The Maryland Senate has narrowly passed a bill that would raise money for highway projects by boosting the fees for driver's licenses, titles and tags.
The measure, however, faces a likely roadblock in the House of Delegates, where a committee earlier killed a similar bill.
The bill, which the Senate passed 26-21 yesterday, would bring in $42 million a year by raising five dozen fees charged by the state Motor Vehicle Administration. Some of the fees have not been increased in decades.
Without a revenue increase, Senate supporters argued, the state will lose federal funds for interstate highway construction and fall further behind in its building schedule. The state must put up a certain percentage of the money for some projects in order to receive federal dollars.
Even if the bill succeeds, some lawmakers said, the General Assembly still may have to raise gasoline taxes next year to offset declining state revenues and continue with scheduled highway construction and maintenance.
"We're applying another Band-Aid, all in preparation for what we must do next year -- pass another gas tax bill," said Senate Majority Leader Clarence W. Blount, D-City. "This will keep the motor humming until we can bring in a master mechanic and do a thorough job."
House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr., D-Eastern Shore, said key delegates would discuss the Senate bill, but he noted that it may be too late in the session to pass it. The General Assembly adjourns Monday.
Mitchell, along with many other lawmakers, has been skeptical of the state transportation department's claim that it desperately needs more revenues now.
Under the bill, which was introduced by the Schaefer administration, 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.
Sen. Julian L. Lapides, D-City, said the transportation department, which oversees highway and mass transit systems, "bloated" and "insatiable."
Several senators said the department has failed to keep promises to build certain highways, while others complained of poorly executed work.
For some lawmakers, the issue boiled down to their constituents' dislike of tax increases -- a message voters sent in the November election.
"We got the message," said Sen. Thomas L. Bromwell, D-Balto. Co.