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200K Arizona drivers getting refunds over public safety fee

September 26, 2021 GMT

PHOENIX (AP) — Hundreds of thousands of drivers will be getting $32 refund checks from the Arizona Department of Transportation.

About 200,000 checks are going out in the mail this month, worth about $6.6 million, according to ADOT.

The Arizona Republic reported that the refunds involve a controversial public safety fee that was part of vehicle registration costs that was approved three years ago and later rescinded.

Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, told the newspaper that she added the refunds into the state budget for people who paid the fee in June because ADOT should not have charged it that month after its repeal.

“It is completely inappropriate for the legislative branch to give taxing authority to an agency,” Ugenti-Rita said of the fee. “There are a whole host of reasons this was just bad news all around.”

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Legislators approved the fee in 2018 to pay for the Arizona Department of Public Safety, which runs the state Highway Patrol.

Funding for the department previously had come from money that otherwise would have paid for road repairs and upgrades.

The fee initially was estimated to be $18 a year and was intended to free up money for road repairs. But the amount of the fee was not set in law and was left to ADOT to determine.

After ADOT announced the fee amount of $32, public outcry swelled and Ugenti-Rita and other lawmakers rescinded it the following year.

But the 2019 law repealing the fee left it in place for fiscal 2020 and fiscal 2021. The money all went to the Department of Public Safety and not ADOT.

The state’s fiscal year runs from July to June. People who register their vehicle in June have valid registrations through the end of June.

Ugenti-Rita said ADOT should have stopped charging the fee at the end of May, according to the Republic.

ADOT still charged the fee to those registering in June. Those people had registrations that were valid through June 30 and should not have paid the fee, Ugenti-Rita said.

Ugenti-Rita said she brought it to the attention of the Governor’s Office and received Gov. Doug Ducey’s approval to include refunds for those June registrations added to the state budget.

ADOT spokesman Douglas Pacey said processing the 200,000 refunds “is about four-five months worth of work condensed into one month.”

He said ADOT had to lease an additional printer to prepare the checks.

“They are the ones that messed up,” Ugenti-Rita said of the agency. “They never should have charged the fee to begin with.”