Lawmakers are considering a bill to increase the motor vehicle inspection fee, doubling it across most of the state, to fund the gradual conversion to an electronic system that would save time and curb the black market sale of inspection stickers.

But opponents said now is not the time to increase regulatory fees, and a spokesperson for Gov. Janet Mills said Wednesday that the governor will veto the bill if it reaches her desk.

“With Maine people grappling with inflation she does not believe it is appropriate to increase costs for car inspections,” said Lyndsay Crete in an email a day after the House voted 95-39 in favor of the fee increase.

The transportation committee bill would cap the non-commercial inspection fee at $25. Most Mainers now pay $12.50 for an inspection, but those who live in Cumberland County, where a larger population elevates the risk of air pollution, pay $18.50 for an enhanced inspection.

The bill, L.D. 2032, is causing division within both parties. Advocates want to support the garages that do the work and law enforcement, which supports it.

The bill is the right thing to do, but it’s a bad time to do it, acknowledged Sen. Bill Diamond, D-Cumberland, co-chair of the Joint Standing Committee on Transportation. He said he would stand by the bill, which came out of a working group that studied the issue for months, but understood the opposition.


Past legislative efforts to do away with or change the inspection sticker program have failed. Last year, the transportation committee voted against a slate of bills that would have changed the program, which brings in about $3.5 million a year for the state’s highway fund.

The current sticker system is burdensome for inspection stations, which spend a third of the 45 minutes required to do an inspection on paperwork, said Lt. Bruce Scott of the Maine State Police traffic safety unit. Going electronic would save a lot of time, he said.

That saved time would also save the garages that do the inspections money. Working group members whose garages do inspections charge an average of $86 an hour for labor. At that rate, each inspection “costs” a garage about $64.50 to do.

Citing their costs, the garage owners argued that even a $25 fee would remain a bargain for Mainers.

Most people don’t have a problem with the $12.50 fee, said Larry Moreau, general manager of Jim’s Auto Sales in Auburn. What they fear is their vehicle failing inspection and the costs of the repairs needed to pass, he said in the working group’s report.

Converting to an electronic system would also cut off the demand that drives illegal sales of inspection stickers, which currently fetch up to $100 each on the black market, according to the working group. That would keep defective vehicles off the road, and make the public safer.


The conversion to electronic would happen gradually, starting off as voluntary and giving small garages that operate inspection stations time to prepare for the switch, much like what happened with the conversion of the state crash-reporting system, Scott said.

“That is my vision: We will crawl, walk and then run,” Scott told the transportation committee.

But the fee increase was enough to cause concern among some lawmakers, especially Rep. Richard Cebra, R-Naples, the transportation committee member whose bill to give new vehicles a pass on their first year of inspection almost had the proposed fee increase folded into it.

“I’d ask you to remove the fee increases from this bill,” Cebra said during a committee work session earlier this month. “I would really appreciate it if my name as a sponsor of this bill was not attached to a fee increase that I don’t support.”

Cebra told his colleagues that he was “wide open” to a committee bill. So Cebra and the rest of the committee voted against L.D. 284 – the working group had unanimously opposed moving to an every-other-year inspection model – and created a committee bill instead.

The committee, including three Republicans, unanimously voted in favor of its new bill calling for a $25 inspection fee to pay for gradual conversion to an electronic inspection system. Cebra had left the meeting before the final vote on the committee bill took place.

On the House floor Tuesday, however, Cebra spoke against the committee bill.

“I believe that now is not the time to be increasing any taxes or fees,” he said. His Republican colleague, Rep. John Andrews of Paris, agreed. Republicans split 31-26 against the bill, which passed 95-39 overall.

No Democrats spoke against the bill, but five broke with their party to vote against it. It now goes to the Senate for one last vote in the final weeks of the session. If Mills vetoes it, both chambers will need to have a two-thirds majority to overrule.

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