Fees on vehicles, rural homes may be challenged

SACRAMENTO — Every Californian with a vehicle will pay $12 more a year to register it, and millions of property owners who live outside cities will pay $150 annually for state fire protection under two new fees imposed by lawmakers as part of the budget passed late Tuesday.

However, the moves could face legal challenges from opponents who argue the fees are taxes in disguise.

Democrats who control the Legislature approved the fees without Republican support. By law, the Legislature cannot pass new taxes without a two-thirds vote, which requires approval from at least some Republican lawmakers.

But Democrats believe the vehicle and firefighting fees fall into a legal loophole by paying for services, and as a result can be passed with a simple majority under Proposition 26, approved by voters in November.

The $12 vehicle fee will go to the Department of Motor Vehicles for its administrative costs and will free a projected $300 million that in turn will go to local governments that will take over responsibility for tens of thousands of lower-level criminals.

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