Thursday, September 30, 2010

Kick 'em while they're down

No new taxes and punishing wrongdoers have a dandy sound, except in Texas too often it amounts to “kick ‘em while they’re down.”

Unfortunately in Texas what passes for good conservative cutbacks too often amounts to picking on those who can least afford it.  First to suffer when fees are raised in the name of saving or avoiding taxes, are children and poor people.  There is a basic reason for this.  Children and poor people seldom contribute to campaigns.  They don’t belong to well-heeled political action committees.  And, unfortunately, most of them don’t vote.

One of the most unfair results in raising fees to avoid saying you passed a new tax is the ill-conceived surcharge program imposed by the Legislature for traffic violations.  

Unfortunately, after you’ve paid the price for violating the traffic laws of Texas, you’re not done.  You can be saddled with additional fees for no other reason than the fact your senator and state representative didn’t have the guts to choose a program to cut or to increase the taxes in order to pay for the spending they authorized. 

For example, under the surcharge system, after you’ve paid your fine for a moving violation, an additional surcharge is added each year for three years of $100 each year.  In other words, whatever your fine was, you have to pay another $300 unless you have a bad driving record, then you have to pay an additional $375 in order to maintain your driver’s license.  If you’re caught driving while intoxicated, after you’ve paid whatever fine the court rules for which you are liable, and perhaps a few days in jail, you then learn you have an additional $1,000 annual surcharge for up to three years.  Subsequent convictions can carry an additional $1,500 surcharge year.  If you get caught driving while your license is expired, it could cost you not only the fine, but an additional $900.  Failure to have insurance could cost you an additional $1,000.  If you get more than two violations within three years, you would be assessed an additional annual surcharge.

Not only is the fact you have to pay an additional fine in effect, unfortunately the bureaucracy to administer this thing is so inefficient you may not learn about the fact you owe a surcharge until you are 2-3 years down the road and owe more than you believe you could reasonably pay. 

Unfortunately, in today’s society, people who really want to be employed and earn their own living, stay off welfare and be good citizens are the very people who can barely scrape together enough money to pay their traffic fines when they get them, let alone a surcharge imposed at the whim of the Legislature to fill up budget holes they wouldn’t fill with taxes.  To well-heeled folks it is a minor imposition; but to the poor who have trouble maintaining insurance for their vehicles, or even getting a vehicle so they can manage to get to work, it is a life sentence which could cost them their jobs or worse. 

Two things are certain in today’s society.  Most everybody sooner or later will get some sort of traffic violation.  The other thing is that automobiles for transportation have become a necessity for maintaining any decent quality of life.  The Texas surcharge system has been so draconian that even though over a billion dollars in fines or surcharges have been levied, less than half that amount has been collected; and of that amount, none of it has been spent on any state program for which it was intended.  In short, this program is causing far more harm to Texas citizens than it is benefiting society as a whole.

The next time you hear one of your local state politicians boasting about no new taxes and how conservative they are and how they are concerned for people less fortunate than they, ask them how they voted on raising fees, tuition and allowing outrageous rate jumps in insurance. 

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