Sundays tend to be slow news days anyway, and The Sunday Oklahoman, like many papers, puts out its first Sunday edition early Saturday afternoon, which means that the front page is likely to be filled with features rather than with breaking news. Still, something that's been going on all along is worth as much attention as something that's happening Right Now, and today's top story, while it's apparently a surprise to the state legislature, is definitely old news to those of us in the Real World.

If you buy a new motor vehicle in Oklahoma, you pay an excise tax of 3.25 percent on the "total delivered price", which excludes dealer prep and destination charges. If that price is $25,000, you must fork over $812.50. And that's before licensing fees; while obtaining a state title costs only $11, getting a plate and your first annual sticker will cost you an additional $332 — unless you can qualify, or, more precisely, unless you can persuade your local tag agent that you qualify, for a peculiar Soonerism called the "commercial tag".

The commercial tag, which costs a mere $100, is issued for vehicles with GVWR of 15,000 pounds or less, either a station wagon, a van, or a truck, used at least 51 percent of the time for business. Most sport-utility vehicles are built off truck chassis, which ensures their inclusion; however, cars, even company cars, are not included under any circumstances. That alone is enough to justify scrapping this goofball plan. But, this being Oklahoma, there's more. Two state senators, says The Sunday Oklahoman in its front-page story, have apparently just discovered that there is rampant abuse of the commercial-tag system. [Brief pause while Oklahoma residents say "Duh!"] To get the commercial tag, the applicant has to sign an affidavit that yes, this vehicle is being used the way the law reads, and present a state sales-tax permit, a Federal tax ID, or Schedule C from last year's 1040 — and, if the business's name is not actually painted on the vehicle, the words "Commercial Vehicle" must be inscribed somewhere on it.

This legislative Dynamic Duo, Senator Lewis Long (D-Glenpool) and Senator Mike Fair (R-Oklahoma City), is offering a number of ways to reduce the cheating. Fair made the somewhat sensible suggestion of requiring that the applicant show proof of commercial, rather than personal, insurance, an idea only slightly diminished by the fact that Fair's day job is, well, selling insurance. However, neither Fair nor Long seems to grasp that there wouldn't be any cheating if the car tags didn't cost so damned much. $332 for a license plate? It's $25 in Kansas, no more than $59 in Texas, $52 or less in Arkansas. First, stanch the bleeding from the bullet wound; then we can worry about the patient's cholesterol.

The Vent

#170
24 October 1999

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