Proposed Increase to Vehicle Fees Defeated in Delaware Senate - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

Proposed Increase to Vehicle Fees Defeated in Delaware Senate

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DOVER, Del. (AP) - The state Senate on Thursday rejected a Democratic proposal to raise vehicle fees to pay for road and infrastructure improvements.

The measure was defeated on an 11-10 party-line vote Thursday, failing to win the required three-fifths majority in the Democrat-controlled Senate.

Democrats had a big enough majority in the House to pass the measure on a party-line vote last month, but Senate Democrats needed and failed to get Republican support.

The legislation would have increased the tax on car sales from 3.75 percent to 4.25 percent. Penalties for late license and registration renewals, along with several other fees, also would have increased substantially.

The increases would have generated about $24 million annually, a fraction of what transportation officials say is a $780 million deficit over the next six years for road maintenance and delayed projects.

Sen. David Sokola, D-Newark, said the legislation would lead to better and safer roads while creating thousands of construction jobs.

Sokola also noted that, even with the increases, vehicle fees in Delaware would remain significantly lower than those in surrounding states.

Republicans, however, have refused to support higher vehicle fees without reforms aimed at addressing a decades-long trend of lawmakers raiding the transportation trust fund, which is intended only for capital projects, to pay for the Department of Transportation's operating expenses.

Senate Minority Leader Greg Lavelle noted that with expected passage of a fiscal 2016 operating budget next week, lawmakers will have diverted $80 million from the trust fund into the general fund over the past two years.

"That is a step backward," said Lavelle, R-Wilmington.

Bill supporters have said they are willing to put future trust fund revenue in a "lockbox," but there was no provision in the bill requiring that the additional vehicle fees be earmarked for capital projects.

Members of the budget-writing committee agreed earlier Thursday to set aside $5 million in general funds to put into the transportation trust fund, but only on condition that the Senate approve the higher vehicle fees.

Following the vote, Transportation Secretary Jennifer Cohan huddled with lobbyists representing various business groups that support the bill.

"We're just going to continue negotiating and working with legislators, and hopefully, we'll get where we need to be by June 30," she said, referring to the final day of the legislative session next Tuesday.

"This was a little disappointing, because you basically have a transportation infrastructure bill that's being held up for a non-transportation reason," Cohan added, referring to GOP efforts to tie the bill to reforming Delaware's "prevailing wage" law. That law establishes the wages that must be paid to contractors working on state projects, which Republicans say increases the costs that must be borne by taxpayers.

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