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Individual counties could vote to raise vehicle fees under a bill that earned Senate approval today.

"This gives counties a tool they currently don't have in a time of crisis," said bill author Mark Leno, D-San Francisco.

In 2003, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger dropped the rate of what essentially is an annual tax on a vehicle's present value. The rate change from 2 percent to 0.65 percent took away a chunk of revenues counties relied on to pay for public safety and social services. A temporary increase to 1.15 percent went into effect in May 2009 and expires at the end of this month. Gov. Jerry Brown's budget plan calls for moving the expiration to 2016.

The proposal that passed the Senate by a 23-15 vote today allows a county board of supervisors, with a two-thirds vote, to authorize a vote for higher fees on county residents. If a majority of county voters signs off on the plan, their vehicle fee effectively would return to the original 2 percent rate.

Leno introduced the same bill last year, but it did not clear the Assembly floor.

Automobile manufacturers and dealers are opposed to attaching fees to vehicles, saying there's already a long list of hidden government costs.

None of the Republicans present voted for Leno's bill.

"This is another example of the insatiable appetite we have for raising taxes around this building," Sen. Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar, said on the Senate floor.

Senate Bill 223 is one of several measures moving through the Legislature with a goal of giving local officials a chance to collect more revenues. The most high-profile proposal has been Senate Bill 653 by Sen. President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg.


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