- - Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Tom Steyer, the California billionaire, can’t decide whether he’s a political “activist” trying to make gasoline more expensive or another overtaxed consumer abused at the pump. That may not make sense, but who said it must? All is fair in love and politics (and love died on the wayside some time ago). Mr. Steyer is said to have his eye on political office, and politicians always count on enough voters not noticing their tall tales.

Expensive gasoline is the price Californians pay to live in sunny ignorance, but it’s more a choice of their minders than a necessity of the marketplace. Most Americans are thanking their good fortune for a 23 percent average decline in gas prices during the past year, but Californians can only cry and gnash their teeth at being forced to pay an average of $3.58, a savings of only 8 percent.

Mr. Steyer, a transplant from New York who amassed his treasure as a hedge fund operator, has sunk tens of millions of his own dollars into environmentalist efforts like Proposition 39, successful in 2012, which raises taxes on out-of-state companies and pours the cash into a Clean Jobs Energy Fund to subsidize the state’s green energy industry.

Now Mr. Steyer is campaigning for a 10 percent oil extraction tax on fossil fuel companies. Anyone who made it through high school economics knows that raising taxes on anything makes it more expensive, gasoline included. California’s 25 million drivers can only hope this latest Steyer brainstorm blows itself out.

He may have other brainstorms. Mr. Steyer is pushing a legislative measure to require oil companies to disclose the details of their management of gasoline supplies and prices. Moreover, he has urged the state Senate to call in executives for hearings to explain why the price of gasoline is so high in California.

The explanation is obvious. Californians suffer from a long list of government-imposed taxes, levies and fees on gasoline. On top of the 18.4-cent per gallon federal tax that drivers all across the country must pay, Californians shell out an additional 17 cents per gallon for state taxes, 10 cents for higher production costs, 10 cents for the state’s cap-and-trade program, 10 cents for California’s unique “isolated market” and other assorted costs. The bottom line, according the California Energy Commission, is drivers must pay 72.9 cents a gallon more than most Americans pay for regular unleaded.

These additional costs were not imposed by greedy oil executives, but by California legislators burnishing green credentials. The kind of hearings that Mr. Steyer proposes could be embarrassing. They might expose officialdom’s own hypocritical role in sending gasoline prices through the state capitol roof.

The Clean Jobs Energy Fund, which Mr. Steyer worked to have levied, is not turbo-charging the state’s green machine as he promised it would, either. It was expected to bring in $550 million and create 11,000 jobs per year, and the Associated Press reports that it has raised less than 60 percent of that amount over three years of existence, and generated only 1,700 jobs.

Expecting to pave a pathway to prosperity with higher taxes betrays common sense, and so does promoting new levies on oil production while at the same time wondering why gasoline is so expensive. Emerson’s dictum that “a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds ” applies to California, too.

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