Legislators look to tax the odd new vehicles showing up in Utah

“Novel vehicles” bill could cover anything — Snowdog, MoonBike or Sherp — powered across land, snow or water.

(Rick Bowmer | AP) Wes Dawson, of Malibu, Calif., flies with his water-powered jet pack on the Willamette River in Portland, Ore., in 2012. Utah lawmaker are considering taxing such "novel vehicles."

This story is part of The Salt Lake Tribune’s ongoing commitment to identify solutions to Utah’s biggest challenges through the work of the Innovation Lab.

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Got a license for that Snowdog?

Have you registered your MoonBike?

Where are the plates on this Sherp?

Those may be questions Utahns will get if HB441 “Registration of Novel Vehicles” becomes law.

Rep. Norm Thurston, R-Provo, presented his bill Wednesday to the House Transportation Committee. He also brought a handout with a variety of vehicles that could be subject to taxation, everything from gas-powered dog sleds to “personal flying machines.”

Thurston said any vehicles that are using public thoroughfares and waterways should be considered for taxation.

“We want to make sure the taxes are collected,” Thurston said. “Registration is a form of tax enforcement.”

Under the bill, vehicle owners would apply for and get a novel vehicle license for only $1, but that would initiate a review by legislators as to whether a larger tax is warranted in subsequent years.

Thurston offered a handout to his colleagues with some possible vehicles that could fall under the proposed law. That included “e-foil” watercraft that glide across water, snow machines, and even “Jetlev” vehicles that use jets to let people hover over the water. In each case, the devices don’t quite fit within the existing definitions of snowmobiles, personal watercraft, motorcycles or all-terrain vehicles that are already subject to registration and taxation.

Jason Chipman from the libertarian Libertas Institute spoke in favor, saying he appreciated that the process would trigger a legislative review rather than having the Utah Tax Commission, which oversees the Division of Motor Vehicles, setting fees.

“The Legislature should be setting the rules about what gets taxed and what doesn’t get taxed,” Chipman said. “And we really liked the approach of having these novel vehicles be referred to the interim committee because what we don’t want to do is stifle innovation.”

Sellers of the vehicles are also looking for clarity.

“Many of our dealers that we represent are starting to see more and more of these types of what we call vehicles in their dealerships,” said Adam Johnson of Independent Dealer Solutions, a Utah company that handles vehicle registrations for car dealers. “And it becomes a little bit difficult sometimes when the customer is like, ‘Well, how do I need to register this?’ And the dealer is the same way, like, ‘How do I need to have this registered?’”

The bill also includes a one-time cost of $43,500 for the Utah Division of Motor Vehicles to update its forms. The committee passed the bill unanimously, advancing it to the full House.