vehicle registration means work without pay

Do you enjoy working for no pay? Well that is exactly what happens when the state of Texas requires each vehicle owner to register their car with the state every year. This year my total cost for the registration, not to mention the accompanying state inspection, was $74.75. When I registered online, it broke down the costs individually, which is how I found out that I am paying $50.75 for a “WINDSHIELD STICKER.” You know that little blue sticker that sits on your windshield? Apparently it costs more than $50 to make and send to us. A stamp costs about fifty cents, so are we to assume the sticker itself costs $50.25 to manufacture? I’ve bought stickers for my daughter before, but they never cost that much. Maybe for her birthday I will order her stickers through our local DMV.


Interestingly, on the back of the state notice informing me that my registration is due, I am told that a $4.75 processing and handling fee “covers the cost of processing your vehicle registration,” which includes “windshield or plate registration stickers.” If the sticker is covered by the processing and handling fee, why do they have a separate “WINDSHIELD STICKER” charge of $50.75? The state website says that “100 percent of your base registration fee goes directly to the State Highway Fund for the construction and maintenance of the state’s transportation system.” So we’re paying for vehicle registration, but the money actually goes toward the roads? Why then are we paying a separate “local fee” which counties “deposit into their county road and bridge fund”? I wonder if Texans who drive on I-35, 635, 75, or 30 feel like their money is going to good use. I-35 is so bad that the state paid for a billboard which readOne day you will love I-35. Until then, drive safe.” One day, indeed.

I called my local county tax office to try to clear up some of the confusion in terms of what taxpayers are actually paying for. I was told that the sticker does in fact cost $50.75, and when I asked why it costs so much, was told “that’s just what they price it at.” I was told they can’t explain every fee but “it all goes together,” including the cost for state workers to process my information. But when I registered online, I actually had to put in all of my information myself, which left me wondering what exactly these state employees do when it comes to vehicle registration.

So why do I say we are all working for no pay when it comes to vehicle registration? When we total the cost for vehicle inspection and registration, every Texan with a vehicle pays about $100 every year just to drive their car. If we imagine a Texan who works for $15 an hour, that means that he or she works nearly a full day every year just to pay for the privilege of driving. Is this person reimbursed or compensated for their time? Of course not. To some degree, we all work for free for the state of Texas.

Why, I wonder, are we forced to register our vehicle every year, even if we drive the same one as last year? Does the state lose our paperwork each year? Does the county dog eat it? Wouldn’t it make sense to only register if we change vehicles? Surely this isn’t some sort of money-making opportunity for the state, is it?

There are more than twenty million adults in the state of Texas. If we take an extremely conservative estimate and calculate total registration fees for only half of the adult population, that means the state of Texas brings in $500,000,000 a year. And what are all of us working a few hours a year for, without pay? A shiny sticker and more construction traffic.