Capitol Alert

Steyer says state oil tax ‘looking less likely’ for 2016

Tom Steyer speaks during a panel on “Investor Actions on Climate Change” at the COP21, United Nations Climate Change Conference, in Le Bourget earlier this month.
Tom Steyer speaks during a panel on “Investor Actions on Climate Change” at the COP21, United Nations Climate Change Conference, in Le Bourget earlier this month. AP

Billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer said it’s increasingly unlikely he will follow through with threats to put an oil-extraction tax on next year’s ballot, but he still expects to help bankroll other measures.

While he hasn’t formally closed the book on the oil tax or related transparency measure aimed at oil companies, Steyer said his team has yet to accomplish everything he said needs to happen to qualify and ultimately pass a statewide initiative next year. Meanwhile, the clock is ticking down for prospective proponents.

“It’s looking less likely, I would say,” he said after an event Thursday in Sacramento.

Steyer, an early supporter and co-chairman of a campaign to raise the cigarette tax by $2 a pack, said he plans to get behind a couple of other efforts once the election picture is clear. He expects a “super crowded ballot,” next fall and urged supporters of competing measures to raise the minimum wage and hike state income taxes on high earners to coalesce behind single initiatives. If they fail to unify, he said, the groups risk confusing voters and possibly going down in defeat.

“Wouldn’t that be a crazy thing to happen if you really think about a voter ... sitting there with two minimum-wage proposals and two (tax)-extension proposals?” Steyer asked. “We are very anxious that those be one proposal (each), because I don’t know what the voters would do. It’s so confusing.”

Steyer was in town to lead a meeting of his Fair Shake Commission, focusing on income inequality and creating more opportunities for middle-class workers. A joint project of Steyer’s NextGen Climate and the Center for American Progress, the group is developing policy proposals it plans to unveil this spring and then pursue through state legislation or via a future ballot.

Steyer also weighed in on guns as the investigation continues into the mass shooting in San Bernardino. California lawmakers have pledged to renew gun-control bids, and Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, a declared candidate for governor in 2018, is championing a proposed proposition comprising several previously stalled measures.

Steyer, himself a possible candidate for governor, said the Legislature is “perfectly competent” to deal with the measure’s provisions, adding lawmakers “sound anxious” to again take on the contentious subject after the terrorist strike in Southern California.

“We always hope in propositions that the Legislature does it because it is so much simpler, so much cheaper, and it seems really appropriate,” Steyer said.

Still, he acknowledged that should the bills advance, the next roadblock would be Gov. Jerry Brown, who has a mixed record on signing firearms restrictions.

“The question is: Have the times changed?” Steyer said.

Christopher Cadelago: 916-326-5538, @ccadelago