Louisiana Senate approves big hike in motor vehicle title certifcates to help fund state police _lowres

Advocate file photo by RICHARD ALAN HANNON -- Customers wait for service in 2014 at the Louisiana Office of Motor Vehicles in Baton Rouge.

The Louisiana Senate on Friday approved a $50 increase in the cost of motor vehicle title certificates.

The extra charge would generate an estimated $60 million annually to plug a potential hole in the State Police budget as it loses some Transportation Trust Fund dollars.

The new fee was added in a Senate committee to an innocuous House-passed bill, House Bill 833, that would make technical changes in motor vehicle law. Originally, the new fee was projected to raise $100 million, but the estimate was based on erroneous information.

Approval came on a 35-4 vote after the Senate soundly rejected an attempt to strip the fee increase. Only seven senators voted to delete the increase.

State Sen. Robert Adley said the fee covers “the pure costs of providing the service.” He said the title fees have not been changed since the 1980s.

Adley said the state must stop spending transportation dollars for State Police and other purposes as it sits on an $11 billion road and bridge project backlog.

Currently, up to $70 million is transferred from the Transportation Trust Fund to State Police for operating costs.

“If you want to start repairing these roads and bridges, you have to get the State Police out of the Transportation Trust Fund,” said Adley, R-Benton.

Separate House-passed legislation is advancing that seeks to phase out State Police reliance on the transportation dollars.

State Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, D-New Orleans, said she doubted the estimate given by State Police for the costs of providing the title service.

“We are chipping away at the pocketbook of the people of this state,” Peterson said. “It’s a $50 increase.”

She also questioned the legality of legislators starting a fee increase measure in the Senate.

Adley said the House will now get its chance to vote on the title fee because of the change the Senate made.

Other senators stepped up to back the increase.

“Do we want to make the people who are using this service, making the decision to buy cars, pay for the actual cost of doing it? Otherwise, everybody not buying cars is subsidizing,” said state Sen. Danny Martiny, R-Metairie.

Sen. Conrad Appel said the state is currently charging far less for the service than it costs. “That’s a subsidy,” he said.

“We have been giving away money for all kinds of things for far too long,” said Appel, R-Metairie.

State Sen. Page Cortez, R-Lafayette, said the increase puts Louisiana’s title charges more in line with Texas and Mississippi.

Under HB833, the cost of a certificate of title when vehicles are purchased would increase from $18.50 to $68.50; each permit to sell or duplicate permit to sell a motor vehicle would increase from $15 to $65; and each salvage title would go from $18.50 to $68.50.

Follow Marsha Shuler on Twitter, @MarshaShulerCNB. For more coverage of the State Capitol, follow Louisiana Politics at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog.