The ACLU of Rhode Island testified Friday before the R.I. Vehicle Value Commission to urge the Commission to stop using unrealistic vehicle valuation to determine car taxes and adopt a meaningful appeals process for Rhode Island car owners.

In setting values for most cars, the Commission relies exclusively on the highest possible book value (the “clean retail value”) suggested by the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA).   As a result, almost every used car owned by a Rhode Island resident, whether it is one year old or seventeen years old, is treated for tax purposes as if it were almost “like new.” The Commission provides no meaningful appeal process for aggrieved car owners to challenge this "presumptive value." The Commission’s consideration of appeals has consisted solely of checking the NADA figure to make sure no clerical mistake was made by the local assessor in setting the tax. Thus, adjustments are made only when an incorrect NADA car value was inadvertently imposed, not when the taxpayer challenges the NADA figure itself based on, for example, local selling conditions.

Our written testimony stated, in part: 

"According to the state of Rhode Island, each of the approximately 900,000 cars registered within the state is free of mechanical defects, has only “minor surface scratching with a high gloss finish and shine,” an interior that “reflects minimal soiling and wear,” and “all equipment in complete working order. Such a presumption defies reality.

Although by definition most Rhode Island cars will be of average retail value, the Vehicle Value Commission has used – and continues to adhere to – a perception of Rhode Island as an automotive utopia, where all cars are as pristine at 16 years as they are the day they are driven off the lot. As a result, Rhode Island drivers have been faced with heavy taxes and, disturbingly, denied any meaningful appeal process to have their vehicles recognized fairly. This can and must change." (Full testimony)

The RI ACLU has routinely testified at the Commission raising concerns about the methodology, and at one point sued the Commission for failing to consider other factors in adopting motor vehicle values.