- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 12, 2014

BOSTON (AP) - It’s going to get a bit more expensive to own, operate and drive a car in Massachusetts after the state transportation department’s board of directors voted Wednesday to hike registry, inspection and road test fees.

Under the plan, non-commercial vehicle registration fees would increase from $50 to $60 and annual state car inspection fees would jump from $29 to $35.

Road test fees would increase from $20 to $35. The road tests are given before a person is granted a driver’s license in Massachusetts.

Officials said the fee hikes are needed to close a $55 million gap in the department’s annual budget.

One dollar of the annual inspection fee increase will be kept by the station that conducts the inspection. Commercial registration fees won’t change under the plan.

Registrar of Motor Vehicles Celia Blue said the higher fees also will help pay for “road and bridge projects, improved customer service and allow MassDOT to properly fund its operating expenses.”

Blue noted that a transportation finance measure approved by state lawmakers last year required MassDOT to generate its “own source” revenue to help fund future budgets. She said a portion of the additional road test revenue will help pay for improved customer service for first-time drivers.

MassDOT anticipates the new fees will generate an additional $55 million to $63 million in the 2015 fiscal year beginning July 1.

MassDOT officials pointed to a series of factors for its decision to approve the higher fees, including their efforts to end what they call the “bad fiscal practice of operating expenses from capital budget.”

They said the last time the state inspection fee was raised was in 1999. Road test fees have not been increased in more than a decade. They also point out that the cost of a road test is generally a one-time expense for most drivers.

The agency also said it tried to bring the fees in line with those charged in other states and factored in the volume of vehicles traveling on Massachusetts roads and bridges before approving the higher fees.

The department is planning a series of public hearings on the fee increases this spring. The higher fees are scheduled to go into effect July 1.

The department began to shift operating expenses away from its capital budget in the current fiscal year, moving about 20 percent of those expenses out of the capital budget.

In the 2015 fiscal year budget, another 60 percent of those operating costs will be transitioned from the capital budget at a cost of $140 million. The final 20 percent will be shifted out of the capital budget in the 2016 budget.

Capital budgets are typically used to pay for long term projects rather than day to day and annual expenses, which are covered by operation budgets.

“We are funding the MassDOT operating budget without one-time fixes or gimmicks,” the agency said.

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