A proposed ballot measure that would have raised the controversial vehicle license fee in order to repair the state's pothole-filled roads and maintain train systems will not go before voters after all.
The group Transportation California, headed by former Caltrans director Will Kempton, and the California Alliance for Jobs announced Tuesday that it would not pursue a ballot measure in November that would have raised $3 billion a year when fully implemented.
"It doesn't appear to be a good time to pursue this," Kempton said. "Though it's very obvious the public is highly supportive of maintaining the existing transportation system, it's also clear the public is still feeling the effects of the economic downtown. That's a lingering problem."
The California Road Repairs Act would have increased the vehicle license fee by 0.25 percent a year for four years, raising it from 0.65 percent to 1.65 percent of a vehicle's value.
The withdrawal of the proposal drew mixed reaction from motorists. Joan Armstrong, of San Jose, said an increase in the license fee would have added "hundreds of dollars" for her family's three cars.
"As much as I hate potholes, that's far too much," she said.
But Jeff Cruz, of Hayward, thinks the state has to find some way to pay for smoothing out roads.
"Hiking the vehicle license fee seems the fairest way to me," he said.
Kempton said his group will look at other ways to raise money. Up first could be a legislative effort to lower the threshold for approving countywide sales taxes from two-thirds to perhaps 55 percent of voters.
"That certainly will be up for discussion this year," he said. "This is a need that has to be addressed and addressed quickly. But voters want to see their dollars well spent before they dig deeper into their pockets."
This would have been the first statewide transportation measure since a $20 billion bond was approved by voters in 2006. It would have been used exclusively for road, bridge and transit system maintenance, as well as rehabilitation and replacement of transit vehicles. None of it would have gone to widen highways or extend transit lines.
The usual source of transportation funds is the gas tax, but that pot of money is declining as more drivers purchase electric vehicles, hybrids and fuel-efficient gas-powered cars.
The vehicle license fee has been controversial since 2003, when Gov. Gray Davis raised the fee and motorists rebelled. Arnold Schwarzenegger campaigned against the increase during his effort to recall Davis, and he quickly abolished the license fee increase upon taking office.
In 2009, lawmakers approved a temporary 0.5 percent increase, raising about $1.6 billion annually to help close a budget shortfall. The 0.5 percent surcharge expired in July 2011.
Contact Gary Richards at 408-920-5335.