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Published: Wednesday, 2/10/2010

Strickland defends fee on late license renewal

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

COLUMBUS - Gov. Ted Strickland said yesterday that if lawmakers insist on eliminating an unpopular new late fee on driver's license and vehicle registration renewals, they must say how they'll make up for the lost revenue.

"We must have resources to support the highway patrol and public safety efforts,'' the Democratic governor said. "If my friends in the Legislature want to bring me a plan that they think is a better solution that they will be willing to support and will continue to bring in the necessary revenue, I would honestly look at that. But at this point I haven't seen a plan that would meet that criteria.''

A public backlash against the new $20 late fee that the Bureau of Motor Vehicles began enforcing in October prompted Republican legislators to introduce a bill to repeal it. The bill does not offer an alternative source of revenue to replace the $17.1 million that the Department of Public Safety estimated it would collect this fiscal year.

The fee is levied against those who renew licenses or registrations at least one week after their expiration dates, which coincide with their birth dates.

It marked the first time that the BMV had collected a late fee on renewals, surprising some motorists who thought they had until the end of their birth month to renew.

The outcry is expected to grow as more Ohioans take seasonal vehicles out of storage and renew registrations that expired over the winter.

"As I recall it, we had initially asked for a broader-based, lower increase that would have prevented this kind of action from happening,'' Mr. Strickland said. "I believe it was some of my friends on the other side of the aisle of the Legislature [who] objected to that approach and took the approach that we now have.''

Thirty-eight lawmakers, most of them Republicans, have signed onto House Bill 428. The bill proposes no replacement funding, but one of its prime sponsors, Rep. Ron Amstutz (R., Wooster) said he realizes there has to be a balancing act. He's just not sure another fee is necessary to achieve the balance.

"I've pledged to be careful with the patrol funding tied to this,'' he said. "At this point, we're still evaluating what the cash flow has been during the transition off the motor fuels tax.''

That includes looking at what efficiencies can be achieved within the department, he said.

Mr. Amstutz is one of a number of Republicans now questioning the late fee who originally voted for it.

"We needed to have a transportation budget,'' he said. "I think my vote was justified for the overall budget, but this problem was just one piece of that. I don't think many of us anticipated these kinds of problems.''

The Strickland administration originally proposed a series of fee increases as part of the transportation budget, including a broad swath across all classes of vehicle registrations. Most fell by the wayside, but a proposed $10 late fee was doubled during the legislative process.

Contact Jim Provance at:

jprovance@theblade.com

or 614-221-0496.



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