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Editorial: A resounding ‘no’ on Proposition 87

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Let’s be serious. In order to get cleaner fuels and domesticate the animalistic behavior of the oil companies, you cannot do it by rolling up a newspaper and swatting those companies. Nor can you do it by persuading a majority of California’s voters to mark their ballots as if to say: "Hesto presto, clean air!"

Astonishingly, that is precisely the infantile reasoning that drives Proposition 87: Impose new taxes on the oil companies; collect $400 million a year (the promised sum, assuming the industry doesn’t go south, the contradictory motive of the supporters); spend that on a new, self-perpetuating bureaucracy charged with converting Californians to alternative fuels; and — oh, by the way — insert language into the measure that prohibits the companies from passing the taxes on to consumers. As if.

It’s always tempting to think the law of supply and demand can be suspended at the ballot box. Of course, trying to abide by this proposed law, oil executives won’t pass the taxes along to the pump directly. But the measure obviously intends for them to curb further exploration and drilling for fossil fuels, drastically limiting supply and, ineluctably, driving up costs.

In San Francisco, with its official animus toward the automobile, that may look like sound public policy to the progressive elite. But out on the state’s roadways, where 100-mile daily commutes are not uncommon, motorists won’t want to stuff their plastic, their checkbooks, their wallets and their jewelry into the pump with each fill-up. And they won’t want to choke at the cash register for every consumer item transported by eighteen-wheelers.

OK, that’s only slightly exaggerated, but we were struck by the cavalier way Mayor Gavin Newsom dismissed such concerns. Prop. 87 will deliver an intentional blow to California’s oil industry, and by extension to its mobile economy, but the mayor decried its opponents as disingenuous. Said Newsom: "These misleading ads that suggest that gas prices are going to go up — it’s just outrageous."

Excuse us, but Prop. 87 itself is not only disingenuous, it’s dishonest. Its language can bar the companies from passing on the new taxes, but its authors clearly want to manipulate the market in order to wean us off gasoline. The means? Higher pump charges, the authors forswearing any responsibility or knowledge of how the new taxes found their way to the pump. Blame big oil, not us immaculate environmental activists.

If Californians are tempted to punish the oil companies, they should think again. The true owners of, say, Chevron, which is substantially bankrolling Prop. 87’s opposition, are its investors, many of whom are state employees whose savings are directed to the company by CalPers. The mayor, of course, won’t have to worry about that until he’s governor. Meanwhile, let’s protect our lifestyles and pocketbooks by voting "no" on Prop. 87.

Part of The San Francisco Examiner's 2006 election coverage.