TRENTON – A bill sponsored by Senator Shirley K. Turner 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.
“Many New Jerseyans with suspended licenses are caught in a vicious circle,” said Senator Turner, D-Mercer. “They don’t have the money to pay off exorbitant motor vehicle surcharges in order to restore their licenses, and they can’t hold a job to make money to pay off their surcharges because they don’t have a reliable mode of transportation. Rather than trap New Jersey’s least fortunate citizens in an endless cycle of joblessness and ever-increasing surcharges, this bill cuts drivers a break, and will hopefully deliver a much-needed cash infusion to our very desperate State coffers.”
The bill, S-2903, which Senator Turner introduced in May, 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.
“To a very large degree, the proposed motor vehicle surcharge amnesty program is very much inspired by the State’s own very successful tax amnesty program,” said Senator Turner. “For drivers in underprivileged areas of New Jersey, the possibility of paying off motor vehicle surcharges in addition to fees and collection costs which have sometimes accumulated for years is slim to none. Hopefully, many suspended drivers will take advantage of this program, in order to wipe the slate clean and begin to drive legally in the Garden State again.”
According to estimates by the State MVC, the surcharge amnesty period could bring in $17 million in uncollected funds to the State. Senator Turner noted that even though the increasing fee collections by the MVC is a welcome byproduct of the program at a time when the State budget faces a massive shortfall, the more important goal is to give suspended drivers a chance to legally get back behind the wheel.
“While our State has to do everything it can to collect funds owed to the people of New Jersey, the more important goal in the MVC surcharge amnesty program is to encourage eligible drivers to restore their licenses,” said Senator Turner. “Because the cost of motor vehicle surcharge fees and collection costs can add up, many drivers feel like they have no choice but to ignore license suspension orders in order to continue to provide for their families. Through the MVC surcharge amnesty program, we’re giving suspended drivers an alternative to driving illegally, and allowing them an opportunity to become drivers in good standing once again.”
The bill now heads to the Assembly Budget Committee before going to the full Assembly for consideration.