Car tags could zoom out of control without a budget

By Brad Kessie - bio | email

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - The budget battle in Jackson could have a significant impact on your finances.  If lawmakers can't reach an agreement on next year's budget, car tags will go up.

Lawmakers originally resolved the car tag funding issue when the raised the cigarette tax.  However, the $30 million earmarked for car tags was contingent on next year's budget being approved.  And that this moment, the house and senate are miles apart on a budget compromise.

Nearly 800 car tags are purchased or renewed at Harrison County's three tax collector offices everyday.  For car owners, talk of a car tag rate increase is not a very popular topic.

Billie Miller was purchasing a car tag for a 1997 vehicle she recently bought.  When she heard that car tag prices could go up, she said, "I don't think it's right.  I don't think it's right at all."

Yet tax collectors are bracing for that possibility.  Despite promises from Jackson to reduce car tags, their costs may go up on July 1.

David LaRosa is Harrison County's tax collector.  "This matter should already be resolved.  This is a no brainer," he said.

Lawmakers thought they had resolved their car tag issue a couple of months ago.  But they linked the continuation of a legislative credit for car tags to the passage of a new budget.  However, the house and senate can't agree on what next year's budget should be.  And that has tax collectors scratching their heads.

"This really affects the rank and file, everyday citizen coming in, buying car tags.  They feel it," said LaRosa.

Right now, the legislative credit to keep car tag prices down is 5.5 percent. Under that scenario, if you live in Long Beach, and buy a $30,000 car next month, your car tag would be $653.

But if the legislative credit falls to three percent -- a percentage that is being considered by state lawmakers -- the same car would have an $826 car tag.  The difference -- more than $172.

"The way the economy is and the people are today," said Miller, "more people are losing their jobs, losing their homes, going on food stamps... It's wrong."

Jim Hunter is a used car salesman.  He's not surprised that car buyers may feel a financial pinch.

"It goes the course with everything else going up," he said.

A consultant for Mississippi's tax collectors sent out an e-mail on Friday that summarized the budget battle in Jackson.  He wrote that without an approved budget by June 30, school districts would be unable to legally issue contracts to teachers, state agencies would face layoffs, and the cost of car tags would increase significantly.

"There are no assurances of anything at this point," Joel Yelverton wrote.  "I do know that there is tremendous pressure on the Legislature to fulfill its promise of solving the car tag issue."

Governor Barbour said Thursday that he will include provisions to shore up the car tag reduction fund if legislators include that in their final budget deal.

Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant said he has been pushing lawmakers to take steps to prevent a big increase in tag prices.

"Car tag relief is on the way," Bryant said in a news release. "Anyone who tries to say otherwise is using scare tactics for political gain."

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