Group proposes higher California vehicle license fees


In what could be the first test of the Democrats' new supermajority powers in the Legislature, a group called Transportation California has asked State Senator Ted Lieu (D-Torrance) to introduce legislation to triple the vehicle license fee you pay when you register your car.

They want it to be a constitutional amendment so it will dedicated only to roads, which means voters would still have to approve it.

The proposed formula is 1.35 percent of the value of the vehicle. It could raise as much as $4 billion a year for roads and public transit, both of which have been underfunded for years because of the budget crisis.

"At this point, we think it's time to step up and try to address the state highway and local street and road repair needs," said Mark Watts, a spokesman for Transportation California.

The car tax is a touchy subject with Californians. Their hatred of it partly led to Arnold Schwarzenegger's victory as governor because he promised to repeal the law that tripled the car tax in the first place, and he did on the first day on the job.

Not too many people at the DMV would agree to pay more, even it means better roads.

"If you triple my tax for my car, you're just basically taking food out of my kids' mouths," said motorist Joseph Owen.

"That's a lot. That's like two weeks of groceries for me. So definitely don't want that to happen," said motorist Ron Lowe.

Voters just approved a temporary sales tax hike on themselves and an income tax increase on the wealthy to save public schools. The new money is expected to create a budget surplus by 2014.

Pollsters say another tax measure probably wouldn't stand a chance.

"I think it would be very hard for voters, particularly if we're seeing our own revenue numbers improving, to think that it's time to pass another tax," said Mark Baldassare, research and survey director, Public Policy Institute of California.

While Democratic leaders often point to the repeal of tripled car tax as the start of California's budget problems, they're less than enthusiastic about restoring it.

"I've been very clear: I do not think that we ought to start this year and lead off with proposing more taxes," said state Senate President Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento).

Sen. Lieu is on duty with the Air Force Reserve this week. He's reportedly fully aware of the potential backlash this tax measure could have.

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