Proposal to raise Delaware vehicle fees clears Senate panel

DOVER — A Democratic proposal to raise motor vehicle fees to pay for road and infrastructure improvements in Delaware is headed to the Senate floor for a vote.

The bill, which cleared the House on a straight party-line vote, was released from the Senate Bond Committee after a hearing Wednesday with the support of its four Democratic members. The panel’s two Republican members spoke against it.

The legislation increases the tax on car sales from 3.75 percent to 4.25 percent. Penalties for late license and registration renewals, along with several other fees, would increase substantially.

The increases would take effect Oct. 1 and generate about $24 million annually, with half of that coming from the higher vehicle sales tax.

Supporters say the increases, which are supported by business and labor groups, will generate much-needed funds for road projects and create jobs.

“If we don’t do this kind of stuff, we will increasingly feel the burden of an unsatisfactory, insufficient, infrastructure in our state, and that will be a problem for us for years to come,” said Sen. Brian Bushweller, D-Dover.

Opponents argue that the increases will be a burden for working-class and low-income people, and that lawmakers should focus instead on cutting spending in other areas and spending taxpayer money more wisely.

“Delaware does not have revenue problems. Delaware has a spending problem,” said Sen. Colin Bonini, R-Dover.

But Jim Lardear, director of public and government affairs for the AAA Mid-Atlantic motor club, said the bill will help make roads safer for motorists.

“Serious risks exist for doing nothing to improve Delaware’s infrastructure,” said Lardear, citing both safety problems and mounting costs to repair damage to automobiles caused by crumbling roads.

“Motorists are going to pay one way or the other,” he said.

State transportation secretary Jennifer Cohan noted that even with the increases, the fees paid by Delaware motorists will still be lower than those paid by residents of neighboring states.

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