When I was a kid, I used to love to find out-of-state license plates when my parents were driving. It was one of those little driving games I played with my mom – to see how quickly I could recognize the different colors and patterns on license plates from other states.
It’s less amusing to me now. In fact, seeing cars with out-of-state license plates has become something that makes me cringe, and here’s why.
You see, California is not ‘driving’ off the cliff of financial insolvency, we’ve already driven off it. We are really all just collectively waiting to see how much it hurts when we hit the ground. We are long past the problems that Wisconsin and Indiana have recently faced. Been there, didn’t look the scary monster in the eyes, kept driving.
California law says that if you move here with a vehicle registered in a other state, you have 20 days to re-register your car, pay the registration fee and get the same smog check for your car that all California car owners get every other year.
There are, of course, exceptions for college students and military families.
But look around, my tax-paying, law-abiding California friends. How many out-of-state license plates do you see around you? How many do you see every day, because they live on your block? How many do you see stuck in the same rush-hour traffic you are sitting in? (Using the same infrastructure that you are using – but you are paying for it!) Do you think the driver of that Jetta with an Illinois license plate headed westbound in bumper-to-bumper traffic on the 10 freeway at 9 am (with a dog on her lap) on a Tuesday morning is ‘just visiting California?’ Do you really think that couple in the Chrysler with the Vermont license plate drove here for a little weekend get-away?
According to my unsubstantiated Internet fact-checking, there are 32 million cars registered in the state of California. What if vehicles belonging to people who have moved to California – who live here – who use the same roads, freeways, parking spaces, etc. that you and I use every day – made up just a tiny additional number, like one-half of one percent (that’s one out of every two hundred cars that you see). That would mean that there are an additional 160,000 cars in California for which California has not received a registration fee (and that have not been smog-checked like your car and my car have).
If the average registration fee is around $200, we’ve just identified $32 million bucks that California is owed but has not collected. PER YEAR!!! Now I’m not saying that I can solve California’s budget problems in one fell swoop, but it’s not an insignificant amount of dough!
The California Highway Patrol started a program several years ago called CHEATERS. This is a website where you can report cars that are registered out-of-state. I am quite certain I am this website’s absolute most frequent contributor. Just the other day, I reported a Virginia, 2 New Yorks, an Idaho, a South Carolina and a New Mexico, all seen during a 40-minute drive downtown [I don’t text while driving but I do keep a pen and paper in the car!].
If you are a member of California’s most exclusive and shrinking club – taxpayers – you should be a regular visitor to this website as well. My understanding is that the CHP takes the information reported here, requests the registered owner’s name and last known address from the DMV/MVA in the state in which the car is registered, and sends a letter to that person letting them know that they need to re-register their car in California. I’m not sure if there’s any follow up after that. And I’m not sure what incentive other states have to rat out their former residents who may or may not still be paying a registration fee in their state? What happens when the letter comes back because the person hasn’t lived there in years?
Here’s another issue to consider. You know how much you hate those red-light traffic cameras? Have you felt the stinging indignance that comes with receiving a ticket in the mail with photographic evidence that you blew through a red light (or a stop sign)? Do you know why you were eligible to receive that ticket? Because you have a front license plate on your car. Many other states not only don’t require a front license plate – they don’t even issue car owners two of them! Which means that while you slink through the streets in fear of being caught by one of those cameras, drivers who haven’t quite gotten around to re-registering their cars (and don’t ever plan on doing so) know they are welcome to ignore pesky little red lights and stop signs with immunity.
Here’s the bottom line: it’s an issue of fairness and equity. These registration scofflaws are taking benefits that have a quantifiable value, without paying for them. If you live here and if you drive, you are using California’s infrastructure, and there’s really no reason you shouldn’t be paying for it, just like the rest of us are. Would you walk into a McDonald’s and grab a handful of ketchup packets if you had bought your french fries across the street at Wendy’s? (You would??) Would you go next door and borrow 3 eggs from your neighbor for your breakfast EVERY MORNING, and never buy eggs because you knew she would give them to you?
I think I actually started this blog with the express purpose of talking about this issue. You can probably tell that this has been my deepest pet peeve for many years – and I hope you will join me in my crusade. Here’s the link again – report those out-of-state license plates here. [And if you are so inclined, ask your state representative for a report on how that program is working.]
And if you disagree with me – do you have a few eggs I can borrow?