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Metro

RMV fee increase to be approved Wednesday

People waited at the RMV in Watertown.

David L Ryan / Globe Staff/file 2010

People waited at the RMV in Watertown.

No matter how you get to where you’re going, it’s about to become more expensive.

The Massachusetts Department of Transportation’s board of directors is expected to vote on a proposal Wednesday to increase Registry of Motor Vehicle fees by a total of 10 percent to close a $53 million gap in the state’s transportation budget.

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The details of the fee hike are set to be released at the board meeting, but increases are likely to be most dramatic for the Registry’s biggest money-makers: vehicle registrations, driver’s licenses, vehicle inspections, and title certificates.

If approved by the board, the increases will go into effect July 1.

“We are limited in what we have available,” Dana Levenson, MassDOT’s chief financial officer, said at a MassDOT meeting last month. RMV fee increases, he continued, “is the only place we have to go to close the gap.”

Drivers aren’t the only ones set to pay more: In coming weeks, T officials will announce a bundle of fare increases that will raise prices for subway, bus, and commuter rail by an average of 5 percent.

The $53 million shortfall is the result of MassDOT’s efforts to end the practice of paying salaries on credit, and instead incorporate employee pay into annual budgets.

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The increased fees and fares stem from a new mandate in last year’s transportation law that the Massachusetts Department of Transportation increase revenue. The legislation provided an infusion of cash to the agency, but declared that MassDOT match that funding to make up the remainder of the shortfall.

“The legislature effectively said, ‘That’s your obligation — figure it out,’ ” said Andrew Bagley, director of research and public affairs at the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, an organization focused on state fiscal policy. RMV fees, he continued, “became for MassDOT, the most clear and effective way to close this gap.”

Some say that it’s time for a hike in RMV fees: There have been no increases since 2008. Currently, a certificate of title costs $75, a regular driver’s license costs $50, vehicle registration is $50, and the fee for an annual inspection is $29. All of those fees will probably rise by more than 10 percent, Levenson said.

Still, there have been doubts about raising prices. At last month’s MassDOT meeting, board member Dominic Blue wondered whether the RMV would be able to close its funding gap by cutting expenses. Transportation Secretary Richard A. Davey brushed off that idea, saying that Registry branches are already thinly staffed, and cuts would result in declining service.

Mary Maguire, spokeswoman for AAA Southern New England, said the increases in fees for drivers, however painful, are necessary for the state to keep up with the rising costs of providing quality roads.

“Transportation, as we all know, is already woefully underfunded in Massachusetts and across the country,” Maguire said. “If we want to maintain a high level of service at the RMV, and if we want to enhance that service, then it’s going to cost money.”

Seeing a jump in the prices for vehicle costs will be painful for drivers, said Bagley of the Massachusetts Taxpayer Foundation. But he believes the tactic makes sense.

“It’s using transportation revenues to pay for transportation,” Bagley said. “Philosophically, we think it’s a good idea.”

Bagley acknowledged that it will be a jarring one-two-three punch for motorists next year, when the gas tax increase of 2013 and the registry fee hike of 2014 will probably be followed by higher tolls. Tolls are likely to increase by 5 percent, Bagley said, adding that “it’s not going to be a significant pocketbook hit,” but the trio of new costs may heighten interest in pursuing other tolls in the region to ease the impact on Massachusetts Turnpike commuters.

Last year’s transportation law required that MassDOT officials draft a report on the feasibility of instituting tolls at the state border. That proposal may gain momentum, Bagley predicted.

“There’s keen interest in the Legislature, with people saying, ‘We know we need more money, how the hell do we do it?’ ” Bagley said.

Martine Powers can be reached at martine.powers@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @martinepowers.

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