Dueling Delaware messages focus on transportation funding

Just a day after the House approved increasing DMV fees in a party line vote, the governor and state Republicans weigh in with separate online videos.

Delaware’s transportation fund faces a $780 million shortfall over the next six years. On that fact, there is agreement in Legislative Hall. How to eliminate that shortfall, on the other hand, is the subject of great debate.

On Thursday, all 25 Democrats in the state House voted in favor of increasing DMV fees to start the process of making up that shortfall. All 16 House Republicans voted against the plan.

Now, the debate is playing out in a pair of videos posted online Friday afternoon by Delaware Republicans and by Governor Jack Markell, a Democrat.

GOP message

The Republican message is delivered by House Minority Leader Danny Short, who represents Seaford. Short said Republicans oppose the fee increase in part because it doesn’t also address reducing expenses. “Despite negotiations between Republicans and Democrats to find a mutually acceptable long-term answer, House Democrats on Thursday unilaterally passed a bill hiking 14 vehicle related fees.”

Short said Republicans are also advocating moving the Department of Transportation’s operating expenses out of the Transportation Trust Fund. Funding for DelDOT operations were first moved to the TTF 25 years ago. The GOP plan would transition DelDOT funding back to the General Fund gradually over seven years. “While challenging, this move would solve the long-term structural funding problem, without the need for higher vehicle fees, a gas tax hike, or additional borrowing.”

Markell’s message

For his part, Gov. Markell did not specifically mention the proposed increase in DMV fees, but he did highlight the scope of the problem facing Delaware’s infrastructure.

“Evidence of poor conditions and lack of needed construction activity is all around us,” Markell said, once again highlighting the chunk of concrete that fell from the I-95 bridge over the Brandywine River. He used that concrete chunk as a visual aid during January’s State of the State Address.

Last year, Markell proposed a 10-cent gas tax increase to help bridge the transportation funding gap. This year, he told lawmakers that he wanted to hear their ideas for fixing the problem. “I am open to considering all ideas to fund our infrastructure responsibly. The benefits will be immediate.”

He also expressed the need for the problem to be addressed sooner than later. “Repairs will only get more expensive and the condition of the roads and bridges we all travel will only worsen the longer we wait,” Markell said. “I believe the time to act is now.”

The DMV fee increase is now waiting action in the Senate.

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