Feuer’s Sales Tax and Climate Change Bills Pass Committee

The California Assembly Transportation Committee passed Assemblyman Mike Feuer’s legislation that would allow LA County to place measures on the ballot to fund transportation projects.  A.B. 2321 allows for the county to levy an additional half cent sales tax that would go directly to transportation projects after approval by two-thirds of voters.  The controversial A.B. 2558 will allow the county to increase vehicle fees or the gas tax in the name of fighting climate change with majority support of voters.  Both initiatives could be on the ballot this fall.

Passing committee is just a first step in allowing LA County to raise the funds they need to build all of the projects outlined in the Long Range Plan. Before any of these fees will be in place, Feuer’s legislation would need to pass the full Assembly, the full Senate, be signed by the governor, placed on the ballot by L.A. County and passed by the voters.

Following a brief debate on whether or not animals should be allowed in the rears of pickup trucks, the Committee discussed A.B. 2321.

After a brief speech by Feuer introducing the legislation, Metro Board Member Richard Katz and a representative from the San Fernando Valley Chamber of Commerce both testified in favor of the bill.  Disappointingly, both testified about how the new funds would impact on automobile congestion. There was almost no discussion of how the funds could be used to provide alternatives to the automobile. When others were given the chance to briefly voice support for the legislation, CALPIRG representative Emily Rusch quickly commented that these funds could be used for a lot of deserving transit projects.

Other groups that voiced support for A.B. 2321 were the City of Los Angeles, California Transit Association, Metrolink, the City of Los Angeles, the Auto Club of Southern California, Environment of California, California State Council of Labor and the California League of Conservation Voters.  A.B. 2321 is expected to also get the support of the City of Beverley Hills which will vote on supporting the bill at tomorrow night’s meeting. No organizations testified against the legislation.

The committee voted to move the bill to the full Assembly. Assemblymen Martin Garrick R-SD) and Bob Huff (R-Anaheim) both voted against the bill.

Next the committee debated A.B. 2558, the Climate Change Mitigation and Adaption Fee. The legislation would allow LA County to place an additional fee on vehicles that cause the most pollution in the form of a tax on gasoline or vehicle registration.  The bill was in for a rough afternoon as it took three roll calls for it to receive the needed eight votes to clear committee.  While the bill never had more Assemblymembers opposed to it than for it, it took Assemblymember Kathleen Galgiani (D-Stockton) to change her vote at 5:55 P.M. almost four and a half hours after the hearing began to change the vote count from seven in favor and six opposed to the needed eight in favor with only five opposed.

Feuer was again joined by representatives of Metro and the San Fernando Valley Chamber of Commerce in promoting the legislation. Feuer noted that this bill would have a "transformative impact on transportation" in LA County by recognizing that certain vehicles do more damage to the environment and taking from those that do the most damage to support projects that lesson our impact on air quality, greenhouse gases and our transportation network.  After speaking with some of those opposed, Feuer agreed to amend the bill so that LA County has to put the measure on the ballot by 2012 or lose its authority and to place a sunset on the bill so that the fee will expire 30 years after its passage.

Also supporting the bill were a diverse group of environmentalists, labor groups and clean air advocates including the City of Los Angeles, California League of Conservation Voters, the Teamsters, CALPIRG, California Transit Agency, California Environmental Association, Planning and Conservation League, NRDC, the Coalition for Clean Air, and the California Association of Labor.

This time, there was significant opposition to Feuer’s legislation.

Speaking for the Auto Club of Southern California, Tim Chang questioned whether a fee being placed on polluting vehicles was really a "fee" and not a "tax." A "tax" would require a two-third’s approval by voters, while a fee would only require a majority. Chang also wanted a clear summary of how funds would be spent before the legislature approved the bill. Feuer later noted that on top of mandating that two-thirds of the proceeds go towards the construction of transit projects, his legislation does require a plan on how to spend the funds and an oversight authority.

Lisa Martin, representing the California Taxpayers Association, agreed with Chang that Feuer is talking about a "tax."  She also argued bill should be rejected because the state’s laws limiting Greenhouse Gasses specifically states that no further fees should be assessed people to fight global warming.

Also opposing the bill were the California Chamber of Commerce, Western State Petroleum Association, California Independent Oil Association, BP, and the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers. The California New Car Dealership Association removed their opposition to the bill after Feuer accepted the amendments sun setting the legislation earlier.

On the matter of "fee" vs. "tax," Feuer responded that he has already asked the Legislative Council to opine on whether his legislation qualifies as a user fee. If they decide it is a tax, he will change the language before it goes to the Assembly floor for a full vote.

At the end of public comment, Feuer was questioned by Assemblyman Warren Furutani (D-LA) on why the bill is not receiving support from more municipalities. Feuer responded that he expects more support as the process of implementing the fee moves forward.

Assemblyman Guy Houston (R-Brentwood) rose to oppose A.B. 2558 but wanted to state for the record that he has supported carbon taxes in the past. The difference is that previous legislation, legislation that allowed an agency to place a fee on people without a popular vote, was discussed as an "air quality" tax and not a "climate change" bill.

Ultimately, Assemblyman Furutani did vote in favor of the legislation, which proved to be a vitally important one.  Without his support, the legislation wouldn’t have passed committee even with Galgiani’s change of heart.


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