Calif. lawmaker may propose tripling vehicle registration fees


In what could be the Democrats' first test in the new supermajority powers in the Legislature, a group called Transportation California has asked St. Sen. Ted Lieu, D-Torrance, to introduce legislation to triple the vehicle license fee you pay to register your cars.

They want it to be a constitutional amendment so the money will dedicated 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 is time to step up and try to address the state highway and local street and road repair needs," said Mark Watts from Transportation California.

The car tax is a touchy subject with Californians. Their hatred of it partly led to Gov. 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 the first day on the job. We couldn't find too many people at the DMV who 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 Joseph Owen, a driver.

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

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 it's time to pass another tax," said Mark Baldassare from the 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 we ought to start this year and lead off with proposing more taxes," said St. Sen. Darrell Steinberg, D-Senate President.

Lieu is in the Air Force Reserve and is in training this week. We're told he is fully aware of the potential backlash this tax measure could have.

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