August 6, 2012
AIR BROOK LIMOUSINE, INC., PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
DIRECTOR, DIVISION OF TAXATION, DEFENDANT-RESPONDENT.
On appeal from the Tax Court of New Jersey, Docket No. 46-2005.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Argued April 17, 2012
Before Judges Payne, Simonelli and Hayden.
Air Brook Limousine, Inc, a company that provides regular, charter, and special transportation, both interstate and intrastate, appeals from a determination by the Tax Court that it was required to pay Sales and Use Tax (SUT) on the purchase and repair of its sedan-style cars and limousines for the period from January 1, 1998 through December 31, 2001, because those vehicles did not constitute "buses," thereby qualifying them for a tax exemption under N.J.S.A. 54:32B-8.28. As a consequence, after adjustments, a total assessment was levied of $589,119.56, consisting of $212,645.59 in taxes, $21,264.50 in penalties and $355,208.93 in interest. Air Brook also appeals the court's rejection of its prayer for abatement of penalties and interest. We affirm.
During 2002, the Division of Taxation received an anonymous tip that Air Brook was not paying the SUT that it was required to pay on certain of its vehicles. The Division conducted an audit of the company for the period from January 1, 1998 through December 31, 2001, concluding that Air Brook's sedans and limousines, as well as parts for those vehicles, were subject to the SUT, and that the tax had not been paid. Following the audit, the Division assessed against Air Brook the additional taxes that it found to be due in a notice dated December 13, 2002.
Air Brook filed a protest with the Division's Conferences and Appeals Branch. On October 19, 2004, a conferee made a final determination that Air Brook was not exempt from the SUT for its vehicle purchases and repair parts. On January 14, 2005, Air Brook appealed the decision to the Tax Court, and on November 3, 2008, it moved for summary judgment. The Director of the Division of Taxation filed a cross-motion. Oral argument took place, and on January 5, 2011, a judge of the Tax Court issued a written opinion which concluded, as had the conferee, that N.J.S.A. 54:32B-8.28's exemption from payment of SUT for "buses" did not apply to sedans and limousines.
In reaching its decision, the court accepted the argument of the Director of the Division of Taxation that the SUT exemption statute should be read to give its terms their ordinary meaning, and as a consequence, "bus" should be regarded as referring solely to a large motor vehicle designed to carry many passengers, usually along a regular route, and not to a sedan or limousine utilized primarily for charter service. The court rejected Air Brook's argument that N.J.S.A. 54:32B-8.28 should be read in pari materia with definitions contained in the State's public utility laws, found in Title 48 of the New Jersey Statutes, and the motor vehicle laws, found in Title 39, concluding, after painstaking statutory analysis, that there was "no merit to the contention that the term 'bus' as used in N.J.S.A. 54:32B-8.28 was intended by the Legislature to incorporate the meaning of the word 'autobus' as used in the public utility statutes or the word 'omnibus' in the motor vehicle statutes." The court continued:
A court is permitted to resort to rules of statutory construction, such as reading two statutes in pari materia, only when "the plain language of a statute is not clear or if it is susceptible to more than one possible meaning or interpretation." Marino [v. Marino], 200 N.J. , 329-30 [(2009)]. The rule is applicable when the statutes "relate to the same person or thing, to the same class of person or thing, or have the same purpose or object." Id. at 330, quoting 2B Sutherland on Statutory Construction § 51:3 (7th ed. 2008).
Here, the court held that the purposes of the statutes were different. The purpose of the SUT Act was to raise revenue, whereas the public utilities statutes and motor vehicle laws were enacted to ensure the safety and welfare of the public.
Additionally, the court found that the Director's reading of the exemption statute to apply only to what ordinarily would be considered to be a bus was reasonable. The court reasoned:
It is true that Air Brook's sedans and stretch sedans are regulated as autobuses, and not as limousines. Presumably, the Legislature believed that the nature of the service offered by Air Brook compels such regulation for reasons of public safety and welfare. As acknowledged in [In re] Wilner's Livery Service, [Inc.], 159 N.J. Super. , 232-33 [(App. Div. 1978)], there is probably little difference in the actual services offered by limousine services and charter buses. There is a different method for calculating charges, ibid., and limousine service is subject to municipal rather than state regulation. Id. at 230; N.J.S.A. 48:16-17. It is probable that limousine service was originally conceived of as being local in nature, with less need for the more burdensome state safety and insurance requirements. . . .
Nevertheless, the vehicles at issue are what are ordinarily known as "cars," "limousines," or "stretch limousines," and not as buses. It is difficult to ignore that Air Brook has a name that incorporates the term "limousine" and not "bus." . .
However it may be regulated, Air Brook describes itself in ordinary language as a limousine service. (Footnote omitted.)
As a consequence, the court determined that Air Brook had not carried
its burden of establishing that its purchase of sedans and stretch
sedans, together with their parts, was exempt from taxation*fn1
as the result of the operation of N.J.S.A. 54:32B-12(b).
The court issued another opinion on February 25, 2011, rejecting Air Brook's further prayer in equity for abatement of the penalties and interest on those penalties that had been assessed. In ruling against Air Brook, the court noted that it had never petitioned the Director for an abatement. Nonetheless, the court assumed on the basis of the Director's briefing of the issue that such a request would have been denied, and in the interest of finality, it determined to address the matter.
In doing so, the court noted that one penalty, in the amount of $10,632.25, termed the "amnesty penalty" pursuant to N.J.S.A. 54:53-18b was statutorily not waivable. The remaining $10,632.25 penalty was assessed pursuant to N.J.S.A. 54:49-4a, which provided "[u]nless any part of any underpayment of tax required to be shown on a return or report is shown to be due to reasonable cause, there shall be added to the tax an amount equal to 5% of the underpayment." In that regard, Air Brook argued that the question of whether its sedans and limousines were exempt from the SUT was an issue of first impression, and thus its failure to pay the tax should be excused as reasonable in the circumstances. However, the court agreed with the Director that Air Brook's apparent belief that its vehicle purchases were not taxable was not rooted in the language of the statute or the regulations, and thus the Director's constructive refusal to waive the late payment penalty was neither unreasonable nor arbitrary. The court also concluded that no equitable relief from "excessive interest" was warranted, because the Director lacked the statutory authority to grant a further abatement pursuant to N.J.S.A. 54:49-11(a). Further, the court noted that Air Brook could have elected to pay the tax and requested a refund, in which case no interest payment would have been due, rather than proceeding as it did. There was thus no inequity in assessing interest on the amount found to be due.
On the same day, the court entered a final judgment granting summary judgment in favor of the Division. This appeal followed.
The following facts are undisputed as to the period covered by the Division's audit of Air Brook, January 1, 1998 through December 31, 2001.
Air Brook is a transportation company that was incorporated in New Jersey in 1971. Since its founding, Air Brook has provided regular, charter, and special route transportation throughout the northeast, but primarily in New Jersey. It is authorized to provide these services in New Jersey and throughout the forty-eight contiguous states under operating authorities issued by the New Jersey DOT and, initially, by the ICC. Air Brook has two wholly owned subsidiaries: Air Brook Airport Express, Inc. and Central Transit Lines, Inc. These entities hold similar operating authorities, under which Air Brook also provides transportation services.
During the audit period, Air Brook was authorized by the New Jersey DOT to operate regular route service between a Ridgewood Park and Ride facility and Newark Airport and between a Montvale Park and Ride facility and the Airport. It was authorized under certificates initially issued by the ICC to conduct regular route service between Rockland County, New York and Atlantic City, and also between Newark, LaGuardia and Kennedy Airports. Additionally, it was authorized by the ICC to conduct charter and special service consisting of nonscheduled door-to-door transportation of eleven or fewer passengers in any one vehicle between Bergen, Hudson, Passaic, and Essex Counties in New Jersey and Kennedy and LaGuardia Airports in New York.
During the relevant period, Air Brook owned vehicles in five different sizes: full-size motor coaches, minibuses, vans, stretch sedans, and standard sedans. It used vehicles of all sizes for its regularly scheduled route services between Newark Airport and the Ridgewood and Montvale Park & Rides. According to the Tax Court, Air Brook "maintains historical data on its regular routes to estimate anticipated passenger loads and, based on these estimates, determines which type of vehicle to use for any given regular route trip." Air Brook's vehicle fleet, services, and revenue for the audit period were as follows:
Type of Vehicle
# of Vehicles
% of revenue
Motor Coach 7 or 8 49-55 Charter: 50%
Mini-bus 6 to 9 21 Charter: 50%
Van 18 to 24 11-14 Charter: 25%
4 to 8 6 Charter, and
"occasionally" regular and special.
Sedan 105 to 123 4 Charter, and
All of Air Brook's vehicles were registered with the New Jersey DOT as "omnibus" vehicles. They all bore omnibus license plates and carried certificates of registration and compliance issued by the Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV). They all carried $1.5 million in third-party public liability and property damage insurance, the amount required by the DMV for buses.
During the audit period, an overwhelming majority of Air Brook's revenue came from sedan charter service. Overall, during the audit period Air Brook derived approximately 84% of its revenue from charter services. According to its answers to interrogatories, regular route service accounted for the remaining 16%; special services presumably made up a negligible portion of its business.
During the audit period, Air Brook purchased vehicles of all five sizes. It purchased sedans and stretch sedans at a cost of $2,621,733.33. It spent an additional $926,856.50 on replacement parts and repair services for those vehicles. It did not pay the SUT on these purchases, contending that the vehicles at issue constituted buses for purposes of N.J.S.A. 54:32B-8.28. As we have previously noted, the Division of Taxation and the Tax Court rejected Air Brook's position.
N.J.S.A. 54:32B-8.28 provides:
Receipts from sales of buses for public passenger transportation, including repair and replacement parts and labor therefor, to bus companies whose rates are regulated by the Interstate Commerce Commission or the Department of Transportation or to an affiliate of said bus companies or to common or contract carriers for their use in the transportation of children to and from school are exempt from the tax imposed under the Sales and Use Tax Act. For the purposes of this section "affiliate" means a corporation whose stock is wholly owned by the regulated bus company or whose stock is wholly owned by the same persons who own all the stock of the regulated bus company.
This court "employ[s] the same standard that governs trial courts in reviewing summary judgment orders." Prudential Prop. & Cas. Ins. Co. v. Boylan, 307 N.J. Super. 162, 167 (App. Div.), certif. denied, 154 N.J. 608 (1998). Thus, "it first decides whether there was a genuine issue of material fact and, if there was not, it then decides whether the trial judge's ruling on the law was correct." Walker v. Atl. Chrysler Plymouth, 216 N.J. Super. 255, 258 (App. Div. 1987). See also Brill v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 142 N.J. 520, 529 (1995). In this matter, there are no factual issues in dispute. We therefore focus on the law.
In doing so, we recognize certain particular principles that are applicable in tax cases. Tax exemptions are generally construed narrowly, Metpath, Inc. v. Director, Division of Taxation, 96 N.J. 147, 152 (1984), and the burden is on the taxpayer to prove that it is entitled to an exemption. See Container Ring v. Dir., Div. of Taxation, 1 N.J. Tax 203, 208 (Tax Ct. 1980), aff'd o.b., 4 N.J. Tax 527 (App. Div.), certif. denied, 87 N.J. 416 (1981) ("One who claims exemption from a tax must bring himself clearly within the exemption provision.").
Any doubt as to eligibility should be resolved against the person or entity claiming the exemption. Mal Bros. Contractor Co. v. Dir., Div. of Taxation, 124 N.J. Super. 55, 61 (App. Div.), certif. denied, 63 N.J. 554 (1973).
In this matter, which concerns the proper interpretation of the term "buses," as used in N.J.S.A. 54:32B-8.28, we will give deference to the Director's understanding of that term unless that understanding is "plainly unreasonable." Metromedia, Inc. v. Dir., Div. of Taxation, 97 N.J. 313, 327 (1984). We reject Air Brook's argument that our decision in In the Matter of the Board's Main Extension Rules N.J.A.C. 14:3-8.1 et seq., ___ N.J. Super. ___ (App. Div. 2012) establishes that we are not in any sense bound by the agency's determination. See slip op. at 11. In that decision, we held that the Board of Public Utilities had erred in granting only pipeline retroactivity to our holding in In re Centex Homes, LLC, 411 N.J. Super. 244 (App. Div. 2009). Thus, the legal issue presented, the resolution of which did not depend on agency expertise, had nothing to do with the issues of statutory interpretation presented by this appeal.
Whether Air Brook's sedans and sedan repairs qualified as bus purchases is complicated by the fact that the SUT Act does not define "bus." The Director and the Tax Court adopted a dictionary definition: "a large motor coach for carrying many passengers, usually along a regular route." Webster's New World Dictionary (1982). Since Air Brook's sedans are small vehicles primarily used to carry few passengers on a charter basis, the court held that they did not fall within the definition of "bus" for purposes of the exemption.
Air Brook argues that this definition runs counter to the legislative intent of N.J.S.A. 54:32B-8.28. It asserts, as it did in the Tax Court, that definitions of "autobus" in Title 48 and of "omnibus" in Title 39 should be given effect in interpreting the use of the word "bus" in Title 54. See N.J.S.A. 48:4-1 (defining "autobus" as "any motor vehicle or motorbus operated over public highways or public places in this State for the transportation of passengers for hire in intrastate business, whether used in regular route, casino, charter or special bus operations, notwithstanding such motor vehicle or motorbus may be used in interstate commerce")*fn2 ;
N.J.S.A. 39:1-1 (defining "omnibus" as a "motor vehicle used for the transportation of passengers for hire, except commuter vans and vehicles used in ridesharing arrangements and school buses").
The basic rule underpinning statutory construction in New Jersey is that "[i]n the construction of the laws and statutes of this state, both civil and criminal, words and phrases shall be read and construed with their context, and shall, unless inconsistent with the manifest intent of the legislature or unless another or different meaning is expressly indicated, be given their generally accepted meaning, according to the approved usage of the language." [Soto v. Scaringelli, 189 N.J. 558, 570-71 (2007) (quoting N.J.S.A. 1:1-1).]
As the Supreme Court has elaborated,
"'In the interpretation of a statute our overriding goal has consistently been to determine the Legislature's intent.'" Young v. Schering Corp., 141 N.J. 16, 25 (1995) (quoting Roig v. Kelsey, 135 N.J. 500, 515, (1994)). As a general rule, that process begins with an examination of the plain language of the statute. Hubbard v. Reed, 168 N.J. 387, 392 (2001); State v. Butler, 89 N.J. 220, 226 (1982). Where a statute is clear and unambiguous on its face and admits of only one interpretation, a court must infer the Legislature's intent from the statute's plain meaning. V.C. v. M.J.B., 163 N.J. 200, 217, cert. denied, 531 U.S. 926, 121 S. Ct. 302, 148 L. Ed. 2d 243 (2000); Franklin Tower One v. N.M., 157 N.J. 602, 613 (1999). A court may neither rewrite a plainly-written enactment of the Legislature nor presume that the Legislature intended something other than that expressed by way of the plain language. State v. Afanador, 134 N.J. 162, 171 (1993); State v. Wright, 107 N.J. 488, 495 (1987). "[W]e need delve no deeper than the act's literal terms to divine the Legislature's intent." Butler, supra, 89 N.J. at 226. [O'Connell v. State, 171 N.J. 484, 488 (2002).]
"[A]bsent an explicit indication of special meaning, the words contained in the language construed are given their ordinary and well understood meaning." Matthews v. State, 187 N.J. Super. 1, 7 (App. Div. 1982) (citations omitted), appeal dismissed, 93 N.J. 298 (1983).
Air Brook argues that the statutes evidence the Legislature's intent that the SUT bus exemption be read in the context of the Public Utility and Motor Vehicle laws. We disagree. To begin with, section 8.28 makes no reference to any other statutes, whereas other SUT Act exemptions do. See N.J.S.A. 54:32B-8.6 (referring to the definition of "manufactured home" in N.J.S.A. 54:4-1.4); N.J.S.A. 54:32B-8.8 (referring to the definition of "motor fuels" in the Motor Fuel Tax Law, N.J.S.A. 54:39-101 to -149); N.J.S.A. 54:32B-8.15 (referring to the definition of "farming enterprise" in N.J.S.A. 54:32B-8.16); N.J.S.A. 54:32B-8.16 (defining "farming enterprise"); N.J.S.A. 54:32B-8.45 (referring to the definition of "cigarette" in the Cigarette Tax Act, N.J.S.A. 54:40A-1 to -66); N.J.S.A. 54:32B-8.52 (defining "limousine" by reference to N.J.S.A. 39:3-19.5); N.J.S.A. 54:32B-2(mm) (referring to the definition of "mobile communications services" in 4 U.S.C.A. 124). Given its use of cross-references elsewhere, we can infer that, if the Legislature had intended to use the Title 48 definition of "autobus" or the Title 39 definition of "omnibus" in the exemption provisions of the SUT Act, it would have included a cross-reference in section 8.28. The fact that it did not provides evidence that the Legislature did not intend the terms to be synonymous.
Air Brook presses this point, however, noting that section
8.28 makes an explicit reference to Title 39 when it limits the scope of the exemption to "bus companies whose rates are regulated by the Interstate Commerce Commission or the Department of Transportation . . . ." N.J.S.A. 54:32B-8.28. Air Brook argues that this reference to the Motor Vehicle Law evinces an intention to use the Motor Vehicle Law's definition of "omnibus." We disagree, concluding that the fact that the Legislature chose to refer to another statute to limit the meaning of "bus companies," but chose not to refer to another statute to inform the meaning of "bus," indicates a deliberate choice to have that term stand on its own.
Air Brook further argues that legislative history suggests that the Legislature intended the definition of "autobus" provided in Title 48 to be applied to the SUT Act. Air Brook claims that the current Title 48 definition of "autobus," found in N.J.S.A. 48:4-1, and the SUT bus exemption, N.J.S.A. 54:32B-8.28, were enacted in the same bill, namely L. 1980, c. 105, §§ 11 and 40. This is incorrect. In fact, the legislative histories of those provisions, while complex, are clearly and wholly separate.
The Title 48 autobus definition, N.J.S.A. 48:4-1, was first enacted in L. 1978, c. 72, § 1. It was revisited approximately one year later, in L. 1979, c. 224, § 1. Both of those acts were concerned solely with transportation: the former was titled "An Act concerning autobuses," and the latter was titled "An Act concerning autocabs, limousines and livery services."
The SUT bus exemption, N.J.S.A. 54:32B-8.28, was first enacted nine years earlier in L. 1969, c. 143, § 1, and was first codified as subsection (cc) of section 8. Section 8 was revisited in L. 1979, c. 273, § 19, which added another exemption, but left the bus exemption untouched, and once again in L. 1979, c. 291, § 1. Those acts were titled, respectively, "An Act to amend the 'Sales and Use Tax Act,'" "An Act to establish a fund within the State Treasury to provide State Aid for County Improvement Authority bonds in certain cases," and "An Act to amend the 'Sales and Use Tax Act.'"
According to the Senate Statement accompanying the 1980 enactment, both L. 1979, c. 224 (concerning the Title 48 autobus definition) and L. 1979, c. 291 (concerning the SUT Act) contained "inadvertent omissions." The 1980 enactment was simply "an omnibus correction bill prepared by the Division of Legal Services in the Office of Legislative Counsel," entitled "An Act to revise and correct certain statutes." Statement Accompanying Sen. No. 1219, L. 1980, c. 105. Thus, it "restore[d] the amendments added to [N.J.S.A.] 48:4-1 by [L.] 1978, c. 72, but which were inadvertently omitted from [L.] 1979, c. 224" and "insert[ed] language enacted by [L.] 1979, c. 273 and inadvertently omitted from [L.] 1979, c. 291." Ibid. It also restructured N.J.S.A. 54:32B-8, converting the tax exemptions therein from lettered to numbered subsections. Ibid.
In other words, the Title 48 autobus definition and the SUT bus exemption were enacted in completely separate bills, some nine years apart. By sheer coincidence, they appeared alongside one another in L. 1980, c. 105, a bill that appears to have been an indiscriminate compilation of technical corrections. Indeed, the 1980 bill covered everything from criminal statutes of limitations, see § 1, to primary elections for county committees, see § 3. That N.J.S.A. 48:4-1 and N.J.S.A. 54:32B-8.28 were the subjects of the same errata bill hardly suggests a legislative intent to connect them.
There is no indication whatsoever in the legislative history that the Legislature intended the word "bus" in N.J.S.A. 54:32B-8.28 to borrow the definition of "autobus" given in N.J.S.A. 48:4-1. Indeed, our review of N.J.S.A. 48:4-1, which employs the terms "autobus" and "bus" in different contexts, suggests that the Legislature was aware of a distinction between the two terms and did not use them interchangeably.
Air Brook makes a similar argument with regard to the legislative history of N.J.S.A. 54:32B-8.52, which exempts from the SUT "[r]eceipts from the sale of a limousine to a person licensed under [N.J.S.A.] 48:16-17 to operate a limousine service[.]" Air Brook notes that limousines originally enjoyed an exemption under N.J.S.A. 54:32B-8.31, which covered sales and repair of commercial vehicles generally; that section was repealed by L. 1990, c. 40, § 11. Subsequently the Senate added a separate exemption for limousines, which are defined for purposes of the SUT Act as "a motor vehicle registered under the provisions of [N.J.S.A. 39:3-19.5] or registered as a limousine under the laws of another state or the United States[.]"
N.J.S.A. 54:32B-8.52. Air Brook argues that the Legislature included this limitation specifically because it wished to distinguish between limousine-type stretch sedans that were registered as omnibuses, and thus already exempt under section 8.28, and stretch sedans registered as limousines that would enjoy the added exemption prospectively.
There no evidence to support this position. The section of Title 39 referred to in the SUT limousine exemption requires limousines to bear "special registration plates bearing the word 'limousine' in addition to the registration number and other markings or identification otherwise prescribed by law."
N.J.S.A. 39:3-19.5. Air Brook argues that its sedans qualify as buses under section 8.28 of the SUT Act because they are registered similarly as "omnibuses" and bear "omnibus" plates under N.J.S.A. 39:3-19. Yet, while in section 8.52 the Legislature chose to define a limousine as a car registered as such under Title 39, it made no such reference for buses under section 8.28. The Legislature's choice to make reference to Title 39 in the limousine exemption but to omit such a reference in the bus exemption suggests an intent that the word "bus" stand on its own.
In summary, the SUT bus exemption was enacted in 1969, nine years before the Title 48 autobus definition was enacted in 1978. By happenstance, the SUT bus exemption and the Title 48 autobus definition were the subjects of the same 1980 correction bill. Title 48 appears to distinguish between "bus," which remains undefined in the statute, and "autobus," which is given a technical definition. The SUT Act opts for the former, undefined word rather than the latter, circumscribed word.
Further, the Legislature in 1990 added an exemption for limousines that makes reference to Title 39, while leaving the bus exemption untouched, with no technical definition. Not only does the legislative history not manifest an intention that "bus" in the SUT Act be given the same meaning as "autobus" in Title 48 or "omnibus" in Title 39; the plain language of the statutes strongly indicates an intention to avoid those very readings.
Finally, Air Brook argues that the SUT bus exemption should be read in pari materia with Titles 39 and 48. However, as the Tax Court recognized: "Statutes are considered to be in pari materia when they relate to the same person or thing, to the same class of persons or things, or have the same purpose or object. 2B Norman J. Singer, Sutherland Statutory Construction § 51.3 at 235-37 (7th ed. 2008)." Outside those circumstances, the rule has no application. Indeed, our courts have cautioned against reading against the language of a statute in order to give effect to "some supposed unexpressed intention." Int'l Brotherhood of Elec. Workers v. Gillen, 174 N.J. Super. 326, 329 (App. Div. 1980) (quoting Hoffman v. Hock, 8 N.J. 397, 409 (1952); Lehmann v. Kanane, 88 N.J. Super. 262, 265 (App. Div.), certif. denied, 45 N.J. 591 (1965)). "Even 'where the path is not clear, then the courts should refrain from usurping the legislative function.'" Ibid. (quoting Property Owners Ass'n of N. Bergen v. North Bergen Twp., 74 N.J. 327, 338 (1977)). While the in pari materia rule may be helpful in resolving doubts and uncertainties and in ascertaining the legislative intent . . . it is merely an aid to the interpretation of doubtful or ambiguous statutes, and where . . . "an act is plain and unambiguous in its terms, the rule is fundamental that there is no room for judicial construction, since the language employed is presumed to evince the legislative intent." . . . The doctrine is not invoked to engraft the terms of one statute onto another merely because the general subject matters of the two enactments are similar. [Id. at 329-30 (quoting In re Passaic City Clerk, 94 N.J.L. 384, 386 (Sup. Ct. 1920) (other citations omitted)).]
Given the risk of impinging on the legislative function, our courts consider it "'better to wait for necessary corrections by those authorized to make them, or, in fact, for them to remain unmade, however desirable they may be[.]'" Id. at 329 (quoting R.R. Comm'n v. Grand Trunk Western R. Co., 100 N.E. 852, 855 (Ind. 1913)).
The SUT bus exemption and Titles 39 and 48 may all deal with buses, but that superficial overlap does not mean that they are in pari materia. We agree with the Tax Court that the statutes have different objects, thus making application of the doctrine in aid of statutory construction improper. In this regard, we find Air Brook's reliance on American Fire and Casualty Company v. New Jersey Division of Taxation, 189 N.J. 65 (2006) to be misplaced. In that decision the Court read two seemingly conflicting tax statutes in pari materia because that was the only way to effect their clearly intended purpose. Air Brook has identified no shared purpose between the SUT Act and Titles 39 and 48 that would be defeated by applying them separately.
We agree with the Director that this case is far more like Yellow Cab Company v. State, 126 N.J. Super. 81 (App. Div. 1973), certif. denied, 64 N.J. 498 (1974). In it, Yellow Cab, a taxicab company, claimed that it was exempt from the New Jersey Wage and Hour Law because it qualified as a "common carrier by motorbus," a term that it argued included taxicabs. 126 N.J. Super. at 85. Yellow Cab, like Air Brook, argued that the court should look to the Motor Vehicles Traffic Act and the Public Utilities Code (Titles 39 and 48) to define "motor bus," and that under those titles a taxicab could qualify. We rejected Yellow Cab's argument, holding that
The words "taxicab" and "motor bus" are words of common use. Such words are to be taken in their natural, plain, obvious and ordinary signification. A subtle or forced construction for the purpose of either extending or limiting their operation should not be indulged. Jamouneau v. Harner, 16 N.J. 500 (1954), cert. den. 349 U.S. 904, 75 S. Ct. 580, 99 L. Ed. 1241 (1955). See N.J.S.A. 1:1-1.
[Yellow Cab, supra, 126 N.J. Super. at 87.]
We approved the trial judge's holding that "the definitions in those statutes shed no light on the meaning of 'motor [bus]' as it is used in the Wage and Hour Law since they were enacted for entirely different purposes." Ibid. We looked instead to the dictionary definition of "bus": "'an automotive omnibus,' with 'omnibus' in turn defined as 'a public vehicle usually automotive and 4-wheeled and designed to carry a comparatively large number of passengers: bus[.]'" Ibid. (quoting Webster's Third New International Dictionary (1966)).
We also find that the Tax Court was correct in observing that "[a]lthough the parties do not directly dispute its meaning, the phrase 'public passenger transportation' [in N.J.S.A. 53:32B-8.28] appears to convey the concept of basic bus regular route transportation - that is, service on large motor coaches designed to carry many passengers, which is available to the general public at street corners, park and rides, and bus terminals. Charter service, which constitutes the bulk of [Air Brook's] service, is operated pursuant to private agreement."
As a consequence, we concur with the Tax Court's conclusion that Air Brook did not meet its burden of demonstrating a right to an exemption from payment of the SUT during the audit years at issue, having failed to demonstrate that the vehicles subject to the tax were buses. We decline to address whether Air Brook's rates for those vehicles were regulated by the ICC or the New Jersey DOT, finding that determination unnecessary in the circumstances.
In a final argument, Air Brook contends that the Tax Court should have waived the penalties and abated the interest assessed against it. We disagree, concluding that the issue was properly determined by the Tax Court, upon whose comprehensive opinion we rely.