Malloy, municipalities at odds over car tax
CT Post, February 10, 2016
By Bill Cummings
HARTFORD — A plan to reduce long wait times at state Department of Motor Vehicle offices by eliminating the need to pay car taxes before registering vehicles is leaving town and city officials with visions of empty coffers.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy on Tuesday proposed a bill that eliminates the requirement to pay car taxes or parking tickets before registering a vehicle, postpones issuing boat titles until 2019 and allows AAA to issue registrations at its branches. Malloy said the aim is to reduce wait times at DMV offices, which have been plagued with problems since a new computer system was installed last summer.
DMV was forced to close for four days and when it reopened wait times jumped to as much as seven hours. Amid the fallout, former state Sen. Andres Ayala, D-Bridgeport, resigned from his job as DMV commissioner. “Long wait times experienced by customers at the DMV is simply unacceptable, and that’s why we’re outlining common-sense proposals to lower them,” Malloy said. “Connecticut state government needs to be flexible and find ways to improve customer service in a cost-effective manner, and with this series of proposals, we’re doing just that,” Malloy said. Related Stories
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While Malloy said his proposal is a way to lessen wait times by reducing trips to DMV, concern quickly rippled across the state, because the proposal eliminates the main incentive to pay car taxes.
“It would be disastrous for collection efforts,” said Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, who predicted his city would lose $2 million a year. “It’s a bad idea.”
Others agreed. “It would diminish both property tax revenues and ticket revenues for towns, revenue towns depend on to pay for essential services,” said Kevin Maloney, a spokesman for the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities. “CCM finds the proposal to be very problematic,” Maloney said. “Residents have an obligation to pay these taxes and fees to help ensure that towns can meet their service needs.”
State Sen. L. Scott Frantz, R-Greenwich, and a member of the transportation committee, said the proposal would reduce revenue to towns. “How else can a municipality collect car taxes other than have the DMV sledgehammer on them?” Frantz said. “I would be concerned about the loss in revenue.”
Boughton estimated Danbury’s car tax collection rate would drop to 50 percent, and said because communities cannot place a lien on a car if taxes are not paid, there would be no way to force payment. Devon Puglia, a Malloy spokesman, said the state should not be helping to collect tax revenue for towns and cities.
“The DMV should not be in the local property tax-collection businesses,” Puglia said. “The core function of the motor vehicles department is to provide licenses, register cars, and other services — it’s not to collect a $50 ticket on behalf of a municipality. “The world is changing and the DMV needs to change with it,” Puglia added. “You’re either for longer wait times or you’re against them.” Boughton had a different view. “At the end of the day, this may be a way to convince towns and cities to get rid of car taxes if they can’t keep them,” he said, noting Malloy has tried to eliminate the levy in the past.
State Sen. Toni Boucher, R-Wilton and a ranking member on the transportation committee, said eliminating the need to pay car taxes before registering a vehicle would hand towns and cities a huge revenue loss. “Tax assessors will be very upset,” Boucher said. “The only way to force the issue is not allowing you to register your car. That is the stick and the enforcement action.” Less wait time Malloy insisted residents often learn they owe back car taxes after arriving at DMV and make several trips before the issue is resolved. “By removing this prohibition, it is expected that the number of customers having to make duplicate trips to branch offices will be minimized, and as such, contribute to reduced wait times and an enhanced customer experience,” Malloy said.
Boughton said he doubts eliminating the requirement to pay car taxes or parking tickets would affect wait times. “I find it hard to believe this causes long lines,” he said. The governor also said allowing AAA to issue registrations and postponing the issuance of vessel titles until Dec. 31, 2018, would free up DMV staff so they can fix other problems. “DMV is going through a massive shift that should have happened decades ago,” Malloy said.
Boucher said she supports privatizing some functions, such as registering a car at the automobile association. But for the most part, Malloy’s plan avoids the main issue of DMV’s failure to perform, she said. “They are doing this rather than address the substantial problems,” Boucher said. “They paid $25 million for a non-functional system.”