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Assembly panel looks at vehicle fees

A proposal to increase dozens of motor-vehicle-related fees drew some questions but surprisingly little heat at an Assembly budget committee hearing yesterday.

A proposal to increase dozens of motor-vehicle-related fees drew some questions but surprisingly little heat at an Assembly budget committee hearing yesterday.

The state Motor Vehicle Commission has proposed raising 38 fees this year, including the fees for motorcycle registrations, copies of boat-registration applications, and driver-improvement programs. One fee, for a commercial driver's license exam permit, would jump from $35 to $125.

The commission proposed the fee increases in February and is accepting public comments until May 2. The commission's board is scheduled to vote on the increases May 26. If approved, the new fees could take effect this summer.

Commission chief administrator Sharon Harrington said at the budget hearing that her agency expected to bring in $1.1 billion to pay for $300 million in operations this year.

The fee increases could raise revenues by as much as $40 million to $60 million, Harrington said. Of that, the Corzine administration has proposed diverting $20 million to cover expenses in other areas of the state budget.

Republicans have spent weeks criticizing the proposed fee increases as yet another burden on the middle class. Some lawmakers have also said motor-vehicle-fee revenues should stay within the agency.

In response to questions by the Assembly's Republican budget officer, Joseph Malone (Burlington), Harrington said the state historically has used motor-vehicle fees to support other areas of the budget.

"You're everybody else's bank account," Malone said.

"Not exactly," Harrington replied.

Harrington noted that some fees that may be increased have not been adjusted in 40 or 50 years. All of the fees that may be increased will still cost users less than what the commission estimates it costs to provide the services. Under state law, once a fee has been increased, it cannot be adjusted again for five years and then only by as much as inflation.

"In making the recommendation for the level of fees, we looked at not only what it costs us to make the transaction but what would shock the system," Harrington said.

The motorcycle-registration fee, for example, which could increase from $10 to $65, actually costs the commission $104. Harrington also said that given the economic climate, the commission opted not to seek fee increases for other items, such as car dealerships.

Assemblyman Declan O'Scanlan (R., Monmouth) asked Harrington if the fees would generate less than the estimated $40 million to $60 million because of the recession.

"Some of these fees haven't been raised in a while, but others have," O'Scanlan said after the hearing. "People . . . see all of these things as the cumulative cost of government in New Jersey, and they know it's high enough already."

"Raising any fees and saying we're just trying to cover costs just does not ring true to me," he added.

The legislature gave the Motor Vehicle Commission the authority to increase fees and surcharges last year. By law, the commission must consider how long it has been since a fee or surcharge has been increased, the actual costs to the state for administering any transaction, and inflation in deciding whether to increase any given fee.

Assemblyman Michael Doherty (R., Warren) is sponsoring a bill to take the authority to increase fees back from the Motor Vehicle Commission.

"Why is everyone so shocked that MVC is going to significantly increase fees?" Doherty said in a March news release. "That's what you get when you delegate taxing authority to bureaucrats."

Proposed N.J. Vehicle Fee Hikes

The New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission has proposed raising 38 fees this year. Among them:

Motorcycle registration base fee: $65. Up from $10.

Driver-improvement programs: $150. Up from $100.

Copies of boat-registration applications: $15. Up from $8 for uncertified copy and $10 for certified copy.

Duplicate certificate of ownership: $60. Up from $25.

Commercial driver's license examination permit: $125. Up from $35.

Source: N.J. Motor Vehicle Commission's proposal as published in the N.J. Register.