By Jim Miller, November 19, 2013
California motorists’ vehicle license fee
would more than double under a proposed November 2014 ballot measure to
raise an estimated $3 billion a year for the state’s ailing road
The constitutional amendment would phase in a surcharge to
the fee charging motorists an extra one percent of the vehicle’s value
each year. The fee has been .65 percent of a vehicle’s market value
since the late 1990s, with a temporary increase to 1.15 percent from May
2009 through June 2011.
In language filed with the attorney
general’s office earlier this week, proponents Will Kempton, the
executive director of Transportation California who was Caltrans
director from 2004 to 2009, and Jim Earp, executive director of the
labor-management California Alliance for Jobs and a member of the
California Transportation Commission, said, “California is facing a
transportation funding crisis.”
In an interview, Kempton said the state is running out of money to pay for road maintenance. Almost $20 billion in voter-approved borrowing for highway projects
has already been spoken for. Meanwhile, a steady increase in the number
of electric and high-mileage hybrid vehicles – a key part of meeting
the state’s goals to limit greenhouse gases – have reduced revenue to maintain highways from the per-gallon gasoline tax.
groups, construction unions and others will decide in January whether
to commit the money for the signature drive to qualify the measure for
next November’s ballot, Kempton said.
Proponents would have to
overcome a legacy of opposition from motorists, car dealers and others
against past proposals to raise the “car tax.”
Jon Coupal of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association
said California residents already pay some of the highest income and
sales taxes in the country. Saying he respected Kempton, Coupal blamed
state leaders for squandering gas tax revenue and other money that
should be spent to maintain California’s roads.
president of the California New Car Dealers Association, said this
week’s proposal would “penalize people for owning cars.” A better
approach, he said, would be to increase taxes on vehicle fuel, since
that would correlate to how much someone drove. The group has not taken a
position on the issue, he added.
The proposal would be the first
highway-funding ballot measure since Proposition 1B in 2006. That
measure, backed by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and placed on the
ballot by the Legislature, won easy approval from voters.
Proposition 1B relied on borrowing backed by general tax revenues, with a 30-year payoff. The proposal, though, would have a more direct impact on motorists’ wallets.
Department of Motor Vehicles schedules, someone who bought a 2013 Honda
Civic for $16,000 this year will pay a $52 license fee in 2018. If the
road repairs act passed, that motorist would pay about $130 that year,
when the 1 percent surcharge would take full effect.
fee had long been 2 percent of a vehicle’s value before lawmakers, with a
flush state budget, began reducing it in 1998.
revenue collapsed a few years later, then-Gov. Gray Davis raised the fee
to the full amount in spring 2003. Motorists reacted angrily and
Schwarzenegger campaigned against the increase during the summer recall
fight, restoring the lower amount within hours of taking office Nov. 17,
In 2009, lawmakers approved a temporary 0.5 percent
increase in the vehicle license fee, raising about $1.6 billion annually
to help close a budget shortfall. The 0.5 percent surcharge expired in
Monday’s filing seeks a title and summary. Once cleared for signature
gathering, proponents would have up to 150 days to collect 807,615 valid
voter signatures to qualify for next fall’s ballot.