Harris County analysts have determined illegally issued temporary license plates could be costing the county $80 million-$88 million in lost annual revenue and contributing to higher crime rates, county leaders announced during an April 26 news conference.

“It’s money that could have gone to improving our mobility, improving our roadways, improving our drainage, improving our communities, supporting our law enforcement,” Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia said during the news conference. “But that money is lost.”

According to Harris County Judge Lina Hidalogo, a lack of state regulation has allowed any person to register as a car dealer and print “as many paper tags as they wanted to."

“That, in turn, let folks on the black market use those tags however they wanted to and to go commit crimes, try to avoid the police—they would register their cars under fake names sometimes,” Hidalgo said.

From 2016-21, police incidents involving fake paper tags increased by 306%, Hidalgo said, jumping from 1,705 incidents in 2016 to almost 7,000 in 2021.

By obtaining a fake paper tag, individuals avoid paying registration renewal fees, toll fees, and new title fees, Hidalgo said, meaning lost revenue for the county.

House Bill 3927, which became effective in September, gave the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles the ability to deny a car dealer access to the temporary tag database if fraudulent activity is evident and to set a limit for temporary tags per car dealer per year, according to a March 1 news release from the DMV.

“While denial of access is a powerful tool to stop the systemic misuse of fraudulent temporary tags, this solution is reactive and only addresses the problem after tags are already on Texas roadways,” the March 1 news release reads.

County leaders will look at further addressing the issue in the future, Hidalgo said.

“We’re going to do everything we can locally,” Hidalgo said. “We’re doing it. We’re going to continue looking at options, but a local solution is not going to solve a statewide problem.”

Harris County commissioners discussed the paper tag issue during April 26 commissioners court, but no action was taken.

“We [have] got to keep from potentially losing another $80 million in the future because the loss of revenue is unbilled as well as fraudulent tags combined,” Garcia said during commissioners court.