Gov. Pete Wilson's message poured from telephone speakers in seven locations across the state simultaneously Friday as he urged local officials to join the campaign for a massive cut in the state's vehicle license fee.
"We need to cut the tax for the simple reason that it's fair, it's the right thing to do," Wilson said as one group listened at Lew Webb Ford in Garden Grove. That audience included council members from various cities, county supervisors and other candidates and community representatives.
The push is part of the wrangling with Democrats over how to spend a $4.4-billion budget surplus generated by the booming economy.
The annual vehicle license fee, which now is computed as 2% of a car's value, has been imposed on all cars in the state since 1935. The tax would raise $3.89 billion in fiscal 1998-99, according to the governor's office. Wilson wants to reduce the tax by 75% over the next five years.
His proposal took a hit this week when the nonpartisan legislative analyst's office predicted the $3.6-billion tax cut could lead to annual budget deficits of nearly $850 million by the turn of the century, possibly prompting cuts in education, prisons and other state-funded categories.
Democrats have said they would rather use most of the surplus to help public schools. And cities also fear that their share of income from the state's revenue will be pinched.
But Republicans argue that the cities will not feel a thing; any cuts to their income would be filled from other sources, said Assemblyman Dick Ackerman (R-Fullerton).
"With a $4.4-billion budget surplus, the Legislature has a responsibility to give money back to the citizens," said Ackerman, who attended the conference. "Hard-working Californians deserve a break, and we're going to give it to them."
The outcome of the dispute will be decided when the state passes its budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1.