Auto Registration: Soak the Rich
When I was younger, I lived in Illinois. When it comes time to re-register your vehicle, it’s a flat fee, regardless of what sort of vehicle you drive (within certain classes, i.e. all passenger vehicles are identical). When I went to Purdue, I was shocked to find out that Indiana wasn’t so simple. The more expensive your vehicle, the more you pay in registration fees. You drive a beat-up old pickup? Your registration is cheap. You drive a brand-new Porsche, though, and be ready to bend over…
Something about this has always irked me. Now, a flat fee I can understand. Or, a graduated fee, based on some sensible reasoning, might even be understandable. But I don’t see how making people pay more just because their car is worth more makes any sense whatsoever.
Now that I’m in Georgia, we have what are called “ad valorem” taxes. To register my POS truck, not so expensive. The wife’s new Volvo, not so cheap. What sense does that make, other than to punish rich people for buying expensive cars? As if that’s not already taken care of by the sales taxes on such purchases?
I’ve got a better idea. For the same reason that I’m not opposed to gasoline taxes being a primary funding mechanism for road maintenance and construction, why don’t we index registration fees to vehicle weight? Just as gasoline taxes are a way of funding roads through users fees, heavier vehicles are more punishing to roads than light ones, and thus it makes perfect sense to charge heavier vehicles more than light ones.
Of course, leftists and environmentalists have no reason to oppose such a measure, since most large SUV’s are quite expensive to buy (hence you’re still punishing rich people), and tend to be more environmentally damaging through road damage and pollution than small cars. And for a guy like me, who views the optimal vehicle as a motorcycle weighing under 500 lbs, it’s especially cheap.
What are the possible objections to such a system? First, that somehow more expensive cars get more benefit from the system (i.e. police, etc) than cheaper cars. I think this is patently false, and any additional benefit is paid for by an owner’s insurance premiums, rather than society. Second, you could claim that owners of large vehicles are being double-penalized, as they’re currently paying more gas taxes per mile due to lower fuel efficiency. Of course, if they’re being charged sales tax on the purchase of the vehicle, and then inflated registration fees due to the value of the vehicle, they’re double-paying anyway. If anything, it’s an argument for a flat registration fee to cover adminstrative costs of maintaining the records, and full funding of maintenance through gas taxes.
Either way, there is no justification for making more valuable cars more expensive to register than pure class envy. I know there aren’t many people in this country who actually object to soaking the rich, but we should at least point it out for what it is.