The House Democratic leadership is pushing a plan to return Registry of Motor
Vehicles fees to their previous levels to help fund bridge and highway projects that have
been put on hold while the Big Dig progresses.
If the Senate goes along, as is expected, the move will set up a battle between
lawmakers and Governor Paul Cellucci, who has privately told House Speaker Thomas M.
Finneran he will veto any such plan, sources said.
In 1996, then-governor William F. Weld issued an executive order that provided for
a one-time $30 fee to register a car, with two-year renewals but no subsequent charges.
Previously, car owners had to pay $30 every two years for a registration.
Weld also ordered that drivers' license renewal fees be lowered from $33.75 to $2
in 2001. That move would be canceled under the new proposal.
Finneran met with Cellucci on Thursday and, according to sources, informed the
governor that the House plans to include the fee hike in the $6 billion transportation
bond bill that is about to be released from the Legislature's Committee on Transportation.
The increases would raise between $70 million and $80 million.
Both the House and Senate passed a similar Registry fee hike last year, but
because it was an election year, both chambers decided not to force an override vote to
protect their members from the potential political fallout.
Neither Finneran nor Cellucci was available for comment late yesterday. Aides to
the governor confirmed Cellucci is strongly opposed to raising the Registry fees.
Still, the Democratic leadership would probably have the two-thirds majority to
override a veto, particularly with lawmakers facing pressure from local officials who are
demanding state transportation funds.
At his meeting with Cellucci, sources said, Finneran also raised concerns about
the complicated finance plan that the administration developed three years ago to pay for
the Central Artery project. It includes $1.5 billion in borrowing and toll hikes.
The House leader, concerned about the state's borrowing levels, reportedly told
Cellucci that the administration should accelerate its plan to raise turnpike tolls.
Currently, the plan calls for raising the tolls east of Route 128 in 2002. It is not known
how Cellucci responded to Finneran's suggestion.
Meanwhile, local officials and legislators continue to put pressure on Beacon Hill
to come up for funding for local highway and bridge projects.
There has been growing resentment outside the Boston area that the $10.8 billion
Central Artery-Ted Williams Tunnel project is soaking up highway and bridge funding that
the state gives to local communities.
State House News Service
July 9, 1999
Advances (Week of July, 1999)
TRANSPORTATION BOND ... Questions about reinstating $100 million worth of drivers'
license and registry fees may be answered this week if the Transportation Committee
approves a portion of Gov. Cellucci's $6 billion transportation bond bill. A committee
meeting is scheduled for Tuesday; a time and location were unavailable on Friday. House
Chairman Joseph Sullivan (D-Braintree) said the committee's re-written version of the bill
filed in February totals about $3 billion.
The bill no longer includes funds the MBTA needs to revamp its finances, expand
commuter rail service and buy new buses and trains. Sullivan said those portions would be
held back until the fall to give House-Senate budget negotiators a chance to work out a
plan to restructure the T's fiscal operations. The borrowing bill does include about $600
million in "Grant Anticipation Notes" to help pay for the $10.8 billion Big Dig.
The committee also included $100 million annually for local road and bridge
construction. But the bill also contains what some consider a poison pill: a plan to
reinstate $100 million in annual drivers' license and auto registration fees to pay for
those projects. The House has approved such a plan for the last two sessions; the Senate
last accepted the reinstatement in 1997 but legislators never overrode a gubernatorial
veto that year. Now, there are fears Senate leaders lack the votes to override an expected
veto from Gov. Cellucci this year.
Last week, labor and business groups sent a letter to all legislators urging them
to support reinstating the fees, which would be dedicated to paying for road and bridge
Former Gov. William Weld and then-Lt. Gov. Cellucci began phasing out the fees
earlier this decade, arguing the state didn't need the money. But Sullivan said federal
transportation funding cutbacks are hurting Massachusetts' ability to pay for both the Big
Dig and road projects important to lawmakers' constituents.
"There's agreement in the joint committee to do a revenue stream associated
with the Registry," Sullivan said Friday. "We have obligations beyond our
current financial capacity. That's today's reality. We need to have other revenues
available so we can do projects in all four corners of the Commonwealth."