Senate Republicans kill DMV fee bill
Months of bipartisan and cross-chamber negotiations broke down in public Thursday as Senate Republicans blocked a bill to raise DMV fees to help pay for infrastructure projects.
The debate took all of 20 minutes with few speakers.
Democrats had promised several reforms to the system, including moving some operating funds out of the Transportation Trust Fund and making over the prevailing wage system.
But Senate Minority Whip Greg Lavelle (R-Sharpley) noted that none of those were attached to the bill itself.
“There’s not one reform on [House Bill 140], but we have promises," said Lavelle. "We’re not here to vote on promises, we’re here to vote on solid reform to fix a system that there is widespread agreement on that is broken.”
Democrats had told the GOP they would move $10 million in DelDOT operating costs from the TTF, but the Joint Finance Committee only set aside $5 million earlier this week.
The majority party also helped draft a bill to overhaul the prevailing wage system paid for state construction projects, but the increases to the thresholds weren't taken seriously by Republican leadership.
Democrats argue that the $24 million raised by the bill would generate hundreds of jobs and make Delaware’s roads safer. Sen. Dave Sokola (D-Newark) says the degradation of the state's roads will make it more unattractive to someone who might want to move here.
"The infrastructure is what somebody sees when they get here. Somebody comes to look for a home in a neighborhood and they want to buy a home, they want a road that doesn't have potholes. They want a road that looks halfway decent," Sokola said.
An infrastructure funding plan has been in the works for nearly two years.
Gov. Jack Markell (D) developed a plan in 2014 combining a ten-cent gas tax hike and borrowing millions of dollars for several years. It went nowhere in either the House and Senate in which Democrats held a super majority who refused to work on the deal.
"I was more than happy to vote for a gas tax to get up to the level that the governor was trying to do for a 50-50 program, but we need to do that with reforms," Lavelle said.
"Since when do potholes become partisan?" said House Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf (D-Rehoboth Beach), who's frequently criticized the GOP for negotiating in bad faith.
"We brought [Washington, D.C.] to Dover," Schwartzkopf said.
The subject may be revisited, as lawmakers will gavel out of session Tuesday night.
"The legislators who voted no today are going to be hearing from the business community over the next couple of days and I'm hoping that that's going to have an effect and that we can continue negotiations," said Transportation Secretary Jennifer Cohan.