The House Should Override Burgum’s Veto of License Fee Hike

SB2244 would raise North Dakota’s fee for commercial and noncommercial driver’s licenses from $15 to $30.

The Legislature approved the bill and sent it to Governor Doug Burgum for signature, but he vetoed it arguing that the $5.5 million in new revenue the bill generates per biennium “comes directly out of the pockets of state citizens.”

So the bill is back before lawmakers, and yesterday the Senate voted 41-4 to override the veto. Now the state House needs a 2/3’s vote to override the veto.

Let’s hope they get the votes.

[mks_pullquote align=”left” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#ffffff” txt_color=”#000000″]From 1987 to the present the cost of a license has been $15. But $15 in 1987 is, adjusted for inflation, nearly $34 today.[/mks_pullquote]

For one thing, this isn’t really much of an increase. These licenses only have to be renewed every six years, meaning the fee for a license is going from about $2.50 per year to $5 per year. I don’t think that’s going to hurt any given individual.

For another, the state hasn’t raised these fees since 1987. Which means the fees are no longer covering the cost of licensing, and the Department of Transportation is now using funds for the construction and maintenance of roads to pay for those operations. “The DOT, which did not testify on the bill, said last year that the fees collected through its driver’s license operations were expected to come up almost $5 million short of the costs to run the program in the next two-year budget cycle,” the Bismarck Tribune reported recently.

So this fee increase covers the shortfall, and the DOT can refocus its resources on keeping our roads pleasant to drive on.

I understand why Governor Burgum felt compelled to veto this bill. He campaigned in 2016 as a fiscal conservative, arguing that our state has a spending problem and not a revenue problem. He has pledged to fix the state’s finances without resorting to tax hikes or fee increases.

But sometimes a fee increase makes sense. This one certainly does. What North Dakotans are currently paying for drivers licenses does not currently cover the cost of those licenses. While I’m open to arguments on how to make the licensing process more efficient, this fee increase doesn’t even cover the cost of inflation.

From 1987 to the present the cost of a license has been $15. But $15 in 1987 is, adjusted for inflation, nearly $34 today.

This fee increase is needed. Burgum’s veto, while well-intentioned, was a bit overzealous.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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