States love to adopt colorful names for themselves, such as Missouri’s claim to the Show-Me State and Texas being known as the Lone Star State.
Those of us who live in North Carolina can celebrate its status as the Tar Heel State — or not. The Tar Heel name has a vague history in terms of how it originated, not as clear-cut as Florida’s distinction as the Sunshine State, for example, but I don’t want to be a heel and trample on tradition.
However, since it gained prominence during the Civil War — supposedly to celebrate how Confederate troops from this state “stuck to their ranks like they had tar on their heels” — it’s a wonder the phrase hasn’t been outlawed by now.
So if North Carolina ever needs a replacement nickname I have a nomination, based on many years of observations about its special ability to extract money from the citizenry: Bloodsucker State.
Now I know the mere mention of that name can conjure up images of vampires or bats, but it also calls to mind some evil little character sitting in a dungeon in Raleigh who one day came up with the idea that the best way to bleed consumers is through their cars. After all, we rely on those devices to get to our jobs so we can earn money to pay to the state.
I remember when keeping a vehicle on the road was a relatively simple proposition: buy your insurance, tags, etc., and have it inspected and you were good to go.
Somehow that got all meshed together by that little bloodsucking bureaucrat.
If memory serves, I recall that a change occurred in which you couldn’t just go buy a tag anymore. If you owed property taxes on the vehicle, this could require going to the county tax office and paying the bill and then presenting a receipt at the license plate office before your registration could be renewed.
As if the little demon/monster/bloodsucker wasn’t extracting enough money from people, another change surfaced in 2013. It replaced the previous system in which consumers who owed substantial taxes at least had the option of paying their bills on an installment basis, giving them extra time.
The change announced in 2013 required vehicle owners to pay their ENTIRE tax bill directly to the state (to keep for a while before disbursing the revenue to counties), thus tying together vehicle inspection, taxes and registration fees into the same hideous package.
This presented a situation in which someone couldn’t get a renewal sticker without the inspection, then paying all their property taxes at once, plus the sticker cost, amounting to hundreds of dollars in some cases. Someone with the means to get a vehicle inspected and buy the renewal sticker still couldn’t legally drive it unless they paid a pile of money to the state.
That draconian policy was not only a disservice to citizens, but the local tax-collection agencies which I know work vigorously to obtain what’s owed.
Now I realize paying taxes is an obligation that goes along with being an American, but what about people who’ve lost their jobs and had to make the choice of feeding their families or paying property taxes for a car? Maybe there’s a good reason why some couldn’t pay — I think it was related to a recession.
Of course, the important thing is that the state gets paid no matter who might be starving.
As if all that were not enough, there also has been another change initiated within the past year or so which effectively has eliminated a 15-day grace period for getting your plate renewed. For example, if one’s tag contained a “7,” denoting July, then the registration did not officially expire until Aug. 15.
Not anymore. When I made the dastardly mistake of not buying my sticker until this past Tuesday (Aug. 1), I was charged a $15 late fee, which to me takes the cake in terms of bloodsuck-ness.
Based on this series of events, I’m not from Missouri and have never been there, but North Carolina, its government anyway, certainly has “showed me” that it should adopt a new state flag containing the image of a leech. (Of course, the inference there is to bleed consumers, $15 here and $15 there, but not kill them outright.)
This might sound like a small thing, but keep in mind that one of the catalysts for the Revolutionary War was people having to pay more for tea.
I’ll admit I am technically at fault for renewing the sacred registration one day late, yet also must point out that the same government charging me a chicken-crap fee with such lightning precision is the same one who has yet to send me my state tax refund that I filed for months ago.
Maybe I should charge the state of North Carolina a late fee.
Tom Joyce is a staff writer for The Mount Airy News. He may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.