleum analysis at GasBuddy: “Americans have never seen gasoline prices this high, nor have we seen the pace of increases so fast and furious. … It’s a dire situation and won’t improve any time soon.”
That’s a foreboding prediction for California, where the price of gas is quickly becoming one of the most politically contentious and urgent topics facing Gov. Gavin Newsom and the Legislature as they seek to guide the state out of the pandemic and gear up for the 2022 elections.
- Republican lawmakers, who are pushing to suspend California’s gas tax, have relentlessly slammed Democrats for the state’s sky-high gas prices and their disproportionate effect on low-income residents.
- Assembly Republican Leader James Gallagher of Yuba City: “This is a crisis of Democrats’ own making — from their war on domestic energy production to the taxes and mandates that add $1.27/gallon to the cost of gas.”
- But many Democrats — who took on the perilous task of increasing the state gas tax in 2017 at the expense of one of their own members being recalled — are loath to suspend or water down the tax, pointing out the money helps fund critical infrastructure and public transit projects.
That puts Newsom in the middle. The governor, who’s proposed forgoing an annual increase to the gas tax set to take effect in July, is expected to discuss the pernicious effects of economic inequality in his annual State of the State speech tonight, CalMatters’ Alejandro Lazo reports.
- A Newsom aide told Alejandro: “One of the themes of the speech is going to be democracy, and tying that to how unchecked inequality undermines democracy.”
The challenge for Newsom may be connecting that rhetoric to what many Californians are experiencing at the gas pump.
- San Jose resident Helen Pelayo: “The gas prices are ridiculous, that’s what they are. … I had to stretch my budget. I don’t go out to visit as often or go places. I just go to work and then go home.