Traffic Tickets to Plug Budget Shortfalls?

by Chris Sturr | June 01, 2009

Quite an interesting post from a blog I hadn’t heard of, Mish’s Global Economic Trend Analysis, about how cops are doing massive “click it or ticket” operations–waiting outside of shopping mall parking lots, in some cases–in attempt to deal with state or municipal budget shortfalls.

The blogger comes up with a nice selection examples from across the country, including a California Highway Patrol declaring a “Maximum Enforcement Period” (MEP) for Memorial Day weekend this year, to Texas, where 10% of adults have outstanding warrants, almost all of them for moving violations (see below), and Dallas County, where half of the county’s revenue comes from traffic tickets.

But he introduces the topic thus: “Cash strapped cities, states, and municipalities are increasingly looking to raise revenue by issuing tickets instead of cutting expenses.” How about raising taxes on the rich, or stimulus money for state budget needs rather than for law enforcement?

Anyhow, it’s a great story. Here’s a bit about Texas:

In Texas, to my mind, we’ve already taken this strategy about as far as it can go, to the point that, right now, more than 10% of Texas adults have outstanding arrest warrants–mostly for traffic tickets.

Dallas County represents perhaps the most extreme example of this trend in Texas. According to the Dallas Morning News (“Dallas county to vote on withholding vehicle registrations for those who owe fines,” Feb. 9), “Unlike most counties, Dallas County gets slightly more than half of its annual revenue from fines and fees. Other counties rely more heavily on property-tax revenue.”

Now Dallas plans to step up the pressure on even more on folks who can’t or don’t pay traffic fines, denying vehicle registration to drivers with outstanding traffic tickets. Again, we’re talking about more than 10% of the adult population!

Read the rest of the article.

A feature in Car and Driver covered the phenomenon back in February:

More Tickets in Hard Times

Cities searching for revenue look to their police departments as a way to cash in.

BY GEORGE HUNTER | February 2009

Motorists beware: In some communities, police are issuing tickets during these hard times at a rate higher than ever in what critics say is an attempt to raise revenue in order to offset budget shortfalls.

Take, for example, the metropolitan Detroit area, which has been reeling economically much longer than has the rest of the country. The number of moving violations issued has increased by at least 50 percent in 18 communities in the metro area since 2002—and 11 of those municipalities have seen ticketing increases of 90 percent or more. During that time, Michigan has cut revenue sharing to communities by $3 billion. Officials are scrambling to balance their budgets amid the tumbling economy, and some people say the authorities are turning to traffic cops for help.

The president of a state police union isn’t pretending it doesn’t happen. James Tignanelli, president of the Police Officers Association of Michigan union, says, “When elected officials say, ‘We need more money,’ they can’t look to the department of public works to raise revenues, so where do they find it? Police departments.

“A lot of police chiefs will tell you the goal is to have nobody speeding through their community, but heaven forbid if it should actually happen—they’d be out of money,” Tignanelli says.

Police Chief Michael Reaves of Utica, Michigan, says the role of law enforcement has changed over the years. “When I first started in this job 30 years ago, police work was never about revenue enhancement, but if you’re a chief now, you have to look at whether your department produces revenues,” he says. “That’s just the reality nowadays.”

Read the rest of the article. (One funny bit was a quote from a motorist who points out that this will have a bad effect on tourism in Michigan “no wonder the state’s economy is in the porcelain.” I’d never heard that expression—it’s a gem.)

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