The bill in question is SB 10, authored by the city's own Sen. Mark Leno. This is Leno's third crack at allowing cities to re-establish the Vehicle License Fee abolished by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger; his first attempt was vetoed by the governor in 2006 and his second died in committee.
Leno's bill would give San Francisco and other counties the right to set the VLF at the level it stood from 1948 to 1998 -- before Gov. Gray Davis abolished it because the state was so flush with dot.com dollars (it feels like a long time ago -- because it was). Back then, folks paid 2 percent of their vehicle's market value to their municipalities annually; for purposes of estimation Leno sets the average value at $300 a vehicle. The VLF was subsequently re-established by Davis when the state ran out of money, but Schwarzenegger made it his first call of order to nix it once again. Since the state was mandated to compensate counties for lost revenue, that resulted in a $40 billion drain from California's coffers -- "Isn't it interesting that we're now looking at a $40 billion deficit over the next 18 months?" Leno says.
If Chiu and his colleagues decide to set the VLF at half its previous rate, Leno estimates the city will gain $34 million. Going back to the 1998 rate should rake in $70 million.
For this to happen, San Francisco's Board of Supervisors would have to agree by a two-thirds majority to place the VLF on the ballot for the special June election. Voters would then have to agree to stick themselves with hundreds of dollars in fees -- and did anyone mention that there's a recession on? Then SB 10 would have to pass, by simple majority, through the State Senate. And then the bill would have to be signed by a governor who has already spat on it once (though Leno hopes support this time around from the San Francisco and Los Angeles Chambers of Commerce will make a difference -- "those are the kind of voices the governor listens to."). There's a lot of ricochets in that pool shot, and only one of them has to peter out to ruin the whole thing. Leno's best-case scenario is that his bill becomes the law of the land by January, 2010.
"Because the fiscal crisis is as great as it is, we're not in the situation we were when the governor vetoed the bill two years ago. And businesses that didn't support the VLF earlier do now," Leno says. "I am hopeful."