SADOW: Useless Louisiana Inspection Fee Needs Jettisoning

A California bicycling race can teach Louisiana a lot about the perils of excessive vehicle fees.

This week, the Amgen Tour of California traipses through that state, with a distaff version starting on Thursday. These are the only such contests on American soil that rate the Union Cycliste Internationale’s highest classification. American Tejay Van Garderen, who has the best finishes by any of his countrymen over the past decade in July’s Tour de France, currently leads and had put himself in a good position to win the general classification.

Between the two sexes, 35 teams will compete to put one of their riders on the top step of the podium by the races’ ends. Stage races require extensive infrastructure, including provision of two cars per team to ride near the cyclists, and other cars for the race organization. For this, organizers gain sponsorships, with Japanese maker Lexus again making well over 100 vehicles available to ATOC. After the race puts on a thousand or so miles to the odometers, Lexus can do with them what they please.

With many of its cars manufactured in Asia, most come through California. It would seem a simple matter for Lexus to grab some coming off the boat, slap on some California special manufacturer license plates with registration, then give them to the organizers for a week.

That didn’t quite happen. If you look around the caravan during the race, you’ll see team cars sporting license plates from Texas. Why would the company ship cars they registered in other states (and either imported from the Gulf Coast, or made in plants in Kentucky or Ontario Province) and have out-of-state plates parading around in an event designed to show off California?

Because Lexus saves a lot of money that way given California’s punitive taxes and fees for registering vehicles. As of 2013 (figures haven’t changed much since), each passenger car cost in that state $1,809 annually. Assuming 150 vehicles, that’s over $270,000 Lexus would have to pay. But in Texas, it’s about than half of that. Why would Lexus want to pay an extra $120,000 it doesn’t have to for a gift it takes back in a week?

(It’s a wonder that Lexus doesn’t choose an apparently even easier option. Northern neighbor Oregon has the nation’s cheapest taxes and fees, about a twelfth of California’s.)

Which brings us to Louisiana. Ranked 19th, the state isn’t the worst offender on vehicle taxes and fees, but gets close to the top 10 when throwing in other costs of estimated annual repairs (largely a function of road quality), gasoline (at least it has a comparative advantage here although its size and paucity of realistic mass transit options work against that), and (especially) insurance costs (the second-highest, with no relief in sight). So, a little help with fees would be in order.

But a bill sponsored by Republican state Rep. Larry Bagley misses a chance to do that. His HB 546, which narrowly advanced out of a House of Representatives committee, would eliminate the need for inspections of passenger vehicles – an unneeded practice fewer than a dozen states follow – not under federal supervision for air quality, but doesn’t lighten the load on drivers’ pocketbooks. That’s because its companion HB 601 nearly doubles the amount the amount fees taken in (that increase borne by commercial users) and transfers much of these to the Department of Public Safety to hire more troopers.

While too many policy-makers hailed the end of using Transportation Trust Fund dollars to fund DPS operations to use these instead on roads – even as simpler solutions to increase spending on infrastructure without raising taxes exist – that created a hole in DPS spending, and this represents a backdoor way of trying to take more money from the public to do this. In 2017, Bagley did much better to offer a bill that just did away with inspections.

Incremental pricing matters, as the decision made by Lexus demonstrates. At the very least, Bagley’s bills should roll off the $4.75 out of $10 the inspection stations receive currently, because there would be no inspections going on. Better still, wipe out the entire $10. It’s just another example of needless nickel-and-diming that discourages economic development in what’s called the worst state in the nation in which to live.

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