SAN FRANCISCO - California lawmakers have approved and sent to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger a bill that would allow the state's major ports to levy fees on the containers that cross their docks.

Those container fees could support about $5 billion of revenue bonds, according to one estimate. The bill would authorize the state to levy fees on containers moving through the ports of Los Angeles, Long Beach, and Oakland.

The bill allows fees up to $30 per 20-foot equivalent unit, a measure based on the smallest standardized shipping container. Most containers are longer.

Half of the revenue would be used to fund congestion-relief projects that improve the flow of container cargo, and the other half would be used to mitigate air pollution caused by cargo movement, according to the staff report prepared for the bill's final vote in the state Senate Tuesday. It passed 22 to 9, after clearing the Assembly in July by a 46-to-24 vote.

The Assembly Appropriations Committee's staff predicted the fees could generate almost $400 million annually, enough to support about $5 billion of revenue bond debt at any one time.

The bill's sponsor, Sen. Alan Lowenthal, D-Long Beach, has been trying to pass a container fee law for three years.

Schwarzenegger vetoed Lowenthal's first effort in 2006, saying it was flawed through a lack of accountability and a failure to coordinate with other funding sources.

Last year, Lowenthal withdrew the bill late in the session, announcing that the governor had agreed to work with him to develop acceptable language and bring the bill back this year.

The bill that passed Tuesday is the result of that effort.

"I can tell you the governor hasn't taken an official position on the bill - however, he is supportive of the concept," Schwarzenegger spokeswoman Rachel Cameron said yesterday.

The bill specifies railroad grade separation projects in the wider Los Angeles region, including the inland counties of Riverside and San Bernardino, as being eligible for funding. The final bill also specifies that the three ports retain the authority to levy their own container fees.

It will establish a Southern California Goods Movement Authority to govern the congestion-relief projects funded through fees at the two Southern California ports, while stating that the Port of Oakland and the Bay Area's Metropolitan Transportation Commission would oversee congestion-relief projects financed with Oakland fees.

The final bill, unlike last year's version of the legislation, deletes a requirement that container-fee backed bonds be issued through the California Infrastructure and Economic Development Bank.

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