That sound you just heard may have been a collective sigh of relief from vehicle owners across the state.
Just five days after announcing a controversial proposal to triple vehicle license fees, a South Bay legislator is having a change of heart.
In the wake of backlash that extended from the halls of the Capitol in Sacramento to his district boundaries and even the confines of his own home, state Sen. Ted Lieu, D-Redondo Beach, is backing down from a plan to restore vehicle license fees slashed by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Hundreds of constituents reached out either personally, through his staff, or on social networking sites to oppose the proposal, Lieu said.
Even his wife, Betty, didn't like the idea.
"My wife said she was going to lead a group to oppose the ballot measure," Lieu said. "She was half joking."
Last week, Lieu told the editorial board of the Los Angeles News Group that the proposal to restore the 2 percent transportation system user fee would generate up to $4 billion annually for roads and public transportation. The fees, which currently stand at 0.65 percent of a vehicle's value, were slashed from 2 percent by Schwarzenegger. If it had been approved by the Legislature, the measure could have gone before voters in November 2014.
Reaction to Lieu's plan was swift and fierce.
"Do you think raising the car fees will create more car sales????" wrote user Bonnie Campbell Morrison on Lieu's Facebook page under a post congratulating the Stanford football team for their recent victory over Oregon.
Lieu said he decided on Sunday to rescind the proposal.
"I'm trying to be responsive to constituents," Lieu said. "It became clear to me that the best way to be responsive was to undo the proposal."
Lieu crafted the vehicle license tax plan with Transportation California, a lobbying group that includes construction companies and labor unions. On Monday, Executive Director Bert Sandman said the group would still try to push the proposal forward.
"We're disappointed, but we're looking to the bigger picture," Sandman said. "We're committed to look for new sources of funding for infrastructure and, ultimately, to be on a measure in 2014."
Lieu's proposed vehicle license tax increase was vetted through voter focus groups in Los Angeles and San Diego, starting in the fall of 2011 and stretching through the spring of 2012, Sandman said.
"I'm surprised he received so much backlash," he added. "Certainly, infrastructure conditions haven't improved since then."
But the attitude of voters apparently has. Proposition 30, Gov. Jerry Brown's tax initiative aimed at restoring education funding, passed earlier this month. Senior state lawmakers warned against floating another tax hike to voters, Sandman said.
Lieu said he had failed to properly understand the post-election political climate.
"I think I hadn't quite caught up to what the change meant," Lieu added. "Now we're in a different situation. The voters just voted to increase taxes for the first time in a long time. I think it's important to demonstrate to our voters that we're spending that money correctly and appropriately."
Kris Vosburgh, executive director of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, applauded Lieu's decision.
"It's good that (Lieu) has come to his senses," Vosburgh said. "It's about time these liberal Democrats start thinking about the working people here in California. It seems like government is constantly coming for a handout from taxpayers."
Although Lieu said he was not contacted by the governor, he acknowledged the large amount of opposition by his colleagues in the Democratic-controlled Senate, several of whom had issued statements opposing the measure. Lieu said he had planned on introducing the vehicle license fee bill during the 2013 session, and will continue to find ways to fund upgrades to the state's roadways.
But for now, his proposal is off the legislative calendar.
"My wife is certainly happy," Lieu said.
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