Delaware Democrats push for deal to help fund infrastructure repairs

DOVER — Democrats believe they can help solve Delaware’s infrastructure funding troubles by hiking some motor vehicle fees.

In exchange for Republican support for those increases, Democratic legislative leaders are offering to alter the state’s prevailing wage laws.

But it’s far from a done deal.

Republicans, at this point, are accusing the majority Democrats of not negotiating in good faith.

The Democrats’ proposal, House Bill 140, would raise a plethora of Division of Motor Vehicle fees and take in an extra $24 million a year from the state’s motorists, according to Democratic lawmakers.

Under the proposal, fees for late renewal, issuance of duplicate documents and reinstatement of a suspended license would increase.

Most of those fees have been untouched for 20 years, and even with the increases, they still would be lower than in surrounding states, contends Majority Leader Rep. Valerie Longhurst, D-Bear.

The goal in looking at fee rates was to raise only those that would impact a small number of residents, Speaker of the House Peter Schwartzkopf, D-Rehoboth Beach, said.

“As long as you follow the law and do things on time, you’re not even going to be touched by those fees,” he said.

DMV FEE  PROPOSALS Under the Democratic-sponsored House Bill 140, some Division of Motor Vehicles fees would see an increase. What follows is a list of the proposed changes, including the current cost. They would take place Oct. 1. Motor vehicle document fee: 3.75 percent to 4.25 percent Driver’s license late renewal: $1.15 to $10 Vehicle registration late renewal: $10 to $20 Reinstatement of suspended driver’s license: $25 to $40 Reinstatement of a revoked driver’s license: $143.75 to $200 Issuance of duplicate driver’s license: $10 to $20 Issuance of duplicate title: $25 to $50 Issuance of duplicate vehicle validation sticker: $1 to $5 Issuance of duplicate registration card: $2 to $10 Temporary vehicle tag: $10 to $20 Driver’s license records: $15 to $25 Tag number transfer: $10 to $20 Issuance of vehicle title: $25 to $35 Issuance of lien on title: $10 to $20

DMV FEE PROPOSALS
Under the Democratic-sponsored House Bill 140, some Division of Motor Vehicles fees would see an increase. What follows is a list of the proposed changes, including the current cost. They would take place Oct. 1.
Motor vehicle document fee: 3.75 percent to 4.25 percent
Driver’s license late renewal: $1.15 to $10
Vehicle registration late renewal: $10 to $20
Reinstatement of suspended driver’s license: $25 to $40
Reinstatement of a revoked driver’s license: $143.75 to $200
Issuance of duplicate driver’s license: $10 to $20
Issuance of duplicate title: $25 to $50
Issuance of duplicate vehicle validation sticker: $1 to $5
Issuance of duplicate registration card: $2 to $10
Temporary vehicle tag: $10 to $20
Driver’s license records: $15 to $25
Tag number transfer: $10 to $20
Issuance of vehicle title: $25 to $35
Issuance of lien on title: $10 to $20

A second bill, House Bill 145, was filed as part of the negotiations with the Republican caucuses. It would lift the prevailing wage level from $100,000 to $500,000 for new construction and from $15,000 to $45,000 for repairs.

Under Delaware’s prevailing wage law, state-funded construction projects must pay laborers a set rate for projects above the wage level.

Republicans have argued the prevailing wage costs the state money by forcing the government to pay higher salaries to workers. For instance, an electrician is paid $63.60 per hour on most state projects, well above the average rate of $26.21, according to the Delaware Department of Labor and U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

By raising the level, there would be fewer projects paying the prevailing wage, thus saving the state money. It’s something Democratic lawmakers, many of whom have strong labor ties, were reluctant to give up but agreed to do so in return for sacrifices from the Republicans.

Minority Leader Rep. Daniel Short, R-Seaford, said Tuesday he would be willing to consider some of the Democratic-driven plans in return for at least one of three things: a change in prevailing wage, the institution of right-to-work statutes and a shift of some of the Department of Transportation’s budget out of the Transportation Trust Fund (originally intended solely for road and bridge construction) into the General Fund.

But Republicans do not believe enough has been done. That opposition could prevent the DMV bill from passng. “I don’t know where we’ve gotten any of our initiatives,” Rep. Short said.

The prevailing wage levels remain far too low, both he and his counterpart in the Senate, Minority Leader Sen. Gary Simpson, R-Milford, said. Very few repairs can be done for less than $45,000, Sen. Simpson said, citing $250,000 as a specific figure he wanted to hit.

The $10 million transfer would be a start toward potentially moving more money, but Rep. Short took issue with it, arguing the process should be done in large increments over a few years. While that would put a greater strain on the General Fund, he believes additional funds could be made available through cost cutting.

“If they want me to go through and do it for them I’d be glad to do it, but they have to give us free rein,” he said.

It was during Gov. Michael Castle’s administration in the early 1990s that the state began moving DelDOT’s expenses into the trust fund, which now is dedicated entirely to the agency’s budget.

That never should have happened in the first place, Rep. Schwartzkopf said, and lawmakers are set to move some funds into a “lockbox,” ensuring they can be used only for transportation projects. That likely will be done in an amendment to House Bill 140.

Transferring money from the trust fund to the General Fund will take place during the budget-writing process, something handled by the Joint Finance Committee and Joint Committee on Capital Improvement later in the month.

During a conference call with reporters, Rep. Schwartzkopf claimed that Democrats are giving up more than their share — Republicans are getting two of the three things they wanted, he said. Although discussions had gone well, the other side kept moving the goal, he said.

After waiting for GOP legislators to sign on, the majority caucuses released the bills to other lawmakers around 8 p.m. Thursday and filed them Friday.

A letter of support received Thursday afternoon from several business coalitions, including the Delaware Chamber of Commerce, helped spur their release, the speaker said.

But Republicans see the timing as a sign of disrespect.

Because it contains higher fees, the DMV bill requires a 60-percent supermajority to pass both chambers.

Democrats have the numbers in the House but not in the Senate, meaning they would have to sway a Republican in the upper chamber — not likely, according to Rep. Short — or convince the GOP as a whole to sign on. Democratic House leadership is hoping to have the bills heard in committee next week and passed soon to keep them separate from the efforts of the Joint Finance and Capital Improvement Committees.

It’s possible more legislation could be on its way, as discussions on a gasoline tax increase will continue, Democratic leaders said. Republicans remain opposed, however, meaning there likely would be more compromise required to get to a point where a small hike is palatable for everyone.

According to Sen. Simpson, no further meetings are set, although he noted that does not indicate a lack of interest in a solution.

 

Reach staff writer Matt Bittle at mbittle@newszap.com

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