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Most of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's budget special session ideas are anathema to Democrats (social service and health cuts) or Republicans (insurance tax, prisoner shift to local jails).

But at the back of Schwarzenegger's 11-page document was one item that may very well advance -- an accounting maneuver involving vehicle weight fees. The change faces the least political resistance and would provide the state a $1.57 billion solution over the next 18 months, according to the Department of Finance.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, sounded positive, though he wasn't promising action before Schwarzenegger leaves office. "I'm sure that is something we can support," he said. "Whether we take the formal action now or in January may not make a difference."

The proposal comes as a direct response to Proposition 22, which voters passed in November. Backed by local government groups, the initiative prevents the state from using local government funds to help balance the budget. It also prevents the state from using fuel excise taxes to pay transportation bond debt, eliminating a March budget solution that would have saved the state more than $800 million.

The Schwarzenegger idea works around Proposition 22 by moving the fuel excise taxes through another transportation revenue stream -- vehicle weight fees. The vehicle weight fees would pay for bond debt, while the excise tax money would pay for transportation projects formerly financed by weight fees.

The change may defy the spirit of Proposition 22. But Finance Director Ana Matosantos and other Capitol aides said Monday they believe the move is legal since the drafters of the initiative never addressed vehicle weight fees.

Steinberg was a vocal opponent of Proposition 22, which restricted the Legislature's ability to rely on transportation and local government funds to help balance the budget. Politically speaking, it seems to be easier for Steinberg and other lawmakers to redo the gas-tax deal than to cut health and welfare programs.



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