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Governor Arnold, the Car Tax, and Pigs in the Road
November 19, 2003
By Dan Gougherty

November 17, 2003 was a historic day for Californians. With the successful recall of Gray Davis, bodybuilder-turned-action-hero-movie-star-turned-politician Arnold Schwarzenegger was sworn in as the Governor of the fifth largest economy in the world.

While television crews from around the world and other Hollywood hangers-on converged in Sacramento to partake in the self-described "low-key ceremony" behind fencing (no doubt to keep the riffraff of the proletariat at bay) and tight security, I received an assignment to cover a governmental meeting in the small Southeastern Sacramento County community of Herald.

On my way back from the meeting, I was desperately thinking how I might add my two-cents to the day's events. Then it hit me, or rather, it almost hit my car. Traveling west on Highway 104, I made a very hard swerve to the shoulder to avoid a large flailing object in my lane.

Stunned, I pulled over to see what it was. My first thought was that someone had been hit. Fortunately, it was not a person, but rather a very large pig. It was obvious the poor creature had just been hit.

Concerned that other less skilled drivers might not be as adroit as me, I called 911 on my cell phone to report the hazard. After being told for more than five minutes that my call was important and would be answered in the order it was received, I gave up. I react the same way when trying to call my bank or the DMV.

Good thing that the creature fighting for its life in the middle of the road was a pig and not a person otherwise the delay in reporting this to emergency medical service would have been catastrophic. Their bacon would have been fried.

In this context, it should be noted earlier in the day Gov. Schwarzenegger's first official act was to sign an executive order repealing the car registration fee that had been automatically hiked earlier this year.

The fee was increased by a trigger mechanism signed into law three years ago when registration fees were lowered. The trigger was designed to kick in should the state find itself in a financial crisis. Just about everyone conveniently chose to ignore this fact as self-serving right-wing politicians worked people into a lather with this "issue."

The good news for car-crazed Californians is that the rollback means that all those high-priced SUV's and other gas-guzzling luxury car owners will be off the hook for $4 billion. The bad news is that the state's deficit instantly grew by the same amount and here's the kicker - most of the money from car registration fees funds local public safety agencies like the police, fire and medical emergency service and of course, 911 services.

So next time you call 911 for an emergency, don't get mad when the on-hold message has been changed to, "Hasta la Vista, 911."

Visit Dan Gougherty's blog Left Turn on Bird Street.

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