SACRAMENTO — Gov. Gray Davis signed a bill Thursday granting refunds to the 1.7 million motorists who were slapped with $300 fees when they registered their out-of-state cars in California.
The checks will average nearly $400 each, with interest, and will begin to go out in October, the governor said during a signing ceremony at a Department of Motor Vehicles office.
"This amounted to nothing less than an illegal and unconstitutional tax," Davis said. A state appeals court ruled last year that the fees unconstitutionally interfered with interstate commerce.
"This money never belonged to the state, it shouldn't have been collected in the first place, and it should be returned. Part of being governor is knowing when the state is right and when it is wrong," he said.
Republican Gov. George Deukmejian signed the fee into law in 1990, and it went to the state general fund, despite its name--the "smog impact fee."
Davis said 1.7 million people are eligible for refunds. More than 260,000 have applied, according to the governor's office. The state is working to locate others, including those who have since relocated out of state, said Davis spokeswoman Hilary McLean.
Davis signed the bill as about 200 DMV employees watched. One, Deborah Armenta, said she bought a car in Florida in 1990 and will welcome a refund. "It'll be nice to get back something that you paid to the state," she said. "I argued against it when I paid it, but I had no recourse, so I paid it."