Tuesday, March 30, 1999

City & County of Honolulu

Officials question
legality of vehicle
registration fees

By Gordon Y.K. Pang


Some City Council members are questioning whether Mayor Jeremy Harris' plan to double motor vehicle registration fees is a hidden, illegal tax.

"It's obviously a cash cow," Councilman Steve Holmes said.

The fee is supposed to return only the cost of running the vehicle registration program, and any higher returns would make it a tax, Holmes said.

That's because the state allows the counties to charge taxes only on certain items, such as real property, vehicle weight and fuel use; vehicle registration is not included.

Oahu residents would pay $20 a year to register a car, up from $10.

It costs about $8 million a year to run the city Motor Vehicle Registration Branch. The increase would bring in about $10.7 million.

City Budget Director Malcolm Tom said the $10 charge does not reflect the cost the city incurs from Honolulu police officers enforcing the fee. Under questioning, however, Tom said he could not say how much the Police Department spends annually on enforcement.

"There has been no intent to upgrade enforcement," said Councilwoman Donna Mercado Kim. "I think (the administration is) just finding ways to balance the budget."

Council Chairman Mufi Hannemann also said he wants to know how much is spent by the Police Department on vehicle registration enforcement.

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