Road improvement money going elsewhere

Varied vehicle registration leaves Nevada a melting pot of sorts. For some people, Coke is the real thing. For others, Pepsi is the joy of cola.

For frustrated citizens who have endured the joyless reality of a trip to the Department of Motor Vehicles recently, seeing those Coca-Cola and Pepsi Cola trucks driving Southern Nevada streets with license plates registered in Illinois and Indiana is enough to make them want to turn the crowded roadways into one big demolition derby.

The pop giants are hardly the only companies usingout-of-state plates for vehicles operated a majority of the time in Nevada. A quick glance around the valley, and you'll see Meadow Gold Dairy trucks with Utah plates and Scenic Airlines shuttle vans and Travelways buses with California plates.

Then there are the dozens, perhaps hundreds, of construction vehicles licensed in Arizona, California and Utah despite often spending years on job sites throughout Southern Nevada.

Sunday's column on the lack of DMV compliance by the STS long-haul garbage trucking company brought out the frustrated informant in many readers, who have grown tired of battling on the roadways with so many vehicles registered outside Nevada.

It's not that a majority of those larger commercial vehicles pay nothing to Nevada. The International Registration Plan, or IRP, theoretically ensures the vehicles pay a percentage of their annual taxes and fees to the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles.

But DMV insiders note that the IRP provides anything but tax parity for Nevada. It does, in fact, allow companies to avoid paying their full share of the costs residents are compelled to pay each year.

That translates into hundreds of thousands of dollars that never make it into this state's coffers for road improvements. Those costs must be made up somewhere else.

During fat economic times, those unseen losses aren't a priority -- and Nevada has ridden an immensely prosperous wave in recent years. But when the economy flattens out, as some cynics are predicting in the coming

year, those uncollected millions will come in handy.

What's worse, says one knowledgeable DMV source, is the proliferation of smaller Nevada-based commercial vehicles that remain registered in California to circumvent that state's high fees for interstate transports and also avoid Nevada's formidable automobile privilege tax. While the law-abiding commercial vehicles are paying for an apportioned plate or are purchasing a trip permit, the outlaws not only skip that cost, but also avoid Nevada's fees and taxes.

How do we stop the leak?

A law mimicking California's would close a loophole big enough to drive a truck through, says one DMV source. It also might generate millions on this side of the state line. At the very least it would level the playing field.

Combined with improved noncommercial compliance, and the state stands to generate a fortune in fees and taxes.

Then there are the Las Vegas-based trucking and paving companies that register their vehicles in Utah to take advantage of lower fees and insurance rates. Consider that thousands more dollars lost to our neighbors.

"Remember, by law you have only 30 days to register your vehicle in Nevada," says one DMV insider, noting the semitruck-sized irony of his statement.

Thirty days? Some of these people have failed to comply after 30 months.

He knows the state loses a small mountain of revenue by failing to induce new residents and commercial operators into complying with the law. Those 30 days turn into many months, years and sometimes not at all.

This isn't some lame attempt to push for increased tax burdens on newcomers and business owners. Far from it. In fact, it's an idea that should be popular with every local company whose owners choose to abide by the law.

I don't endorse neighbors snitching on neighbors, but perhaps it's time to set up a DMV hot line to report chronic offenders of the state's 30-day registration rule.

I'm not for new taxes for anyone, especially me. But I am for everyone paying their fair share. Set up an amnesty period if you wish, but it's long past time to collect what's owed.

And, whatever you do, make them stand in the back of the line down at the DMV.

John L. Smith's column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Reach him at


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