In Our View: Stop License Scofflaws

Registering vehicle in Washington price of living here; city right to crack down

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A crackdown on scofflaws by the city of Vancouver is a win-win. It benefits the city coffers, and it makes those of us who follow the law by registering our vehicles in Washington feel a little better.

Admit it: Few things are as frustrating as seeing a local resident avoid Washington fees by registering their vehicle in Oregon or some other state. The goal for scofflaws, of course, is to avoid paying this state’s higher fees — or avoid paying Washington sales tax on a newly purchased car or truck. In the process, they lower revenue for governments in this state while raising the ire of the neighbors.

There is nothing new about this; the issue has drawn complaints probably since states started issuing license plates, which began in New York in 1901. All of that leads to one conclusion about Vancouver’s new efforts to crack down on residents who have out-of-state plates: It’s about time.

A recent study concluded that the city of Vancouver is missing out on more than $300,000 a year because of people who register vehicles in other states. Those people put the same wear and tear on local roads as the rest of us while avoiding fees that go to road maintenance, the Washington State Patrol, and other civic benefits.

Thanks to a new program, hundreds of cars with out-of-state plates have been reported to city officials. Meanwhile, more than 1,000 such plates have been observed by volunteer group Neighbors on Watch. As a recent article in The Columbian reported: “In addition to placing informative flyers on cars found in violation, Vancouver police received specialized training to better identify drivers in violation of the law and begin to issue citations. The penalty for living in Washington with out-of-state plates is $1,122.”

Not that prosecuting scofflaws is as simple as observing a license plate from a not-so-far-off land. New residents have a 30-day grace period for registering vehicles in Washington, and we do, indeed, sometimes welcome visitors from across the Columbia River. Police use investigative techniques such as checking voter registration or utility records against a vehicle’s registration to confirm a driver’s address.

Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt said: “The jig is up. We’ve been very patient — and, frankly, in the past we haven’t devoted the resources to take this on, but we’ve made a concerted effort to reach out to the public and raise awareness. I think maybe a little more compassion through the holiday season, but once Jan. 1 comes around, my perspective is to go full throttle.”

It should be noted that Leavitt is leaving office Jan. 1 and will be succeeded by Anne McEnerny-Ogle. But regardless of who is in charge of city government, there is a need to hold citizens accountable.

While some try to rationalize ignoring the law by pointing out that Washington requires annual registration and has higher fees than Oregon, this justification falls flat. Taxation systems are complex, and Washington makes up for a lack of income tax by charging more in other areas. The fact is that it is the civic duty of citizens to pay the taxes that have been chosen by elected representatives to fund the area’s government services.

So, the city is sending a message to local offenders: Register your vehicles in Washington or face the consequences. Residents might want to share that information with some of their neighbors.