That ‘late’ subsidy

State lawmakers of both parties are interested in revising a new system of fines for people who don’t keep their registration up to date on motor vehicles and trailers.

The fines were included in legislation last year that boosted fees for all vehicle registration. Many people were outraged to find they had to pay as much as $100 extra because their vehicles or trailers hadn’t been registered for months or more. Reducing that outrage is the reason that there are five different bills awaiting action in the Legislature that would modify the late fees.

One lawmaker who carried the bill last year to increase the fees wants only a very limited modification this year. In most cases, the high late fees adopted last year should still apply, said Rep. Joe Rice, D-Littleton, “because those who are late are being subsidized by those who register their vehicles on time.”

Hmmm. Interesting logic, that is. The increase in vehicle registration fees was designed to raise money for highway construction and maintenance. But if a vehicle isn’t registered and isn’t being driven or towed on our roads, it isn’t adding to the cost of maintaining our highways. So it’s difficult to see how people with registered vehicles are subsidizing those who aren’t using theirs.

One can make a reasonable argument that the old $10 late fee is too low for today, and that going back to the old system and losing $19 million in revenue is not the thing to do when the state faces a serious budget crunch.

But many of those seeking to register vehicles that have been out of service — whether boat trailers that are only used seasonally, or motor vehicles being repaired — face their own personal budget crunches. Lawmakers should be sensitive to that fact and develop a much less regressive fine for late registration of vehicles.


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