Cost of owning and operating a vehicle

If the West Virginia Legislature wants to help individual taxpayers, a great place to start would be reducing the amount of annual taxes and fees that the state requires residents to spend on owning and operating a personal vehicle.

First, allow single taxpayers to exempt one personal vehicle from the tax on personal property. Likewise, married couples should be able to exempt two vehicles. A vehicle is not a luxury in West Virginia, but instead a necessity considering our geography and lack of public transportation. Businesses get to deduct vehicle expenses from their taxes but an individual cannot, although both rely on the vehicle to generate income.

Second, eliminate annual vehicle inspections. W.Va. is one of only a handful of states that require an annual inspection. Having your car inspected annually does not lead to lower insurance premiums in W.Va., and insurers do not offer discounts for voluntary inspections in states without an annual inspection law. The lack of insurer incentives and discounts suggests that poor maintenance is but a slight cause of auto accidents. Most accidents are due to operator error, which is why insurers offer safe driving discounts and only moving violations like speeding increase your insurance premiums (failure to inspect is a non-moving violation).

Moreover, West Virginia already authorizes law enforcement to ticket drivers if a car’s safety features are not functioning. These laws are quite sufficient to protect other drivers from unsafe and dangerous vehicles. Mandating annual vehicle inspections only adds unnecessary costs and hassle to vehicle ownership.

Third, end annual registration renewals. Currently, to renew your vehicle’s registration you must provide the Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV) proof of auto insurance, a personal property tax receipt, and a $51.50 registration fee.

The state already requires that you apply for a certification of title with the DMV when you buy, sell, inherit or donate a vehicle. State law also requires all new residents to register their vehicles within thirty days of moving. That information is then logged into the DMV’s database where the state can track and update vehicle ownership. Likewise, the DMV tracks your auto insurance coverage and can suspend your license for failing to renew your auto insurance. Insurers must notify the DMV of auto insurance lapses within 10 days by law.

There is no reason why the county sheriff’s office or county assessor’s office cannot notify the DMV if an individual is delinquent in paying their personal property taxes rather than shifting that burden and placing an additional fee onto the taxpayer through the registration renewal process. The court system already has a similar system in place for suspending licenses for failing to pay assessed fines.

It is time we start focusing on individual taxpayers and provide some much-needed tax relief. Putting more dollars back into the pockets of West Virginians should be the lodestar of the Legislature every year.

Nigel E. Jeffries