DOVER — Lawmakers pushing for an infrastructure fix took a step toward accomplishing their goal Wednesday.
The House Revenue and Finance Committee voted 11-2 to release a Democratic-backed bill that would raise a host of Division of Motor Vehicles fees.
House Democratic leadership is seeking to fast-track House Bill 140 in an effort to raise $50 million for road and bridge projects. The bill would increase many fees that have not been touched since the 1990s, such as charges for late renewals and duplicate documents. The motor vehicle document fee would also rise from 3.75 percent to 4.25 percent.
The proposal would bring in about $24 million, and the state could raise the gas tax by a few cents to generate additional revenue. Discussions on that topic may continue over the ensuing weeks.
The legislation was introduced Friday after months of negotiations between Democratic and Republican lawmakers, and while the bill currently has no support from the GOP, Democrats stressed in the committee hearing they are willing to work with the minority caucuses.
“The solution is a Democrat and Republican solution,” said Majority Leader Rep. Valerie Longhurst, D-Bear.
A number of business owners and representatives testified in support of the bill, echoing each other’s comments roads are an investment.
“If we’re going to keep Delaware competitive, if we’re going to keep improving our quality of life or maintaining the quality of life that we’ve all come to expect over the last number of decades, then we’ve got to do the right thing,” said John Casey, executive vice president Delaware Contractors Association.
Even with the changes, Delaware’s DMV fees will be lower than the surrounding states’, said Department of Transportation Director Jennifer Cohan.
Rep. Lyndon Yearick, R-Camden, raised concerns about manufactured housing. Mobile homes are considered vehicles, meaning buyers have to pay the document fee. According to the U.S. Census, the average mobile home cost $64,000 in 2013. With the 3.75 percent rate, that adds a cost of $2,400, compared to $2,720 for the higher proposed rate.
Rep. Longhurst said she would not object to an amendment to grandfather in manufactured homes at the current rate.
In response to questions from Republicans about ensuring the DMV revenue is used only for infrastructure projects, Democratic members expressed a willingness to create an amendment developing a “lockbox.”
Rep. Michael Ramone, R-Pike Creek Valley, said he had not been aware the majority caucuses would fulfill the Republican request to preserve funds for the Transportation Trust Fund.
“That hasn’t been vocally said in a public meeting out loud,” he said afterward, noting it may have been discussed
among Democratic lawmakers behind closed doors.
Rep. Jeffrey Spiegelman, R-Clayton, questioned the rapid progress of the legislation, given revenue projections are still being updated and more legislation could come.
“I guess I would argue I’d like to have all the pieces laid out in front of me, even if I don’t have a complete picture yet,” he said.
Democrats feel infrastructure should be kept separate from the budget, and with the Legislature going on break for the next two weeks while the Joint Finance Committee formulates the budget, time is of the essence.
“We have to put something forward to get the conversation started,” she responded.
She rejected a concern discussions were not far enough along, noting caucus leaders had been talking for five months about a deal.
Rep. Longhurst said she plans to run the bill today. As a fee-raising bill, it will need three-fifths majority to pass the House.