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HCTRA Get Reimbursement For Rita?


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Chronicle story about possible reimbursement for all the free toll days

(if we can't get reimbursed for the free Rita days on the toll roads, maybe we should be looking into fixing the red tag system that has gotten totally out-of-hand lately...)

MR. SIMMONS: Commissioners, our next item is a discussion item relating to temporary license plates.

MR. BRAY: Mr. Chairman, Members, Mr. Simmons, I am Brett Bray, Director of the Motor Vehicle Division.

I haven't appeared before the commission in a very long time, and the reason for that is the -- under the umbrella of the Department of Transportation, there was a Motor Vehicle Board, and the Motor Vehicle Board was responsible for dealer regulations and rules connected with that. As you probably are aware, the Motor Vehicle Board was abolished recently, and the authority for rule-making was transferred to the commission, hence my being before you today.

This agenda item is a discussion of temporary cardboard tags. This is not about license plates that you are probably more familiar with, coming out of the Vehicle Titles and Registration Division, and we will get into that a little more. I believe I have a chart here to talk about that with you. I did bring with me today Carol Kent, my Director of Enforcement, and Larry Bullard, our chief investigator. They're subject matter experts. If we get too detailed and beyond my area, I would like to offer them up to you for answers.

Ten years ago, regulation of used car dealers in Texas was transferred by the Legislature from VTR to the Motor Vehicle Division. This included, among other things, authority to regulate dealer plates, and those are two kinds. There are metal dealer plates and there are paper tags.

Metal dealer plates are a lot like what you and I have. They are a metal plate that you put on a vehicle, and it authorizes you to operate that vehicle in the State of Texas. Metal dealer plates are in the system like our plates are and can be accessed by law enforcement. Paper tags are not. Temporary -- we call them temp tags or temporary tags, and it is what we are here to talk about today, not metal tags.

Temporary tags are used to give buyers temporary authority to operate vehicles while the dealer is applying for title, among other things. After a time when we received authority to regulate this area, we noticed that they were subject to widespread abuse, and there were no controls whatsoever. We brought this to the Motor Vehicle Board's attention in December of 1996. In January of 1997, the Texas Automobile Dealers Association persuaded someone in the Legislature to introduce legislation that prevents the department from producing the temp tags and issuing them, or contracting for their production and issuing them.

In case I am not clear up to this point, temp tags, unlike 48 other states in this country, can be produced by anyone anywhere in Texas.

MR. HOUGHTON: Can I stop you right there?

MR. BRAY: Yes, sir.

MR. HOUGHTON: In fact, if we are precluded from doing anything, are we precluded from doing anything from this point forward, too?

MR. BRAY: The 19 -- I did kind of step over that. I apologize. The 1997 legislation that prevents the department from producing tags or contracting for the production, left the ability to dictate format and form, and that's really what I'm bringing to you today, is a discussion of, if we can change the form and why we should change the form.

MR. HOUGHTON: Production is then handled by whom?

MR. BRAY: Well, in Brownwood, Texas, it's handled by Moore Printing Forms or Moore Business Forms and, I believe, Brownwood Printing, something to that nature. It is handled by between 200 and 300 licensed printers in the State of Texas, all over.

MR. HOUGHTON: We can't change that?

MR. BRAY: No, sir, not at this time.

MR. JOHNSON: What were -- you mentioned, Brett, some of the abuses that we determined were occurring. What were the nature of some of those abuses?

MR. BRAY: I have a list of ten things. It is my own personal, shorthand list of bad things that happen with temp tags. If you want to avoid liability insurance or if you can't get liability insurance, operate a vehicle on a temp tag. If you want to avoid registering your vehicle for some reason or titling your vehicle, operate on a temp tag. If your vehicle can't pass inspection -- and I'm not just talking about -- I am talking about lights and brakes and the normal things you and I think of about inspection, but I am also talking about salvage vehicles. If your vehicle -- if you have a salvage vehicle and you can't pass inspection and so you won't be able to get a regular title, won't be able to get plates to operate on the streets, drive around on a red tag.

If you want to avoid the emission -- which probably is significant to you, if you want to avoid emission standards, drive around on a red tag. If you can't get a driver's license or for some reason you don't want to be in the system, you can operate a vehicle on a red tag, and nobody is going to really check you unless you happen to get pulled over for some sort of infraction. You can avoid paying tolls by running toll booths with a red tag, and you are never going to get caught.

MR. HOUGHTON: I want to go back, Brett, to not being in the system. Why would you not want to be in the system? I am setting you up on this.

MR. BRAY: Yes, sir, you are. There are a myriad of reasons why you would not want to be in the system. I don't even know where to begin.

This matter was -- with the great efforts of Chairman Williamson, who I had hoped to thank somewhere along in here later, this matter was before the Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee in the Senate side this last legislative session. I think that speaks for itself. It is more than just a transportation issue. It is a Homeland Security issue.

My personal view, I don't touch on it as much, as Homeland Security is just strictly officer safety. But, there are a lot of reasons why you wouldn't want to be in the system and most of them are nefarious reasons.

MR. WILLIAMSON: You are a bomber. You are a rapist. You are an escapee.

MR. HOUGHTON: With full disclosure, I've had the FBI and DEA in my office on the issue on the border. It seems to be an issue on the border, especially at border crossings.

MR. BRAY: And you have stolen my ninth reason, which is if you want to perpetrate criminal activity without detection, you would use a red tag.

Then one that doesn't get much play is, if you are a dealer and you want to play the float somehow and avoid turning in your registration revenue and possibly even your sales tax revenue, you keep people on red tags, and that has happened. Again, I have subject matter experts who deal with this on a day-to-day basis.

MR. HOUGHTON: So, it's -- the amount of revenues in this float system is probably significant?

MR. BRAY: We think so.

MR. WILLIAMSON: Well, as an example, I go down to my Ford dealer or my Chevrolet dealer -- no, I never buy a Dodge, so I go to my Dodge dealer. I pay cash for my truck, tax, title and license, right?

MR. BRAY: Yes, sir.

MR. WILLIAMSON: Write them a check for $18,000; $17,000 for the truck and $1,000 for the tax, title, license and registration. They are going to take care of turning in all of the paperwork and send my plates to me, or they will bring them by. In a small town, they will bring them by. So, the guy deposits or the gal deposits my check, gives me the tag, puts that tag on the back of my truck, and 30 days later then turns it all in and buys my tag. He's floated my money 30 days? Is that what you are --

MR. BRAY: No, sir. Actually, by law, they are allowed 20 days to do the paperwork.

MR. WILLIAMSON: Then give me an example. I couldn't create my own. Give me an example of how it might work, a float.

MR. BRAY: You were right on track. He deposits the money in the bank. And, quite frankly, this runs -- this runs the gamut, because you are using an example of a franchise dealer, and that is probably more of a monetary issue. We see things like red tags being sold in flea markets along the border, and that is kind of a whole other element, a whole other issue.

MR. JOHNSON: You are talking about just the tags now? You are not talking about the vehicles that are attached to the tags being sold in flea markets?

MR. BRAY: That is yet another problem. But, you were on track. In your example, and this was actually the title page. I hope that you can tell it. If you bought your vehicle in December of '04, your Dodge truck, and you paid, as you said, and they deposited it, as they said; but then they didn't go down in the time period that they were supposed to have done so and gotten your title taken care of and your plates taken care of, then you can come in and complain and somebody will come along and mark out the "One" that was on that tag and put a "Two" in there, and you are now good for yet another month.

The average -- a lot of this has to do with the failure to pass title, which is the single largest complaint we receive at the agency. Believe it or not, the average length of time for a failure to pass title complaint, where someone has not received their title, is 13 months.

MR. HOUGHTON: Thirteen months?

MR. JOHNSON: This is just stealing in the world of used cars; is that correct?

MR. BRAY: No, no. As a matter of fact, it is not. This has to do with new cars, too. It is usually a little bit different issue. It is an officer safety issue in that as far as I know, criminals are just as capable of buying new cars as they are used cars, and they are just as undetected when they do so.

This is a concern about -- about the deputy sheriff in Brown County at midnight, or even the officer on LBJ freeway at 3:00 in the afternoon. When they pull over a vehicle right now with a red tag, they know nothing about ownership, occupants or anything. And, they have no way of accessing any information because --

MR. HOUGHTON: It is not in the system?

MR. BRAY: They are not in the system.

MR. JOHNSON: Well, let's assume for a moment that the Dodge truck that the Chairman has purchased, there is a lien placed on it by the Williamson State Bank of Parker County. Does that affect this cycle of going from the red tag to the permanent tag or the ability to alter or delay?

MR. BRAY: If you are a lienholder, it's a problem because your vehicles are out on the street and you are not yet -- unless they go down and take care of the paperwork, you are not yet the registered lienholder. So, you have identified problem twelve there is an out of trust issue. But problem twelve is, lienholders may not be getting their liens registered fast enough.

MR. JOHNSON: Well, wouldn't I, as a lienholder, want to perfect my lien as quickly as possible?

MR. BRAY: Yes, sir, you would, but if your agent is the dealer and it is his responsibility to do so, or her responsibility to do so, and they don't, that is where you are left.

MR. HOUGHTON: So, Brett, what are we here for today? Since we can't manufacture the tag, we can't increase security, so to speak, we can't regulate it. It doesn't seem like we have a whole lot --

MR. BRAY: Well, I'm about to get there. Can I have one minute of license to lead you up to that point?


MR. BRAY: After several years of watching the problem get worse, we came to the commission -- and you may remember voting back in December that it become a Legislative agenda item to try to give the department just authority to do something with temp tags. It was not very specific. It just said, allow the department to be able to do something, produce them for that matter, like most other states.

It went through the Legislative process, and I do -- if I may, I would just like to thank the chairman because he went -- like the Mayor said earlier, it's a hard job, low pay, and not only that, but it is thankless a lot of times. He did a lot, and in the end it didn't -- we didn't get a bill passed that way. Senator Staples and Representative Hill, I think, put together good bills, and it just didn't happen. I would also like to plug Coby and Jefferson and, if I may, Kristen Ogden, our Legislative analyst, because she did a wonderful job, too.

But in the end, the bill did not pass, and what did pass was a study was dictated to be done by a commission, Legislative Commission. That study is supposed to be done by November of 2006, I guess, in time for the 2007 Legislative session. The problem is, from our perspective, there is no guarantee what that study might show, and we are still left with the problem of these tags. And, so, we have come to you to talk about reformatting them in ways that we think will help the department and the public and the law enforcement community.

MR. WILLIAMSON: Now, was the -- there was a nice person that came up earlier and introduced themselves. Was the Texas Automobile Dealers Association in support of this legislation that we tried to work out?

MR. BRAY: They were very much opposed to this legislation.


MR. BRAY: Yes, sir.

MR. WILLIAMSON: Why would automobile dealers be opposed to eliminating these twelve evils?

MR. BRAY: There are probably a number of reasons, and some of which I would just speculate because I can't get inside their head, but I think one of the -- one of them is, it's our idea. But, I really think that the main reason is, as I told you, 48 other states do it differently. In 48 other states, they issue the tag, and they put any number of security features on them.

In this state, dealers have had for a very long time and continue to have, wide-open ability to go to any printer. In fact, we don't have a licensed printer in Weatherford, but you can go to Fort Worth or Burleson or Cleburne or any of those cities and find a licensed printer, and you don't even have to find a licensed printer, because we have many experiences where people are not licensed. And, when I say licensed, what I am talking about is, that background screen, the TxDOT flying T, of course, is intellectual property. Printers in this state have had to obtain a license from -- a license from us, from the department, to print that background T as a security feature on the tag.

MR. HOUGHTON: Do we have to grant it at will?

MR. BRAY: We haven't, not yet. We have taken a couple away when we found that they were involved in some tag abuse.

MR. HOUGHTON: So, can we put restrictions as to what printers, meeting a certain criteria?

MR. BRAY: I really am not sure about that, and probably Richard Monroe might have to look into that for you. Again, that is intellectual property.

Can you take me back where I was?

MR. WILLIAMSON: I just was asking where the Texas Automobile Dealers Association stood on this matter, and you told me that they were opposed.

MR. BRAY: I think they like the freedom.

MR. WILLIAMSON: I was just kind of surprised that a trade group representing law-abiding citizens would be opposed to modernizing and securing their license registration system.

MR. BRAY: I remember --

MR. WILLIAMSON: It seems like an odd position for that group of men and women to be taking.

MR. BRAY: I remember in the Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee hearing, the representative for the Auto Dealers Association testifying that this is a solution looking for a problem.

MR. HOUGHTON: And 48 other states have regulations and security -- secure situations to issue these?

MR. BRAY: Yes.

MR. JOHNSON: Who is our cohort?

MR. WILLIAMSON: What the hell does that mean, a solution looking for a problem?

MR. BRAY: I'm sorry. I didn't --

MR. JOHNSON: Who is our cohort --

MR. WILLIAMSON: That sounds like something coming out of Austin, Texas.

MR. BRAY: Oklahoma.

MR. WILLIAMSON: Continue, Brett.

MR. HOUGHTON: Do you want to get Lynn up here to help you with that?

MR. BRAY: This was the tag that we inherited originally and was the tag that was used for years and years and years when you bought a new motor vehicle. The most prominent feature on that tag is the P number, also known as the dealer's -- it's the dealer's license number. If a dealer sells -- did sell 5,000 vehicles in a year, 5,000 of those tags were operating on the street. They don't tell you anything really. If you are an officer anyway on patrol and you stop that vehicle, that doesn't really give you any information.

MR. WILLIAMSON: In other words, if that was Roger Williams' P number, P-17383, it would be that same number on those 5,000 cars?

MR. BRAY: Yes. So, in 1997 after the legislative effort to prevent the department from doing more, but leaving us the ability to reformat, we looked at reformatting, and we took this to the Motor Vehicle Board and got it passed. That is the current day tag. As you can see, the two prominent features are it has that flying T in the background, and it has the expiration date, is what is supposed to be colored in.

I will try to go a little faster. I have gone through a lot of the problems that you can see that we have with these.

Counterfeiting is a huge issue. It's estimated that 30 percent of the red tags that you see on the street are not real red tags, not issued by licensed dealers necessarily. At any rate, we cannot --

MR. HOUGHTON: If you say 30 percent, what is the revenue loss to the State of Texas anticipated?

MR. BRAY: We issued a booklet to you. I don't have the number on the top of my head. We issued a booklet to you back in December that sort of speculates on that. It's real hard to pin down an actual number, but you can get a good idea. Registration revenue in this state runs over a billion dollars, and sales tax in the state runs, what, over eleven billion for cars, I think? So, you are talking about -- you are in a big, big neighborhood.

MR. HOUGHTON: This may be tantamount to the tax on gasoline that -- either at the rack or at the pump, right, where do you collect it, right?

MR. BRAY: I understand that is an issue.

MR. WILLIAMSON: Point of collection for vehicle registration.

MR. HOUGHTON: There you go.

MR. BRAY: This is what we were proposing to you a month ago. This is what we wanted to go to. The advantages are this: Since 30 percent of the tags out there are probably -- are probably counterfeit, that date is totally unreliable. If you looked at the first tag that I presented and you saw the alteration of the tag, you can tell that the date can be altered. It is altered, and it's unreliable.

So, we proposed to taking away the date entirely, and the advantage is, if there are members of law enforcement out there who are being misled that it's a legitimate tag, they at least will be placed on notice to be careful when approaching this vehicle. The other thing is, we took off the flying T. It is the fervent wish of the Dealers Association, Mr. Chairman, all of the associations -- dealers associations, I guess, that the department not be involved in red tags. And, if we are not going to be involved in red tags, it doesn't seem that we ought to be -- there ought to be the impression left that we are, by producing something that has the TxDOT logo on it.

MR. HOUGHTON: I think I want a bigger flying T where people can see it after that comment.

MR. WILLIAMSON: How is this --

MR. JOHNSON: You said a month ago. So, is there an update?

MR. BRAY: Yes, sir, I'm coming to the next one, and that is this one. The reason we -- it's a slight change. The reason we did that is because we know that the dealer associations are going to oppose this, just because they are going to oppose this. But, the previous one, we believe that the dealers themselves actually might oppose because if you -- "Unregistered vehicle" may have negative connotations, and they may be embarrassed to place that on a customer's vehicle. So, we looked at something possibly a little more soothing and went to "Registration pending", because in theory, when a dealer puts you on the street with that red tag, they are supposed to be obtaining your registration with title in 20 days.

MR. WILLIAMSON: And, that black number would be unique to each plate?

MR. BRAY: Yes, sir. That black number is very significant and will also be a big item of contention. That black number is supposed to be a control number, so that each plate would be unique, and it would allow law enforcement, it would allow TxDOT investigators, comptroller investigators, local taxing authorities, to be able to go to the dealer, and it would make it easier on the dealer and easier on the inquirer to identify that plate with a purchaser.

By the way, under the law currently, dealers are required to keep a log of the cars they sell. So, in my view, we are talking about, at most, the addition of a column or two on an Excel spread sheet. They already keep the information. That would just add a column with that number on it.

MR. JOHNSON: How does this deal with the counterfeit issue?

MR. BRAY: With the counterfeit issue, it deals with it in a couple of ways. You can obviously still counterfeit things, but we believe that it will slow down -- we believe that people won't be interested in -- excuse me -- in obtaining this tag as opposed to possibly just biting the bullet and getting insurance or whatever it is that is their deficiency. We believe that the counterfeiters won't be as enthusiastic about printing this tag and selling them. By the way, they sell for anywhere from $25 to $85 in flea markets in the Valley, because it doesn't have the mantra of a TxDOT official plate.

If I might mention, I brought this chart. I'm sorry I don't have it on the Power Point, but it just came in the mail this week. You are familiar with it. This is VTR's chart that they put out every year that has every tag. What this has, is every plate, tag, placard, out there in Texas that involves cars and trucks. There are 276 of them on this poster. Every one of them is an official document, an official -- you get it from an official source, except five. Those five are the dealer plates that we are talking about today.

MR. HOUGHTON: Brett, why don't you put -- what do they call this on your credit card, that little --

MR. BRAY: Hologram?

MR. HOUGHTON: Hologram.

MR. BRAY: We tried that in 19- -- that was one of the things that we talked about in 1996. That was one of the things that the Dealers Association absolutely, positively does not want.

MR. HOUGHTON: Is it against the law or is there a statute that says you can't do it? Why not put a hologram or embed a chip in that registration?

MR. BRAY: I think that we may want to investigate it further, but I can tell you that in thinking about it over the years, in my view the department is not really prohibited from requiring a hologram on the plate.

MR. HOUGHTON: It is hard to counterfeit a hologram.

MR. BRAY: It can be. It is hard, but it can be done. We've seen it done.

MR. HOUGHTON: Yeah, it can be.

MR. BRAY: And, if I may, I'll show you what we were wanting to go to.

MR. HOUGHTON: But, you can't go to your, you know, Kinko's and copy a hologram.

MR. BRAY: Right. What we were contemplating, though, out of the Legislative session was the newest and best plan out there. This is Arizona, and this kind of a thing is sweeping the country in terms of interest. Not a lot of states have gone to it yet, but they are all looking at it.

Arizona went to what they call an ETRP, an electronic temp tag. There is a unique number there. You can see that S-37 number. It also identifies the vehicle uniquely, and it tells you when the vehicle was sold. When an officer rolls up on a car that was sold in Arizona that has that tag, he knows before he gets out of the car who should be the registered owner of that vehicle, who should probably be operating that vehicle, and what kind of vehicle that tag is supposed to be on.

Yes, you can counterfeit these, too. In terms of a hologram issue, you can counterfeit these, too, but if you do, there are two things that are advantages. One, the officer is going to know it before he gets out of the car, because the number won't come back right and, two, he will know -- he will know what vehicle it is supposed to be with. I'm sorry; the second advantage is this: Counterfeiters, if they did counterfeit them, would have to do them one at a time, because they are vehicle specific. You have -- this one is a 2002 Dodge, and it has a VIN number specific to that vehicle on it.

MR. HOUGHTON: But, that is the end result of years and legislation, and they get to do it at a central point, those types of deals, right?

MR. BRAY: Yes.

MR. HOUGHTON: They are printing it off of a computer.

MR. BRAY: No. Actually it is printed off at the dealership when the dealer makes the sale from his printer.

MR. HOUGHTON: From his printer?

MR. BRAY: Yes, sir, it's a plain paper -- plain paper copy.

MR. HOUGHTON: But specific to a sale?

MR. BRAY: That's right. As a dealer you get a --

MR. HOUGHTON: Can we do that?

MR. BRAY: We cannot do that with the legislative situation we find ourselves in. We could have if the bill had passed. This is what we wanted to go to.

MS. ANDRADE: Where they can have that done immediately?

MR. BRAY: It's done immediately, 24 hours a day, whenever you sell the vehicle. And by the way, in terms of the amount of time it took, they started their process of developing the system in the Summer of '03 and were up and running, I believe, by March of the next year.

MR. HOUGHTON: So, that goes into a database where it is immediately registered at the State level on the system, recognized buyer, recognized owner?

MR. BRAY: Yes. That is Montana. Montana, on the coattails of Arizona, has done the same thing basically.

The other tag that we are wanting to deal with is the blue tag. This tag is the tag that dealers are allowed to give buyers if they are having trouble getting a title from a lienholder for some reason. This gives the buyer another basically 21 days of unregistered use of the vehicle. As you can see, it has the exact same problems that we found with the red tag. This is what we put in your packets, and this is what we actually want to propose to you.

There is some other language on there. I didn't plan on going into it unless you just want to. It's not that significant. The main thing there, we take away the flying T. We take away the expiration date, and we will put in the control number.

MR. HOUGHTON: Why don't you make the flying T a hologram? No, I call it the star in motion. I like that better.

MR. BRAY: This next tag is the green tag. It's given by dealers to charitable organizations for their use. We would like to propose to you eliminating it because we think the next tag would cover that use as well, and it is just one less tag that you would have to keep up with.

This is the old Texas dealer tag. It's called a black tag. This is what dealers use to -- if you come to the car lot and you want to test-drive the vehicle. They put one of these on the vehicle and you drive around the block. Or, if they want to transfer vehicles from one dealership to another, those sorts of things, you'd use this. This was the old one. This was all that we could really do to it back in 1997. We just put in the flying T.

This is what we would propose to go to if you are amenable. We can't use the kinder, gentler language of "Registration pending" because --


MR. BRAY: -- it's not.

There is a group of licensees in Texas called converters. They take a perfectly good motor vehicle and do something to it. They make limousines. They make bullet-proof executive cars, ambulances. They do all kinds of things, and they have a license. And this is their current license, and to be consistent, we would like to go to this.

MS. ANDRADE: Brett, how would they acquire these, in the same manner that they acquire them now?

MR. BRAY: They would acquire them in the same manner they do now. The distinction would be, there would be no longer a need for us to license printers. If we take off the flying T, it takes the printing process out of -- it is not in our hands any way, so it takes the responsibility off of the department for the printing process. They would acquire them anywhere.

MR. HOUGHTON: But, you still couldn't go ahead and pirate and copy them? You can still do the illegal --

MR. BRAY: Yes, sir, you can.

MR. HOUGHTON: All of the illegal things that you could do before?

MR. BRAY: It can, and I don't believe that that can be very easily remedied without a legislative change, and the Legislature didn't seem to be interested. I can tell you that this can come off my printer at home. My printer is pretty cheap, and anybody can do them. They can do them now with the TxDOT logo. So, we are not -- we are not preventing anything, and we might be endangering -- my board chairman of the Motor Vehicle Board wrote to you all last December, and he said to you that this actually is dangerous for law enforcement. I think he should know because he is with the City of McAllen Attorney's Office and he -- he counsels with law enforcement every day, and he says that law enforcement is at risk here by using these things like the TxDOT logo or the expiration date, because they look official and they have an official feel and they must be trustworthy when they are not.

MR. HOUGHTON: Who bears the cost of printing it?

MR. BRAY: The dealer.

MR. HOUGHTON: So, putting a hologram on there with the star in motion is their expense if we mandate it?

MR. BRAY: It would be, and by the way, the Chairman -- when the legislation was considered by Senator Staples and Senator Hill, we even went so far as to try to make it a pass-through, so that the fee for that paper tag like the Arizona tag would pass through as an official fee to the buyer. No more than a dollar or two, but it would not have been an expense for the dealer. As it is, the dealer is paying for the cost of these --

MR. HOUGHTON: About two cents?

MR. BRAY: No. I would have thought a half a cent. But we have done a recent survey in anticipation of this, and printers are getting pretty good money for these. They are not on this paper. They are on kind of a cardboard.

MR. HOUGHTON: Yeah, they are on cardboard.

MR. BRAY: We did a survey of about 15 printers, and it depends on where you are located and it depends on the size of your dealership and the size of the order and all of those things, but it seems to run between 30 and about 70 or 80 cents a piece.

MR. WILLIAMSON: That says something right there.

MR. BRAY: And, they usually buy them in quantities of anywhere from 500 to 1,000.


MR. HOUGHTON: I just don't -- my personal opinion, I don't think you are going to stop much of what -- the abuse we've had in the past by where we are headed, Mr. Chairman. I'm for some type of tougher registration of these vehicles, and a hologram with the star in motion --

MR. WILLIAMSON: What about ink that disappears after 20 days?

MR. HOUGHTON: Washes off with a rain storm.

MR. BRAY: It's not a bad idea. Of course, it does leave you with a blank tag that then somebody writes over all over again, which is not a whole lot --

MR. WILLIAMSON: How about one that blows up after 20 days? A small explosion, a small explosion.

We have one guy that wants to comment on this. Mr. Monroe, if you can give me some legal guidance. This is a discussion item. All we are doing is talking up here. Do I need to wait until we are done talking before I hear from this fellow?

MR. MONROE: No, sir. Hear him when you like.

MR. WILLIAMSON: Brett, are you through with your layout at this point, or do you have other things to say?

MR. BRAY: I would conclude with saying that what we are hoping to do is to bring this to you in September to ask you for permission to publish it as a change to the rule. These are in the rules now, and to change the Rule, take away the flying T and modify them the way I have described, and then we would go through the rule-making process, and you might see them in November or December. That is what we are asking.

MR. WILLIAMSON: Okay. Don't leave. Stay close, because I want to ask you a few questions, but I want to hear from Matt Bonner, first. Matt.

Mr. Bonner is from the great City of Carrollton, Texas, home of one of the better girl's softball teams in the state.

MR. BONNER: I would like to thank you for your time in letting me come up here and speak. On behalf of this, I think this is the right move especially when Mr. -- when TxDOT is talking about -- Mr. Bray is talking about law enforcement.

This has been a big issue. In the City of Carrollton, we took an active approach on enforcing the rules. One of the things I want to mention to you that Mr. Bray had mentioned is, first of all, it's not illegal in the State of Texas to sell these dealer tags. I can go out on the side, the corner here in Brownwood, Texas, and sell them for $25 a piece, and law enforcement cannot do anything to me for doing it. It is not illegal. The only thing that is illegal in -- with these temporary dealer tags that you can get in trouble for is a Class C misdemeanor is the highest offense you can get. That is either for printing the dealer tags unauthorized or operating a motor vehicle with an unauthorized dealer tag on the back. Usually that means it is counterfeit.

One thing I want to discuss with you is the disadvantages that law enforcement has. Just like Mr. Bray said, first of all, lack of education for law enforcement. Most officers, like me myself, I had to educate myself on dealer tags. We have lack of education, and usually what law enforcement does, if they don't understand it or don't want to enforce it because of their knowledge of it, they are going to leave it alone. That is why we don't do anything right now. Because when we see a dealer tag running down the street, we have no idea if that is a legitimate dealership, a legitimate car sale or not. We don't know, because we are not educated in this area.

One of the statistics I do want to bring up is a friend of mine is an auto theft person in Plano, Texas. One out of every 15 cars they stop with dealer tags on them are stolen. So, the criminal element is using this to their advantage, because they know law enforcement is not educated. They use it to do drugs, terroristic fields. They use it to do tollway stuff. Tollways can't find out -- when these people are running through their tollways, they can't find out the information.

Another thing is, is availability of information. The Dealers Association will tell you, "Well, you've got a general distribution number, that P number, 44336."

Yeah, that's great. That tells me who the dealership comes back to, but you remember what your dad said when you took a girl out or when you went out with a guy? Nothing is good after midnight? Okay. Do you see what I'm saying? The criminal element doesn't move very often in the daytime. Okay.

Dealership Association is going to tell you, "Hey, call our dealership, and they will give you the right information, who sold the car." I did that one day just to see if it would work. It took them 16 minutes to find out the information. I gave them the right name of the person who purchased it, the VIN number, the sales person and what day it was sold, and it still took them 16 minutes to find out if that vehicle was actually sold there. Sixteen minutes, I am dead on that traffic stop.

Sixteen minutes is too long. Instant information is what we want. We don't have that information and, tell me, what dealership stays open 24/7?

MR. WILLIAMSON: It's against the law.

MR. BONNER: It's against the law, yes, it is. So, once nine o'clock comes --

MR. WILLIAMSON: Who passed that law?

MR. BONNER: Right. After 9:01, law enforcement is out of the loop. We have no information that is available to us at that particular time.

Another thing is, is that as you see on these dealer tags, we don't know when we are stopping a vehicle who it belongs to. Registration returns are vital information to us. We put BOLOs. Have you ever heard of a BOLO? Be on the lookout for. If there is a particular dealer tag that we are looking for, or a BOLO, if it's data like in Arizona, we can put a BOLO on it and law enforcement can look for it, because it is specific to that vehicle. Temporary dealer tags aren't specific to any vehicle. Just like you said, 5,000 of them are running around.

Last week I had an opportunity to go with one of the guys from TxDOT Division that Mr. Bray is over and Wells Plano PD. We went down to a particular -- one dealership, one particular car lot, and we confiscated 250 counterfeit dealer tags. He says he purchases them from a guy who comes around and sells them for two dollars a piece. The reason he buys them is because the vehicles that he is selling are not -- are salvage vehicles, and they are not allowed to be on the road. They are unsafe.

Most of the time what you will find on dealer tags, if I stop a dealer tag and it is counterfeit, because I already know what most of them are, there is a counterfeit inspection sticker dealing with that as well.

Another thing I'm going to tell you is that dealer tags are not a Government record. Law enforcement cannot do anything to anybody for either selling them or possessing them. There is no recourse, except the two individual things that I talked about earlier about printing them, that aren't authorized without having a dealer's license, and also if you are operating a motor vehicle. So, if you bought one of those dealer tags from me, I am free and clear. If I sell it to you, you put it on your car, law enforcement can do something about that. It's a Class C misdemeanor, a ticket and fine only. Now, if you are out selling these down on the corner at the end of the street, there is nothing that can be done to you.

Why we want this? A lot of times the Texas Dealers Association is going to say the reason they don't want it is because it is Government control. This is not about Government control. This is about safety for me, law enforcement. As you know, a lot of the terrorist things happen. We need the information, and we need it right then and there.

I am proud to wear this badge and proud of what I do. I am honest. One thing I hate to do, a lot of people in this room can say they don't think about this every day. You wake up in the morning. I put my badge on. I put my gun on. I kiss my wife goodbye. I kiss my two girls, daughters bye, and it may be for the last time. I think about that, because I might not come back through that door.

Most people don't think about that. When you leave your house, do you think that you are going to die that day? No, you don't. I do. My wife has to deal with that every day. My kids have to deal with that every day. Is my daddy going to come home tonight? We need this information, and we need it instantly.

The same thing with the terrorist deal over in London. A lot of that information, they can get all of that information right then and there. It is a public safety issue. It's not a Government control, and I wish the Texas Dealers Association would know that. They will sit there and say that it's a Government control, and they don't like that.

MR. WILLIAMSON: No, I think they said it was a solution waiting for a problem.

MR. BONNER: Right. Well, I think that is part of the problem.

You are correct, the problematic things that you are talking about, the no insurance, the registration, inspection and all of that goes hand in hand.

Just one thing I got to tell you. When people -- somebody -- I think one of you asked, I think it was Mr. Johnson asked, is this a used car problem? No. Last year in the State of Texas, new car dealers -- new car dealerships sold more used cars than any used car dealership on its own. So, it goes both ways.

So, there is a lot of information out there that we need, and I wish we would go in that direction, like they are trying to do right now. We need as much help as we can, as much instant information that we can get at that particular time.

MR. WILLIAMSON: Members, questions of this young man?

MR. JOHNSON: I don't have a question. I just want to thank you for the work that you and your fellow officers do.

MR. BONNER: I appreciate it. We are trying to take an active approach. One note I put on here that I want to say. This system was set up on an honor system. Honor systems are no good if there is no honor in it. Thank you. Y'all have a good day.

MR. WILLIAMSON: Thank you very much.

All right. Now tell me about the hologram, Ted. What was that?

MR. HOUGHTON: It's on your credit card.

MR. WILLIAMSON: The same thing that's on my VISA card?

MR. HOUGHTON: Right. Put it on either side.

MR. WILLIAMSON: You trust your car to the person with the flying star?

MR. HOUGHTON: You put the flying -- the star in motion right on there, a hologram.

MR. WILLIAMSON: And you were concerned about that for what reason?

MR. BRAY: Well, there are several -- first of all, I'm not sure that the Department has the ability to require it. When I was responding to the question, I'm thinking require -- just require the parameters of it, and I guess they would get it somewhere else. While I had an opportunity to sit down, I was briefed, and as we understand it, the way holograms work and every other state that is using them, the state is selling them, and we know we can't do that. We cannot --

MR. HOUGHTON: Require the printer to put it on there. We have the authority to tell the printer, the dealers, what they have to have on there.

MR. BRAY: You do, you do. I would like the opportunity to brief you further, because I really -- I don't think that is the answer. I'm afraid that it doesn't solve the problem.

MR. HOUGHTON: I don't think that does either in my opinion.

MR. BRAY: No, it definitely does not.

MR. HOUGHTON: I don't think it's restrictive --

MR. WILLIAMSON: We adopted the discussion item phase of our meetings to permit us --


MR. WILLIAMSON: -- legally to discuss in front of the public how you feel about something, and also to signal to staff and the affected public where we might be going about a decision in the future, and I think Ted is trying to convey that he wants a fool-proof method, and I'm interested in that fool-proof method. If it is not that, I am interested in something else.

MR. JOHNSON: This is just a partial step. I mean, clearly the ultimate answer is what the Legislature grants us the power to do.

MR. WILLIAMSON: You might poll some of the dealers.

MR. HOUGHTON: That method there, go back to Arizona.

MR. BRAY: The problem is, that is the fool-proof method.

MR. HOUGHTON: That's right.

MR. BRAY: And that is what 21 senators voted against the Friday before the legislative session closed.

MR. HOUGHTON: Well, I understand that, but you have to morph into it some way.

MR. BRAY: Yes, sir, and we're trying --

MR. HOUGHTON: And make it as hard for the counterfeiters as possible today, because it takes two years before the next session. We morph into it and make it very difficult for somebody to counterfeit these things. That is our only -- you can go copy what you have put up there. It's the same thing, in my opinion. Make it very difficult and expensive for them. I'm making it expensive for them, too.

MR. BRAY: I'm not sure the -- I'm not sure the department can do that under the current legislative --

MR. WILLIAMSON: Well, you will no doubt be talking with different people and figuring out what we can and can't do over the next few weeks, right?

MR. BRAY: Yes, sir. And may I just say, the last thing I forgot to mention to you was, Ms. Kent and Mr. Bullard have visited with a number of law enforcement associations in getting prepared for this. In fact, I didn't even know there were that many law enforcement associations in Texas. I'm not sure. I think they are in your packets. We are gathering them. We will have more for you, but we have been received extremely warmly by every law enforcement association we have visited. They have all expressed support for our current idea as an interim gap until the study is done and possibly the Legislature can move forward and give the department a better tool.

MS. ANDRADE: Right. You said that they set up a study group or committee?

MR. BRAY: Yes, ma'am. The study --

MR. HOUGHTON: Who is "They"?

MR. BRAY: The Legislature. And the study is supposed to be, as I remember, it is a commission of people; one appointed by the Governor, one by the Lieutenant Governor, one by the Speaker of the House. And the charge is to study this problem.

MS. ANDRADE: I certainly would suggest that they hear this young officer.

MR. BRAY: I may have glossed over it, but Coby Chase's office is spearheading that, and I'm pretty certain that we are going to contract out for some of it, and I believe -- we are very confident, because we think the problem is very evident. I believe it is going to be -- it's going to show -- I believe the study is going to wind up showing that it is much worse than we tell you it is. But in the end, everybody, dealers throughout the state, residents, law enforcement, they are all going to have input.

MS. ANDRADE: I would have to say I agree with my fellow commissioners, we have got to do whatever we can until the law is changed. You know, I'm a business owner, so I am all for not stopping business, but this is a real safety issue. And, so, whatever we can do to keep us safe, I think we must. We owe it to the public to do that.

MR. WILLIAMSON: You know, we operate by consensus, so I can certainly be booted on this one, but my personal preference is, I like the statement "Not registered", because that's the truth. "Registration pending" is not the truth. Registration doesn't start until my vehicle dealer takes my papers to the county courthouse and starts the registration process. So, "Registration pending" that is like so much other nonsense in Government. That is just nice words. It is not registered. It is not registered, period.

MR. BRAY: I'm happy with that answer, but we were trying to -- we're trying to look for compromises, hoping to ward off potential --

MR. HOUGHTON: Ward off --

MR. WILLIAMSON: What was it that lady told us a couple of years ago? You can put a saddle on it. You can put lipstick on it, but a pig is still a pig? Is that what it was?

MR. HOUGHTON: That is what somebody told us about point of collection once.

MR. JOHNSON: One thing that comes to mind, how is what you're considering to propose to the rule, how does it affect the process that the dealer goes through and how does it affect the process that a buyer, a customer of a dealership goes through?

MR. BRAY: This is why it shouldn't -- this is why they should actually be happy with this. The reason is, it affects the process the dealers go through in a couple of ways. First, it ought to cut down on the price, because nobody is having to screen in the flying T. More importantly -- I have experienced this at the dealership I go to. I have experienced people complaining about having to color in the boxes. They liked the old system. They don't have any boxes to color in this way. Presumably, I guess, over the course of several hundred deals that car dealers do, their back offices are not having to color several thousand blocks. So, they like that.

In terms of overall process, it is virtually the same. It certainly doesn't do anything to stop business. You know, if anything, like I say, it speeds things up because the back office isn't coloring blocks as long. This is a reaction in my view to try to do something to teach officers -- not everybody is quite as sophisticated as Officer Bonner in terms of red tag problems.

MR. JOHNSON: Let's take this one step farther. Let's assume that ultimately in place of something like Arizona has, would that affect the process, either expense-wise or time-wise that the dealer goes through or the customer, the buyer of the vehicle goes through.

MR. BRAY: They say it will.


MR. BRAY: "They" being the dealer associations. My experience, I went to Arizona. I reviewed the system at the department. I went to dealerships. I watched them make sales with those tags. If anything, it is going to make things faster.

MR. HOUGHTON: I -- I understand we have to work together, but I just -- taking the star in motion off the license plate to reduce the cost by 20 cents and somebody doesn't have to screen it in, who cares?

MR. BRAY: Well, I'm just -- I was just responding to his question. The reason I would take it off is not that reason at all. The reason I would take it off is because it misinforms the public and law enforcement that that is an official document, like the 271 other official documents.


MR. BRAY: And, it is not.

MR. WILLIAMSON: I agree. I want it off anyway, no matter what.

MR. BRAY: And I -- and, Mr. Chairman, if in your discussions you choose to pick and choose among the options, taking the flying T off alone is better than nothing.

MR. WILLIAMSON: Anything else, Members? We want to thank you for putting together a good presentation and informing us on this public policy matter so that we can make a good decision, Brett. Thank you.

MR. BRAY: Thank you for having --

MR. HOUGHTON: Thanks, Brett.

MS. ANDRADE: Thank you.


MR. SIMMONS: Thank you, Brett.

Edited by pineda
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Reimbursement ? Jeez Louise, the "tollway" has supposed to have been "FREE" for the last 5 years or so. The original plan for the "tollway" was to make the money to pay it off, then open it up as a regular freeway. Of course the politicians see what a CASHCOW it is, and keep it as moneymaker. Now these guys want Federal aid ? Unbelievable.

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In theory, they should be able to collect for what it cost them to operate the road for those days. So that would be employee wages, plus a certain amount per car for wear and tear. I assume there were no tollbooth operators, so there is no expense there (unless they paid them for their forced time off). That would leave maintenance crews and wear & tear.

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Reimbursement ? Jeez Louise, the "tollway" has supposed to have been "FREE" for the last 5 years or so. The original plan for the "tollway" was to make the money to pay it off, then open it up as a regular freeway.

Well, yes and no to your idea that the toll roads should be free.

As long as HCTRA has outstanding debt, they can charge tolls. Even though the Sam Houston Tollway has generated enough revenue to pay for itself and the Hardy Toll Road, HCTRA has been taking on new debt for projects like Westpark, Fort Bend Parkway, and expansion of the Sam Houston tollway. They will also be issuing more debt for planned new projects.

So, HCTRA will never be fully debt free, which means they will likely continue to toll all their facilities forever.

As you mention, the tolls are a major cash cow and Harris County wants the money.

Also, if HCTRA does pay off its debt and turn over the facilities to TxDOT, guess what TxDOT would do? Yes, continue tolling. They want the money just as much as HCTRA. We are actually better off with HCTRA in charge of the tolls rather than TxDOT, because at least there is some local control.

The only scenario whereby permanent tolling would not occur would be a change in the political situation whereby Harris County Commissioners Court decides to manage the toll road system to minimize cost to the public rather than maximize gross revenue. For example, they could start tolling one direction only, as is done elsewhere. That's possible, but I would rate it as very unlikely anytime soon.

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Max, I am in total agreement with you, I was simply relaying what the "original plan" was. I'm sure they have made enough money on that tollway to pay for anymore "future projects" for connecting roadways. You also have to take into account,which I have done, that even though the debt for the construction has been paid, that there is also money involved for upkeep of those roads. In your opinion, how much would you say they take in a day on those roads. My guestimate is a little under a million dollars a day.

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Well according to Art Storey, they have "a million customers a day, a million dollars a day". So there's your answer.

Another interesting quote from Mr. Storey (paraphrased)

"We have to realize that we are in the mobility business, not the revenue business."

(referring to the issues of getting more projects done despite over $2 billion in debt--possibly forming an RMA)

This is from the August TPC meeting.

Edited by GovernorAggie
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According to Brett Bray, Director of Motor Vehicle Division of TxDOT:

Counterfeiting is a huge issue. It's estimated that 30 percent of the red tags that you see on the street are not real red tags, not issued by licensed dealers necessarily. At any rate, we cannot --

MR. HOUGHTON: If you say 30 percent, what is the revenue loss to the State of Texas anticipated?

MR. BRAY: We issued a booklet to you. I don't have the number on the top of my head. We issued a booklet to you back in December that sort of speculates on that. It's real hard to pin down an actual number, but you can get a good idea. Registration revenue in this state runs over a billion dollars, and sales tax in the state runs, what, over eleven billion for cars, I think? So, you are talking about -- you are in a big, big neighborhood.

MR. HOUGHTON: This may be tantamount to the tax on gasoline that -- either at the rack or at the pump, right, where do you collect it, right?

It amazes me that TxDOT has not JUMPED on this issue a long time ago, UNLESS the Texas Auto Dealers Association lobbyists are giving them money in their back pockets to look the other way...

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Well according to Art Storey, they have "a million customers a day, a million dollars a day". So there's your answer.

Another interesting quote from Mr. Storey (paraphrased)

"We have to realize that we are in the mobility business, not the revenue business."

(referring to the issues of getting more projects done despite over $2 billion in debt--possibly forming an RMA)

This is from the August TPC meeting.

If they indeed have a million customers a day, it is probably more like $1.2 mil a day. $1.25, but some exits are cheaper. Quick, what's 365 X 15 ?= $5.5 billion dollars, that's what it is. For all intensive purposes though, let's just say $4.75 billion, because the whole tollway hasn't been open the whole 15 years.

Edited by TJones
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  • The title was changed to HCTRA Get Reimbursement For Rita?

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