Michigan to forgive ‘driver responsibility fees’

Jonathan Oosting
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing — Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder on Thursday signed a law to forgive any “driver responsibility fees” debts in October and allow affected motorists to reinstate their license for free through the end of 2018.

The law could provide relief for more than 300,000 drivers who owed a combined $637 million in outstanding fees as of August, much of which the state never expected to collect.

Snyder already signed a law in 2014 to phase out the fees, which are assessed for certain offenses on top of traditional traffic fines, but had resisted the forgiveness plan because of the potential strain on the budget.

The governor agreed to the amnesty plan two weeks ago as part of a deal with legislative leaders on a $176 million tax cut bill he signed Wednesday.

“I have long opposed these fees and worked with the Legislature since taking office to phase them out,” Snyder said in a statement. “I’m pleased we found a solution that eliminates them without creating new state debt and helps remove barriers to work for more Michiganders.”

The new law will officially end the fee program on Oct. 1 and stop state collections from most individuals, including anyone who had entered into a payment plan prior to February. Michigan would also temporarily waive the $125 reinstatement fee for motorists who lose their license over failure to pay the fees.

The amnesty law is projected to cost the state about $82.2 million in lost revenue over the next four years, according to the non-partisan House Fiscal Agency.

Michigan created driver responsibility fees nearly 15 years ago under the stated goal of deterring irresponsible driving. But critics like House Speaker Tom Leonard, R-Dewitt, said it was actually “nothing more than a money grab to balance the budget.”

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan praised the fee forgiveness plan earlier this month when it was approved by the House and Senate. “Eliminating these fees will remove a barrier to work for more than 70,000 Detroiters,” he said in a statement.