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Why is TN not collecting multi-millions of dollars in motor carrier taxes?

The highway patrol, serving department of safety and homeland security commissioner Jeff Long, is responsible for enforcing Title 55, the motor vehicle code, and Title 65, the carriers code. No other authority in the state is able to enforce the transportation laws. (Photo department of safety)
Jeff Long is commissioner of safety in Tennessee, and does not collect millions in dollars from driver license holders, though required to do so by state law. (Photo department of safety and homeland security)

My question to State of Tennessee regarding its motor carrier law seems hugely picayune, a little silly, and pointless.

By David Tulis / NoogaRadio 92.7 FM

I am asking the state whether I have to pay F$50 for a motor carrier permit as a person who holds the basic private driver license, one ordinary people use to get in their cars and travel — your pastor, your mom, your teenage daughter. It’s called a Class D driver license, and is issued by the millions by state government.

The law indicates I have to pay the fee to the commissioner and get the permit, because I have a driver license and use a car in a way that is not on an exemption list.

People obtain a driver license to obtain a privilege. That privilege or special favor is the permission to use the road for profit and private gain.

Everyone on the road, therefore, is apparently involved with the use of the road as a carrier. The presumption controls court proceedings and enforcement actions on the side of the road.

A law in Tennessee gives exemptions from the requirement to have the permit. The exemptions include airport limousines, charter vehicles, commuter vans, milk trucks, newspaper delivery trucks, church buses, taxicabs  — altogether 19 categories of users.

But basic driver licenses — the one you have, the one I have — are not on the list of exempt uses — and so we are bound to get the permit as motor carriers.

Tennessee operates a system of government which is fundamentally irrational, or, perhaps we could say, fundamentally fraudulent and deceptive. It pretends on one hand it is a crime to use the road in any way without the privilege (the license being proof of the tax paid for the privilege). On the other, it says you are a motor carrier by definition since you “operate a motor vehicle,” but don’t have to get the motor carrier permit and pay the motor carrier fee.

So, which is it? At law, if I have a driver license, it is to use my car as a carrier, a hauler or shipper.

Now, I don’t need a license to use a car on the roadway for private purposes or to exercise my rights. I don’t need to obtain a state occupational privilege of the driver license if I’m not in business using the road for private profit and gain carrying goods and people for hire. The law says nothing to such people, nor does it have them in view, in its scope. 

Official explanation

Given these two classes of travelers — one subject, one not — let’s see what Wesley Moster, head of the PR department of the state agency in charge of licensing, has to say.

Mr. Moster is head of communications for the department of safety and homeland security.

In regards to your first email, possession of a Class D driver license in the state of Tennessee does not automatically demand payment of fees as a “motor carrier” as part of the unified carrier system simply because said licensee operates a motor vehicle. A person may be considered a “motor carrier” based on the purpose for which the person uses the motor vehicle. [Emphasis added]

Under the Tennessee Code or the United States Code, a motor carrier is one who operates a motor vehicle as transportation for compensation. Tenn. Code Ann. 65-15-102(11); 49 U.S.C § 13102(14).

More specifically, a motor carrier is “any person, firm, partnership, association, joint stock company, corporation, lessee, trustee, or receiver appointed by any court whatsoever, operating any motor vehicle with or without semitrailers attached, upon any public highway for the transportation of persons or property, or both, or for providing or furnishing such transportation service, for hire as a common carrier.” (emphasis added) Tenn. Code Ann § 65-15-102(11). 

To qualify as a motor carrier, the operator of a motor vehicle must engage in some transportation for compensation. The Tennessee Code requires registration and fees for those vehicles defined in United States Code. Title 49 section 13102 of the United States code defines “motor carrier” as “a person providing motor vehicle transportation for compensation.” (emphasis added) See Tenn. Code Ann. § 65-15-101.

More information about the Unified Carrier Registration can be found at The Department of Revenue is the agency in Tennessee responsible for handling the Unified Carrier Registration.  You can contact their Legal division at 615-253-0019, or for more information about registration and any fees which may be charged, including whether the permit fee is a one-time or an annual fee. 

At one point, Mr. Moster says what we have been arguing all along. A motor carrier is one “operating any motor vehicle with or without semitrailers attached, upon any public highway for the transportation of persons or property, or both, or for providing or furnishing such transportation service, for hire as a common carrier.” 

Is purpose taxable, or activity?

A person gets a driver license and registers his car or truck as a motor vehicle with the local county clerk precisely for the purpose of using the roads commercially — that is, “for hire” and “for compensation.” 

Mr. Moster says “state of Tennessee does not automatically demand payment of fees as a ‘motor carrier’ as part of the unified carrier system simply because said licensee operates a motor vehicle.” Well, on what authority does it not demand payment? 

I propose another corrective: It’s not the purpose in the use of a car that makes it taxable, but the activity of the use. If the activity is profit and gain, it is commercial and subject to Title 55, motor and other vehicles. Purpose is not taxable. Activity is.

Ultimately, Mr. Moster fails to answer my question. I am not on the exempt list, and neither are you, and the state is bound to collect the tax from your preacher, your store’s bagboy, your elderly Sunday School teacher and your retired Army veteran uncle who is enjoying retirement.

It’s bound to. But it’s not. Why? There’s a flimflam operating here. You have to get a license and be in commerce or we’ll arrest you. But you don’t have to be involved in commerce and don’t have to get the motor carrier permit if you’re not on the exemption list.

The state wants it “both ways.” It wants everyone in commerce. But then won’t let you be in commerce as a carrier, which is what every person with a driver license is — a carrier.

I propose that the tax is not collected, and no issue is made about nonpayment, because it would expose the wonderful commercial government scheme against the people in the state and their right to free travel and free communication. I propose that if the state says ALL USE of the road is commercial, that we hold it to that proposition, force it to act consistently down to the last squelched outcry of a member of an angry populace, abused on the road, and now told it must cough up millions of dollars to become motor carriers in the state’s wonderful unified system.

The Tulis Report is 1 p.m. weekdays, live and lococentric.

Get your T-TAN now: Tennessee Transportation Administrative Notice creates traffic court defense, cause of action vs. cops

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