Vehicle tag fee increase likely to be passed today

Senate to vote on plan to fund transportation

General Assembly

April 09, 2004|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

Marylanders will be paying more to register their vehicles as a result of legislation headed for almost certain passage today in the Senate.

Legislation that includes the increased fees won preliminary approval yesterday by a stronger-than-expected 31-16 vote. An identical bill has passed the House, so final Senate approval would send it to Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. for his signature.

Lawmakers expect the legislation, one of the centerpieces of Ehrlich's legislative agenda, to raise an estimated $165.5 million a year to replenish the state's depleted Transportation Trust Fund. As originally proposed, the bill would have raised about $250 million, but several of Ehrlich's revenue-raising proposals were removed by the House.

The legislation likely going to the governor would increase the registration fee for the typical passenger car by $23.50 a year. Because registration fees are paid every other year, the plan would add $47 to motorists' bills, taking the cost from $81 to $128.

Owners of heavier vehicles, such as most pickup trucks and sport utility vehicles, would pay $36 more a year - raising their bills from $107 to $179. Owners of larger vehicles would absorb higher increases.

Legislative analysts estimated that the registration fees would raise about $148 million.

Approval of the bills would represent an important win for the administration during a session in which victories have been few. Transportation was an important issue for Ehrlich in the 2002 campaign, and a failure to deliver significant new revenue would be a bitter disappointment to his business-oriented supporters.

The administration prevailed by delivering the votes of most Republicans - even many who are generally reluctant to support any revenue-raising measures. Only two of 43 GOP delegates voted against the governor's bill in the House, while three of 14 opposed it in the preliminary Senate vote.

Some Democrats pressed Minority Leader J. Lowell Stoltzfus, taking a rare turn as floor leader on a major bill, on why the governor proposed to raise the registration fee instead of the gas tax.

Stoltzfus, an Eastern Shore Republican, said a 5-cent increase in the gasoline tax would have made Maryland's the second highest in the country; a 10-cent rise would make it No. 1.

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