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April 12, 2009

Overnight Open Thread: “You Say You Want a Revolution?” (genghis)

If not, you will after reading this article from the NYT via MSNBC.com.

“Cities, States Turn to Fees to Fill Budget Gaps.” Some excerpts:

”After her sport utility vehicle sideswiped a van in early February, Shirley Kimel was amazed at how quickly a handful of police officers and firefighters in Winter Haven, Fla., showed up. But a real shock came a week later, when a letter arrived from the city billing her $316 for the cost of responding to the accident.”

“I remember thinking, ‘What the heck is this?’ ” says Ms. Kimel, 67, an office manager at a furniture store. “I always thought this sort of thing was covered by my taxes.”

“Such cash-per-crash ordinances tend to infuriate motorists, and they often generate bad press, but a lot of cities are finding them hard to resist. With the economy flailing and budgets strained, state and local governments are being creative about ways to raise money. And the go-to idea is to invent a fee — or simply raise one.”


Of course, targeted fees and taxes are nothing new, as anyone who smokes can tell you. Since the number of smokers is about 20% of the population, the remaining 80% could care less for the most part. But that goose’s golden eggs are about tapped out. The insidious thing about these fees is that they almost always target a small portion of the population. For example, who’s really going to scream bloody murder if Wisconsin triples the application fee to get an elk hunting license? (That’s mentioned in the article) Well, elk hunters of course, but few others. It’s not the sort of thing that’ll bring a hundred thousand angry protesters to the steps of the state capital.

So it’s a “divide-and-conquer” strategy. Eventually though, they’ll finally get around to ramping up fees on something that affects you directly…and you’ll be rightly pissed off. Maybe it’s a new fee on the sales of tanned hobo hides or a fee for each word you use while commenting. But don’t expect the elk-hunters to get riled up about it. After all, where were you in their hour of need ? (Of course there’s often some crossover and probably a few enjoy hobo-hunting and commenting)

Defenders of this ever-increasing reliance by government on targeted fees always fall back on the argument “Well, people who use and benefit from these services should pay for them.” Yet I seem to recall that there’s already a mechanism in place to pay for basic services. Wait, don’t tell me…it’ll come to me…oh yes, now I remember: Taxes. More outrage below the fold.


Sometimes the new/expanded fees do hit the general population (or at least have the potential to). A couple of examples from the article:

”Washington’s mayor, Adrian M. Fenty, has proposed a “streetlight user fee” of $4.25 a month, to be added to electric bills, that would cover the cost of operating and maintaining the city’s streetlights. New York City recently expanded its anti-idling law to include anyone parked near a school who leaves the engine running for more than a minute. Doing that will cost you $100.”

“The most dangerous places on Staten Island are the schools at drop-off and dismissal time, when parents are parked three deep in the road,” says James S. Oddo, a City Council member from Staten Island who voted for the measure. “There is a mentality here that Johnny can’t walk 100 feet, he has to be dropped off right at the front of the school — and frankly that’s why Johnny is as pudgy as he is.”


In a perfect world, any local politician that uttered those words would immediately be the subject of a recall effort, or at very least booted from office in the next election. But due to short memories and political patronage that rarely seems to happen. Hold on to your hat though, they’re just getting started:
”If past patterns hold, the new wave of fees is just getting started. Gary Wagner, a professor of economics at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, was one author of a study of moving-vehicle and parking tickets in North Carolina, covering a 14-year period. He found a strong correlation between a dip in government revenue and a rise in ticket-writing by the police.”

I feel bad for the cops in this case. I don’t think they take any pleasure in having to do this and probably think it’s as ridiculous as the rest of us do. It’s painfully obvious that they’re getting pressure from above. It’s not as if they get a commission for each ticket they write (Though you could argue that the “revenue” they bring in from all the extra citations does in some cases guarantee funding for their departments and therefore job security. It probably varies from department to department depending how each city or town structures such funding).

In closing, the article circles back to Ms. Kimel who we read about at the beginning:

”Ms. Kimel, the S.U.V. driver in Florida, will not make the numbers look any better. She has no idea whether the city will come after her for that $316 bill, but she doesn’t care.”

“I’m not paying,” she said, “because it isn’t fair.”


That’s the spirit Ms. Kimel.

(PS: Thanks to everyone who participated in last night’s open thread. That was some awesomely funny shit. I said early on I’d try to compile all the new commenter types and sub-types into a list, but never expected to get that many responses. So it may take a while. The thread’s pretty much cold now, so if you think of any more, send ‘em to the tipline. Again, thanks.)

Notice: Posted by permission of AceCorp LLC. Please e-mail overnight open thread tips to xgenghisx@gmail.com. Otherwise send tips to Ace.

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posted by xgenghisx at 07:49 PM

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