Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Hell Freezes Over

I read the Baltimore Sun this morning and actually agreed with (most of) a column by Tom Schaller.

The truth about speed cameras is that they are designed to generate revenue. If a driver can admit the violation and pay the fine with no points on his or her license, there's clearly no intent to sort out bad drivers from good ones. Although Maryland will use them only near construction sites and schools, one senses a camel's nose poking inside the tent.

Frankly, what's really happening here is an attempt to tax people who are unfamiliar with the location of the cameras, instead of just raising taxes in a more direct way. As I have argued in this space before, modern voters want more spending but insist on never paying higher income or property taxes (a consequence of the anti-tax revolt that began in California in the mid-1960s, was ratcheted up during Ronald Reagan's presidency and grew to new heights of fiscal irresponsibility during George W. Bush's and, yes, Barack Obama's administrations).

Thus, new and creative forms of taxation must be invented: Sin taxes on junk food, users fees on this or that, new lotteries and slots legalization are all an exercise in deluding ourselves into thinking we can somehow mask taxes or foist them on somebody else. I'm wary of proposals to replace the tax code wholesale with a flat income tax or a universal consumption tax. But when the conservatives who support these alternatives complain that the complexities of the tax code are a form of deceit by politicians and self-deceit by voters, they are right.

As for driving while texting (DWT), there is a heavy whiff of political bullying - not to mention political posturing for the coming 2010 state election cycle - in the new law banning the practice. The target of that bullying is younger drivers.


And frankly, I'm as stunned as you that a liberal Democrat would actually talk sensibly about these issue. Schaller is right in hat Democrats find speed cameras, red-light cameras, and things of this ilk to be nothing more than revenue enhancers. Take a look at this case from Montana:
Yellow times may shorten as the city of Billings, Montana rushes to install red light cameras before the state legislature has a chance to ban them. The Billings City Council voted 8-3 Monday to empower Redflex Traffic Systems, a private company based in Melbourne, Australia, to issue automated traffic citations in return for a cut of the revenue collected. Billings needs to act quickly because the state legislature last Thursday entered into final negotiations on legislation that would ban red light cameras.

After the House had passed legislation banning red light cameras without conditions, state Senator John Brueggeman (R-Polson) added a grandfather clause to the bill that would allow Billings, Bozeman and any other city that enters into a contract before the bill is signed to issue photo tickets without limitation. House members voted 58-42 against this loophole and insisted on convening a conference committee with the Senate to negotiate the final language.

In a memorandum to the city council, Billings Police Chief Rich St. John foresees the prospect of increased revenue from shortened yellow warning phases at intersections equipped with red light cameras.

"Changes in the yellow times after red light camera systems are in place and operational will affect the number of photographed violations, increasing the number of violations when yellow times are shortened and reducing the number of violations when yellow times are lengthened," St. John explained in a memo dated April 8.

So yeah, cameras the Big Brother-esque expansion of traffic cameras are little more than ways to extract a few more bucks from you, the taxpayer. This would be a good time to remind you that you can join the effort to petition the Speed Camera bill to the ballot by joining at www.mdscamera.com.

(Crossposted)

1 comment:

Daniel said...

And, at the same time, get the local gov folks to cut spending our hard earned tax money so frivolously.

Especially when they discover that the revenue stream will fall once drivers catch on and know where they are (before they get close).

BY then, the purchase/upkeep costs should exceed the revenue.

For shame.

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