Charge dropped

He presides over a state workforce that is being downsized, two separate sales tax plans he supported were defeated by the voters and there’s still a growing budget shortfall. Through it all, Gov. Mark Warner did managed to squeeze out a PR victory late last week when he ended a controversial program that was taking $2 from state drivers renewing their vehicle tags.

The whole controversy began earlier this year when the state DMV began using a registration renewal form that automatically charged drivers an extra $2 unless they marked a box after reading some fine print. The extra cash is supposed to go to the agency overseeing the Jamestown 400th anniversary celebration scheduled for 2007. The fine print was effective as nearly 75 percent of those renewing their vehicle registration by mail paid this “voluntary” fee. Of those renewing on the Internet, which offered drivers an opt-out option that was easier to see, only 39 percent paid the $2.

Of course, most state motorists can afford the $2 added on to the final cost of renewing tags, but the objection comes as a matter of principle. If each driver in the commonwealth of Virginia were ASKED if he or she would like to donate to the Jamestown celebration, most likely would respond positively possibly giving more than $2.

Most drivers, however, viewed the DMV form as the state trying to pull a fast one. They complained and the form is about to be changed to make the $2 more of a voluntary contribution than a hidden cost.

Blaming this scam on the DMV is misguided. This was the handy work of the General Assembly which passed the enabling legislation at the request of the fee’s prime beneficiary the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation. It was then dumped in the lap of the DMV, which undoubtedly took much of the criticism.

Contributions to the Jamestown celebration should be just that contributions. Hiding such fees within an already convoluted form is a case of the General Assembly and governor not leveling with the people of Virginia. Had no one complained, the fee would have remained and even increased. Had it remained for too long, lawmakers would have found some other endeavor in which to spend the money.

Hopefully, the new DMV form will be a little more forthcoming. Hopefully, prideful Virginians will continue to give this time voluntarily to the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation.

Most of those complaining about the hidden fee were not against the massive celebration. Support for this event is evident in the number of people who purchase the special “Jamestown 1607-2007” license plates. But one thing Virginians will not stand for is being pick pocketed by their government.

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