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Strickland Attacks Tax by Giving Away Dollars at Gas Station

Energy: GOP assemblyman's action comes a day after Democrats defeat his plan to end 15-cent-per-gallon state levy.

March 18, 2000|TONY LYSTRA | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

THOUSAND OAKS — Tapping into motorists' outrage at soaring gas prices, Assemblyman Tony Strickland handed 315 dollar bills to drivers filling their tanks Friday morning to show how much of their fuel tab goes to Sacramento.

The Moorpark Republican, author of a bill to kill a 15-cent-per-gallon state sales tax on gasoline, strolled from car to car, peeling rebates from a fat wad of bills and stuffing them into the hands of surprised customers during rush hour at Johnson's Chevron station.

In most cases, the drivers got $2, sometimes more.

"That's what you could save every time you fill up," said Strickland, standing in a business suit at pumps where premium gas costs $1.84 a gallon. His aides bustled about, handing fliers to drivers and urging them to call the governor and demand that the gas tax be repealed.

"I think it's important that people see what they can save," said the 30-year-old freshman lawmaker, who drew the $315 from his own bank account.

The Strickland rebates, covered by Los Angeles TV stations, came a day after Assembly Democrats torpedoed a Republican effort to repeal the 15-cent state gas tax and to urge Congress to suspend a 4-cent-per-gallon federal tax.

The Democrats, a majority in the Legislature, favor a measure that would suspend the state gas tax during the peak driving season this summer. They say a permanent ban would be irresponsible because it would hurt funding for items such as roads.

So Strickland took his case to the people for an hour Friday morning.

"If Sacramento doesn't support the measure, then I hope the people of California will act on their own to get the job done," he said.

Bemused motorists were glad to pocket the cash, and angry about gas prices that now average $1.74 statewide for a gallon of regular, up from $1.60 a week ago and $1.19 last March.

"I'm pleasantly surprised," said Brian Wilson, 44, of Thousand Oaks, who got $2.50 from Strickland after filling his Mercedes' tank. "It's not often you have somebody giving money back."

Mark Johnson, who owns the station where Strickland doled out the cash, said prices have spiked 20 cents a gallon in two weeks. Johnson expected to raise prices by at least another 15 cents a gallon today.

"I've never seen gasoline go up as quickly as it has recently," he said.

Newbury Park tow truck driver Jim Parsons was shocked to pay $62 to fill his tank. "It's just outrageous," he said. "It's crazy. [The sales tax] needs to go."

Strickland handed him five dollar bills.

The assemblyman, who represents Camarillo, Moorpark, Oxnard, Port Hueneme and Thousand Oaks, estimates that by killing the gas sales tax, California motorists would save $1.6 billion a year. The state can afford to eliminate the tax because of a budget surplus that could reach $9 billion, he said.

In addition to the sales tax, drivers also pay an excise tax on gasoline that Strickland says could be used to maintain roads.

Somis teacher Roz McGrath, the Democrat opposing Strickland in the 37th District race in November, said her opponent's gas-station antics were a grab for free publicity in an election year.

"I think any time you hand out money, it is a publicity stunt and an attempt to buy votes," she said.

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