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Why rising gas prices could help an effort to repeal the gas tax




A gasoline pump rests in the tank of a car on June 12, 2012 in San Anselmo, California.
A gasoline pump rests in the tank of a car on June 12, 2012 in San Anselmo, California.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

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If you've driven by a gas station recently, you've probably noticed: Gas prices are going up again. In L.A., they're about 55 cents per gallon higher right now compared with this time last year.

The current average for the state is $3.31 per gallon. In L.A., it's $3.45, with some area gas stations already hitting prices over $4. And prices are expected to continue going up over the next few months.

Patrick DeHaan, an analyst with the web site GasBuddy.com, said the price increase is driven by  California's gas tax increase and the state's stringent summer blend of gas, which is more expensive to make. Additionally, DeHaan said oil prices are the highest they've been since 2015.

"That is because of OPEC's production cuts that have led U.S. oil inventories to be 77 million barrels lower than a year ago. All this adds up to higher gas prices, and it's likely to get worse before it gets better."

Those rising gas prices will likely provide even more fuel for an effort to repeal California's state gas tax.

Last November, Californians started paying 12 cents per gallon more as part of SB1 -- the transportation funding package the state passed last year. Now that tax is the target of a campaign Republicans are leading to put the issue before voters this fall. 

The initiative needs 587,000 signatures to qualify for the ballot in November. Thad Kousser, professor of political science at the University of California in San Diego, said money will determine whether or not the gas tax repeal gets to the ballot. 

As voters become more upset about high gas prices and polls show support for a gas tax repeal, fundraising for the initiative will only get easier, Kousser said.

Some of the donors backing the California gas tax repeal are well-known Republicans at the national level, including Devin Nunes and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy. Lowering taxes follows the Republican platform, but the repeal could also be a good way for the party to encourage its voters to turn out to the polls this fall, Kousser said.

"Republicans are trying desperately to hold 7 of those 14 Republican-held Congressional seats in this election. That's key to Kevin McCarthy's majority, and in all of those districts they want to give Republicans something to get energized and excited about in order to mobilize them in November."

If the initiative makes the November ballot, Kousser said it could pass because almost all Republicans will support lowering taxes; Democrats, however, are divided on the gas tax issue so some of them will support the repeal, too. 

 "There are Democrats who want to see gas prices go up because that correctly prices the real, true cost of gas in terms of contributing to local smog, local climate change and a lot of those Democrats are already driving Teslas and Priuses anyway. And then there are other Democrats who see this as a regressive tax. [Those with] more limited income perhaps have cars that get worse mileage, and that $50 gas bill really hits those voters."

If the gas tax is repealed, the state would have $5 billion less to spend on transportation and infrastructure.