The transportation budget released Monday by Republican Senate leaders would push motor vehicle fees 20 to 25 percent higher and halt the use of gas tax funds to pay for the Highway Patrol – in order to increase state spending for highway construction and bridge and road maintenance.
The Division of Motor Vehicles fee for an eight-year driver’s license would rise from $32 to $40. The cost of a car registration renewal – not including the local property tax DMV collects for each county – would go from $28 to $34.
The higher fees would be worth an additional $29 million next year, and $77 million in fiscal year 2016-17. The House budget had called for a 30 percent fee increase.
The Highway Patrol’s budget would have to be covered for the first time by income taxes and other revenues that support the state’s General Fund, which pays for non-transportation needs. That would free an additional $216 million in gas tax funds to support the Department of Transportation.
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In all, the Senate would end the yearly shift of $219 million in gas tax money to the General Fund. Leaders of both chambers have said they want to stop the entire transfer of about $255 million, but the House budget did not propose any change this year.
Both chambers are proposing to set aside new funds for modernization projects at the state’s ports in Morehead City and Wilmington. The House called for $40 million a year, while the Senate’s proposal is for $35 million a year.
Other changes in the Senate budget would:
▪ Give ferry passengers the opportunity to purchase a $150 annual priority boarding pass each year, so they won’t have to wait in line at busy ferry docks.
▪ Stop basing state Powell Bill appropriations to towns and cities, for street and sidewalk improvements, on the ups and downs of gas tax collections. Instead, Powell Bill money would be appropriated at a fixed amount – $150 million next year, a slight increase.
▪ Increase bridge replacement funds by $140 million over the next two years.
▪ Increase road maintenance funds by $67.5 million over the next two years.
▪ Set aside 30 percent of gas tax collections for construction projects, instead of the current 25 percent, an increase of $186 million over the next two years. The remaining 70 percent would continue to be spent on maintenance needs.
▪ Spend an additional $339 million over the next two years on highway and other construction, enough for an additional 70 projects.