Panel OKs higher MVA fees Bill seen facing stiff opposition in House.


A bill that would increase the fees motorists pay for driver's licenses and vehicle titles appears likely to pass the Maryland Senate, but it could face a rocky road in the House of Delegates.

The Senate Budget and Taxation Committee passed the bill yesterday, and its chairman, Sen. Laurence Levitan, D-Montgomery, predicted the legislation will "fly through" the full Senate.

The bill would generate $42 million a year for now-stalled highway and other transportation projects by substantially increasing about 60 fees charged by the state Motor Vehicle Administration.

Should the measure, indeed, pass the Senate, it would seem to face an uncertain future in the House. A committee there killed similar legislation last week.

When asked yesterday if he would support the fee increases, House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr. replied, "I doubt it."

The Eastern Shore Democrat remained skeptical of the state transportation department's claim that it will lose federal aid unless it receives a significant revenue increase this year.

Maryland could lose up to $420 million in federal funds for projects such as interstate construction in Anne Arundel and Prince George's counties because the state does not have enough money to pay its share of the projects, according to Transportation Secretary O. James Lighthizer.

Mitchell said he has contacted federal transportation officials to determine the status of federal funds for Maryland. He said he would consider supporting the fee bill should he learn that the federal money is truly in jeopardy.

Members of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee were apparently less skeptical of Lighthizer's claims. They voted 10-2 yesterday to raise an array of MVA fees, some of which have not been increased in decades.

Under the bill, the cost of renewing a driver's license would rise from the current $6 for a four-year license to $20 for a five-year license.

Also, a title certificate for a new car would increase from the current $1 to $12, the tag-transfer fee would rise from $1 to $5, and a learner's permit would rise from $22 to $25.

Car, motorcycle and trailer dealers also would have to pay substantially more for business licenses. New-car dealers, for example, would have to pay $250 for an annual license, up from the $50 they pay now.

As expected, the committee rejected provisions from the

Schaefer administration bill that called for a 5 percent sales tax on motor fuel. Key lawmakers, however, predict that the General Assembly may have to raise gasoline taxes next year so Maryland can forge ahead with various highway projects.

As originally drafted, the Schaefer transportation bill would have pumped $1.6 billion into the state's depleted Transportation Trust Fund over the next five years through higher fees and gasoline taxes.

After yesterday's committee vote, Deputy Transportation Secretary Stephen Zentz said he was pleased that the fee portion of the bill remained alive. "I'm not happy, however, that we got less than one-fourth of what we were seeking" in revenues, Zentz said.

Zentz said the fee increases would enable state officials to retain federal aid currently on the books, with road and bridge maintenance as a department priority. He said, however, that he could not guarantee that planned upgrades to Interstate 97 and U.S. 50 in Anne Arundel County will continue.

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