Good times dash plan to increase vehicle fees

Bill intended to boost medical services revenue

March 29, 2000|By M. Dion Thompson | M. Dion Thompson,SUN STAFF

A Senate committee killed a proposal yesterday that would have raised motor vehicle registration fees from $70 every two years to $76, with the proceeds going to pay for state emergency medical services, including Maryland Shock Trauma Center.

Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, chairwoman of the Budget and Taxation Committee, said two subcommittees looked at the bill and both rejected the idea of raising registration fees.

"There wasn't any sentiment, except for a few senators, to do any fees -- even for Shock Trauma," said Hoffman, a Baltimore Democrat. "It's the image of raising a fee in a time of plenty."

The state's emergency medical agency, the Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Services Systems, receives $16 of the $70 fee, or about $32 million a year.

The money also helps fund Shock Trauma; the Maryland Fire Rescue Institute, which trains emergency medical technicians; and the State Police MedEvac program.

Supporters had argued that the emergency programs needed the additional money and that they would have to make cutbacksif fees were not increased.

But Dr. Robert R. Bass, executive director of MIEMSS, said yesterday that cuts will not be necessary because the agency has more money on hand than anticipated when the bill was drawn up last year.

"We're going to be fine," he said. "But we're going to have to come back next year."

While killing the registration increase, Hoffman said the budget committee is likely to approve a provision of the legislation that would set up a low-interest, revolving loan fund to help volunteer fire, rescue and ambulance companies.

But the fee increase, which had the backing of Gov. Parris N. Glendening, was a tough sell in a year when attention was focused more on spending a $1 billion surplus than on forcing taxpayers to dig deeper into their pockets.

Sen. Ida G. Ruben, who reluctantly voted to kill the proposal, said she believes Marylanders think of Shock Trauma as an insurance policy.

"They know that Shock Trauma is there if they need to be helped," she said. "I'm nervous about what will happen next year."

She conceded the state's good times make it hard for legislators to consider raising fees and for the public to understand why it might be necessary.

"I am not happy about waiting until next year," said Ruben, a Montgomery County Democrat. "We don't have any direction at this point because there was no consensus."

Hoffman said yesterday's decision merely puts off the inevitable task of finding a continuing revenue source for Shock Trauma.

"Next year, we'll have to deal with how we fund Shock Trauma on a regular basis," she said.

Maryland last increased registration fees in July 1987.

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