PolitiFact CA: George Runner Was Right: California Now Has The Highest Gas Prices In The Nation

Nov 6, 2017

Andrew Nixon / Capital Public Radio / File

PolitiFact California looks at claims made by elected officials, candidates and groups and rates them as: True, Mostly True, Half True, Mostly False, False and Pants On Fire.

Republican George Runner predicted in April that California’s gas tax hike would catapult the Golden State’s already high fuel prices to the "highest in the nation," after the increase went into effect on Nov. 1, 2017.

It appears his prediction was spot on.

California’s average per gallon price of gasoline reached $3.21 on Monday Nov. 6, 2017, or 12 cents higher than in Hawaii, which previously had the priciest gasoline, according to the fuel tracking website GasBuddy.com.

California’s gasoline prices have topped Hawaii’s since Nov. 3, 2017, according to the website.

Two energy experts told us in April that Runner’s claim had merit. But they also said unrelated factors could keep Hawaii’s then highest-in-the-nation prices at the top, even after the California tax hike went into effect.  Following our practice of not rating predictions, we decided not to place Runner’s statement on our Truth-O-Meter.

But, as promised in April, we decided to revisit Runner’s claim.

Our research

Since the end of October, California’s per gallon gasoline prices have risen by 18 cents, according to Patrick DeHaan, a senior petroleum analyst with GasBuddy.com.

DeHaan was one of the experts we spoke with in April.

He told us 12 cents of the 18 cent rise can be attributed to California’s gas tax increase, as providers typically pass on the full price of taxes to consumers.

DeHaan said the remaining six cents are from a nationwide uptick in the wholesale price of gasoline. He said that was tied to a hike in oil prices, caused by U.S. refineries reducing production during maintenance season, as well as concerns about OPEC extending oil production cuts.

Severin Borenstein, an economics professor at the UC Berkeley Haas School of Business, agreed California’s gas tax hike is responsible for the majority of the recent price spike.

"We were already very nearly the most expensive, and now it looks like we are the most expensive," Borenstein said.

Borenstein added that several factors beyond taxes influence California’s high prices. Those include the state’s requirement that vehicles run on a cleaner burning fuel than elsewhere in the nation, plus costs attached to the state’s greenhouse gas reduction programs. Additionally, he said California drivers continue to pay a 20 cent per gallon "mystery surcharge" tied to a refinery explosion in Southern California. Prices typically go up in a state after a refinery disruption but then return to normal a few months after. For unknown reasons, Borenstein said, that hasn’t happened in California.

A spokesman for Runner, who is a former state lawmaker and sits on the state’s Board of Equalization, told us by email: "We are saddened that George’s prediction was correct so soon."

Even with California's recent gas price increase, national tax experts expect Pennsylvania will continue to have the highest gas tax in the country, though not by much as we detailed earlier this year. Pennsylvania's gas prices, meanwhile, were seventh most expensive in the country at $2.74 per gallon on Monday, Nov. 6, 2017.

Our conclusion

Republican George Runner predicted in April that California would see the highest gas prices in the nation once the state’s 12 cent per gallon gas tax increase went into effect.

It went into effect this week.

Shortly after, gas tracking websites showed California’s already high prices had vaulted above Hawaii’s as the most expensive in the country, reaching $3.21 on Monday, Nov. 6, 2017, about 12 cents higher than Hawaii’s.

Two energy experts told us the gas tax hike accounts for the majority of California’s 18 cent increase over the past two weeks, though a nationwide uptick in wholesale gas prices accounts for some of it.

While we don’t rate predictions on our Truth-O-Meter, we can now say Runner’s prediction was on the money.

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