SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Every Californian with a vehicle will pay $12 more a year to register it, and millions of property owners who live outside cities will pay $150 annually for state fire protection under two new fees imposed by lawmakers as part of the budget passed late Tuesday.

However, the moves could face legal challenges from opponents who argue the fees are taxes in disguise.

Democrats who control the Legislature approved the fees without Republican support. By law, the Legislature cannot pass new taxes without a two-thirds vote, which requires approval from at least some Republican lawmakers.

But Democrats believe the vehicle and firefighting fees fall into a legal loophole by paying for services, and as a result can be passed with a simple majority under Proposition 26, approved by voters in November.

The $12 vehicle fee will go to the Department of Motor Vehicles for its administrative costs and will free a projected $300 million that in turn will go to local governments that will take over responsibility for tens of thousands of lower-level criminals.

The $150 fire fee will be imposed on more than 846,000 homes in 31 million rural acres covered by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. It would raise an estimated $50 million the first year, and ultimately $200 million annually, to prevent and fight fires in the vast area covers about one-third of the state.

The nonpartisan Office of Legislative Counsel ruled that both fees can be imposed without a two-thirds vote under Proposition 26 to directly pay for specific state services, said state Sen. Mark Leno, who chairs the Senate budget committee.

Moreover, the vehicle fee is allowed because it increases an existing fee from $31 to $43, said Leno, D-San Francisco.

As for the fire fee, he argued that it’s only fair for rural residents to pay for their own protection instead of having the money come from general taxes.

“Fee for service. You get what you pay for,” Leno said.

That reasoning persuaded Kody Binns, a 30-year resident of South Lake Tahoe, Calif., though she wasn’t happy about it.

Her home was among 254 destroyed four years ago when a wildfire swept through a forested subdivision. She barely escaped with her two sons, dog and cat.

As souvenirs, she keeps several shiny pieces of once-molten metal — all that remains of her home — and a since-renovated all-terrain vehicle that had the seat and all four tires melted away.

“Everything has gone up,” she said, complaining of higher property taxes and water fees. “I can’t afford it, but I think it’s a good idea. Maybe we could hold a bake sale or something.”

The argument didn’t persuade state Sen. Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar, though he acknowledged the increases may pass legal muster.

“We heard earlier that this budget contains no taxes and you should understand, technically, it doesn’t,” Huff said during the budget debate. “Well, that’s a little accounting gymnastics, but that’s how you circumvent legal taxes but you still charge people more money.”

The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association is analyzing the bills and considering a legal challenge, said association legislative director David Wolfe. He said the association must wait until Gov. Jerry Brown signs the measures into law, and may wait until vehicle and homeowners begin paying the fees before a possible lawsuit is filed.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

Comments (11)
  1. Robert Brown says:

    Reach Out Reach Out and Touch Someone

  2. Mace says:

    When does it ever end? I may as well rent, and bike LOL

  3. Landsnekt says:

    Don’t you mean reach out, reach out and take from someone.

  4. Sick of Waste says:

    a tax by any other name is still a tax

  5. Jobless Deb in Sacramento says:

    i hate it as much as anyone, that the vehicle registration (car “tax”) is going up by $12.00, but lets face it. the state is broke. 12 dollars is a mere pittance to pay, to free up $300 million. hard sell, i know, and i’m sure the whiners will jump all over my opinion and frankly, go ahead, 1st amendment and all. but just so you know, i’m losing my home, i lost my job, i’m partially disabled, i can’t find new work and i’m out of unemployment benefits, but i can still collect a can or two to pay the $12.00. it’s a dollar a month. do something about the unemployment rate. that’s what will help me.

    1. Old and In The Way says:

      The issue is waste. If the waste were to be cut the state would have plenty of money for all of it’s legitimate needs. Combine that with incredibly onerour regulations and you can’t wonder why business is leaving in droves. 35 years ago I started a business that I, along with my partner, was able to build to a point where we had 175 employees, and these were high paying jobs with full benefits. If I were to contemplate that today, there would be no chance. When we sold the company a few years ago the first thing the new owners did was shut the Sacramneto office and move headquarters to Georgia. They didn;t want to deal with CA. I’ve lived here for 60 years. If I could sell my house I’d be gone in a flash. The regulations, the fees, the taxes, are too much. The “progressives” have killed this state. It’s a real shame.

      1. OAITW says:

        Sorry for the typos…

    2. Are you kidding me? says:

      You might as well walk around with a “kick me” sign on your back. People with your mentality are why this state will never be off of life support.

  6. no more says:

    The state is broke because the state waste and spend on things that do not help but hurt the people of middle class . the state each year always whats more taxes so they can waste more .it is easier to raise taxes then to solve problems.

  7. Rural and Frustrated says:

    It’s the $150.00 fee for rural fire protection that’s got me worked up. Right now, there just isn’t $150.00 left in our annual budget. Every utility bill I have has risen 5-10% in the last six months… gas is astronomical (and unavoidable when you live in a rural area) and now an extra hit… targeted by Democrats at largely Republican areas.

    1. Old and In The Way says:

      So don’t pay it. If we all give them the big middle finger what can they do?

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