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SENATE MAD AT TAX PANEL - THIS TIME IT’S PERSONAL PLATES

SHARE SENATE MAD AT TAX PANEL - THIS TIME IT’S PERSONAL PLATES

Utah state senators say they've been hoodwinked by the State Tax Commission over personalized license plate fees, and they don't like it.

Tax Commission officials say they'll "stop immediately" the new seven-digit license plate program and wait until January to get clear legislative approval. They deny any wrongdoing.According to Sen. K.S. Cornaby, R-Salt Lake, on the final night of the 1990 Legislature, in a large appropriations bill, the Tax Commission included a new $50 fee schedule for new, seven-digit personalized automobile license plates.

"We set the fee for personalized license plates by law. We set it at $30 years ago," Cornaby told a special confirmation session of the Senate on Wednesday afternoon. "Now the Tax Commission has slipped an increased fee through (without most senators knowing about it)."

The Senate, meeting only to consider gubernatorial appointments, voted unanimously "in an informal manner" to tell tax commissioners not to impose the new fee. "This isn't law, just our opinion of what the commission should do," said Sen. Richard Carling, R-Salt Lake.

Clyde Nichols Jr., executive director of the Tax Commission, said Thursday nothing was slipped through at all. "We've been talking about the increased fee for the seven-digit plates for two years. The fee was approved by a legislative appropriations subcommittee. I even told the committee, `Now, you realize this is an increased fee you're approving.' We followed the process completely and openly."

Cornaby said state law says that all six-digit personalized license plates cost $30 with a $5 yearly "maintenance" fee.

The Tax Commission - through the appropriation act's fee schedule - got authority to set a new seven-digit plate fee schedule. The seven-digit license, as of July 1, costs $50 with a $10 yearly maintenance fee. Many people will chose the seven-digit license plate because it gives greater flexibility in spelling out the personalized message, Cornaby said.

"There's good reason for the higher seven-digit fee," said Nichols. "We had to buy new dies for the prison (where license plates are stamped), new computer programs to accommodate the seven-digit plate."

But Cornaby complains that for license plates with six digits or fewer, it's a $30 fee - as the law says. For a seven-digit plate it's a $50 fee - as the fee schedule says.

"So you have to pay $20 more for one more digit on your license plate. We never would have approved that," said Cornaby. He said he asked the Tax Commission not to impose the higher fee until next January's Legislature rescinds the $50 fee or sets the higher fee in law. But commissioners refused.

That had changed by Thursday. "We don't want to do anything the Senate doesn't want," said Nichols. "We're stopping the whole seven-digit program as of now. We haven't decided if we'll ask those who have already received seven-digit plates to return them. We won't be printing any more, just the six-digit plates."

"This is a perfect example of what goes on when we're out of session," said Cornaby. "We set something in law and the bureaucracy does something else."

Several years ago, Cornaby sponsored a bill that gives Utah legislators free personalized license plates with their Senate or House districts engraved. Answering a Deseret News question, Nichols said that program of free legislative personalized plates will continue unchanged.