SACRAMENTO - New state legislation would reverse deep state budget cuts to four Riverside County cities by partially restoring a higher tax on people's vehicles.
But Republican opposition earlier this year to extending a 2009 temporary increase in vehicle license fees seemed as strong as ever Thursday, including among officials representing the four cities -- Eastvale, Jurupa Valley, Menifee and Wildomar -- facing insolvency.
The bill introduced Thursday would increase the annual vehicle license fee from the current 0.65 percent to 0.8 percent, beginning Jan. 1. The extra money would go to local law enforcement programs, loans related to Orange County's 1994 bankruptcy, and cities.
The measure's author, Assemblyman Jose Solorio, D-Santa Ana, said the bill would generate $470 million. He wants lawmakers to send the measure to Gov. Brown before the legislative year ends Sept. 9. There are no hearings scheduled.
"If ... (Republicans) want to make their communities whole, then they should at least read the bill, consider the bill, and then vote for the betterment of their communities," Solorio said. The bill requires the votes of at least two Republicans in both houses.
The $85.9 billion general fund plan approved in late June relied in part on taking cities' vehicle license-fee revenue to help pay for local law-enforcement grants. Many cities lost money in the shift, but none more so than the state's four newest ones, all of which are in Riverside County.
Republicans represent the area in the Legislature. Thursday, some officials called the legislation another attempt by Democrats to pry loose GOP votes to raise taxes.
Assemblyman Kevin Jeffries, R-Lake Elsinore, represents Wildomar and Jurupa Valley. He ruled out voting for the legislation.
"The cities want a fix and we're hopeful that we're going to find a fix," Jeffries said. "But I'm not going to vote to raise everybody's vehicle license fees, I'm just not going to do it."
Menifee "is barely hanging on," said Assemblyman Paul Cook, R-Yucca Valley. He left open the possibility he would support the bill.
"Right now I'm very suspect of it because it sounds like this is an end run using those cities that are in trouble to achieve their ultimate endgame and that's a tax increase," he said.
A Sacramento lobbying firm hired by the four cities helped craft the legislation. But even some city officials said they opposed the idea.
Jurupa Valley Councilman Verne Lauritzen accused state officials of pressuring city leaders "to compromise our no-tax principles."
"The choice is you either shaft the constituents by raising their taxes or support the state raising their tax. That is not a choice. That is crass Sacramento politics," said Lauritzen, the chief of staff for Riverside County Supervisor Jeff Stone.
Stone has used the cut to help build his case for creating a new state of South California.
The Jurupa Valley council was scheduled to vote Thursday on sending a letter to lawmakers urging support for the Solorio bill.
"It won't be an easy decision for any of us," said Jurupa Valley Mayor Laura Roughton. "I don't want any new taxes or fees. We're backed into a corner by a Legislature that is running amok."
The League of California Cities estimates that the four Riverside County cities will lose a combined $14 million in 2011-12. Some cities, such as Jurupa Valley, will lose 40 percent of their general fund revenue.
Lawmakers voted in February 2009 to temporarily raise the vehicle-license fee from 0.65 percent of a vehicle's market value to 1.15 percent. About a third of the increase went to local law enforcement programs.
The license fee reverted to 0.65 percent on July 1.
Brown and fellow Democrats in the Legislature wanted to extend the license-fee increase, along with higher income and sales taxes. Republicans rejected the proposal and blamed Democrats for refusing to consider a spending cap, lower pensions and other government changes sought by GOP lawmakers
The June budget replaced the money for local public safety programs by, in part, taking $130 million in vehicle-license fee money that used to go to cities and Orange County.
The bill introduced Thursday would raise the vehicle license fee to 0.8 percent starting Jan. 1. Local law enforcement would get $300 million and $35 million would go to the state Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement. Orange County would get $48 million to pay off its bankruptcy debt and the rest would go to cities.
"With what I see from Republicans, if a fee is specific and it goes to a good cause, such as public safety, they'll at least consider it," Solorio said.
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