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Driver fee would aim to reduce warming

Times Staff Writer

Motorists in Los Angeles County could end up paying an extra 9 cents per gallon at the gas pump, or an additional $90 on their vehicle registration, under proposals aimed at getting them to help fight global warming.

Voters would be able to decide whether to approve a “climate change mitigation and adaptation fee” under legislation being considered by state lawmakers and endorsed by the board of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

The money would fund improvements to mass transit and programs to relieve traffic congestion at a time when transportation dollars from Washington and Sacramento are hard to come by.

“At this point the people of the Los Angeles region have just had it when it comes to traffic and air quality,” said Assemblyman Mike Feuer (D-Los Angeles), author of the legislation, AB2558.

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But opponents already are rallying against the measure, saying it exploits public concern about climate change to tap taxpayers for the MTA’s regular services: providing bus and rail lines.

“This seems to be a cashing in on public sympathies on global warming to generate additional funding for programs that already exist,” said Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn.

Coupal also objected to the measure’s being called a “fee” -- which requires a simple majority for approval -- instead of a “tax,” which requires two-thirds approval.

Feuer’s bill would allow the MTA board to ask voters either for a fee of up to 3% of the retail price of gas, or for a vehicle registration fee of up to $90 per year. The money would pay for programs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The registration fee would be higher for cars, trucks and SUVs that produce more carbon emissions, a feature that backers said would discourage drivers from using higher-polluting vehicles.

Either alternative could produce $400 million a year for public transit projects, according to Roger Snoble, the MTA’s chief executive.

The MTA board supports the bill.

“With the state budget deficit and dwindling federal transportation dollars, we must look at local revenue sources,” said a board report signed by Snoble.

The board has not decided whether to put such a measure on the ballot or which of the two revenue alternatives it would seek, said Michael Turner, government relations manager for the MTA.

Gerry Miller, chief legislative analyst for the city of Los Angeles, said he supported the bill in concept. In a report to the City Council, he described it as essentially a tax on the carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels.

Few government agencies have imposed such a charge, Miller said.

“Currently, the prices of gasoline, electricity and fuels include none of the costs associated with climate change,” Miller’s report says. “This omission suppresses incentives to develop and deploy carbon-reducing measures. . . .”

County Supervisor Mike Antonovich was the only MTA board member to vote against Feuer’s bill.

“The supervisor believes we are already taxed enough on gas,” said Tony Bell, an Antonovich spokesman. “Gas taxes aren’t going to their promised target anyway.”

Antonovich also believes the MTA board is stacked in favor of Los Angeles and that the city has received more than its fair share of money, shorting other areas of the county.

Coupal said not everyone agreed that man-made carbon emissions are causing global warming, but even if they are, he questioned the idea of the MTA asking local taxpayers to address the issue.

“We would definitely oppose it,” Coupal said. “To the extent that something like climate change is a problem, it should be addressed on a global basis.”

The proposal is gaining support among environmentalists, who believe local and state action is justified in the face of what they see as an inadequate response by the federal government.

“People will support it if they know it’s something that will not only fight global warming but improve their quality of life,” said Tim Frank of the Sierra Club of California.

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patrick.mcgreevy@latimes.com


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