Running into a pileup of vehicle fees


Welcome to the wonderful world of vehicle titling and registration. I recently had the pleasure of running this perilous gantlet when I bought an old grocery-getter of a car, and my wallet is $263 lighter as a consequence. What follows is a breakdown of the 16 different fees I paid for the privilege of driving in our state.

Name              Purpose Amount
Motor vehicle title This is the cost the state charges to print the title, which, if you have a lien, then goes to your bank, or, if you bought it outright, goes to you $6
State sales tax 4.7% is the current state sales and use tax; goes to the general fund to pay for just about everything but public education $94
Local sales tax 1% in Salt Lake County, where I live; pays for government services $20
Zoo, cultural tax 0.1%; pays for the zoo and other arts programs $2
Mass transit tax 0.3% plus an additional 0.25% added on by Salt Lake County, for total of 0.55% $11
County option transportation 0.25% added on by Salt Lake County to pay for transportation projects $5
Uninsured motorist identification fee This helps cover the cost of operating the Uninsured Motorist Database for tracking motor vehicle insurance status $1
MV drivers education A subsidy given to public schools to provide drivers education training $2.50
Plate fee The license plates are made at the Utah State Prison; while the labor is free, the fee goes to cover materials $5
County-assessed fee current year Property tax paid for owning a vehicle; varies by age of vehicle and can be as high as $150 $10
Salt Lake County gasoline passenger This is a fee because I, and all of us, pollute the air with gasoline byproducts. The fee goes to the Department of Health and pays for state employees to regulate the vehicle emissions testing program and also monitor and control fugitive dust emissions. For example, a state employee would go to a contractor’s building site to make sure dust escaping the lot during construction meets the state’s fugitive dust standards. $3
COR fee –Salt Lake County 7/1/2008 This is a state fee for road upkeep in Salt Lake County $10
Passenger registration This is the actual fee to register the vehicle with the state $43.50
Total $218

But wait – there’s more! The state mandates that all vehicles undergo safety and emissions testing. In some counties, the prices are set; in others, there is no set fee. The place I went to charged this:

Emissions To make sure my car isn’t polluting more than it should $30
Safety To check for working headlights, wipers, brake lights, etc., to ensure I’m not a hazard to other vehicles and pedestrians $15
Total $45
Grand total $263

For newer vehicles, the fees can reach into the $500-$600 range. These fees are part of the “soft despotism” I wrote about earlier in a post quoting Alexis de Tocqueville. Here’s the relevant part to our present subject:

[Government] covers its surface with a network of petty regulations – complicated, minute, and uniform – through which even the most original minds and the most vigorous souls know not how to make their way past the crowd and emerge into the light of day. It does not break wills; it softens them, bends them, and directs them; rarely does it force one to act, but it constantly opposes itself to one’s acting on one’s own; it does not destroy; it prevents things from being born; it does not tyrannize, it gets in the way, it curtails, it enervates, it extinguishes, it stupefies, and finally it reduces each nation to nothing more than a herd of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.

The 16 fees and taxes listed above go to pay for a host of services, projects and salaries that are nearly impossible to track or hold accountable. The sheer size of our local, state and federal governments is enough to stupefy and enervate any one of us.

To be clear, I’m not commenting on the merits or lack thereof of any one of the above taxes. I’m simply questioning whether government should be performing any or all of the functions for which these taxes are levied. Yes, we need roads. Yes, breathing clean air is desirable. Of course, having a car that doesn’t present a safety hazard is a great idea. But is it the role of government to do all these things? Some of them? None of them?

Ultimately, the discussion turns to freedom. As governments’ roles increase, there must be, in equal measure, a decrease of freedom for individuals, families and private organizations. This is because the powers to do what must be done for a free and civil society to function can only be held by one entity or the other. And the incentives to perform those functions in the most efficient, effective manner are most keenly felt by the private sector; government has fewer incentives to perform well and is more insulated from the consequences if it does not.