Senate OKs $3 yearly increase in auto registration surcharge

March 29, 2001|By M. Dion Thompson | M. Dion Thompson,SUN STAFF

Marylanders can expect to pay an additional $6 to register their cars under a Senate bill approved yesterday to funnel millions of dollars into the state's emergency medical system.

The bill raises the annual surcharge on car registration from $8 to $11, increasing registration fees to $76 every two years. State analysts estimate that the increase will bring in about $13.1 million a year.

The Maryland Emergency Medical System's operations fund pays for such services as state police MedEvac helicopters, training at the Maryland Fire and Rescue Institute, Maryland Shock Trauma Center and grants to fire departments to buy equipment.

The Senate passed the measure increasing the fees, 39-5. Last week, the House of Delegates passed a similar bill, 112-25.

Yesterday's decision contrasted starkly with what happened last year, when the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee killed a proposed increase because legislators did not want to raise fees in a time of budgetary surplus. This year, those arguments failed to generate much support.

Senate and House leaders argued for the increase because the operations fund was facing a $7.2 million deficit by July of next year. Had that happened, there could have been reductions in service. MedEvac helicopter flying time could have been cut by 500 hours. Thousands fewer firefighters and paramedics would have been trained at the fire institute.

"I'm just happy when I look at this vote," Sen. Clarence W. Blount, the Senate majority leader, said yesterday. "I think it's the right thing to do."

Tuesday, proponents beat back an attempt to eliminate the registration surcharge and instead tack on a $15 surcharge on moving violations. That proposal was offered by Sen. Andrew P. Harris, a Baltimore County Republican.

He and other opponents argued that raising registration fees amounted to a tax. "It's just wrong," said Sen. Alexander X. Mooney, a Frederick County Republican. "It's bad policy."

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