Maryland legislators met in Annapolis today to enact a pair o bills designed to balance the state budget and to raise motor vehicle fees.
The legislature was recalled for a special one-day session to address the two measures, both of which are attempts to solve some of the state's money problems. Gov. William Donald Schaefer is expected to sign the bills immediately.
In what was expected to set a pattern for today's carefully orchestrated action, House and Senate committees yesterday easily approved a budget-balancing bill that would cut agency spending by $125 million and transfer other money from emergency accounts to the state's general fund.
They also voted to send to the floor a bill requested by the Schaefer administration to authorize increases in about five dozen Motor Vehicle Administration fees. The increases, which would affect the cost of drivers' licenses, tags, automobile titles and other services, are designed to raise about $35 million in new revenues.
The money will bolster the state's sagging Transportation Trust Fund and make sure that more than $400 million in federally funded highway projects don't get stalled because the state can't pay its matching share.
Although Maryland's latest projected deficit for 1991 has been set at $109 million, fiscal experts recommended cutting $125 million to leave a financial cushion in case the estimated shortfall worsens.
The 1991 fiscal year ends June 30, so the legislature was forced to act by this week to avoid deficit spending forbidden by Maryland's constitution.
Committee members agreed yesterday that if the shortfall does not reach $125 million, surplus money should be given back to Program Open Space, a special fund set up to buy park and recreation areas, and to the state Department of Housing and Community Development's housing loan program.
About $12 million in Open Space funding earmarked for use by local subdivisions would be sacrificed.
At the same time they acted on their budget-balancing bill, legislators set aside a similar measure proposed by the Schaefer administration. The governor is opposed to returning any surplus funds to the Open Space projects or to the housing loan program. Instead, he wants leftover funds to refill the depleted Sunny Day Fund, a special economic development budget set aside to help lure industry into the state.
The Senate Budget and Taxation Committee passed the motor vehicle fees bill with a single opposing vote. A similar measure passed the Senate by a 26-21 vote in April during the regular session, and the MVA bill is expected to survive today's floor vote.
Sen. Nancy Murphy, a Democrat who represents many anti-tax activists in Baltimore County, cast the lone dissenting committee vote yesterday.
"It was difficult for me to do that," said Murphy, adding that she was not personally against the MVA fee bill.
"The people in my district consider it a tax," she said. "They're not willing to consider it this year. As their representative, I'm here to channel their views."
The same bill passed on a 15-7 vote in the House Ways and Means Committee, indicating to some that while the measure is still safe in the House it could be the subject of floor debate by opponents.
The fees bill will allow the MVA to determine how much it will charge for issuing licenses and documents. Fees currently are set by the legislature, and some have not been changed in 20 years. As a result, fees cover only about 35 percent of the cost of issuing documents. The bill would allow the MVA to raise enough money through fees to cover 85 percent of the its operating costs.
Marshall W. Rickert, the MVA administrator, said yesterday he is pleased with the bill as passed by the committee. He said it will enable the agency to become more self-sufficient and will allow the state to end a freeze on highway construction projects put in place by the Department of Transportation last December.
"You can't ask for more than that," he said.
Meanwhile, the special session marks a first for the tradition-bound Senate. It will be the first Maryland Senate session recorded on audio tape from beginning to end.
The recording experiment was ordered by Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George's, who has said he wants audio documents to be available to scholars, the media and the public for future research.
The recordings also are intended to be instrumental for lawmakers who often find themselves debating the "legislative intent" of bills that became law.
Proposed motor vehicle fees
The General Assembly's special session today was called, in part, to raise Motor Vehicle Administration fees that will help pay for the state's share of federal highway projects. This is a schedule of the existing and new fees the MVA has proposed.
/# Fee .. .. .. .. ..Current ..New
Learner's permit.. ..$22 .. .. $30
New license*.. .. .. $20 .. .. .30
License renewal* .. ..6 .. .. ..20
Commercial license ..10 .. .. ..20
New car title .. .. ..1 .. .. ..12
Used car title .. .. 3 .. .. .. 12
Dealer's license .. .50 .. .. ..250
Photo I.D. card .. ..5.. .. .. . 8
*Duration of license increases from four years to five years.