- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 29, 2004

ANNAPOLIS — The cost of renewing motor vehicle license tags will increase substantially tomorrow under an Ehrlich administration plan to raise $237 million annually to improve Maryland’s congested highway system.

Owners of most passenger vehicles will pay $128 instead of the current $81 when they register their vehicles every two years. For owners of bigger vehicles, including sport utility vehicles, the cost will increase from $108 to $180.

The higher fees are part of a bill sponsored by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and approved by the 2004 General Assembly. It will raise an estimated $153 million a year for the transportation system. Money for the rest of the $237 million annual increase in new highway projects will come from other sources, including increases in miscellaneous fees imposed by the Motor Vehicle Administration.

“Maryland ranks 47th out of 50 states in highway spending per capita,” said Henry Fawell, an Ehrlich spokesman. “There’s too much congestion, which means lost time and air pollution.”

The bill increasing registration fees resulted from a task force set up by Mr. Ehrlich to examine the state’s transportation needs and suggest ways to bring in new revenues.

The committee recommended about $4.7 billion in new construction and said the state needed additional revenues of about $300 million a year for the new projects.

Mr. Ehrlich originally submitted a $320 million plan to the legislature, but the House and Senate rejected his bid to add a surcharge of $200 on fines paid for drunken driving and $50 on fines for moving violations.

State Transportation Secretary Robert Flanagan said when Mr. Ehrlich signed the bill in April that it was a record-breaking increase in transportation funding even though it will produce less revenue than the governor had sought.

“It allows us to begin to solve problems on our highways,” he said.

Mr. Ehrlich, a Republican, made transportation a major issue in his election campaign in 2002, criticizing Gov. Parris N. Glendening for shortchanging the state’s highway system in favor of mass transit. He also criticized Mr. Glendening, a Democrat, for refusing for eight years to increase the state gasoline tax or increase motor vehicle fees.

Mr. Ehrlich considered a gasoline tax increase early in his administration but rejected it in favor of higher registration fees.

Democrats helped pass the governor’s fees bill even though Democratic leaders thought an increase in the motor vehicle titling tax would have been more fair. Because that tax is based on the value of a vehicle, the burden would have fallen more on affluent drivers who buy more expensive cars and trucks, said House Speaker Michael E. Busch, Anne Arundel County Democrat.

The law increasing the fees is among some fiscal bills, including the state budget, that take effect tomorrow. However, most of the laws passed by the 2004 General Assembly will not take effect until Oct. 1.

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