It's no secret that municipal finances are imploding under the weight of falling income, sales, and property tax revenues. Unfortunately, with no real sign of a rebound in hiring or housing prices, and with consumers saving more and spending less, there's little hope of a reversal of fortunes, at least in the short-term.
So, what's a cash-strapped municipality to do?
Why, step up collection of the enforcement tax, of course.
In Virginia Hands Out 6996 Traffic Tickets In One Weekend In An Effort To Raise Revenue For The State Government," The Economic Collapse blog chronicles the spread of what will likely be an increasingly popular trend:
In the old days, police officers wrote traffic tickers primarily to keep people safe and to prevent citizens from breaking the traffic laws. But in the new Amerika, all of that has changed. Now traffic tickets are primarily viewed as a revenue raising tool for state and local governments. For example,a federally funded ticketing blitz in the state of Virginia resulted in a total of 6996 traffic tickets being handed out this past weekend. This most recent ticketing blitz is part of a campaign code-named "Operation Air, Land & Speed". Last Saturday and Sunday state troopers were ordered to absolutely saturate Interstate 95 and Interstate 81 and to issue as many traffic tickets as humanly possible during those two days. Why? Well, it turns out that the state of Virginia has a 2.2 billion dollar budget deficit that they are trying to deal with, and so they need to find some quick sources of cash.
You see, state and local governments all over the nation are massively jacking up traffic fines and are starting to write a lot more tickets in an attempt to "enhance" their streams of revenue.
In other words, state and local governments across the U.S. are broke and so they need some suckers to prey on.
Not that it was ever a good idea to break the traffic laws. But now even a minor violation can put a massive hole in your wallet. For instance, driving as little as 15 miles an hourover thespeedlimit in Virginia can get you a reckless driving charge that can carrya fine of up to $2500.
So why the hefty fines?
Well, the law increasing the traffic fines in Virginia clearly admitted why they are so high....
"The purpose of the civil remedial fees imposed in this section is to generate revenue."(Virginia Code 46.2-206.1)
Are you starting to get the picture?
But this kind of thing is not just happening in Virginia.
"Sobriety checkpoints" in the state of California are increasingly being used as revenue raising operations. It turns out that these sobriety checkpoints are far more likely to seize cars from unlicensed motorists than they are to catch drunk drivers.
So how profitable are these "sobriety" checkpoints?
Well, research done by the Investigative Reporting Program at UC Berkeley with California Watch discovered that impounds at "sobriety" checkpoints in 2009 alone generated approximately 40 million dollars in towing fees and police fines.
That is what you call a source of revenue.
In Detroit, even the police admit that the fundamental nature of police work is changing. Just consider the following quote from from Police Chief Michael Reaves of Utica, Michigan....
"When I first started in this job 30 years ago, police work was never about revenue enhancement, but if you’re a chief now, you have to look at whether your department produces revenues."
Sgt. Richard Lyons of Trenton, Michigan is even more blunt about what is happening in his community....
"They’re trying to use police officers to balance the budget on the backs of drivers, and it’s too bad. The people we count on to support us and help us when we’re on the road are the ones who end up paying the bills, and they’re ticked off about it. We might as well just go door to door and tell people, ‘Slide us $100 now since your 16-year-old is going to end up paying us anyway when he starts driving.’ You can’t blame people for getting upset."
But some localities are converting to even more automated ways of making money from drivers.
For example, "red-light cameras" have become huge revenue raising tools in many areas of the country. In Los Angeles, revenue from red-light cameras has doubled from $200,000 a month in 2007 to $400,000 a month at the end of 2009.
California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger wants cities and counties in his state to take thing seven farther. He wants them to install speed sensors on existing red-light cameras. Speeders caught by these sensors would face fines ranging from $225 to $325.
Don't all of us wish we could start a business that could make so much money from each customer?
California state officials believe that these speed sensors would raise more than 300 million dollars for the state of California by the end of 2011.
All of this is enough to make one want to drive like a grandmother.
Except then they would get you for going too slow.
The reality is that you have to be very, very careful out there now because the nature of driving in America has fundamentally changed.
Whether it is rapidly increasing traffic fines or all of the toll roads going in everywhere, American drivers are increasingly being viewed as a big fat revenue source.
And as the current economic collapse gets even worse, drivers are going to be preyed upon even more by state and local governments.
If you have not already done so, now is the time to change the way that you drive. Don't give state and local governments an excuse to take even more of your hard-earnedmoney from you than they are already.