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Proposal for oil severance tax rises anew

By Josh Richman
Wednesday, February 19th, 2014 at 10:40 am in California State Senate, taxes.

From the Legislature, to an unsuccessful effort toward a ballot measure, and to the Legislature again: The oil-severance tax is back.

State Sen. Noreen Evans, D-Santa Rosa, rolled out her SB 1017 on Wednesday with a rally at California State University, Sacramento. Flanked by student leaders and California Tax Reform Association executive director Lenny Goldberg, Evans said the tax is estimated to raise about $2 billion per year.

“California is realizing an economic recovery but as both the State Auditor and California Budget Project have concluded, without new revenues the state remains on unstable financial footing,” Evans said. “California remains the only oil-producing state in the nation that does not impose an oil extraction tax. Meanwhile, our debts grow, our population increases, and our services are strained while new revenues from our own natural resources earn $331 million a day for big oil companies. Not taxing oil extraction is simply fiscally unsound.”

SB 1017 would impose a 9.5 percent severance tax on the extraction of oil from ground or water within California’s jurisdiction. Half the revenue would be distributed into an endowment and split three ways among the University of California, California State University and California Community College systems, while health and human services would get 25 percent and state parks would get 25 percent.

The idea has been kicking around here for many years, and this isn’t even Evans’ first bite at the apple: She carried SB 241 just last year, but it never made it out of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

A UC-Berkeley-based student group called Californians for Responsible Economic Development began circulating petitions for an oil-extraction-tax ballot measure last April; when they missed their signature-gathering deadline in September, they started anew with a revised measure. But in November, the group changed its name to Students’ Voice Now and announced it would partner with lawmakers to push for a bill instead.

“Tuition levels are vulnerable to a fluctuating economy,” said Harrison “Jack” Tibbetts, a UC Berkeley senior and author of the California Modernization and Economic Development Act. “The endowment avoids this reality by growing during a booming economy and protecting students and their families during the bust. Many other states who tax oil extraction use this same model and have a flourishing education system.”

But Gov. Jerry Brown has pledged not to raise or create any taxes without voter approval, and so isn’t likely to break his promise and embrace this bill, especially as he seeks re-election this year. Anti-tax groups quickly noted this amid their own opposition.

“Governor Brown has been very clear: now is the time for fiscal restraint and government efficiency,” said Beth Miller, spokeswoman for Californians Against Higher Taxes. “But Senator Evans clearly isn’t listening. Instead she is focused on raising taxes on hard-working Californians and creating a huge new, unaccountable government bureaucracy.

SB 1017 promotes a tax Brown already said he doesn’t support, and for which voters have no appetite, Miller said. “Just two years ago, voters approved more than $6 billion in higher taxes and earlier this year the governor announced the state had a $4 billion budget surplus. Voters want Sacramento politicians to hold the line on taxes and work to make government work better and smarter – not create more government and taxes.”

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