Unregistered cars cost state millions


Despite periodic roadblocks at selected apartment houses and a two-month amnesty last year for violators, Maryland has collected only a fraction of the millions of dollars in taxes owed by residents with cars illegally registered in other states, a legislative audit found.

The state Division of Audits reported that a computer analysis of motor vehicle records for Maryland and Virginia showed "with a 95 percent confidence level" that from 5,500 to 7,900 Marylanders own cars with Virginia tags -- at a cost of $1.3 million to $1.9 million in lost excise taxes.

State Department of Transportation officials have pledged to follow the April audit's recommendations in cracking down on registration scofflaws.

Deputy Transportation Secretary Stephen G. Zentz, in a May 9 letter, said the Motor Vehicle Administration would follow the audit's recommendations and begin using computers to check the names of Maryland drivers against lists of vehicle owners in Virginia and other states.

The MVA, he wrote, also agreed to begin by Sept. 1 to ask new state residents applying for Maryland drivers' licenses to list their vehicles registered elsewhere. The MVA will also check to be sure those vehicles are reregistered, he said, and, when a new resident claims not to own a car, to seek confirmation from out-of-state motor vehicle agencies.

Delegate Timothy F. Maloney, D-Prince George's, said he gets calls every week from people complaining about neighbors who have cars with out-of-state tags. "It just hasn't been the priority it ought to be with MVA," he said. "I think they should move it to the top of the list."

State law requires that new Maryland residents register their autos here within 30 days or face a fine of up to $1,000.

But many residents avoid this. The audit noted that "Maryland's vehicle titling and registration laws as well as other legal provisions . . . result in higher vehicle ownership and operating costs."

The state imposes a 5 percent state excise tax on the fair market value of cars reregistered in Maryland.

Autos also must undergo a safety inspection at a private garage and any problems must be corrected before the car is reregistered.

Virginia, by contrast, imposes an excise tax of only 3 percent.

The MVA's efforts to track down and catch violators have had limited success, the audit said.

The MVA"s Investigative Services Division collects about $114,000 annually in taxes and fees, auditors said. A two-month "amnesty" last fall, which waived fines for longtime residents who voluntarily reregistered their cars in Maryland, drew about $83,000 in additional taxes and fees.

But the audit reported that "estimates of . . . lost revenue far exceed the collections directly attributable to the efforts of the Division of Investigative Services and the amnesty program."

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