Democrats want higher DMV fees to pay for roads
After months of bipartisan negotiations, lawmakers are introducing legislation to help spur infrastructure spending in Delaware while raising DMV fees to pay for it.
Introduced by Democrats Friday afternoon, one bill will raise nearly $24 million in revenue – mostly by boosting vehicle document fees and the costs to pull a driver’s license record. If passed, those changes would take effect Oct. 1.
It’s part of a package that seeks to raise $50 million in new revenue or from spending cuts and another $50 million in loans over the next five years.
Republicans have not sponsored the legislation and have backed away from the negotiations over the past week, saying they're willing to push the process until the General Assembly recesses June 30 for a more favorable deal.
"If there was really a good faith effort on this, that bill [Thursday night] would not have have popped out at 8 p.m.," said House Minority Leader Daniel Short (R-Seaford), noting that it had been circulated for co-sponsors well after lawmakers had recessed for the day.
House Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst refuted any implications that it was done covertly, saying, "Continuing to do this with just leadership wasn't in the best interests of the state. I think everyone needs to see it, view it and we need to get public input on it."
Short and other Republicans have sought DelDOT operating costs – expected to total $155 million next fiscal year – to be moved out of the Transportation Trust Fund (TTF), which is bankrolled by tolls and DMV fees, as well as for more leverage on establishing right-to-work legislation. That would give workers the option to decline joining a union instead of it being a mandatory term of their employment.
A right-to-work proposal has been called a nonstarter by Democrats, but they say they're willing to move $10 million of the operating costs out of the TTF this fiscal year amid skidding general fund revenues.
Other options that have been discussed include raising Delaware’s gas tax – an unpopular choice that became a campaign issue for Republicans in 2014, who gained seats in the House and Senate.
But some, like House Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf (D-Rehoboth Beach), say they've been warming to the idea. In past interviews, Schwartzkopf has bristled at reporters asking if hiking the state's gas tax was a viable option, saying "I don't even know how to spell 'gas tax.'"
Now, he notes that much of that cost will be shifted on to summer visitors, especially in his beach area district.
“That’s seven million people that come here and the last thing they do before they leave here is back up to a gas pump and fill up. We can raise a lot of that money on someone other than a Delawarean,” Schwartzkopf said.
DelDOT has outlined a $780 million backlog in projects for the past few months, with $180 million of that in emergency repair projects.
In an effort to lure the needed Republican votes, Democrats are offering to increase the threshold in which prevailing wage kicks in for public works projects – something the GOP has been fighting for for years.
Originally backed by Rep. Michael Mulrooney (D-New Castle), a former electrical workers union boss, and Rep. Ruth Briggs King (R-Georgetown), it would also establish a committee to discuss prevailing wage reform.
Those working on state projects would get paid the prevailing wage for their trade if new construction costs total more than $500,000 and if renovation jobs break $45,000. Recommendations from the proposed task force would be due to the General Assembly next January.
Currently, prevailing wage applies to new construction costing $100,000 and $15,000 for repair work.
Regardless, Short says it's not enough.
"It was as a good discussion, but it really does nothing in the real revision of the world of prevailing wage."
He says House Republicans will meet early Tuesday before the General Assembly gavels into session to discuss the plan further.