Ticketing and Fining Your Way to Solvency: A Chicago StoryPosted: October 28, 2011
If you open a newspaper in Chicago these days, you see city floating one crackpot scheme after another to raise cash. One day its ticketing half a million dog owners at $100 or $200 a pop – over 95% of Chicago dogs are unlicensed. The next day it’s a plan to put in automated cameras that lead to speeding tickets over half the city. The next day it’s about fining those who don’t shovel their driveways. The next it’s about making bicycle riders in the city pay a registration fee. And on and on and on.
With the economy in the crapper and incoming tax revenues at an all-time low as a result, local governments across the country, are trying all sorts of strange and dubious plans to make ends meet. In Chicago, things are doubly bad, in that tax revenues were already plummeting due to the loss of convention business to competition from other cities over the last decade.
Chicago appears to be headed down a very stupid path in an effort to raise revenues: ticketing and fining everything under the sun. These kinds of efforts are dishonest, cowardly, inefficient, intrusive, ineffective and cruel, and should be rejected in favor of straightforward spending cuts and/or tax increases (running a deficit is also an option, though a harder one than for the federal government, which pays much lower interest rates).
Let me explain:
1) Dishonest. In each case some sort of public good is asserted – preventing rabies, preventing car accidents in school zones, making sure driveways are plowed – when anyone who’s paying the slightest bit of attention sees these efforts for what they are – a cash grab. In fact, some indiscrete officials have said these areas are great potential revenue sources, while the official line is about the public good. This kind of dishonesty breeds cynicism about and alienation from our government.
2) Cowardly. Refusing to talk about the real issue, making ends meet, or a possible tax raise, is cowardice – it’s a divide and conquer strategy – pass fees/fines to people who “deserve it” in a way that it’s not as unpopular as a straight up tax increase.
3) Inefficient. This is probably the biggest reason to reject these schemes. The amount of time and money it takes to ticket people, collect the money, prosecute those who don’t pay, etc., means that we’re wasting money in a situation where resources are scarce. A straight up tax will cost us less.
4) Intrusive. A ticket or fine is much more of an intrusive pain in the ass than an automatic tax.
5) Ineffective over the long haul. This another big reason to reject these schemes. They are one-time cash grabs that put government in the same fix the following year, since people wise up and get their dogs licensed or don’t speed in camera areas or whatever, and the revenue dries up.
6) Cruel. These kinds of efforts are in effect, an extremely regressive tax that hits those struggling with the economy the hardest.
So Chicago, and every other municipality struggling with a budget crunch, do the right thing: cut services, raise taxes or run a deficit. Don’t try the kind of cowardly nonsense whose only advantage is to protect your political rear end.
For those in Chicago, you can make your feelings known toMayor Rahm Emanuel’s office by calling 311 or using the city’s online contact form.