Amid crisis, state stops collecting DMV fees

Jeff McDonald |

With no budget deal, the amount to charge is unclear, so notices aren’t going out

Despite wrestling with a multibillion-dollar budget deficit, California has temporarily halted one of its most stable sources of revenue — $82 million a month in vehicle license fees.

Notices are not going out for people whose registrations are due for renewal in July or August. If they try to pay, the state will turn them away.

The reason? The Department of Motor Vehicles doesn’t know how much to charge. The vehicle-license fee is scheduled to drop to 0.65 percent from its current 1.15 percent on July 1. Gov. Jerry Brown hopes to keep the higher rate in place as part of a series of tax extensions.

At 1.15 percent, a $20,000 car costs $230 to register; if the tax falls to 0.65 percent, the registration fee would decline to $130.

The indecision has left owners of about 5 million vehicles in the lurch, those who would renew in July or August, because they can’t re-register until lawmakers reach an agreement.

Michael Jackson of San Carlos has delayed summer travel plans for fear of getting ticketed out of state for driving with expired tags.

“We can’t leave,” said Jackson, a retired butcher who was planning to depart on a summer-long road trip in two weeks. “They tell me I can call back sometime in July and they’ll tell me what I owe.”

The Department of Motor Vehicles usually sends renewal notices to registered owners 60 days before the licenses expire.

State officials said they have done the best they can to make sure motorists don’t get cited for driving on expired tags through no fault of their own.

The DMV alerted police and sheriff departments across the nation to the dilemma. Late fees also will be waived.

“We are very confident that all law enforcement agencies will receive and abide by our message sent through the National Law Enforcement Telecommunication System,” spokesman Armando Botello said. “We are also working with the Department of Justice to make sure all police agencies are alerted.”

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