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06.24.09

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The Breakdown:

State Parks Access Pass


The proposed State Park Access Pass is enjoying its $15 of fame as the potential savior of the California state parks. Here's how it would work: Each year, when California car owners went to renew their vehicle registration, they would find the usual assortment of fees--$34 for registration renewal, $22 for CHP, the vehicle license fee--plus a new stand-alone fee of $15 for state park access. This would get them into state parks for free all year long.

It's colloquially explained as an addition to the vehicle license fee (also called the "car tax"), but technically it's not--and that's crucial because two-thirds of the Legislature must approve increased taxes, whereas raising fees requires a simple majority.

The vehicle license fee, incidentally, has ping-ponged wildly of late. Basically a property tax, for 50 years it was set at 2 percent of the car's value. Budget surpluses in the late '90s prompted the Legislature to knock it down to 0.65 percent and hand out rebates (remember those?). The dotcom bust triggered a rule resetting it at 2 percent in 2003; Schwarzenegger famously campaigned on repealing the "car tax" and reduced it to 0.65 percent his first day in office. Humbled by the budget crisis, in May he agreed to raise it to 1.15 percent, which translates to an extra $1.7 billion in annual revenue.


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