Lock-your-car tax should be dropped

Michigan motorists might be surprised to learn that Lansing has been working to keep down their auto insurance premiums. Using an essentially secret tax on their auto insurance policies, state officials claim they are saving the average motorist about $77 in higher premiums.

Michigan consistently places first or second among states with the most expensive auto insurance. Depending on how you look at it, Michigan may also require the best coverage. But it’s hard to imagine that premiums could be even higher.

The hidden tax is a $1 per policy levy that pays for the Automobile Theft Protection Authority. The authority was created in the mid-1980s to deal with Michigan’s auto theft rate, which was the highest in the nation. It has a board of directors, an annual convention and a budget of about $6 million a year.

It hands out most of that $6 million to local law enforcement agencies, prosecutors’ offices and nonprofit groups. Together, they and ATPA work to prevent auto theft. Before we point out that you give ATPA $1 a year so that it and its grant recipients can tell you to lock you car doors and take the keys, we should point out that maybe it is working.

Auto thefts in Michigan have fallen about 60 percent since the mid-1980s. But auto theft rates nationwide have also fallen by similar amounts — and crime in general is down everywhere as well. And the Bureau of Justice Statistics says that Michigan still has one of the highest auto theft rates in the nation. Those 50,000 cars stolen in Michigan last year suggest that paying a dollar a year for lock-your-car advice may not be enough.

Nationally, the National Insurance Crime Bureau, an insurance-industry trade group, attributes the drop in auto thefts to improvements in automotive and security technology and to improved law enforcement training. It doesn’t mention ATPA.

ATPA ought to be eliminated. Instead, lawmakers want to expand it by applying the secret tax to insurance policies written for commercial vehicles as well. They probably have not figured out a way to tax uninsured motorists.

Lock your car, enable the alarm and take the keys so thieves can’t take your vehicle. Lansing will take your money.

— Times Herald, Port Huron

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