Jan 6, 2009

The new taxes

California law prohibits law enforcement agencies from setting quotas for how many traffic tickets they write, but weak budgets further weakened by not-so-clever borrowing schemes will, I predict, turn many California cities into speed traps in 2009. It should also be a lucrative year for privately run parking enforcement companies, which promise to "maximize revenues" for cash-strapped cities.

Don't think cities would do anything so egregious as boost ticket writing to offset falling revenues? Ask a scientist (emphasis mine):
Thomas A. Garrett, an assistant vice president at the St. Louis Federal Reserve, knew he deserved to be ticketed while on vacation in Pennsylvania a few years ago. But, he wondered, are traffic tickets purely about public safety? Or are other factors at play? Many motorists probably have wondered the same thing sitting on a highway shoulder waiting for a citation. But Garrett turned it into a scholarly pursuit. He decided to conduct a study.

What Garrett and a co-author discovered provides yet another reason to hate a recession.

Traffic tickets go up significantly when local government revenue falls, they found. Their study showed for the first time evidence of how "local governments behave, in part, as though traffic tickets are a revenue tool to help offset periods of fiscal distress."
I once uncovered a memo written by the then-police chief in Claremont that said patrol officers needed to write a minimum number of citations each month as part of their performance evaluation. That was a no-no. Most city police departments avoid stating a number, but make citation writing a part of a broader performance evaluation.

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