Friday, July 16, 1999
Shutting down a cash cow
Some legislators want to raise Registry fees to pay for highway projects.
That is a violation of state law.
Some Massachusetts legislators think that the drivers are not paying enough to the
Registry of Motor Vehicles.
The state needs more money to pay for Boston's Central Artery project -- the
"Big Dig" -- as federal funds dry up.
There are other road projects that need money, too.
What better source to turn to, some legislators say, than the Registry.
The Registry generated $807 million in revenues for the state last year, including
$375 million in license and registration fees.
Yet it cost only $60 million to run the agency.
The Registry is, in financial terms, a "cash cow."
But there could be more -- oh, so much more -- in that particular honey pot.
Some on the Legislature's Joint Transportation Committee want the Registry to
reinstitute fees for the renewal of driver's licenses and auto registrations. Currently,
those licenses and registrations that are in good standing renew for free.
Reinstituting fees of $33.50 every two years for registrations and $35 every five
years for licenses would generate another $100 million a year for cash-starved
These are the same cash-starved legislators who are trying to figure out what to
do with the $800 million surplus the state took in last year and the expected $500 million
extra that is coming this year.
There's only one problem with this grand idea:
State law says that fees collected by a state agency cannot exceed the cost of
operating the agency that collects them.
The taxpayer group
Citizens for Limited Taxation sued the state in 1989 to enforce that law. The state
settled out-of-court in 1991 by agreeing to let driver's licenses and registrations be
renewed for free.
Now, based on information in stories in The
Eagle-Tribune, CLT says it will go back to court to enforce that settlement if legislators
try to reinstitute the fees.
Further, CLT warns it will target not just the
reinstituted fees, but all the license and registration revenue the Registry generates
above its $57.6 million operating costs -- roughly $300 million.
We'll take them one step further -- the state should stop -- right now -- using
Registry revenues to pay for highway projects.
It is clearly against the law.