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Tue, Oct. 22

Limit on proposed fee to fund Highway Patrol may drop to $18

PHOENIX — Getting ready to renew the registration on your car or truck?

You might want to choose the one-year option.

On a 57-3 margin, the state House on Monday voted to scrap its year-old plan to fund the Highway Patrol with a fee to be determined by John Halikowski, the head of the Department of Transportation.

Rep. Noel Campbell, R-Prescott, had said the fee would be in the range of $18 a year. But lawmakers quickly soured on the proposal when the ADOT director pegged the fee at $32.

The revised version in House Bill 2320 once again gives Halikowski the power to set the fee but with a critical difference: It limits what he can charge to that $18.

What makes this important to vehicle owners is that registration renewals that are going out now include that $32 fee. More to the point, for those that choose the convenience of a two- or five-year renewal, that $32 fee is being assessed for each year.

This measure, assuming it becomes law, can’t take effect before the summer. And registration renewals are usually due at the end of the month they are mailed out.

But if HB 2320 becomes law, collecting the full $32 would no longer be legal at that point.

And what that means is those who choose a one-year renewal now won’t see the full fee when they get their 2020 renewal notices.

All that, of course, presumes that Gov. Doug Ducey, who liked the original version, will sign the stripped-down measure.

What’s behind the whole issue is that the state, in a budget-saving maneuver, has for years partly funded Highway Patrol through gasoline taxes. The result of that, however, has been less money for road construction and repair.

Campbell pushed last year’s fee authorization as a solution for preserving the road funds.

But the final version authorized Halikowski to raise a fee high enough to fund not just part but the entire Highway Patrol, along with a 10 percent cushion.

What that did is free up other cash for Ducey to fund other priorities, like his promised pay hike for teachers.

But by the time Halikowski got done, that promised $18 fee had ballooned to $32. And that created a backlash, including at least one measure to repeal the fee entirely and this one to scale it back.

Just the publicity about repeal efforts is having an effect.

ADOT spokesman Doug Nick said his agency, which began sending out the renewal notices with the $32 fee in December, already has seen an increase in the number of vehicle owners who are taking a wait-and-see attitude, choosing a one-year renewal.

Not everyone was pleased with the revised fee.

Rep. Pamela Powers Hannley, D-Tucson, said a flat fee, whether $32 or $18, is unfair. She said those with more expensive vehicles should pay more, with a lower assessment on those who own a car “that just barely gets them to work.’’ those with

Monday’s House vote sends the measure to the Senate.

The real opposition, however, could come from Ducey who was counting on the full $185 million from the fee in his budget.

Ducey has built his proposed $10.4 billion budget on collecting the full fee even while insisting that it did not violate his promise never to increase taxes. With HB 2320 he will come up $47 million short.

Gubernatorial press aide Patrick Ptak sidestepped the question of whether his boss will sign or veto the fee reduction.

He said Ducey’s main concern is that any adjustment of the fee must keep in mind the need for cash for road construction and repairs, especially in rural areas where resources are badly needed. But Ptak did not address the fact that the final version of HB 2320 actually fully funds the state account that pays for road construction, albeit using tax dollars that Ducey has earmarked for other priorities.

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