Truckers converge on California capital to protest fee hike plan

| Monday, August 25, 2003

Truckers converged on Sacramento, CA, earlier this week, using their big rigs to protest a bill that would increase weight-based IRP fees in the state by 42 percent.

Ray Sotero, a staff member at the General Assembly, indicated the truckers’ voices were heard – at least in one sense.

“They did [show up], and it was deafening, believe me,” Sotero said.

The rally was announced Aug. 18, a day before it was to take place. And, according to David Brunelle, public affairs officer for the California Highway Patrol’s capitol bureau, the protest started right on schedule, about 11 a.m. PDT Aug. 19. Brunelle was in a meeting when he heard the big rigs.

“These trucks started circling around the capitol and sounding their horns,” he said. “It was part of a permitted event, but I think it went beyond the permit.”

After a press conference on the capitol steps by the California Trucking Association, the trucks took to the streets, “clogging up the streets around the capitol and sounding their horns.”

While he did not know how many trucks took part, Brunelle said it was a significant number.

“But it was enough so that all of M Street and all of L Street were filled up with these big rigs,” he said. “That’s quite a few trucks. L and M around the capitol are about a half mile long.

“It looked like it was fairly organized,” he said. “They didn’t have any accidents, but they did back up traffic.”

What it was all about

The bill the truckers were protesting, AB1767, would raise the weight-based IRP fee in California.

It would increase the total fee from $1,700 to $2,420, an increase of 42 percent. Truckers who run all their miles in California would pay the entire fee; those who run part of their miles there would pay based on what percentage of their total miles they run in California.

The original version of the bill called for the fee hike to take effect immediately on passage of the bill. However, now it will, if passed, take effect Jan. 1, 2004.

AB1767 passed the Assembly June 3 by a vote of 47-0. It is now on the Senate floor awaiting final approval. However, it has been there since June 18, and no final vote is scheduled yet.

Land Line first reported on the possible increase in June.

Anita Gore, a spokeswoman for the Department of Finance, said then that because of a new law in the year 2000, California changed from calculating its fee categories based on unladen weight to using laden weight, which put it in compliance with how most member states in the International Registration Plan operate. The plan is an agreement among states and Canadian provinces that manages reciprocal registration fees.

The 2000 bill in California was supposed to be “revenue neutral,” meaning it was supposed to neither add nor subtract from the state’s revenue. But instead, the change left the state highway fund short – some media reports say as much as $160 million short.

State officials calculated that an increase of 42 percent would be necessary to make up the difference – the exact amount of fee increase being proposed.

Not the only fee increase down the road

The fee isn’t the only increase in costs truckers in the state are facing. The state’s vehicle license fee is set to automatically increase in October.

According to a letter sent by Ken Reed, chief of the state’s IRP office, the vehicle license fee dropped in 1998 after the General Assembly passed a law that cut the payments made by vehicle owners subject to California registration. However, the same bill, Reed wrote, required the fee to return to its previous, higher level when California’s general fund did not have enough money to pay for the “offset,” or reduction. The fee is based on a percentage of a truck’s value. On a $100,000 rig, the fee last year would be $650. After Oct. 1, the fee on that hypothetical truck will rise to its former level, roughly $2,000.

However, a fight is under way to stop that increase as well. The Los Angeles Times reported Aug. 12 that Democrats were floating a plan that would roll back the automatic increase.

--by Mark H. Reddig, associate editor

Mark Reddig can be reached at mreddig@landlinemag.com.

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