Driver's license fee boost dies as North Dakota House fails to override Burgum's veto

Gov. Doug Burgum provided testimony on the importance of a proposed Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library in Medora in front of the Senate Appropriations Committee on Wednesday, March 13, 2019. Tom Stromme / Bismarck Tribune
Gov. Doug Burgum provided testimony on the importance of a proposed Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library in Medora in front of the Senate Appropriations Committee on Wednesday, March 13, 2019. Tom Stromme / Bismarck TribuneTom Stromme / Bismarck Tribune

BISMARCK — North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum's veto of a proposed increase in driver's license fees will stand after House lawmakers failed to override his actions Tuesday, April 2.

The bill would have doubled the fee for commercial and noncommercial driver’s licenses from $15 to $30. Noncommercial licenses are good for six years — elderly drivers must renew every four years — and commercial ones are good for four years.

The bill also raised a variety of other driving-related fees, including raising reinstatement after suspension and revocation from $50 to $100.

The bill's backers argued the proposed hike wasn't overly burdensome and would help the state cover the cost of doing business.

The state hasn't raised its driver's license fees since 1987, according to the state Department of Transportation. Fee increase supporters have said that means road funds are being diverted to subsidize license operations.

The DOT previously said fees collected through its driver’s license operations were expected to be almost $5 million short of the costs to run the program in the 2019-21 biennium.

"Only in state government would selling a product at a $5 million loss be OK," said Rep. Mike Nathe, R-Bismarck. "As a businessman, that offends me."

In his veto letter, Burgum said the extra $5.5 million collected by the bill every two-year budget cycle "comes directly out of the pockets of state citizens." A Republican who ran on a message of government reinvention, he said technology advancements would help reduce the costs of providing driver's licenses.

Lawmakers who supported the governor's veto echoed those arguments. Rep. Daniel Johnston, R-Kathryn, said they should further study agency fees.

"Because you know that once fees and taxes go up, they seldom if ever get reduced," he said.

The House's 47-44 vote fell short of the two-thirds majority needed to override Burgum's veto. The Senate voted last week to challenge the governor.

The state DOT didn't testify on the bill, but the department had previously examined such an increase. The bill was proposed by a bipartisan group of lawmakers led by freshman Republican Sen. Michael Dwyer of Bismarck.

Though Senate Bill 2244 was the first piece of legislation the governor rejected this year, Burgum and the Republican-controlled Legislature have a history of veto fights.

Four override votes failed during the 2017 session, but lawmakers successfully challenged four partial vetoes in the state Supreme Court after the session ended. It wasn't a clean victory for lawmakers, however, as justices said the Legislature gave too much power to an interim committee.