Great Moments in Local Government

July 19, 2007 • Commentary
This appeared on Cato@Liberty on July 19, 2007.

I became a libertarian in high school and college thanks to Ronald Reagan’s eloquent commentary against big government. I remain a libertarian because of Virginia’s Department of Motor Vehicles. Several years ago, I had to make four trips to the DMV to get my son his learner’s permit (I don’t remember all the details, but I periodically have flashbacks about Social Security cards, birth certificates, and DNA samples).

Today, I began a new odyssey in an attempt to renew the registration on one of my vehicles.

Theoretically, DMV was supposed to send something in the mail, but that never arrived and I was unaware that my registration expired until one of DC’s finest recently pulled me over (to his credit, he gave me a warning rather than impounding the car, which ostensibly is the law in such situations). So I went online to find out about renewing the registration, and was horrified to discover that I had to make a visit to DMV because my registration had lapsed (needless to say, I can’t think of a single reason why this should require an in‐​person visit).

Resigned to an unpleasant experience, I woke up early so that I could avoid a three‐​hour line at the DMV office and managed to see someone after a wait of just 15 minutes. But when I attempted to register, I was told that Fairfax County had placed a hold on my registration because of unpaid taxes. I would like to claim that I was being a principled tax protester, but I meekly pay my car taxes…at least when I’m aware that a bill is due. I don’t know whether to blame the Post Office or the vehicle bureaucracy, but there are no letters from Fairfax County in my inbox.

In any event, the logical next step should have been for me to pull out a credit card and take care of both the unpaid tax and the registration. Silly me. Not surprisingly (and this may be a good thing), there is no coordination between Fairfax County and the state government. So I had to surrender my spot at the counter and go look at a sign with numbers for various local tax offices. I called Fairfax County’s automated system, filled with naive thoughts about making an automated payment and then taking care of my registration.

I was surprised to learn that Fairfax County thinks I have four cars. Unfortunately, the system does not tell you the cars you ostensibly own, or which car has the unpaid tax bill. But the amount was not very large, so I was willing to pay it — even if it was for a car I didn’t own. Like any sensible person, my top goal was to avoid having to make a repeat visit to the DMV. So I spent the next five minutes typing in a bunch of numbers in response to about 10 different prompts, only to be told that my credit card was not accepted. So I then typed in the information for another credit card and got the same rejection message. Since I know my credit cards are good (I used one of them last night and used the other one after leaving DMV just to make sure), I opted out of the automated system and eventually got to speak to live bureaucrat. For reasons that I will never understand, though, the bureaucrats can only process payments if you have a Discover card.

Utterly defeated, I tucked my tail between my legs and went to work. At some point, before a less‐​friendly cop pulls me over, I will now have to visit the Fairfax County tax office and then make a second visit to the DMV. And if that is all that I have to do, I will consider myself lucky.

But there is a silver lining to this dark cloud. I now am fully re‐​energized in my disdain for government.

About the Author