Vehicle license fee would generate $70M-plus for San Francisco 

click to enlarge Fundraiser: Revenue potentially raised through state Sen. Mark Leno’s vehicle license fee bill would likely be directed toward street upgrades and transportation work. - S.F. EXAMINER FILE PHOTO
  • S.F. Examiner File Photo
  • Fundraiser: Revenue potentially raised through state Sen. Mark Leno’s vehicle license fee bill would likely be directed toward street upgrades and transportation work.

San Francisco lawmakers and agencies are working to put a vehicle license fee increase before voters in hopes of generating more than $70 million for city coffers.

California Senate Bill 1492 allows local municipalities to put on the ballot a fee of up to 2 percent of a vehicle’s value — the rate before former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger reduced it in 2004.

San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors will have to decide whether to put the fee increase before voters. It would then need a simple majority to pass, and would probably go on the November 2014 ballot.

The board has the option of setting the percentage fee for the initiative — anywhere from its current rate of 0.65 percent to the maximum of 2 percent. Increasing the rate to 2 percent would generate $72 million annually for The City’s general fund, said bill author state Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco. A motorist with a vehicle valued at $15,000 would see his or her annual fee increase from $97.50 to $300 if the 2 percent rate is restored.

Leno noted that both the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce and Labor Council back the initiative, along with Mayor Ed Lee and the Board of Supervisors.

“There is an uncommon and forceful coalition of support for this program,” said Leno, who tried and failed to pass similar legislation six times in the past. “I think that will spell its success among San Francisco voters.”

Jim Lazarus, public policy director at the Chamber of Commerce, said the measure would be a good source of new revenue for The City. He also said the lion’s share of revenue should go toward transportation improvement projects. The funds could be used for Muni upgrades and streetscape improvements, since there is a direct link between those needs and the vehicle license fee.

While the Board of Supervisors can’t use the funding for one specific agency — that would require two-thirds support from voters — it can set up expenditure plans that could benefit the overall transportation infrastructure of The City. Revenue could go toward completing street renovations, replacing funds from a recently passed bond measure that is set to expire in 2014.

Mayoral spokeswoman Christine Falvey said Lee is meeting with various city agencies to discuss how to use the potential funds. Board of Supervisors President David Chiu said that when Schwarzenegger reduced the fee, it was devastating for street paving projects.

“I look forward to working with the mayor, my colleagues on the board and San Francisco residents to ask voters to use this tool to improve our pavement conditions, Muni, bicycling and walking,” said Chiu.

In the past, similar initiatives have gained support here. In 2010, more than 58 percent of voters approved a $10 vehicle license fee increase.

Still, some are nervous about the plan.

Athan Rebelos, general manager at DeSoto Cab, said his company should be exempt from the fee increase since taxis are an integral part of The City’s transportation network. There are no exemptions for taxi companies written into the state legislation.

wreisman@sfexaminer.com

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Will Reisman

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