Can Sacramento save the NUMMI auto plant in Fremont?

LOS ANGELES -- State legislators in Sacramento are scrambling to save the last remaining car plant in California.

The Bay Area factory, which makes Toyota Corollas, Toyota Tundras and Pontiac Vibes, would receive sales tax benefits potentially worth millions of dollars under legislation introduced in the Assembly on Wednesday.

Another, more sweeping, bill, which would grant a host of tax and other incentives, is expected to be introduced in the state Senate on Thursday.

The moves were prompted by the increasing likelihood that the plant, New United Motor Manufacturing Inc., or NUMMI, based in Fremont, could close permanently.

The plant, which employs about 5,000 people, was opened as a joint venture between Toyota Motor Corp. and then-General Motors Corp. in 1984 and long praised as one of the nation's most advanced car factories -- a successful experiment combining Japanese and U.S. manufacturing techniques.

But as part of its bankruptcy process, GM said in June that it would abandon the relationship, prompting Toyota to say last week that it "must also consider taking necessary steps to dissolve" NUMMI.

"We believe that plant is a public good," said Sen. Roderick Wright, a Democrat from Inglewood, who co-wrote the Senate bill. He added that his own Los Angeles County district is home to parts suppliers that would be affected should NUMMI close. "The fact that we could lose our last car manufacturing facility is unconscionable."

But amid Sacramento's grinding budget crisis, there is considerable doubt about how much money would be available to provide tax cuts to one of the world's largest companies -- and whether any amount of taxpayer-funded goodies would be sufficient considering the depths of the auto industry's woes.

"How many extra millions do taxpayers have to give Toyota to stay?" said Lenny Goldberg, executive director of the California Tax Reform Association, who questions whether those kinds of incentives even work. "If you're going to give it away, give it away right."

Manufacturers have long complained about the cost of doing business in California. The legislation proposed this week would, in part, reduce that burden for the auto industry, sponsors said.

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