Maryland Assembly considers increase in motor vehicle fees


ANNAPOLIS -- Car owners will see dozens of motor vehicle fees rise sharply on Sept. 1 if, as appears likely,the legislature approves a plan sketched yesterday by the state Department of Transportation for raising $35 million.

Drew P. Cobbs, a lobbyist for the Transportation Department, presented lawmakers at a briefing here yesterday with a schedule of 58 fee increases that were approved by the Senate but killed by the House during the recent General Assembly session.

That legislation proposed, among other things, raising the cost of replacement tags from $2 to $10, the price of a learner's permit from $22 to $25, the registration fee for the state's motorcycle safety course from $25 to $50 and the cost of a commercial driver's license from $10 to $20. (The Transportation Department has requested no increase in the annual vehicle registration fee or the 5 percent titling tax.)

If the increased fees were implemented by Sept. 1, Mr. Cobbs said, they would raise $35 million in fiscal 1992 and make it possible for the Transportation Department to borrow an additional $70 million.

That extra money, he said, would give the state the matching money it needs to prevent the loss of $312 million in federal highway grants.

The department is in a bind because state transportation revenue is down about $50 million for the fiscal year that ends June 30.

Several federally aided projects are now frozen, including construction of a new Route 450 bridge over the Severn River in Annapolis and the expansion of U.S. 50 between U.S. 301 and Interstate 97. The administration has said federal funds would be lost unless the fee bill passes.

No new fee bill has been drafted yet. But Mr. Cobbs and ranking lawmakers agreed yesterday that when the General Assembly meets for a special session June 26, it will probably consider a bill similar to the one previously rejected. (A hearing on the new fee bill is scheduled for June 18).

House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr., D-Kent, dropped his opposition to the fee increases last week after persistent warnings from the Schaefer administration that the state would lose the federal highway aid.

"I still believe there's no need for fee increases. I think they have the funds," Mr. Mitchell said at yesterday's briefing, attended by members of both the House and Senate.

But, he added, he thought the governor was ready to forfeit the federal highway money to prove his point.

Several other House legislators also said they remained skeptical of the need for higher fees. But none said they would vote against them.

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