When Local Governments See Red, You May See Blue

Police - seen in Long Beach, CA
According to Fox News, drivers around the country better beware or they’ll need more than a seat belt to protect their wallets. In one of the years biggest NO KIDDING moments, an article in February’s Journal of Law and Economics finds that local governments tighten traffic enforcement during hard times. St Louis Fed Vice President Thomas Garrett and Gary Wagner, professor at the University of Arkansas Little Rock, examined revenue and traffic citation data from 1990 to 2003 in 96 counties in North Carolina and found that not only do municipalities tighten enforcement, but fines increase as well. (Psst: guess what? They never lower them!)

Does anyone else wonder why revenue needs dictate enforcement?

In Arkansas, the seat belt law was altered so that troopers can pull a driver over to issue a citation. Formerly, they were only able to issue a seat belt citation as an “add on” if they pulled a driver over for some other violation.

In Pensacola, Florida, parking in front of a fire hydrant went from a $10 fine to a $100 fine.

The Boston Herald obtained a memo from Malden, Mass., Police Chief Kenneth Coye insisting that officers bring in revenue for the city by writing at least one parking or traffic ticket each shift. He took things even further by advocating that tickets are essential for maintaining quality of life in the city.

We need to increase enforcement in areas that create revenue … write ‘ONE TAG A DAY. –Chief Coye

Have you ever had a broken headlight or taillight? When’s the last time you checked? Citations in California for things as simple as a broken headlight, which didn’t even get a citation previously, have escalated to $100 or more. A recently approved bill raised the fines on all traffic tickets by at least $35.

Virginia made national news when they raised speeding ticket fines to over $1,000 on state residents. What’s funny is that out of state residents were exempted in the original legislation.

Here’s the problem

These governments have come to rely on other sources of income and spent it like, well, like legislators. There was no long term planning, no fiscal responsibility, and what happened? They ran out of money when their tax base dried up.

What will happen now? People will inspect their cars, they will slow down, closely monitor where they park, and wear their seat belts. Local governments should rejoice, right? WRONG! With compliance comes another drop in revenue!


If you want more of something, reward it. If you want less, punish it — but don’t ever be surprised by the creativity of your fellow humans!

All actions have an equal and opposite reaction.

The action we need from our government isn’t more fines, more rules, and more regulation, it’s more fiscally responsible spending. Less pork, more accountability. Does the mayor of Memphis really need a city-paid-for $70,000 Escalade with his own city-paid-for driver to take him to Starbucks?

Though these are “voluntary” taxes on our economy, I would suggest you do inspect your vehicle, slow down, be careful to park only in approved areas, and wear that seat belt!

But hey, we elected these people. If you’re tired of the charades and shenanigans, elect new ones — but change them often.

photo credit: cliff1066

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