Central Valley

Smog fee pushed for Valley vehicles

SACRAMENTO -- Thwarted last year, two Valley lawmakers are back with legislation that would authorize the Valley air district to raise vehicle registration fees to pay for smog clean-up.

Vehicle owners would pay up to $37 to the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District, up from the $7 per vehicle the district collects today.

Most of the money would go to replace and retrofit polluting cars and trucks, helping the Valley meet federal clean air standards, district officials say. About $94 million could be raised annually if air district board members approve the full increase.

Last year, a similar bill fell victim to a Senate-Assembly feud over fee-related bills.

The fight appeared to have little to do with the merits of the Valley bill.

Sen. Dean Florez, D-Shafter, who carried the bill, called it an "internal war." He is pushing the same bill this year and is joined by Assembly Member Juan Arambula, D-Fresno, who introduced an identical bill.

Arambula's bill, Assembly Bill 2522, passed its first test Monday, clearing the Assembly Transportation Committee on an 8-2 vote.

He cited the Valley's high asthma rate. Families "are depending on us to act now," he said.

Opponents include California AAA Clubs. The motorists organization argued in written testimony that the bill is not a fee, but a tax that should require local voter approval.

The bowl-shaped Valley is one of the worst air basins in the nation.

Much of the pollution comes from cars and trucks, over which the local district has little regulatory control.

The fee increase is supported by a rare alliance of environmental and farm groups. Farmers -- a frequent target of clean-air legislation -- see the bill as a way to spread the cost of cleaning the air to all drivers.