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Car Fees Cast Long Political Shadow in California


They led to the recall of one governor, and the election of another. Adjusting California vehicle license fees can be tricky.

Governor Pete Wilson lowered them in the 1990’s from two percent of vehicle value to less than one percent. Steve Boilard, Executive Director of the Center for California Studies at Sacramento State University, said Governor Gray Davis increased the fee again and it was major factor in his recall. Then Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger cancelled the Davis increase hours after he took office. 

“There’s some kind of ‘don’t tread on me’ aspect that applies to the vehicle," Boliard said.

He the decrease in the fees costs California about $4 billion a year. And most of that money went to local governments.

A group headed up by a former CalTrans director is now considering whether to pursue an increase of the fees. But Boilard points out, under this proposal, the revenue would have a specific purpose.

“It’s another example of what’s been come to be called ballot-box-budgeting," he said. "Which is locking up some piece of revenue to only be spent on one purpose, in this case roads.” 

While repaved roads may provide a smoother ride, the bumpy past of California car registration fees could make an increase a non-starter.


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