FERGUSON, Mo. — On the parking lot outside a grocery store in Ferguson Friday afternoon, Rose Pulline drove past 10 cars with expired temp tags.
Drivers get the tags when they buy a car in Missouri and don’t pay the sales tax to get permanent plates and registration done up front.
For Pulline, the answer to the problem is simple: “If you can’t pay, don’t drive,” she said.
That’s why she’s happy to hear the Ferguson Police Department is stepping up enforcement on the issue.
“It's been a long time coming,” she said.
But it’s happening in a community that became ground zero for mass protests following the police killing of Michael Brown in 2014. Those protests also called attention to how enforcement of nuisance issues for revenue can disproportionately affect low-income communities.
Chief Troy Doyle was a commander with the St. Louis County Police Department during those protests. Now, he manages the department which remains under a consent decree from the U.S. Department of Justice.
He said his "Temp Tag Tuesday" initiative is different than previous approaches to cracking down on the issue. He’s telling officers to use discretion, and issue warnings rather than tickets.
But there are some “egregious” offenders who he said his officers likely won’t let slide.
“I’ve seen tags that expired in 2019,” Doyle said. “What we intend to do won't be predatory."
“Just like anything, if you speed down a street, we're going to enforce speeding. We cannot get in a state where we just allow people in general just to violate the law.”
Doyle took the reign of the police department about eight weeks ago. He said he hears from residents like Pulline frequently.
“All I hear about from citizens in Ferguson is about traffic violations and speeding vehicles with expired tags,” he said.
A bill that requires car sellers to pay the taxes to the Department of Revenue in one lump-sum or spread across monthly payments at the point of sale is now sitting on the governor's desk awaiting his signature to become law. Once that happens, the collection of taxes up front will begin as soon as technologically possible. The Department of Revenue told 5 On Your Side last year, that computer system to track the sales tax collection will cost more than $100 million.
The Missouri Department of Revenue doesn’t have any estimates on just how much money the state has lost out on in unpaid sales taxes, nor does it know how many temporary tags and expired license plates are out there.
About $4.8 million came in during the first quarter of 2022 when a new law took effect that allowed car buyers to voluntarily pay the sales tax at the point of sale, rather than walk out the door with 30 days to do so at the DMV.
The money is going into a fund known as the Motor Vehicle Administration Technology Fund to pay for the upgraded sales tax tracking system and put an end to temporary tags once-and-for-all.
Dealers are also paying an added fee to pay for the system, and the Missouri Auto Dealers Association estimates the state is losing about $60 million in delinquent sales taxes, according to the Missouri Independent.
The Department of Revenue can track delinquent fee notices when car buyers fail to title and pay taxes, but the department is not an enforcement agency and cannot issue tickets for failure to register a motor vehicle, according to a statement from Anne Marie Moy, spokeswoman for the Department of Revenue.
So, it’s on police to do it.
For Pulline, she said residents should support Doyle’s initiative.
“I had to pay taxes and I have to pay insurance,” she said. I'm legal. There are consequences for your actions.”
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