Politics, government and public life for Southern California

Ex-Caltrans chief pushes vehicle license fee hike for road repair, transit

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Your annual vehicle license fee would more than double under a measure that may appear on next year’s ballot.

“California is facing serious transportation challenges,” former Caltrans director Will Kempton said.  “We need to do some things very quickly in order to protect the existing system.”

Streets are falling apart, highways are deteriorating, and mass transit systems need new rail cars, Kempton said. So he and California Transportation Commission member Jim Earp have filed a proposed ballot measure that would hike the fee from .65 percent of the value of a car to 1.65 percent.

The proposed constitutional amendment would be phased in over four years – a quarter percent a year. Until the late 1990s, the annual vehicle license fee in California was 2 percent. The state legislature reduced it under political pressure.

Kempton said the increase would raise $3 billion annually for transportation in California. Here’s how it would be distributed:

  • 25 percent to cities
  • 25 percent to counties
  • 40 percent to the state for freeways
  • 10 percent to mass transit systems

“Anybody who drives the roads knows we haven’t done a very good job of taking care of our infrastructure,” Kempton said.

The workhorse of transportation funding in the state has been the gas tax, but that’s producing less and less revenue every year as cars become more fuel-efficient, Kempton said.

In addition, about $20 billion from a 2006 statewide transportation bond runs out at the end of the year.

Kempton said he and  Earp intend to conduct more voter research before making a final decision to begin collecting signatures for a November ballot measure.  

It may not be the only transportation measure on the ballot. In Los Angeles, two city councilmembers are pushing a $3 billion dollar transportation bond that also could appear on the November ballot.

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