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House ushers through DMV fee hike

Delaware Public Media

It took just 15 minutes for House Democrats to pass a $24 million DMV fee hike along party lines after months of failed bipartisan negotiations.

Democrats put forward a few olive branches, like exempting mobile houses from an increased document fee and a promise to move $10 million of DelDOT operating costs from the Transportation Trust Fund.

House Minority Leader Daniel Short (R-Seaford), who’s been a part of talks among all four caucuses that broke down two weeks ago, says those offers don’t go far enough. Instead, he says legislators should shift $40 million each year until all operating costs reside in the general fund.

“It’s the wrong move at the wrong time and there’s no rush to judgment on this because these fees don’t go into effect until October this year," said Short. "There’s a lot of room that could be made, there’s a lot of revision that could be happening. We should be cutting costs. We should be looking for efficiencies.”

Another offer from Democrats would raise the threshold for prevailing wage to apply to public projects, but Short says he doesn’t take it seriously.

“There’s little token aspects to that. The token prevailing wage bill, the token $10 million [TTF] transfer. It’d take us 30 years for us to solve the transportation problem."

Republicans walked away from the negotiating table two weeks ago before a finalized, bi-partisan was set to be introduced.

Instead, House Democratic Leadership busted the logjam open last Friday by introducing this legislation without Republican backing in either chamber.

The GOP has said the bill is being rushed, which House Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst (D-Delaware City) takes exception to.

“I don’t think it’s being rushed because we have a two-week break, it’s going to go over to the Senate, it will go through the process there, they will have their committee hearing and they will have a hearing on the Senate floor,” Longhurst said.

She says some of the money will go toward restoring proposed cuts made to lawmakers’ Community Transportation Fund and Municipal Street Aid pots.

Another issue raised during the brief hearing was the $40 million of escheat money earmarked for the TTF that Gov. Jack Markell (D) has swerved to the general fund over the past two years.

“It also cannot endure two consecutive years of the governor’s recommended budget taking $40 million intended for that trust fund and putting it back into the general fund so that we can ease our burden of balancing the budget,” said Rep. John Kowalko (D-Newark South).

The DMV fee legislation will run into a roadblock in the state Senate without further concessions.

After Democrats lost a seat last election, they no longer have the super majority needed to push through any tax or fee increase by themselves.

Legislators recessed for two weeks, with the Joint Finance Committee set to finalize most of the operating budget during that time.

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