Safety commissioner Jeff Long has issued 4½ million driver licenses for so-called “private users” on roadways in Tennessee but has failed to collect more than F$200 million in permit fees required under the motor carrier statute.
By David Tulis / NoogaRadio 92.7 FM
Among Tennesseans, 4,557,954 men and women use their cars under authority of the Class D driver license that allows them to operate motor vehicles up to 9 tons in commerce.
The Class D license is the means whereby the state commercializes and gains authority over private activity by people’s using the roads for personal necessities, exercising their rights and for purposes of communication, private business, pleasure and travel. Most applicants for the license believe they will be criminally arrested and charged if they use their cars as a matter of right, without the state driving privilege. Judges, officials, teachers, officers and commonfolk make these claims, and it is virtually a norm and byword in American society that this belief is correct legally.
Not on list of exempt uses
The revenue is due to be collected under Tenn. Code Ann. § Title 65, chapter 15, the motor carriers statute. In a list of 19 exempted classes of licensees and uses, ordinary travelers on the road with a Class D license — people who use the roads purely for travel by right — are not included.
Uses subject to the permit fee to get into the motor carrier system are general hauling, freight and transportation. Provisions of this part of the law “do not apply to any motor vehicles, while used exclusively” as airport limousines, ambulances and hearses, charter vehicles, commuter vans, “intracity transfer [services],” limousines, milk delivery trucks, newspaper delivery vehicles, “passenger hauling demonstration projects,” railroad limousines, school and church vehicles, fertilizer haulers, sedans “in sedan service,” shuttles, taxi cabs, asphalt recovery haulers, or sand gravel haulers, vehicles hauling recycling materials, petroleum products haulers. Tenn. Code Ann. § Title 65-15-103, exempt vehicles — applicability.
People such as this journalist and members of his family — a tutor, a restaurant worker, a welder, a computer field consultant — are not included as exempt.
Mr. Moster says what are effectively private and noncommercial users of the roads don’t have to pay the F$50 permit fee. He makes no reference, however, to private users, nor pleasure users on the road by right, over whom his department lacks authority.
“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,” Mr. Moster says.
$200 million uncollected
If the state had collected the fee from those with valid Class Ds today, it would amount to F$227 million, or F$227,897,700 to be exact. In response to the CV-19 panic, state government is chopping hundreds of millions from its budget after tax revenues plunged after Gov. Bill Lee put the state into its deepest economic depression in its history starting mid-March 2020 by ordering the closure of tens of thousands of businesses.
The question to be answered by the department is: On what authority is the commissioner not collecting these funds, given the dire distress in the state’s finances, and given black-letter law?
In the past five years, the state has issued 718,064 Class Ds and renewed 4,451,830 licenses, according to Wes Moster, Mr. Long’s spokesman. Thus far this year the department of safety has issued 44,977 Class D driver licenses.