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Traffic Fines Hurt the Poor

A city that's facing a budget crisis yet also feeling constrained in its power to raise taxes is hitting citizens with increased parking-related fees instead.

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Details from the L.A. Weekly:

In the city budget, which was $7.1 billion in fiscal year 2008-2009, property taxes bring in 23 cents of each dollar, and sales taxes 4.7 cents. Another 14.3 cents comes from "other fees, fines and taxes," including 2.1 cents from parking fines, which alone are almost as important to city coffers as sales tax.

With revenues from once-lucrative sources like hotel-bed taxes and sales tax plummeting, and little help from the county, state and bailout-bound federal government, the mayor and City Council are looking at even bigger fines -- which some say is patently unfair in an economic downturn.

"Fines should not be designed for revenue raising," says USC's [Law professor Thomas] Griffith. "The reason we should have fines is to discourage wrongful behavior. But fines are intrusive, require court time, and there's a certain randomness to getting caught."....

"Poor people pay a higher proportion of their income in fines than they would in tax," says Griffith. "For a person making $200,000, a $500 traffic fine is a tiny part of their income. If you make $30K, that $500 is a huge portion of your income...."


And the city is making things even tougher on those who run afoul of parking rules:

In late 2008, the council and Villaraigosa doubled to $100 the "vehicle release" surcharge for every poor sucker who gets his or her car towed. The extra revenue from all this is not being earmarked for the upgrading of streets or the relief of congestion. It is poured into the growing budget-deficit hole.

Now, the City Council is considering a rule to allow cars to be either "booted" or towed and impounded (more likely towed and impounded, since the city would reap a daily $35 storage fee) after only three unpaid tickets, rather than five. The scheme would slam L.A.'s unemployed and poor, many of whom aren't paying tickets because they're broke....The plan to snatch cars after three instead of five unpaid tickets would raise an extra $60 million or so per year.

So some cash-poor residents are asking the courts for community service.....Community service is typically valued at $8 per hour, according to a courthouse worker -- the California minimum wage. Working off a $446 red light-camera traffic fine would require more than 55 hours of, say, picking up trash.

The city is planning to greatly expand the number of intersections with highly lucrative red-light cameras. The Weekly notes that, of course, the City Council has exempted itself from having to pay parking tickets

From Streetsblog LA, an archive of stories related to traffic enforcement in Los Angeles. And Metblogs LA has a set of specifically parking meter related complaints.

The image associated with this post was taken by compujeramey. It was used under user Creative Commons license.

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