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Vehicle registration fee increase likely to pass

March 27, 2001

Vehicle registration fee increase likely to pass



Annapolis

By LAURA ERNDE

laurae@herald-mail.com

The Maryland General Assembly is poised to increase the cost of car registrations to pay for the state's emergency medical system.

The Senate gave preliminary approval Tuesday to the $3-a-year increase, which has already passed the House of Delegates.

Debate about the fee increase highlighted a split between Washington County's two senators, Sen. Donald F. Munson and Sen. Alex X. Mooney.

Munson, R-Washington, said he's backing the increase to ensure the county doesn't lose its Maryland State Police medevac helicopter.

"This was a very difficult vote. I don't want those helicopters to stop," Munson said.

Earlier this session, Munson wanted to pay for the program through higher speeding ticket fines instead of higher car registration fees.

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But Munson resisted an effort on the floor Tuesday to resurrect that idea, saying he now agrees with a majority of the legislature that speeding fines would not be a reliable source of income.

Munson told fellow senators that he spoke for the absent Sen. John J. Hafer, R-Allegany/Garrett, in urging support of the fee increase. Hafer realized the importance of the helicopters Monday, when it flew him back to his home after a fire, Munson said.

On the other hand, Mooney, R-Frederick/Washington, criticized the fee increase as bad policy. He faulted Gov. Parris Glendening for not adding money to the budget for the program, which faces a $7.2 million deficit without a boost in its budget.

Glendening's spokesman Michael Morrill said the program has traditionally been paid for through the car registration fee. As the cost of the service increases, so must the fee, he said.

Under the proposal, the two-year car registration fee will increase from $70 to $76.

The money raised not only pays for medevac helicopters, but for the University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center, grants and loans for local fire and rescue companies and volunteer training.

Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, D-Baltimore, said lawmakers were moved by the testimony of a Harford County woman who was saved by the emergency medical system.

With the training paid for by the car registration fee, emergency medical crews were able to resuscitate her, Hoffman said.

"We see this as insurance. We don't see it as a tax. If, God forbid, you are a victim on the highway you will get taken care of," she said.

Opponents said they, too, want the program funded. They just disagree with the method.

Glendening left the legislature with little choice when he refused to add money to the state's $21 billion budget, Munson said.

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