Civic Fundraising and the Blue Light Special

Tough economic times wreak havoc with the law of unintended consequences.

Time to Pay Your Road Usage Tax!

After noticing what seemed like a significant increase in the number of traffic stops lately in and around the Sarasota area, I decided to do a little research. After all, maybe it’s just me. And even though I haven’t been pulled over myself, it seems like more and more often I’m hearing in random conversations about people getting pulled over.

It turns out that in the midst of a statewide budget crunch, lawmakers in the State of Florida are expecting an extra $32.5 Million in 2009 thanks to increased traffic fines.

Great.

So… tourism is down. The housing market is in the toilet. Business is suffering. Here’s a thought: let’s extract it from the taxpayers without calling it a tax.

So… State and local governments do what they’re incentivized to do: adjust their levels of roadside fundraising.

Is there a conspiracy to do this? Probably not. But who needs a conspiracy? There’s a wide-open fundraising channel that appears to be underutilized. Every municipality and county that is getting squeezed will naturally gravitate towards it.

So this brings up a fundamental question:

Is speeding a public safety issue or isn’t it?

After all, if all of us decided tomorrow that it really represented such a fantastic risk to our well-being and we decided to stop speeding, public safety officials would be thrilled, right?

Wrong. Your driving behavior helps make up for budget shortfalls.

As with all other “sin” taxes, what we forget is that we, the people, have put ourselves in the speeding business. We are now, as a society, financially dependent–at least partially–on something that is supposed to be a danger to us all.

But of course we don’t really believe it’s dangerous. Sure… the testosterone-crazed teenage male with a freshly-minted driver’s license flying through a school zone at 100 mph is dangerous. And naturally, they take his license and lock him up.

But the soccer Mom who’s not paying attention to her speedometer as she races from one place to another… is she really a public safety hazard? Probably not.

But she’s a great target for a fundraising effort… one that makes her feel stupid and ashamed. One that carries a gun. One that distracts law enforcement officers from fighting crime and turns them into monkey grinders.

And, as unintended consequences do, this one multiplies. Now we have multiple law enforcement officers gathering in one place to pull over the drivers who don’t move over while their colleagues are performing their sideshow.

And of course, this fundraising activity is dangerous… not because the State has decided that speeding drivers are a scourge that must be stopped, but because the State has chosen to keep its law enforcement officers in harm’s way to extract additional money from the drivers.

You might call me a cynic.

But I remember owning a 1974 Chevrolet Caprice Classic. It was already an “antique” (as automobiles go) when I bought it, mind you. But that car had something unique that the 1973 model did not have: a catalytic converter. Why? Because someone, somewhere decided that automobiles were creating too much pollution. So the Federal government mandated these devices to reduce pollution. Simple solution to a problem that was harmful to society. Require the automakers to put a device on the cars to reduce the problem.

When was the governor invented?

I rest my case.

So… if the State of Florida (and the local counties and municipalities) want to tax drivers whose speeds creep up, fine. But let’s call it what it is: a road tax. Let’s kill this whole “public safety” charade. What a joke.

It’ll probably make the officers who really are concerned about your safety on the roads feel a lot better about their jobs. After all, the people they report to are certainly incentivized to keep you driving “dangerously.”

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