As gas prices soar, state on brink of sending rebates
Remember when Gov. Gavin Newsom and state lawmakers struck a deal a couple of months ago to send millions of California taxpayers between $200 and $1,050 to help cover the rising cost of living?
Well, a week from today, the state is set to begin depositing the first round of payments in Californians’ bank accounts. And, although some taxpayers likely won’t see their refunds until January 2023 — and some of the state’s most vulnerable residents won’t get checks at all — for many people the timing will be opportune.
That’s because gas prices are rising again after nearly 100 days of decline nationwide. The uptick is particularly pronounced in California, where the average price of a gallon of regular shot to $6.18 on Thursday, up from $6.04 just the day before and $5.52 a week ago, according to AAA.
- Doug Shupe, corporate communications manager for the Auto Club of Southern California, told the San Diego Union-Tribune: “In my time with the Auto Club, at AAA, I have not seen such quick volatility and changes.”
The rapid increase is largely due to “planned and unplanned refinery maintenance issues” that “have tightened fuel supply” in California, Anlleyn Venegas, also with the Auto Club of Southern California, told the Los Angeles Times. On Thursday, U.S. Deputy Secretary of Energy David Turk discussed the refinery challenges with energy directors from California, Washington, Oregon and Nevada and urged them “to stress to industry the importance of safe operations to avoid further disruptions and the need to pass tangible savings on to consumers,” according to the energy department.
Supply may also be restricted nationally as Hurricane Ian pounds Florida and other states and threatens to limit gas distribution “due to a lack of electricity and flooded roads and highways,” according to AAA. On Thursday, Gov. Gavin Newsom deployed California emergency management and mass care specialists to Florida to help respond to the storm’s destruction.
In a slew of press releases this week, legislative Republicans blamed Democrats for the soaring gas prices.
- Assembly Republican Leader James Gallagher of Yuba City said in a Thursday statement: “Another predictable forecast in California today: Sunny with high cost of gas and downward pressure on your disposable income. Paying more than $5 or $6 for a gallon of gas is absurd. The Governor and the Democrat super-majority cannot really expect Californians to accept this as the new normal.”
- Gallagher also said “Republicans stand ready and united to suspend the 54-cent gas tax to provide real immediate relief,” a strategy that Democrats have shot down on numerous occasions. California’s fuel excise tax rate increased by nearly 3 cents per gallon on July 1.
The state Assembly in June formed a select committee to investigate why California’s gas prices are so much higher than the rest of the country’s. The committee has met just twice since then, according to its website.
- Assemblymember Jacqui Irwin, the Camarillo Democrat who leads the panel, told me in a statement: “The Select Committee on Gasoline Supply and Pricing has been investigating long term solutions to address California’s high gas prices. The Committee will be releasing a report in the next few weeks with recommendations, based on testimony from numerous stakeholders and industry experts, for the Legislature to consider in the upcoming session.”
Meanwhile, the advocacy group Consumer Watchdog on Tuesday asked Newsom to declare a special legislative session to investigate why Californians are paying nearly $2 more per gallon at the pump than other American drivers. Consumer Watchdog also suggested the state should enact a windfall profits tax on the oil and gas industry, which it said has “declared war on the state of California and is raising prices unreasonably to punish the public and lawmakers for enacting tough new (environmental) laws.”
Kevin Slagle, vice president of strategic communications for the Western States Petroleum Association, described the allegations as “ridiculous.”
- Slagle told me: “Despite bans, mandates and other policies that can increase energy costs, our members are doing all they can to produce and refine more energy and fuels to keep up with demand. Keep in mind, the first $1.28 per gallon we all pay at the pump today goes to taxes, fees and regulatory programs imposed by the state. Our policy environment matters when it comes to energy costs. And our policy environment is getting more restrictive and costly every year.”
UPDATE: Today, Gov. Newsom called for a windfall tax on oil company profits and also directed regulators to make an early transition to a cheaper winter fuel blend. “Crude oil prices are down but oil and gas companies have jacked up prices at the pump in California. This doesn’t add up,” he said in a statement. “We’re not going to stand by while greedy oil companies fleece Californians. Instead, I’m calling for a windfall tax to ensure excess oil profits go back to help millions of Californians who are getting ripped off.”
The coronavirus bottom line: As of Tuesday, California had 10,412,352 confirmed cases and 95,165 deaths, according to state data now updated just once a week on Thursdays. CalMatters is also tracking coronavirus hospitalizations by county.
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1 Last day for Newsom to sign, veto bills
It all comes down to this: Midnight tonight is Newsom’s deadline to sign or veto the remaining bills on his desk, of which there are 146, according to the governor’s press office. After signing into law a pile of bills that he said would boost small businesses struggling to recover from the pandemic and encourage employee entrepreneurship, Newsom late Thursday took action on a huge stack of bills, many related to criminal justice. Here’s a breakdown of some key outcomes:
- ❌ A bill to significantly limit the use of solitary confinement in California’s prisons, jails and immigration detention centers. In a veto message, Newsom said that although “segregated confinement is ripe for reform,” the bill “establishes standards that are overly broad and exclusions that could risk the safety of both the staff and incarcerated population within these facilities.” Newsom said he will instead direct the state prison system to develop regulations for restricting the use of solitary confinement.
- ❌ A bill to test Norway’s model for incarceration in California. In his veto message, Newsom cited the familiar refrain of the state’s “lower-than-expected revenues over the first few months of this fiscal year.”
- ❌ A bill to launch a pilot program giving universal basic income to farmworkers who can’t work due to drought, also for budgetary reasons. (Bills to increase the amount of money inmates receive upon leaving state prison and raise wages for incarcerated workers were also nixed for cost reasons.)
- ❌ A bill to extend the deadline for California’s reparations task force to finish its work. In his veto message, Newsom said he nixed the bill at the request of the author behind the legislation establishing the task force — now-Secretary of State Shirley Weber.
- ✅ A bill to protect those receiving or providing transgender health care in California from being prosecuted under a wave of legislation in other states. “Parents know what’s best for their kids, and they should be able to make decisions around the health of their children without fear. We must take a stand for parental choice,” Newsom said in a signing statement.
- ✅ A bill to seal criminal records for all felonies, not just jailable felonies, if an individual is no longer serving a probationary sentence, not currently involved in another case, and two years have elapsed since their last interaction with the criminal justice system.
- ✅ A bill to allow undocumented immigrants to serve as peace officers in California.
- ✅ A bill to attach a fee to cell phone lines to support call centers and mobile crisis teams associated with the new three-digit federal mental health crisis hotline, also known as 988.
- ✅ A bill to require schools to develop COVID-19 testing plans in conjunction with the state public health department and a bill to extend California’s coronavirus supplemental paid sick leave program through Dec. 31, instead of its current expiration date of Sept. 30.
- ✅ A pair of bills to reshape the local recall election process, including by increasing the number of signatures needed to oust a local official and blocking most cities and counties from holding an election to replace a recalled official, instead requiring them to fill the seat by appointment, succession or another process.
Meanwhile, many Native American students and tribal leaders are celebrating a law Newsom signed last week to establish the California Indian Education Act. The law encourages school districts to collaborate with local tribes to develop culture and history lessons and form strategies for closing the achievement gap for Indigenous students, who in 2021 had a lower graduation rate than any other racial or ethnic group except Black students, CalMatters’ Joe Hong reports.
2 Christensen makes his pitch for schools chief
“This is an incredible place to teach kids, and right now we’re screwing it all up.”
“When the teachers unions can drop in millions of dollars at the drop of a hat … they basically have owned the last several superintendents of public instruction. I’m not that person.”
“The prime directive is to make sure there’s some sort of accountability for all these school districts. So let’s get the people, the taxpayers, the parents, as much information as possible.”
“I’m a religious person, I’m a conservative, I don’t make any bones about that.”
Those are some of the viewpoints Lance Christensen, an education policy executive and the GOP candidate for state superintendent of public instruction, shared in a nearly hour-long conversation with CalMatters ahead of the Nov. 8 general election, when he will face off against Democratic incumbent Tony Thurmond.
Christensen is betting that parent frustration with school closures during the pandemic could help propel him to victory, but he’s up against a tough political reality, CalMatters’ Joe Hong reports: Although the race for California schools chief is officially nonpartisan, Democrats heavily outnumber Republicans in the Golden State — and Thurmond has the backing of the Democratic establishment and a massive fundraising edge. For more takeaways from Christensen’s interview with CalMatters and what he would do as state superintendent, check out Joe’s story.
3 New study reveals another COVID racial disparity
From CalMatters health reporter Ana B. Ibarra: Black patients could have faced about a five-hour delay in COVID-19 treatment due to erroneous blood oxygen readings, according to a study from California-based Sutter Health published Thursday in the American Journal of Epidemiology.
Blood oxygen levels are read through the skin by placing a pulse oximeter on a patient’s fingertip. Growing evidence suggests these medical devices produce less accurate readings on darker skin tones.
- Kristen Azar, the scientific medical director at Sutter Health’s Institute for Advancing Health Equity: “The sad reality is that there has been documented evidence of higher levels of inaccuracies for darker-skin individuals for decades. What brought this issue back to the forefront in recent times is the central role pulse oximeters have played in CDC-recommended treatment protocols for COVID-19.”
Researchers explained in a Thursday press call that pulse oximeter reading was often the deciding factor between mild disease and severe disease and was used to determine which patients should get which types of treatments.
According to the study, overestimated oxygen levels were more common in Black patients and were linked to 4.5-hour-longer waits for supplemental oxygen — and to a lower probability of receiving that treatment or being admitted to the hospital.
The racial disparities in COVID-19 outcomes became clear early on in the pandemic, and the death rate for Black Californians remains 19% higher than the rate for all Californians, according to state data.
Dr. Stephanie Brown, the clinical lead at Sutter Health’s Institute for Advancing Health Equity, said that during the peak of the pandemic, emergency rooms sometimes sent high-risk patients with mild disease home with pulse oximeters.
- Brown: “And to think we sent people home (with an oximeter) to check it themselves … to think people were sitting at home waiting longer than they should have, getting sicker than they needed to be, is heartbreaking.”
Taking educational equity to the next level: All 116 California community colleges have the chance this fall to craft new three-year plans to eliminate racial disparities and improve conditions and outcomes for students of color, writes Eric R. Felix, an assistant professor at San Diego State University.
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