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State legislators seek to punt to counties on vehicle license fee increases

June 1, 2011 |  3:12 pm

With state leaders saying they can no longer afford to help fully fund local services, California lawmakers acted Wednesday to give counties the power to increase vehicle license fees with voter approval.

Under legislation approved by the state Senate, a county board of supervisors, by a two-thirds vote, could put a measure on its local ballots to raise the fee paid by vehicle owners in that county. The legislation allows the ballot measure to be approved by a majority vote, which drew opposition Wednesday from Republican lawmakers, who said it circumvents the requirement for two-thirds vote on state tax increases.

"We could end up with a hodgepodge of vehicle license fees throughout the state,’’ objected state Sen. Bob Huff (R-Diamond Bar) before the 23-15 vote to send the bill to the Assembly. The measure was also opposed by the California New Car Dealers Assn., which said California motorists are already overburdened with hidden vehicle fees. 

Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) said local officials, including the California State Assn. of Counties, support his introduction of SB 223.

"This bill is about local control and voter determination,’’ Leno told his colleagues. "If your county doesn’t want it, it doesn’t happen.’’

California motorists pay a license fee equal to 0.65% of the vehicle’s value, which was reduced some years ago from 2%. Leno’s bill would allow counties to move their fee back up to 2%.

-- Patrick McGreevy