To: Members of the General Court
Monday, July 12, 1999
Re: Registry of Motor Vehicles Fee Increases: CLT Will Go Back to
In our 1989 lawsuit challenging the Dukakis fee increases (Ford
et al. v. Secretary of Administration and Finance Edward Lashman, Suffolk Superior Court
#89-2288-C) we pointed out that the definition and proper use of fees was established in a
previous case before the SJC, Emerson College v. City
of Boston, 391 Mass. 415 (1984).
In February of 1991, the Weld administration agreed to settle our
lawsuit out-of-court: to review all fees and adjust them to reflect solely the cost
of providing the service, as required by the Emerson decision. Thus, the RMV (and
other) fees were lowered or removed.
If the Transportation Committee and Legislature violate this
settlement and renege on our agreement, it will leave CLT with no option but to return to
court and reopen our lawsuit.
Legislators should understand that CLT will then be forced to target
not only the proposed $100 million "fee" increases -- but the
hundreds of millions of revenue dollars above the legally permissible $57.6 million
operating cost for providing the service.
In Emerson, the court noted that there are generally two
types of fees:
"User fees, based on the rights of the entity as
proprietor of the instrumentalities used, or;
"Regulatory fees (including licensing and inspection
fees), founded on the police power to regulate particular businesses or activities."
Further, the court found, there are "common traits that
distinguish them from taxes," as summarized below:
1. "... they are charged in exchange for a
particular governmental service which benefits the party paying the fee in a manner 'not
shared by other members of society,'"
2. "... they are paid by choice, in that the party
paying the fee has the option of not utilizing the governmental service and thereby
avoiding the charge," and
3. "... the charges are collected not to raise
revenues but to compensate the governmental entity providing the services for its
A recent exposť by the Lawrence Eagle-Tribune
("No competition, no regard," by John Macone, July 5) indicated to us that
the Registry of Motor Vehicles still is violating the law and ignoring our out-of-court
The Eagle-Tribune reported:
"With $807 million in revenue last year, it is the second-biggest generator of money
for the state ... outdone only by the massive state Department of Revenue, which collects
income and sales taxes. That income represents about 8 percent of the state's
entire budget of $20.5 billion."
Its follow-up editorial noted: "The agency rakes in
$14 in revenues for every $1 it spends on operations -- $807 million last year on a
budget of $57.6 million."
Discounting that $438 million of that $807 million last year accounts
for auto sales/use taxes collected by the RMV, this still leaves $369 million in Registry
Certainly this amount already grossly exceeds any
reasonable cost for providing the service, as the court defined the criteria in Emerson.
Under the Emerson decision, fees charged to administer
drivers licensing and auto registration clearly cannot be diverted to road and bridge
construction costs or anything else (ie., the state Highway Fund benefits non-drivers via
mass transportation projects, and non-state residents who regularly use the state's roads,
so by law cannot be funded by fees).
There is no doubt that the proposed Registry "fee"
increases are illegal, when Rep. Joseph Sullivan (D-Braintree), House Chairman of the
Joint Committee on Transportation, blatantly stated: "There's agreement in the joint
committee to do a revenue stream associated with the Registry. We have obligations beyond
our current financial capacity. That's today's reality. We need to have other revenues
available so we can do projects in all four corners of the Commonwealth." (State
House News Service, July 9)
Before you cast a vote for Registry fee increases, please recognize:
A vote for fee increases is also a vote to reopen CLT's lawsuit.