Balancing Budgets on Drivers’ Backs

States like California are raising traffic fines instead of increasing taxes to generate a source of revenue.

States like California are raising traffic fines instead of increasing taxes to generate a source of revenue.

Cities and states across the country are broke. But instead of raising taxes, lawmakers are raising traffic fines.

“This business of using fines and traffic fees as revenue sources is just flat wrong,” said Lew Uhler with the National Tax Limitation Committee. “This is simply a tax by another name.”

Nowhere is that more obvious than Los Angeles, where the city collects more then $1.8 million a year at a single intersection in the San Fernando Valley from drivers running a red light. Cost per ticket is $476.

“It’s almost $500 and I have three kids right now,” said Jesus Altamirano, standing outside a Los Angeles municipal courtroom where he is fighting a red light violation. “It’s just hard the way they want to get you with these tickets.”

But it’s not just California. In a memo obtained by the Boston Herald, local police chief Ken Coye instructs his officers in the suburb of Malden to write at least one traffic or parking ticket per shift.

“We need to increase enforcement in areas that create revenue,” says the Coye memo. “Write ‘ONE TAG A DAY.’”

Lawmakers around the country seem to listening.

* Parking in a fire lane in Pensacola, Fla., will cost you $100, up from $10.

* Georgia recently added a $200 surcharge for anyone driving more than 85 miles per hour.

* Colorado increased fines for speeding from $50 to $135.

* Portland, Ore., increased fines for parking in a handicapped spot from $190 to $450.

* Parking fines in Boston doubled to $40.

* Speeding in Florida just 10 miles over the legal limit will cost you $196, up from $154.

“We cannot afford to pay tickets, especially when we don’t feel guilty for what we are being fined for,” said Luis Rivera, a California contractor. Rivera was slapped with a $276 fine for not closing the tailgate on his pickup truck.

California’s State Senate President Darrell Steinberg admitted lawmakers raised traffic fines to raise revenue – not for traffic safety or to change driver behavior. It’s “one of the patches that we’ve relied on to avoid deeper cuts” to state programs, he said.

But closing a $28 billion dollar deficit isn’t easy. Consider these Golden State fines:

* Driving one to 15 miles over speed limit is $215. Compare that to $50 in Idaho and Washington State.

* Run a stop sign: $236

* No seat belt: $148. In Louisiana, the same infraction is $25.

* Broken headlight: $100

* Park in a disabled spot: $1,043. A second offense is $2,000.

* Pass a school bus with flashing red lights in San Francisco: $754

“We ought not go to bankruptcy court as a result of simple infractions of driving laws,” complained Uhler, who believes collections go down when fines get too high because motorists simply can’t pay or refuse to because “punishment doesn’t fit the crime.”

Petros Abraham agrees. He got cited at 2 a.m. one night for making a right hand turn at a red light when he failed to stop for the required 3 seconds.

“I don’t think it is fair,” said Abraham. “They’re just dumping all of their problems back onto the people, back onto the taxpayer.”

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