Saturday, June 23, 2007

Fines Are Not Fine

Virginia has come up with a new way to "discourage" bad driving. It also helps fill their coffers at the same time, which is just a coincidence for sure. You will be penalized with a $1,050 fine from the state in addition to the $200 from the judge. This is not about budget money generation at all. Or, so the state attempts to say with a straight face.

In Finland, you are fined as a percentage of your paycheck. Bill Gates would not be discouraged from speeding by a $1,000 fine. It would be just a little tax on his ability to get places early, typically without being caught. A wealthy man in Finland learned that the hard way when he was fined $208,847 for his infraction. That is enough bite for even the wealthy to start noticing. If the real goal of hefty fines is prevention, it must be based on income. It is now a regressive tax on the poor and the working class.

People have been hoodwinked into wanting lower taxes across the board. States then are screamed at by the same people demanding services. So, we get fees and fines. It would be like demanding your taxes being cut from $1.00 to five quarters, but math isn't the strong suit for many people.

Clich├ęd it may be, but the poor are especially hard hit. If you make $7.25 an hour, a $15 fee to use a state park is going to be noticed. Insurance, dmv fees, bank fees, smog check fees, sales tax, fica, and a whole range of ways we are nickle and dimed with all hit the poorest the deepest. Often these services, as well as groceries, household goods are more expensive in real dollars in poor neighborhoods. Let's not even get into rent to own, and check cashing places that hone into these communities like vultures at a glimpse of carrion.

If Americans could start being more adult about the need for taxes, we could eliminate many of these fees. Economic mobility was one of the keys to our rapid growth. Let's not criminalize people economically for being poor. We already do that with the justice system.