Sweeney-Ruiz Motor Vehicle Surcharge Amnesty Bill Advances

Senators Teresa Ruiz, D-Essex and Union, and Senate Majority Leader Stephen Sweeney, D-Gloucester, Cumberland and Salem, discuss legislation on the Senate floor.

TRENTON – A bill sponsored by Senator Shirley K. Turner, Senate Majority Leader Steve Sweeney and Senator Teresa Ruiz which would establish a 60-day grace period for drivers with outstanding motor vehicle surcharges to pay those surcharges without facing interest or collection costs was approved by the Assembly Transportation, Public Works and Independent Authorities Committee yesterday by a vote of 10-1.

“Instead of perpetuating the status quo for drivers who have suspended licenses, New Jersey should be helping them wipe the slate clean and restore their driving privileges,” said Senator Sweeney, D-Gloucester, Cumberland and Salem. “At a time when we are actively trying to rebuild our State’s tattered economy, we need to make sure we have a mobile workforce able to travel to and from the jobs we’re trying so hard to create. This bill would give drivers a chance to make amends for past motor vehicle violations, and compete in our State’s recovering job market.”

The bill, S-2903, would establish a 60-day amnesty program for motor vehicle surcharges, similar to the successful tax amnesty program implemented earlier this year which helped raise more than $700 million for the State Budget towards the end of FY 2009. Under the legislators’ bill, the Chief Administrator of the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission (MVC) would set the framework for a surcharge amnesty program to allow drivers to satisfy any outstanding surcharges without being hit with massive interest payments or collection fees. The bill excludes any surcharges levied against drivers for drunk driving or failing to consent to a blood alcohol test and provides that any amnesty-eligible surcharge that’s not paid within the 60-day time period would be subject to a five percent penalty after the amnesty expires.

“So many drivers all over the State cannot afford to pay back moving violations surcharges in addition to the fees and collection costs that add up on those surcharges,” said Senator Ruiz, D-Essex and Union. “As a result, New Jersey is not collecting all of the revenue to which it’s entitled, and many drivers are ignoring license suspension orders and driving in uninsured vehicles to continue to provide for their families. This bill gives suspended drivers an opportunity to start fresh, will bring in new revenue to New Jersey’s depleted General Fund, and will make our roads safer for all New Jersey drivers by ensuring more people are lawfully behind the wheel.”

According to estimates by the State MVC, the surcharge amnesty period could bring in $17 million in uncollected funds to the State. The bill sponsors argued that at a time when New Jersey is looking for ways to overcome an ever-growing budget shortfall in the current and future State budgets, State government cannot afford to leave any uncollected revenue on the table.

The bill now heads to the Assembly Budget Committee before going to the full Assembly for consideration.

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