The battle over higher motor vehicle fees may not be over, even though a House of Delegates committee rejected the proposed increases this week.
House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr. said last night that he would reconsider a Schaefer administration bill that would raise fees charged by the Motor Vehicle Administration if the state Senate could reach an acceptable agreement with transportation officials on how the money would be used.
"If the Senate can send over a package, the [House] committee will take another look at it," the Eastern Shore Democrat said.
However, Mitchell refused to budge on his opposition to another component of the Schaefer transportation bill -- a 5 percent sales tax on motor fuel.
At issue is how the state should pay for highway projects while faced with dwindling revenues.
The Schaefer bill proposed a gasoline sales tax and dozens of fee increases that would have pumped $1.6 billion into the state's depleted Transportation Trust Fund over the next five years. The fee proposal would have raised the costs of driver's licenses and vehicle registrations, for example. The House Ways and Means Committee rejected the bill Tuesday.
Mitchell, who opposes major new taxes this year, was willing to consider raising MVA fees.
The higher fees would have brought in more than $40 million a year, and House leaders wanted the Transportation Department to leverage that amount to borrow up to $170 million for highway projects.
But their potential support vanished when Transportation Secretary O. James Lighthizer refused to borrow that much money on the grounds that it would not be financially prudent.
Both sides appear to be at a standoff. Last night, Deputy Transportation Secretary Stephen Zentz said, "I don't think we're going to compromise on what we think is prudent."
Mitchell also criticized some administration officials for suggesting that road work would stop if the legislature rejects the gasoline tax and fee package.
"The statements they are putting out -- that there will be no construction, no paving -- are just not true," he said.
Those statements, Mitchell said, have led people to believe that Maryland will have no work for highway construction companies in coming months.
Mitchell released a list of $671 million worth of projects that could be put out for bids during the next 15 months. A total of $592 million worth of projects would be deferred. Legislative analysts compiled the list from information supplied by the Transportation Department, he said.
Most of the projects that could proceed involve road repaving, bridge redecking and similar maintenance work.
Some projects that would be deferred include:
* Land acquisition, lane reconstruction and building for portions of Md. 100 in Anne Arundel.
* Interchange construction at Interstate 83 and Beaver Dam Road and land acquisition for U.S. 1 projects in Baltimore County.
* Land acquisition and interchange construction for portions of U.S. 29 in Howard County.