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Pressure from Perry Ensures Dead End to Auto Registration Fee Hike

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State Rep. Drew Darby (R-San Angelo)
State Rep. Drew Darby (R-San Angelo)

Rep. Drew Darby spent more than an hour Thursday afternoon defending his plan to cover transportation costs by raising auto registration fees, before postponing the vote until May 28th—the day after the session ends.

The bill now joins the ranks of many others that dying with the midnight deadline for House bills to pass the lower chamber. Darby’s House Bill 3664 would have tacked on a $15 fee to motor vehicle registrations and raised more out of sales tax revenue. The San Angelo Republican’s proposal pitted GOP members against one another, a day after Gov. Rick Perry’s promised to call a special session if lawmakers tried paying for roads with a fee hike.

Darby told the Observer that Perry, who’s been fairly quiet until now this session, said he would only support covering transportation funding funded completely out of sales tax revenue from cars and trucks.

“If one of your objectives of your service is to end divergence, this is your bill to do it,” Darby told his fellow lawmakers today. “There are no other bills to try and address transportation.”

Darby later said the Senate could provide legislation, but it would face the same fragmentation that his bill did in the House.

“I feel a little bit like the skunk at the garden party,” he said.

Rep. George Lavender (R-Texarkana) said he supports new money for roads, but he did not believe Darby’s bill was the right approach. Lavender said fee hike would hit low-income families the hardest.

“There are some people who have older vehicles that this would negatively impact,” Darby allowed. That is why I reduced the fee to $15 … we’re going to have to look at the revenue side. Not just swapping money around.”

But Darby stressed it would take $4 billion a year just to maintain the roads Texas has today.

Rep. Larry Phillips (R-Sherman), chair of the House Transportation Committee, said the state is losing money by not taking care of its roads. He tacked on an amendment allocating some sales tax money for highways, but warned that without a compromise like HB 3664, Texas will have gridlock worse than Los Angeles.

“It’s a failure to lead when we retreat and we hide behind screens of saying ‘Oh we’re all for transportation, and I hear ya Larry.’ Where’s the beef?!” Phillips wondered aloud, before answering himself. “This is beef. This is a good amendment. Are you going to be a leader? Are you going to just be a follower and say, ‘Where do I go, where do I go?’ when we’re going to have economic crisis because we can’t get our transportation through the state.”

“It was an effort to build consensus,” Darby told the Observer after killing his bill. “I think we’re close, but the reality is because of efforts beyond my control, I didn’t want to put members at a disadvantage by voting for something that may or may not become law.”