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Audit: New Mexico losing up to $56M in truck tax revenue

Auditors for the Legislative Finance Committee said the state should beef up the staff of the Motor Transportation Division and hire more tax department auditors to ensure truckers are paying a weight-distance tax that helps finance highway construction and maintenance.

By Barry Massey
The Associated Press

9/26/2013

SANTA FE, N.M. — New Mexico fails to collect as much as $56 million a year in tax revenue from the trucking industry because of inadequate enforcement, according to a legislative audit released Thursday.

Auditors for the Legislative Finance Committee said the state should beef up the staff of the Motor Transportation Division and hire more tax department auditors to ensure truckers are paying a weight-distance tax that helps finance highway construction and maintenance.

The state received nearly $73 million in revenue in 2012 from the tax that's based on a truck's weight and how far it travels in the state.

The division helps enforce collection of the tax by issuing citations to truckers who aren't in compliance. The agency's staff also collects fees at ports of entry across the state and inspects trucks for safety violations and contraband, including illegal drugs. Motor transportation police officers also patrol the roads.

The agency, which is part of the Department of Public Safety, is "plagued by staffing shortages and vacancies that seriously hamper its ability to carry out its mission," according to the audit report. "Not only does the agency have too few officers for its patrol mission, but its ports are understaffed, provide insufficient coverage of the state and in several cases are in disrepair."

Low salaries make it difficult to recruit and retain motor transportation police officers, auditors said.

Of the dozen largest state and local law enforcement agencies in New Mexico, an experienced officer joining the motor transportation police has the lowest average starting salary, the report said. As of mid-June, the division had 115 commissioned officers and 40 vacancies.

The motor transportation police are separate from the state police, which also are part of the department. Auditors said the average state police officer's salary is about 6 percent higher than a counterpart in the Motor Transportation Division.

The agency uses cameras and remote sensing technology to scan license plates and other identifying numbers on trucks to help enforce the collection of taxes and fees and to check a truck's safety record. Auditors said more of that equipment is needed but that alone isn't enough to prevent truckers from evading their tax obligations.

"MTD simply does not have an adequate presence, either through its location of ports of entry, its road patrols, or its automated license plate readers, to cover all portions of the state," auditors said.

The report estimated the state loses from $27 million to $56 million annually in uncollected weight-distance taxes.

In a written response to the audit, Public Safety Secretary Gorden Eden said the agency is considering the use of mobile inspection stations to help improve revenue collection and other enforcement duties.

He also agreed with auditors that the state doesn't pay competitive salaries for motor transportation officers or for state police. Starting pay at the Motor Transportation Division is $17.71 an hour while competing law enforcement agencies pay $18.85 to $22.34 an hour. The department has hired a consultant to develop a new pay plan proposal for law enforcement, he said.

Auditors estimate it would cost about $7 million to boost salaries of motor transportation officers and state police so they rank fourth highest among the largest law enforcement agencies in New Mexico. It's up to the Legislature to approve money for any salary increases.

Follow Barry Massey on Twitter at https://twitter.com/bmasseyAP

The Trucker staff can be reached to comment on this article at editor@thetrucker.com.

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