Democrats push vehicle fee hikes through House

DOVER — The Democratic-controlled House of Representatives voted along straight party lines Thursday to raise fees collected by the state’s Division of Motor Vehicles.

House Bill 140 passed 25-16 without a single Republican vote and now goes to the Senate.

Little discussion took place before the vote, in contrast to Wednesday’s hour-long committee hearing on the bill.

Afterward, Majority Leader Rep. Valerie Longhurst, D-Bear, said she was “disappointed” but not surprised the vote

Rep. Valerie Longhurst

Rep. Valerie Longhurst

fell along party lines.

The bill was introduced last week to fanfare from Democrats after negotiations stalled. Republicans cried foul, claiming the majority caucuses had refused to compromise and dropped the bill with no advance notice.

Democratic lawmakers have pushed hard for more revenue to help cover proposed road and bridge projects.

According to the Department of Transportation, $780 million worth of construction could fall through the cracks over the next six years if no additional money comes in.

Two Republican members of the House Revenue and Finance Committee voted along with Democrats to release the bill to the floor Wednesday, but on Thursday the lawmakers were in lockstep.

Minority Leader Daniel Short, R-Seaford, said he believes the state needs to start shifting DelDOT’s budget out of the Transportation Trust Fund — originally intended solely for construction — to the General Fund.

Democrats have agreed to move $10 million, but Rep. Short said that is too low a total.

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 and are projected to take in close to $24 million. 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 and are projected to take in close to $24 million.
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

Republicans have favored a plan that would shift DelDOT’s operating budget to the General Fund $40 million at a time. Doing so would place additional pressure on the budget-writing Joint Finance Committee, but Rep. Short has been adamant funds could be created through cost-cutting.

Members of the Republican minority have also advocated for a way to guarantee that revenue from the fee increases is used solely for infrastructure. To that end, a “lockbox” amendment could be introduced soon.

“I told them it would be a friendly amendment, they just chose not to do it,” Rep. Longhurst said, referring to the Republican House caucus.

That amendment could be filed in the Senate.

The Senate could prove to be the bigger hurdle of the two chambers. As a fee-raising bill, the DMV proposal needs a three-fifths supermajority. Democrats have the numbers in the House, but after losing a seat in November’s election in the Senate, they will have to reach a compromise with the minority.

“I’m hoping that the Republicans come to the table,” Rep. Longhurst said.

She has stated repeatedly that infrastructure should not a partisan issue. While Republicans do agree road fixes are needed, they’ve disagreed with the Democrats about the means. Rep. Short, speaking on the floor before the vote, accused Democrats who support the increases of failing their constituents and called the plan the “wrong move at the wrong time.”

“We should be cutting costs, we should be looking for efficiency and we should be talking about things that are really important in this state,” he said. “I stand for everybody here: It’s a simple dollar for them, but for the general public it’s a lot, lot more.”

If the fee proposal passes the Senate, it would raise about $24 million more per year from the state’s motorists.

Some of that money could go toward restoring cuts made in the Community Transportation Fund and Municipal Street Aid. Altogether, the two went from $21.75 million last year to $11.38 million in the governor’s proposed fiscal year 2016 budget.

A gasoline tax increase could still be forthcoming, although Republicans are standing firm in their opposition.

Sen. Gregory F. Lavelle

Sen. Gregory F. Lavelle

Lawmakers are aiming to raise $50 million so the state can then borrow $50 million, with the goal of clearing the backlog of planned DelDOT projects.

For the second consecutive year, the governor’s proposed budget includes $40 million being moved from the Transportation Trust Fund to the General Fund. Rep. John Kowalko, D-Newark, the lone rank-and-file member to speak on the floor Thursday, criticized the plan as unsustainable.

After the vote, Sen. Gregory Lavelle, R-Sharpley, said the bill has no chance of passing the Senate unless the Democratic majority provides significant concessions.

The GOP is pushing for the lockbox, as well as higher prevailing wage levels. Perhaps foremost on the agenda, however, is moving DelDOT’s budget to free up space for roads and bridges.

“It makes no sense to put money into a fund that’s not working,” Sen. Lavelle said.

Reach staff writer Matt Bittle at mbittle@newszap.com

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