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KSL Investigates: Change in Utah motor home registration fees leaves some parked

By Matt Gephardt and Cindy St. Clair, KSL TV | Posted - Aug. 3, 2020 at 10:46 a.m.

MURRAY — With travel restricted by the pandemic, thousands of Utahns are turning to the RV market for family adventures. But the KSL Investigators found a recent law change has some experiencing sticker shock when they register their motor home.

“It’s just – it’s insane,” Lynne O’Donnell said about the bill she got from the state of Utah to register her motor home. “In 2018, it was $142.75. In 2019, it was $488.25.”

That 350 percent jump in registration fees in just one year kept O’Donnell’s RV plans parked.

She called the state, thinking there had been some sort of mistake.

“They said they can’t do anything,” she said.

That’s when she reached out to the KSL Investigators.

Motor home registration fee change

In our search for answers, we found a law change sponsored by State Senator Curt Bramble, R-Provo, in 2018. S.B. 169 – Motor Home Statewide Fee Amendments changed how registration fees were calculated.

“What this bill does, is it has an age-based fee schedule for motor homes,” Bramble explained during a Utah Senate committee hearing.

Instead of owners paying a percentage based on the value of their motor home, the registration fee would be based on their vehicle’s age, and applied uniformly across the state. The older the motor home, the less a person must pay.

New vacation vehicles cost $690 to register, while those 15 years and older drop to $90.

At the hearing, Bramble said the bill, “puts motor homes in the same category as cars, boats, motorcycles, etc.”

For someone who is driving a new $250,000 motor home, their fees went way down. For people like O’Donnell, whose 2012 motor home is much more modest, it has meant a huge spike in her registration fees.

Bramble acknowledged this possibility at the committee hearing.

“There will be a handful of folks who are losers on this bill,” he said at the time.

Photo: KSL TV

Driving change: A tax loophole?

The KSL Investigators reached out to Bramble, who referred us to the Utah RV Dealers Association. Bramble said they did all the research for the bill he sponsored.

The association president told us the goal of the bill was to bring the fees down for people who own very big, very expensive RVs, and in doing so, hopefully, close a tricky tax loophole.

They claim some Utahns with expensive motor homes were gaming the system by registering their coaches in other states to avoid paying Utah fees.

The KSL Investigators found websites based in Montana offering RV owners help in registering a business in the Big Sky State, so they could register their pricey motor home there and save a lot of money.

According to records we obtained from the Utah State Tax Commission, 15,419 motor home registrations brought $3,794,995 into the state coffers last year.

Even with the law change, the KSL Investigators found Utah can still be more expensive than registering in other nearby states.

While Utah charged O’Donnell $488.25 to register her 2012 motor home, if she registered in Nevada, it would only cost her $196. In Wyoming, the fee is $162; in Montana — $131. And in Idaho, registering a 2012 motor home comes to a mere $88.

O’Donnell said this new law has priced her right off the road.

“I haven’t been able to come up with the extra money to have it registered yet,” she said. “I’m hoping the legislator will, or whoever it takes to change this, will take a more serious look at what they’ve done and reverse it.”

After we shared O’Donnell’s story with Bramble, he told us, “If adjustments need to be made, I’m more than willing to look at it.”

That said, Utah’s law does appear to be working as designed.

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