News and Events Involving Environmental Law, Published by Chicago Environmental Attorney Dave Scriven-Young
of Peckar & Abramson, P.C. -- (312) 239-9722

Court: Vehicle Registration Surcharge to Support Illinois DNR is Constitutional

In Illinois, a $2 surcharge to fund the Department of Natural Resources is added to motor-vehicle registration fees, and this surcharge was challenged as being unconstitutional.  In Friedman v. White, the Illinois Appellate Court for the Second District affirmed a trial court’s ruling granting a motion to dismiss a complaint seeking a ruling that the DNR surcharge violated the uniformity clause of the Illinois State Constitution.  The uniformity clause provides: “In any law classifying the subjects or objects of non-property taxes or fees, the classes shall be reasonable and the subjects and objects within each class shall be taxed uniformly.”  The plaintiffs challenging the surcharge focused on the fact that some people were subject to the surcharge (i.e., those who owned motor vehicles of the “first division” (generally cars and small trucks), autocycles, motorcycles, motor-driven cycles, and pedalcycles) and some people were not (i.e., those who do not own motor vehicles and those who owned “second-division” vehicles).

The Court found that there was a reasonable relationship between the surcharge and the object of the public policy at issue: 

“Here, the State’s asserted justification is that subject vehicles create pollution and the need for roads, which in turn destroy habitat, and which effects can be partially ameliorated by DNR conservation efforts. We conclude that the State’s justification shows some reasonable relationship between the tax classification and the object of the legislation or public policy, as people who do not own subject-vehicles do not contribute to pollution and the need for roads to the same degree as subject vehicle owners. While non-subject-vehicle owners certainly have some level of such contribution and also benefit from DNR resources, the question is only whether the taxing classification has a reasonable relationship to the object or purpose of the tax. Indeed, a tax may be imposed upon a class that is not responsible for the condition to be remedied and does not get a direct benefit from its expenditure. Therefore, the fact that owners of second-division vehicles are not subject to the surcharge does not defeat the validity of the tax, especially considering that the majority of such owners presumably are subject to the surcharge through their ownership of subject vehicles. That subject vehicles are not the only source of pollution in this state also does not make the classification arbitrary or unreasonable.”

Thus, the DNR will continue to be funded through motor-vehicle registration fees in Illinois.

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