Md. motorist fees raised as budget is cut Separate bills pass Assembly, become law in just a day


A table of increased Motor Vehicle Administration fees published in The Sun yesterday incorrectly listed the old 45-day temporary fee for dealers. The increase is from 50 cents to $5.

The Sun regrets the errors.

ANNAPOLIS -- Legislators quickly patched the leaky state budget yesterday with money lifted from parks, housing and emergency funds.

Then they jump-started $467 million in stalled road and other transportation projects with sharply higher fees for motorists.

And then, brushing past summer tourists and protesting state workers conducting a demonstration, they got out of town.

The General Assembly's one-day special session was over in less than four hours. Gov. William Donald Schaefer quickly signed the two separate bills. One cuts spending to erase a $109 million deficit, and the other replenishes the depleted Transportation Trust Fund by permitting the Motor Vehicle Administration to raise more than 60 customer fees.

Both bills passed the Senate and House by large majorities yesterday, despite some spirited dissent. But both measures were described by supporters as well as foes as jerry-built solutions to long-term problems.

The legislature faces larger and larger deficits in future years without dramatic spending cuts or new taxes, some legislators noted. And the state transportation secretary predicted he would be back by January with a request for an increase of between a nickel and a dime in the state's 18.5-cents-per-gallon motor vehicle fuel tax.

Governor Schaefer said: "I commend the legislature for fast action. They did the right thing. But this doesn't solve the problem."

Since March, Schaefer administration officials have warned that without the higher MVA fees, the state could not raise its share of $309 million in federally aided highway and bridge projects around the state.

If the matching money were not found by Oct. 1, they said, the state could lose more than $250 million in federal highway grants. Yesterday, Governor Schaefer said the MVA bill saved those grants.

But many legislators, including some who voted for the MVA bill, remained skeptical that higher fees were needed.

House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr., D-Kent, congratulated the House for passing the budget bill 125-8 and the fee bill by 109-23. But he noted that he dropped his own long-standing opposition to higher fees only after he was convinced that the governor was "willing to let $300 million in federal aid go out of the state."

Speaker Mitchell said he still believed that the state could have borrowed the money needed to match the grants. He added that he sympathized with delegates who would now have to explain to constituents why the state is reaching into their pockets for more money.

The budget-balancing bill cuts $125 million in spending even though the state's budget deficit for fiscal 1991, which ends Sunday, is only expected to be $109 million.

If the extra $16 million is not needed to balance the books, the bill directs that it be used first to restore a nearly $12 million cut from the Program Open Space parklands acquisition fund and then to replace $5.6 million deleted from housing programs.

Some Baltimore legislators tried, unsuccessfully, to change the bill to give priority to housing.

"I go out on the street not blocks from where I live and see people standing in lines who don't have homes," said Sen. George W. Della Jr., D-Baltimore.

But supporters of the bill said that in most cases the Open Space money would reimburse counties that had already PTC purchased land in anticipation of receiving state grants.

The Senate yesterday also rejected efforts to override six vetoes by Governor Schaefer following the 1991 session, including the veto of a bill that would have provided $500,000 to keep the Lida Lee Tall experimental elementary school at Towson State University open another year.

Sen. F. Vernon Boozer, R-Baltimore County, a sponsor of the Lida Lee Tall bill, rejected arguments that the school benefited only the 160 students enrolled there, saying it served as an educational laboratory for the state. "It doesn't serve just a few people. It serves many, many people," he said.

The Senate voted to sustain the veto 28-17. The House lumped all the vetoed bills together, rejecting any override by 118-10.

While legislators were inside the State House, several hundred state employees rallied in a courtyard across the street to protest the state's new 40-hour workweek rule. That rule, due to take effect next week pending the outcome of suits filed by two state employees' unions to block it, would lengthen the workday for the one-third of the state work force which currently works a 35 1/2 -hour week.

"I have no objections to working 40 [hours]," said Bonnie Sipe, a Department of Social Services worker. "But I want to be paid for 40."

The MVA bill will permit agency officials to raise more than 63 fees. By Sept. 1, the cost of a new driver's license will go from $20 to $30, and the price of renewing a license will rise from $6 to $20. Renewal period for licenses, however, will change from the current four years to five.

The measure is designed to raise $34 million between this September and July 1992.

State transportation officials said the revenue would permit about $70 million in additional borrowing in fiscal year 1992, which begins July 1.

The $104 million total, Department of Transportation officials said, would be spent in three ways:

* Part of the money would cover the state's share of $309 million worth of federally assisted highway and transportation projects, including the expansion of U.S. 50 west of Annapolis and construction of a new $7 million bridge on Route 335 across Fishing Creek to Hooper Island in Dorchester County.

* $25 million would permit the state to proceed with 28 projects, most of them highway construction, that it had received bids on by Dec. 10. That's when declining revenue forced the state to freeze most new transportation construction.

* $37 million would be used to launch what the DOT calls "critical projects," including $6 million for expansion of parking at the Maryland Rail Commuter station at Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

In the Senate, which passed the fee bill 35-10, opponents included several Baltimore County senators whose constituents have been among the most vocal foes of new taxes.

Some rural senators also opposed the bill because, they said, not enough money was being spent on highways in their areas.

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