Can a Car Tax Save the State Parks?

Torrey Pines State Park 040410 323
Mike Madison

Last week, with little notice during an election week, a very important initiative qualified for the November ballot.

The so-far-unnumbered proposition asks voters to impose an $18-per-vehicle annual surcharge, on top of the current state vehicle license fee, as a way of creating stable funding for state parks and wildlife programs.

It's an interesting and daring proposal. Policy-wise, there's not an obvious connection between cars and state parks; generally policy mavens imposing a fees on cars would want the money to go to roads or bridges or some other government program that directly involves cars.

But as a matter of poiltics, it's an interesting test. Democratic gubernatorial nominee Jerry Brown has said he won't raise taxes -- unless voters go along. This car-tax-for-parks initiative is, thus, precisely the sort of measure we could see more of in a Brown administration. Are California voters, allegedly weary of taxes (despite their tendency to vote for such taxes in local elections), willing to raise taxes and fees on themselves if they know where the money is going?

The revenue source identified by the measure -- the vehicle license fee, or "car tax" -- is a controversial one. A big increase in that fee helped spark some of the popular anger that led to the recall of then-Gov. Gray Davis.

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