Examiner Editorial: More doomed attempts to gouge SF drivers

One can only wonder what our Bay Area elected officials are thinking, if they actually believe today’s economically shell-shocked voters will voluntarily agree to pay nearly 60 percent more for registering their vehicles.

Local lawmakers are hoping to place on the November 2010 ballot two measures that would balloon registration fees. One, still in the approval process in Sacramento, will allow localities to increase the state vehicle license fee and pocket the difference. The second would be a flat $10 “congestion fee” on each car registered in The City.

If voters miraculously approved both measures, the cost of registering a $15,000 car in San Francisco would jump from $238.50 to $376, an increase of almost 60 percent (which would annually contribute some $40 million into The City budget). The $10 congestion surcharge on San Francisco’s 530,000 registered vehicles would deliver about $5 million yearly.

Meanwhile, San Francisco motorists are being bombarded by an arsenal of cost hikes in various degrees of certainty. Higher bridge tolls are approaching for the Bay Bridge and all seven state-owned Bay Area bridges. Extending San Francisco parking meter hours deeper into evenings and weekends is still on the table. And gas prices in The City are currently $0.36 above the national average, which is pretty standard.

Both the vehicle license increase and the $10 congestion management surcharge are technically fees, not taxes, so they only need a simple majority to be approved by voters. The San Francisco County Transportation Authority still needs to complete a plan, a report and a directors’ approval vote before June 15 to get the surcharge before voters in November.

State Sen. Mark Leno’s bill enabling local add-ons to vehicle registration fees is still before the Legislature. Our Board of Supervisors is salivating over this legislation and will propose increasing the state fee from 1.15 to 2 percent of the auto’s value.

For these stealth taxes to have any chance while San Francisco unemployment remains around 10 percent, the backers must hammer home the allegedly wonderful benefits to be delivered by those new revenues. The $10 surcharge’s yearly $5 million would supposedly fund street and road rehabilitation, transit improvements, bike and pedestrian projects and traffic signal coordination. The $40 million license registration fee boost is loosely promised for city infrastructure improvements.

It seems doubtful San Francisco voters still believe golden promises about paying just a little more to permanently solve another pressing civic need. That’s not what happened when we contributed extra for school district construction, the parks, City College, Muni and all the rest. The Examiner’s best guess is that the majority of future self-taxing measures in San Francisco will be an exercise in futility and a demonstration of bureaucratic cluelessness.

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