This is my second year living in Massachusetts after seven spent in New Mexico/Florida. And for the second year in a row I have opened my mail box to find an envelope holding my excise tax and said aloud, “What the fuck is an excise tax?”
This year, naturally, I went looking for a definition. Mass.Gov laid it out there for me:
An excise is a tax upon an event or privilege. A motor vehicle and trailer excise is in lieu of a tangible personal property tax and is levied for the privilege of registration. M.G.L. Ch. 60A, which is the statutory basis for the excise, uses the motor vehicle itself as a means to measure this privilege. Revenue derived from the excise can be used by cities and towns for any lawful purpose.
A couple of things bug me about this. The first is the word “privilege.” That is an incredibly vague word. A privilege or an event could be anything.
And the funny thing about this specific tax is there isn’t a definition (or at least I haven’t found one) about why this is a tax. Not every town in Massachusetts has available public transportation. Not everyone lives within walking distance from their place of employment. A car isn’t a privilege. It’s a necessity.
The second thing that kind of bugs me about receiving a tax on my car is the condition of roads on Cape Cod. In Massachusetts there is a rhetoric of arrogance in regards to driving in inclement weather. It seems as if the individual towns take a reactionary response in treating their roads. Rarely have I seen plows pre-treating roads in advance of a storm. If you live in a area off the beaten path it seems like your roads are willfully passed over. I would love to see a correlation between the amount of money towns have spent on plowing and how it relates to reported accidents during storms throughout the past ten years. It would be interesting to see if there has been an increase in automobile accidents as town budgets have tightened.
After a long winter, seeing that bill in the mail (for a poor, still-in-college student like myself) was a little hard to swallow. Massachusetts towns do not have to use the excise tax for road maintenance, but should they? And that is assuming excise tax, in Massachusetts, is ethical.