By Emily Hoeven, CAL MATTERS
Today is shaping up to be a pretty unusual day in Sacramento.
Newly elected state lawmakers will be descending on the Capitol to be sworn into office — even though two seats are still up in the air. That’s because, by some measures, California is in the middle of two of its closest legislative races in more than a century: According to figures updated this morning, Democratic incumbent Melissa Hurtado and Republican David Shepard each had 50% of the vote for a state Senate seat looping around east Bakersfield — and Democrat Christy Holstege and Republican Greg Wallis each had 50% of the vote for an Assembly seat straddling Riverside and San Bernardino counties.
Also unusual: State legislators will be convening a special session focused on Gov. Gavin Newsom’s proposal to pass a “price gouging penalty” on oil companies and increase state oversight of the gasoline market. This marks the first time a governor has proclaimed a special session in six years, according to veteran Sacramento lobbyist Chris Micheli.
Newsom has yet to unveil the actual text of his proposal, and lawmakers aren’t likely to take substantive action on it until they reconvene in January. But the special session could amount to trial by fire for legislators, nearly one-third of whom will be new to Sacramento.
- Jamie Court, president of Consumer Watchdog, an advocacy group that supports capping oil company profits, told the Los Angeles Times: “The fact that the governor put a spotlight on this in a special session means that these are not votes that will be forgotten. This is going to be a career-defining vote for every legislator in the building.”
Although the Newsom administration has taken steps to defang the rhetoric surrounding the proposal — shifting from calling it a “windfall profits tax” to a “price gouging penalty” — the special session will nevertheless put lawmakers, some of whom were elected with the financial support of the oil and gas industry, squarely in the middle of the governor’s escalating battle with oil companies.
Apart from the politics, there are messy market factors to sort through: As California pushes to decarbonize its economy, the price of gas will likely shoot up as the industry seeks to maximize profits ahead of a 2035 ban on the sale of new gas-powered cars, experts told state regulators last week.
- Adding figurative fuel to the fire: California, which has already seen refineries close in recent years, could see further gas price spikes as supply decreases and fewer groups control the market. Numerous California cities, including Los Angeles, have banned the construction of new gas stations, and the city council voted Friday to block new oil and gas wells and phase out existing ones.
The oil industry, meanwhile, is currently gathering signatures to try to qualify a 2024 referendum to overturn a new state law banning new oil and gas wells near homes, schools and hospitals.
It has a model in a coalition of fast food industry groups, which is set to announce today the submission of more than 1 million signatures to repeal a new law establishing a state council to regulate fast food employees’ working conditions and to raise their minimum wage to as much as $22 per hour next year, CalMatters’ Jeanne Kuang reports. The coalition — which has raised more than $20 million to overturn the law — needs 623,000 valid signatures to qualify the referendum for the November 2024 ballot, which would pause the law until voters decide whether to uphold or repeal it.