Ehrlich to push raising title, registration fees

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. has told Republican lawmakers that he will propose a transportation bill that avoids a gasoline tax increase but increases the cost of buying or registering a vehicle.

GOP legislators say the two key provisions of the package will be an increase in registration fees -- $30 a year in the case of passenger vehicles -- and a higher titling tax to be paid when motorists buy a car or truck.


Together, the two sources would bring the administration close to the $300 million a year in additional revenue a recent task force said it needs to replenish the depleted Transportation Tax Fund.

Ehrlich outlined his revenue package at a meeting with Republican House members Monday night. According to participants in the meeting, the governor and Transportation Secretary Robert L. Flanagan asked rural legislators to support his package.


Del. Carmen Amedori of Carroll County said Flanagan outlined a series of cuts the administration had made to mass transit and indicated more would be forthcoming. She said Ehrlich and Flanagan assured the Republicans that the transportation plans would favor highways over mass transit.

"We have the governor's word and Bob Flanagan's word that this will be going into roads, not transit," Amedori said.

Greg Massoni, Ehrlich's press secretary, confirmed that Ehrlich had assured rural lawmakers that his transportation programs would emphasize roads, but said he had not ruled out an increase in transit spending.

Massoni said no firm decisions have been made on revenues -- including on the gasoline tax -- but Republican lawmakers came away with the impression that the plan was virtually final.

Republican legislators said the title measure would be presented as a "graduated" surcharge rather than an increase in the 5 percent tax.

"It's not going to be billed as a tax -- that's for sure," said Del. Jean B. Cryor, a Montgomery County Republican.

According to legislators, the surcharge would be lower for less expensive cars and higher for more costly vehicles but would not be computed as a percentage. Further details were not available.

Amedori said she believes most Republican lawmakers can support the revenue measures in the governor's proposal.


"There is a distinction between a fee and a tax, and I know that the Democrats are going to try to put their spin on it, which we would have done to them in the days of [Gov. Parris N.] Glendening," Amedori said.

Sen. Patrick J. Hogan, a Montgomery County Democrat, said the governor's emerging package appears to him to be nothing more than a "car tax."

"If it looks like a duck, sounds like a duck, walks like a duck, it's a duck," he said. "If it costs more money, it's a tax."

He predicted that the public would not be mollified by an expected administration proposal to cushion the blow of the registration-fee increase by making the payments annual instead of every other year.