Cost of driving could climb higher

The cost of owning a vehicle may climb even higher, even if you rarely drive the vehicle.

Legislation is working its way through the state Capitol that would allow cities to levy higher car-registration fees and gas taxes.

The Assembly bill, which is now in the state Senate, is meant to help reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.

The bill, co-sponsored by Assemblymember Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, would allow regional transportation agencies to increase vehicle-license fees up to $90, depending on the fuel efficiency of the vehicle.

Agencies would also be allowed to propose a 3 percent increase to a gallon of gasoline. For a gallon of gas at $4.50, that would mean a 13.5-cent increase.

A majority of the revenues would go to “climate protection” programs such as public transportation and infrastructure to promote bicycling and walking. One-fourth of the revenue would go to maintaining and rehabilitating “local streets and roads, the state highway system, sidewalks or bicycle routes.”

Huffman generated controversy earlier this month with a “pay as you drive” bill that would track California drivers’ mileage and report it to insurance companies, which charge more for higher mileage.

The Metropolitan Transportation Commission, which covers the nine-county Bay Area, has already indicated that it would propose a ballot initiative raising fees in a future election.

Any increase proposal would have to go to the voters in a regular election, but because the increases are considered fees, a simple majority would be needed to pass an initiative rather than the two-thirds majority needed to pass a new tax.

That has organizations such as the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association and the California Chamber of Commerce steamed. With gas prices at record highs, the idea of asking for more at the pump seems like the wrong place to hit California drivers, some say. AAA Northern California criticized the bill because the revenues were going to an “open-ended list of programs and projects purported to mitigate climate change.

“The measure is vague regarding how this money will be used and provides no performance goals or assurances that this revenue will actually result in meaningful [greenhouse-gas] reduction outcomes,” read a letter to Huffman and the bill’s cosponsors.

The state Senate did not vote on the bill in its session Wednesday, but it is expected to come up again next week. Current Assembly bills must be signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger by Sept. 30 to take effect and the state Senate has less than two weeks to act on legislation.

bbegin@sfexaminer.com

My story

“Unfortunately, they will be taxing the poor if they do that because it’s people who have to live far from work who most need cars. I think they should use a luxury-car tax.”

Emily Schubert, marketing professional, San Francisco

Increasing the cost to drive

  • Basic vehicle registration fee: $31
  • Surcharge for California Highway Patrol: $10

Options for local agencies

  • Freeway emergencies: $1
  • Deterring and prosecuting auto thefts: $1
  • Air-quality programs: $7
  • Removing abandoned vehicles: $1
  • Fingerprint identification: $1

 Revenues from an increased vehicle license fee would go to the following programs:

  • Infrastructure to promote safe bicycling and walking
  • Capital or operating expenses of public transit
  • Maintenance and rehabilitation of local streets and roads, the state highway system, sidewalks or bicycle routes

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