Vehicle Fee Vetoed by Governor

$5 car tax vetoed despite healthy margins of approval in both
houses of the state legislature
Gilroy – The governor has vetoed a proposed $5 countywide vehicle license fee that stirred up a storm of controversy in Gilroy earlier this year.

The legislation, SB 680, would have raised $56 million over eight years for expressway improvements, additional “bullet train” cars for Caltrain, and local road projects in Santa Clara County.

Despite healthy margins of approval in both houses of the state legislature, Schwarzenegger, in an Oct. 7 veto message, called the bill a “piecemeal approach” to statewide transportation issues that lacked a popular mandate.

“This bill seeks to impose a new $5 tax on all cars in Santa Clara County and does so without a two-thirds vote of the people,” he wrote. “While the goal of the program to increase funds for transportation infrastructure is laudable and vitally needed, I do not believe these fees should continue to be added without the approval from the people upon whom the fee is imposed.”

In 2004, the governor approved a $4 vehicle license fee for San Mateo County. Like SB 680, State Senator Joe Simitian (D – Palo Alto) sponsored the bill to support county and local road improvements and transportation programs.

Santa Clara County Supervisor Don Gage, who spent months gathering endorsements for SB 680 from the county’s 15 cities, was surprised at the governor’s about-face.

“I don’t understand it because he did not veto the (fee) in San Mateo County,” Gage said. “It’s self-help. It’s not like we’re taking money from the state.”

Gage stirred up criticism in Gilroy earlier this year during his efforts to win support for SB 680, which Simitian would only sponsor with the seal of approval from all city councils in Santa Clara County. When Gilroy city council declined to endorse the bill in April by a 4-3 vote, Gage convinced Councilman Charles Morales to schedule a second vote on the bill and tip the council in favor of endorsement. Morales cited “a trend of regional cooperation” in his decision to reverse his no vote.

Vince Sollitto, the governor’s spokesperson, said the Santa Clara County car tax was one of about five county-level proposals Schwarzenegger rejected this year. He said the governor approved the San Mateo car tax in 2004 because the state failed to fully fund transportation programs that year.

“The governor certainly shares the concern of a number of localities in their desire to support transpiration spending,” Sollitto said. “This year, the governor was able to address that by providing $1.3 billion dollars” in statewide transportation funding.

If approved, SB 680 would have empowered the Department of Motor Vehicles to levy a $5 fee against vehicles registered in the county and to direct the funds to the Valley Transportation Authority.

The state bill would have provided Gilroy with $800,000 over eight years, although opponents argued the legislation left the cash-strapped VTA too much authority to redirect funds.

Serdar Tumgoren covers City Hall for The Dispatch. Reach him at 847-7109 or [email protected]

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