Cities, counties to sue California over lowered vehicle license fee

| 12/18/2003

A group of cities and counties are suing the state over Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's order to roll back a recent increase in the state’s vehicle license fee, The Los Angeles Times reported Dec. 17.

The group is being led by the governments of the city of Los Angeles and Los Angeles County, which between them will lose nearly a quarter of the $4 billion that experts say local governments will lose under the governor’s roll back, the newspaper said.

The vehicle license fee – for both cars and big rigs – dropped in 1998 after the General Assembly passed a law that cut the payments made by vehicle owners subject to California registration, according to a letter from Ken Reed, chief of the state’s IRP office. 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 higher fee is fairly new. California is in the midst of a significant budget crisis and faces large deficits. That meant the 1998 law, requiring the fees to go up, was triggered; the higher fees went into effect in early October.

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 went up to its former level, roughly $2,000. The average car fee increased at that time from $76 a year to $234.

The money goes to local governments to pay for such services as police and fire protection. The Times reported that local government shortfalls are running roughly $11 million a day.

In addition to Los Angeles, The Times said, the counties of Contra Costa, Humboldt, Orange, Riverside, Sacramento, San Diego, Santa Barbara, Tuolumne, Tulare and Yolo also plan to sue.

"Sacramento, either we see your dollars in our police stations and firehouses … or we will see you in court," Los Angeles Councilman Jack Weiss, a former prosecutor, told the newspaper.