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Would ‘Ensure’ Cities, Counties Get Vehicle Fees : Prop. 47: Measure Has No Guarantee

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Times Staff Writer

Proposition 47 on the June 3 ballot, if approved, will require the state to stick to the present practice of turning over California vehicle license fees to cities and counties.

Withholding such funds--as the state has done in troubled economic times--would not be allowed by the measure, but there would be no guarantee against the state’s using other means to accomplish the same thing.

This fiscal year, $1.2 billion in fees is being returned to local governments.

Proponents of the constitutional amendment, which has no organized opposition, say the amendment is needed to ensure that the three-year, $727-million dip into vehicle license fees by the state in the early 1980s is not repeated. That redistribution of fees was part of a series of temporary tax adjustments and spending cutbacks made to balance state and local government budgets after Proposition 13 slashed property taxes in 1978.

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But even some supporters of Proposition 47 admit that it may have little practical effect.

“It’s not a real guarantee,” said Don Benninghoven, executive director of the League of California Cities. “It’s more of a statement.”

The state legislative analyst’s office has noted that the measure would not guarantee that the overall level of aid to cities and counties would be maintained. While the state could no longer siphon off vehicle license fees, it could reduce other payments to local governments, cut back the rate of the vehicle fees or change how they are divided between cities and counties.

Nonetheless, state Sen. Ruben S. Ayala (D-Chino) who authored Proposition 47, said part of its purpose is to tell the Legislature: “You cannot balance your budget on (cities’ and counties’) shoulders.” The League of California Cities, the California Taxpayers Assn. and the California Sheriffs Assn. are all supporting the proposition.

Both the Assembly and the state Senate approved placing the measure on the ballot by lopsided margins. Ayala said some lawmakers, including Assemblyman John Vasconcellos (D-Santa Clara), chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, expressed concern during debate in the Legislature that the measure would restrict the state’s ability to deal with future fiscal problems. But last week, Vasconcellos’ staff said he has no comment on Proposition 47.

With an improved economy, a state budget surplus and all vehicle license fees having been returned to cities and counties for three years, the measure is not commanding much attention.

“This was the first time we were able to get it through and get it on the ballot,” said Benninghoven, explaining the delay. “When they were taking money away there was no way in the world to get the (legislative) committees to approve it.”

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