The most persistent misconception about Californians is that we hate to raise taxes. The truth is that we adore raising taxes — as long as someone else is paying, that is.
So nonsmokers vote to raise cigarette taxes, teetotalers to raise liquor taxes. The middle and working classes want to hike taxes on the rich, who are happy to return the favor.
Yet this only compounds the mystery of why we’re so resistant to raising taxes on perhaps the biggest, fattest target of all: the oil industry.
At least twice since 1981 Californians have considered proposals to impose a so-called severance tax on oil — a levy on every barrel that drillers take out of the California ground. Both times they went down to defeat — most recently in a $150-million initiative campaign that set a new standard for obscenity in campaign finance, thanks to Chevron and its fellow oil companies. The 2006 defeat of Proposition 87, which would have steered the tax proceeds to alternative fuel programs, preserved California’s status as the only one of the 22 major oil states to give the industry a free ride. And we’re the third-biggest producer in the country.
How embarrassing is it for California to be hanging out there alone? That outstanding anti-tax crusader, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, in 2007 raised her state’s tax to 25% of the value of extracted oil and gas. Proposition 87 would have capped California’s levy at 6%. So even if it had passed, we’d still be suckers.
With the state’s fiscal disaster having concentrated the minds of political leaders as never before, the oil severance tax is back on the table in Sacramento. We can expect the oil industry to trot out the same arguments it employed to defeat the tax the last time, so to save time it might be helpful to deflate them now.