Don't count Max Chipman among the masses who believe the state is broke and on the verge of becoming an unregulated wasteland.
The 69-year-old Las Vegan has tried to build his east valley smog-check businesses by offering superior, friendly customer service. When he tried to advertise as much, the Department of Motor Vehicles threatened to shut him down.
Chipman's four Maxi Smog locations serve middle- to lower-income neighborhoods. His customer base includes heavy shares of elderly folks on fixed incomes and households that don't have personal computers or Internet access.
He says an awful lot of these vehicle owners, upon passing their state- and federal-mandated smog tests, still assume they have to go wait in line at a DMV office to pay their registration fees and obtain new license plate stickers. They either don't know they can renew their registration through the mail or online, or they don't know how.
The entrepreneur in Chipman sensed an opportunity to help his customers renew their registrations through his employees. The DMV has a program that allows smog-check businesses to re-register vehicles, but it's strictly controlled, imposes more regulations and piles even more costs on the businesses and their customers.
"I didn't see any way I could make money by doing it that way," Chipman said. "It was going to cost me time and money and cost my customers money. I want to help my customers save their time and money."
Chipman knew how easy it was to renew his own vehicle over the Internet. So rather than further entrench himself in bureaucracy and give DMV inspectors another place to poke their noses, he put computers with Internet access inside his tiny offices. Anyone with a credit card would be able to renew their registration online without leaving his business -- and he or his staff would walk them through the process if they didn't know how.
"No charge," Chipman said. "No cost to the state. No real cost to me. No cost to the customer."
His small innovation in the smog-check trade didn't go unnoticed by the DMV.
"These are the most regulated businesses on the planet," said local DMV spokesman Kevin Malone, half joking. "They can't tie their shoes without our permission.
"He wasn't enrolled in our official registration program. Making computers available to customers for self-registration was kind of a gray area. So we didn't object to it."
Until earlier this year, when Chipman started advertising the service. He put up signs informing customers they could register their vehicles on the premises.
"They might think it's an official program," Malone said. "Those signs indicated to taxpayers that his businesses offered a service that has the endorsement of the DMV."
Beyond, you know, offering DMV-endorsed smog tests that automatically notify the state whether your car has passed or failed.
"There are businesses that make the investment in our registration program, that offer their customers the choice of paying (up to $10) to have those businesses register their vehicles," Malone said. "Maxi Smog isn't one of them, and because of that, state code specifically says it can't put up signs that suggest it is."
So it's OK for Chipman to have the computers and the Internet access at his businesses. It's OK for Chipman and his employees to tell customers about it, and to help them access and navigate the DMV's Web site. It's OK for customers to actually renew their license plates at Chipman's business. As long as Chipman doesn't make signs, mailers or fliers promoting those services.
Late last month, Chipman took down his signs rather than have the DMV close his businesses.
Set aside for a moment the fact that vehicle emissions testing is one giant make-work boondoggle that produces almost no environmental benefit in exchange for the millions of dollars it extracts from the economy each year. Computerized, fuel-injected vehicles are becoming more and more efficient, replacing the last remaining clunkers on the roads.
But we'll still be subjected to smog checks a decade from now, even when everyone is driving a taxpayer-subsidized hybrid that runs on batteries and uses cooking grease.
The DMV is so vigilant in policing its smog-check servants that the agency also serves as an arbiter of commercial speech. Every program and service tied to the registration of vehicles and the collection of taxes becomes its own mini-empire with interests to defend. And they only get bigger, and they never go away.
Why anyone would pay to have someone else register their vehicle when the online and mail renewal process is so simple is beyond me. The DMV program smacks of the offers homeowners get from mail-based businesses to homestead their address for $30 or $40. Sorry if I've made anyone feel like a sucker, but the county recorder does it for only $14.
And if motorists are dying to wait in a line at a DMV office, they can use automated kiosks there to get their license plate stickers.
So when members of the Legislature resume their groaning about the preservation of "essential services," and lament that without massive tax increases, the vulnerable public will be left exposed, I'll draw from my rapidly diminishing supply of grains of salt.
The silly struggle Chipman had to weather is just one example of the counterproductive battles your tax dollars pay for.
Does the state need more of your money?
Maybe I'll start to think so if Chipman puts up his signs again and the DMV leaves him alone.
Glenn Cook (email@example.com) is a Review-Journal editorial writer.