Voters in Ventura County may remember that when gas prices spiked in 2000, their local assemblyman, Tony Strickland, launched a stunt to call attention to the issue and score some political points. He went to gas stations and personally refunded to selected customers the amount of the sales tax on their gasoline purchase. His message: The state should eliminate the sales tax on gasoline.
At the time, Strickland had an actual political point to make: The sales tax on gasoline went into the state general fund and was unrelated to transportation needs. Most motorists believe that all the taxes they pay on gas are used for road construction and repair — not just the federal and state excise taxes that are dedicated for those purposes. Since that wasn't the case, he argued, maybe the state should just get rid of the tax.
Since, however, voters have passed a ballot measure to direct sales taxes on gasoline sales to transportation. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and legislative leaders of both parties last year made a very big deal over the fact that they had directed every dime of gasoline sales taxes for roads and mass transit. This year, the governor and legislative leaders have agreed to place on the November ballot a measure that would add future assurances that the money will go for transportation.
But now Strickland is running for state controller, gasoline prices have spiked again, and he is back at gas stations with an open wallet and an eye for the cameras. On Monday, editors of the Chico Enterprise-Record made plain what they thought of Strickland's activities. They endorsed Strickland's opponent in the Republican primary, Sen. Abel Maldonado, in an editorial headlined "Lame idea makes one choice easy."
Today, Strickland sent out a press release with a headline that suggested maybe he had decided to start an initiative campaign to do away with the sales tax on gasoline. It said, "Strickland Launches Petition Drive to Repeal Double Tax on Gasoline."
Turns out, however, that it isn't an initiative petition. Strickland has started circulating a petition to send to Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez. There's a lot less octane in that.