Sunday, August 12, 2007

Abusing the Reckless Driver Fees

I opposed the transportation bill. I opposed the reckless driver fees, the host of other fees and taxes, the regional taxing authorities, the refusal of our government to spend general revenues to benefit Virginians by fixing critical road problems.

I've previously written that, in order to get around the stupid artificial division of government responsibility for transportation versus every other responsibility, we should raise the gas tax, but repeal all the other new taxes from two years ago, making a revenue-neutral switch from money going into the general fund to money dedicated for transportation.

I actually think that would be a good idea, but proposed it more to show the absurdity both of asking for more taxes when we have a surplus and we are raising government spending by leaps and bounds, and of treating different streams of money as tied to different needs of the people.

Anyway, a lot of politicians are now opposing the reckless driver fee part of the tranportation bill, which in my mind is probably the least objectionable part of the bill. I understand speeders -- I've been known to speed. But Reckless Driving is a serious offense, and contrary to popular opinion, is not generally a charge people are convicted of if all they are doing is speeding, unless their speed really puts people in jeopardy.

The objection to the fees makes me wonder if Virginians in general, and democrats in particular (who seem nearly united in their objection to the fees), really hate following traffic laws and expect to break them with regularity.

But I don't mind the objections. I do mind politicians pretending they were opposed to this before, when they voted for it, or said they would. Thus, my column for this week was titled "Abusing the Reckless Driver Fees", in which I lament how politicians are abusing the fees for their own political purposes. Excerpts follow:

I drive a Prius. That doesn't mean I can't drive fast. Last month Al Gore's son was arrested going over 100 mph in his Prius. But I do try to keep within reasonable limits. I don't weave in and out of traffic, speed in residential neighborhoods, run red lights, or tailgate. I am unlikely to be ticketed for reckless driving.

Maybe that's why I'm not worked up over Virginia's new "Reckless Driver" taxes. But apparently many Virginians plan to do some of those things on a regular basis. I say that because people are extremely concerned about these fees.
But really it was a way to raise taxes that wouldn't be obvious, and so might not raise objections. I'd rather the taxes be obvious and apply to everybody on the roads.
Worse, while the original bill taxed every reckless driver using our roads, Governor Kaine amended the measure to exclude all non-residents (which oddly means that if you and the illegal immigrant living next door with a Maryland license are both caught going 95 on 95, you'll pay and he won't).
If you read old articles about the transportation bill, you will find many people praising the bill, and many attacking the bill. But almost none of them mention the "reckless driver" fees. It just was not something anybody seemed upset about, and any politician who now tells you they knew it was a bad idea is just trying to trick you to get your vote.

For example, Senator Colgan says he opposed the idea. It's true he is pushing a large gas-tax increase. But in a February article about the bill, his objection was not to the reckless driver fees, but rather to additional home sales recording fees, which he said were too unreliable.
Colgan also said "I'm just concerned about legislation that doesn't have out-of-state vehicles pay for the roads." But while Colgan voted against the original bill, after Kaine amended it to exempt out-of-state drivers, Colgan switched and voted for the bill.
At least he's not attacking another person for their vote. In May, candidate Bruce Roemmelt penned an op-ed for this paper attacking Delegate Bob Marshall for voting against the bill. Roemmelt said he "would have voted for the transportation package." He never mentions the reckless driver fees.

But now Roemmelt says those fees are wrong,and claims "I knew that before the voting public made its opposition to the abusive driver fines clear." Well, if he did, he didn't mention it when he said he'd vote for the bill that contained those fees.

Roemmelt says there's "a difference between grandstanding and leadership." I agree. Leadership is voting against a bad bill. Grandstanding is attacking your opponent for that vote, and later claiming you knew the bill was bad and you'd vote to repeal it.

I wish I didn't have to excerpt my own column, please click through and read it all.


Kim said...

If people would just obey the law...

Citizen Tom said...

Good post. I particularly like the part about Roemmelt and grandstanding.

I agree there are parts of the bill worse than the abuser fee (really fines), but I think the abuser fees stink too.

Given half a chance, politicians will behave like the weak human beings they are -- we all are. They will try to tax the group least able to complain. That is why our politicians pull stunts like luxury taxes, smoker taxes, lotteries to tax (and encourage) gamblers, and abuser fines. Do we really want our leaders pitting us against each other? Is that leadership or a device used by tyrants?

Abusive driving is law breaking, and it is dangerous. Instead of giving these people big huge fines and calling them fees, we need to stop these people from driving. However, if abusive driving becomes a fund raising device, what do you think is going to happen?