Lodi News-Sentinel

California considerin­g rebates to combat soaring gas prices

- John Myers

SACRAMENTO — Millions of California families would receive cash rebates of $200 per person under a plan unveiled Thursday by state Senate Democrats, with additional boosts to those enrolled in government assistance programs and subsidies provided to small businesses that could be extended for a decade.

The effort to divvy up the state’s towering tax surplus would be more farreachin­g than recent proposals by Gov. Gavin Newsom and others to provide one-time cash payments in response to the recent spike in gas prices — ideas that have largely fallen flat at the state Capitol, even as a state gas tax increase looms on the horizon in July.

Instead, legislativ­e leaders have insisted on a more broad-based approach in response to the impacts of inflation on California­ns.

“With the new revenue available for this year’s state budget, the Senate is doubling down on our priorities,” said Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins, a San Diego Democrat, in a written statement.

In all, Democrats said Thursday they believe the state will have some $68 billion in surplus tax revenues over the next 14 months that can be used in a variety of ways to boost government services as well as the state’s cash reserves.

The estimate relies on preliminar­y data from April tax collection­s and a more detailed projection is expected in two weeks when Newsom unveils a revised state budget plan.

But all indication­s are that the state’s tally of tax dollars is historic, even after almost a decade of

record-shattering windfalls that have helped remake California’s once-broken state budget.

Atkins said Thursday the large surplus would allow the state to “help even more people, bolster their ability to achieve their dreams, and ensure there will be both resources and a more equitable system in place” for the future.

Senate Democrats proposed spending $8 billion on one-time cash rebates for families with adjusted annual incomes of less than $250,000 — $200 per taxpayer and another $200 for each child. For a family of four that meets the income requiremen­ts, the state would provide an $800 tax rebate.

By comparison, the gas price relief plan touted last month by Newsom would cost $9 billion and is limited to vehicle owners with additional subsidies for public transit. The governor also sought to pause this summer’s scheduled increase in gas taxes, an effort that was subject to a deadline this week for state officials to begin preparing for the policy change.

Absent an eleventh-hour agreement, California’s fuel excise taxes will go up on July 1 by an estimated 3 cents for a gallon of gasoline and 2 cents for a gallon of diesel. Those numbers are subject to final calculatio­ns of the state’s consumer price index.

The plan proposed Thursday goes far beyond consumer cash rebates.

Democrats also proposed subsidies to California small businesses that will soon be required to make new payments to cover the cost of COVID-19 jobless claims. Unemployme­nt benefits paid during the height of the pandemic were covered by a loan from the federal government that’s scheduled to be repaid, in part, by higher payroll taxes for employers.

Last month, a legislativ­e analysis estimated a typical employer will pay $21 a year more per employee in 2023 and up to $189 per employee by 2031. Democrats said Thursday they would commit to a $10 billion subsidy for businesses of up to 250 employees, paid out over the coming decade.

In broad strokes, the Senate Democrats’ plan would use most of the state’s discretion­ary tax surplus on one-time items. Families enrolled in the state’s welfare assistance program, CalWORKS, would be eligible for an additional subsidy. Low-income California­ns with disabiliti­es would also receive a supplement to their benefits. And grants would be made available to low-income residents whose immigratio­n status keeps them out of the traditiona­l tax filing process.

Billions more would be added to the state’s cash reserves, including “rainy day” funds that were created after California’s last recession for schools and social services programs.

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