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Washington targets Oregon-registered vehicles

The Associated Press
VANCOUVER, Wash. — Once again, even in the post-Initiative 695 days of roughly $30 car tabs, the State Patrol is cracking down on Clark County residents with Oregon license plates.

Troopers who talk to motorists after a collision, a speeding violation or even a flat tire are being trained to ask pointed questions about actual residences of anyone sporting Oregon plates.

It's part of Washington's attempt to recover lost tax revenues estimated in the millions.

"The citizens are a little tired of nothing being done," said Trooper Mike Kesler. "They don't know who to go to."

Similar tactics were used before 1999, when Washington residents paid an annual 2.2 percent vehicle excise tax. Clark County residents interested in saving a few hundred dollars would drive across the river and register their cars in Oregon, where tabs were about $30 for two years.

Washington tax officials in 1998 estimated there were 27,000 illegally registered vehicles in Clark County – a loss of $8.7 million a year in tax revenues. People were eager to turn in their neighbors and flooded the Patrol with calls. Then the passage of I-695 in 1999 repealed the state car-tab tax in favor of a $30 annual fee. I-695 later was declared unconstitutional, but the Legislature quickly moved to repeal the tax anyway.

With Washington residents now paying a base fee of about $33 per year for car tabs, versus Oregon's $54 for two years, it might seem not to matter anymore whether Clark County residents had Oregon plates.

Not so. An estimated 20,000 vehicles owned by Clark County residents are believed registered in Oregon.

So, in addition to troopers making spot checks, patrol dispatchers have a new database with sightings of out-of-state plated cars in Clark County, as well as complaints from neighbors. Residents with Oregon plates will receive notices that they have 30 days from moving to Washington to replace driver and vehicle licenses, or risk fines of $101 and $330 respectively.

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