Building Roads With Regressive Taxes

One of the most egregious provisions of the Transportation Compromise bill (AKA Bill Howell’s Tax Increase), is the provision calling for fines and penalties on abusive drivers. The thinking has been that abusive drivers cause accidents, which cause delays and thereby contribute to the transportation gridlock.

Two House Delegates from Northern Virginia, Dave Albo (R-Fairfax) and Tom Rust (R-Herndon) have been on a single-minded pursuit of enacting super penalties on abusive drivers that can be used to fund transportation. For three years now, they have been reintroducing similar versions of a bill that will raise traffic fines and penalize repeat traffic violators with additional penalties–bills that been plagued with constitutional and legal questions. (For example see “Taxing Drivers” or “Why Not A Ticket for Tax Abuse.”)

Albo and Rust started out proposing that anyone with four points on their driver’s license be required to pay up to $700 a year in additional penalties. Getting four points nowadays is easy; you can be an example driver and all it takes is one moving violation to get enough points classifying you an “abusive driver” under the Albo/Rust definition.

Based on the outcry generated about the bill’s retroactive provisions (penalties applied retroactively are illegal both under the U.S. and Virginia constitution) they had to relent and increase the outstanding points from four to eight. Furthermore, before existing points would be counted, one needed to get one additional citation after July 1, 2007.

What is missed in the discussion over the definition of “traffic abusers” or “abusive drivers” is the fact that another section of the same bill calls for levying unheard of penalties for even one minor traffic violation. For example, if a driver with a perfect record gets a moving citation he or she will face fines and penalties well exceeding $1,000–regardless of their prior driving record. The only break they get is that they’ll pay the additional penalties called for in this bill over a three year period.

In other words, you can have a perfect driving record over let’s say 20 years, but you’re still going to get saddled paying fines and penalties exceeding $1,000 for a minor moving violation–all in the name of solving our transportation gridlock. Needless to say, these sort of penalties are regressive and will have a severe impact on low and moderate income families (many of whom are minorities). How can the GOP claim that it is cares about low and moderate income families and minorities when it passes this type of legislation?

These sort of bills bolster the Democrat argument that the GOP is the party of the rich and doesn’t care about the poor or working middle-class families.

More next on equal protection–our fundamental legal principle that we’re all equal under the law…

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9 responses to “Building Roads With Regressive Taxes”

  1. Darrell -- Chesapeake Avatar
    Darrell — Chesapeake

    Well I’ll tell you what’s fixin to happen down here in Tidewater. They’s gonna be an old fashioned tax rebellion. Portsmouth just got their new assessements today, around a 20 percent increase. When you are talking a buck thirty per hundred that ain’t small potatoes.

    If the trend holds, that means the other cities residents can expect a 30 to 40 percent hit once again. They weren’t real happy last year. Or the year before that.

    Now, I would be embarassed to list my house for what the city says it’s worth. I would be wasting the realtors time. My neighbor’s is listed for 30k less than the assessment and nary a soul has come by to look at it. Heck the neighbor hasn’t even lived there in over a year.

    Then along comes the GOBs with their delusions of regional government and taxes. Wanna know what’s going to be the response? Come November they are going to be the guest of honor, serving as the pivot man in a circle of really ticked off citizens.

    The ABR Party is gettin stronger every day.

  2. Phil Rodokanakis Avatar
    Phil Rodokanakis

    Darrell — Chesapeake:

    Whatever you all do down there, make sure you drive the speed limit and don’t run any red lights, otherwise the traffic fines and penalties you pay if this bill gets enacted into law may come close to covering a significant portion of your property tax bills…

  3. Darrell -- Chesapeake Avatar
    Darrell — Chesapeake

    Just the beginning. The rest of these cities need to get with the program and form a regional operation.

  4. Darrell -- Chesapeake Avatar
    Darrell — Chesapeake

    The ABR Party just keeps getting bigger.

    Too Bad GOBs, you screwed up.

  5. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    Phil, there is an element of logic to the penalties: Reckless drivers are more likely to cause traffic accidents, which cause the worst congestion incidents. It makes sense to punish reckless driving.

    But I totally agree with you it is wrong to apply the fines ex post facto.

    Here’s another question I have: To what extent will raising fines actually deter reckless driving? Presumably, the existing fines were set at their current levels for a reason. Does deterrence increase in lockstep with higher fines, or does the deterrent effect level off even as fines increase?

    If this issue were shorn from its money-raising context, surely these this is a question that people would ask: Will the fines have the deterrent effect they are designed to?

    There’s another issue that someone raised in the past on this blog: If penalties go through the roof, won’t people be more likely to contest the traffic fines? What will happen to traffic courts? Won’t they get jammed? Of course, the traffic-defense attorneys will make out like bandits.

  6. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    I think this is a dumb idea.

    My wife had a “true” accident recently. She pulled out and got tagged and got charged.

    She doesn’t have a reckless bone in his body.. she just misjudged and the person who hit her was going faster than she should have been but it came down to yielding the right of way.

    She would be very upset to know that she would be classified as an abusive driver, get a $1000 fine and God knows what happens to our insurance rates even if we managed to keep it.

    this is a dumb idea… I cannot believe that out of the universe of ideas that are available to deal with our transportation challenges that someone thought of this particular idea – much less a majority of our elected reps agreed it was a good idea.

    What planet are the guys in the GA on?

  7. Reid Greenmun Avatar
    Reid Greenmun

    Yes, reakless drivers cause accidents – but so too are accidents caused by bad weather and confusing road signs for people driving where they are not familiar and trying to find their destination.

    Not all “speeding” is really “reackless” – but the law doesn’t allow for this truth to enter into the legal proceeding.

    Many speed limits are far too low – and driving faster than the posted speed limit is NOT being “reckless” – in fact, moving with the normal flow of traffic can be SAFER as it doesn’t cause drivers to try to drive around slower moving vehicles and weave in and out of traffic lanes.

    Over congested highways and poorly designed construction work areas cause accidents too – with a highway suddenly coming to a stand still in one lane, and the lane on ether side traveling at speeds up to 50 mph.

    This language misses the mark because it doesn’t restrict the heavy fines to those that caused accidents, it will “punish” those that had an accident through a situation that others caused and they were caught up in.

    Meanwhile, as I have repeatedly written here and elsewhere, WHERE in any of these bills are provisions to expedite the CLEARING of accidents from the roadways??

    Folks, it is MIA!

    You see, let’s be honest – HB 3202 has little to do with reducing traffic congestion.

    It has everything to do with:

    (1) A confusing Stealth Tax Hike by the GOP lead GA

    (2) Standing up all-appointed Regional Government and hiding the bond debt in new authorities – also bypassing the referenda and voter approval process.

    (3) Creating a way for the GA to pass “blame” off on unaccountable regional authorities to provide political cover for the GA and local government directly elected politicians

    (4) Policial cover for GOP GA candidates worried about the Democrat Party gaining control over redistricting

    (5) Political tactics to TRY to set up the GOP for winning the next Governor’s race – gee, wasn’t AG Bob McDonnell in the middle of the “compromise” arm wringing? No, he isn’t going to run for Governor – nawwww.

    If reducing the traffic congestion due to traffic accidents was really the goal – then HB 3202 would have included money dedicated to more equipment and training special for MORE incident response teams that could clear accidents faster. HB 3202 would have included FINES for tow truck operators and slow-to-respond local law enforcement and state police departments when they take too long to clear an accident.

    HB 3202 would also include FINES for road construction areas that clog traffic that exceed their scheduled deadlines or drag out road construction for far too long.

    This is done now with total impunity.

    What wasn’t done by HB 3202 is revealing.

    I believe that HB 3202 is not serious about reducing traffic congestion at all – “traffic congestion” just the justification used by politicians (mostly Republicans) for inflicting another tax hike (when we had a Billion Dollar tax Surplus!!!!) – and used as another way to usurp the power of voters – by creatring more all-appointed regional governments.

  8. Anonymous Avatar

    This portion of the bill has always irritated me. It was even worse when the fines were retroactive, but this version isn’t much better.

    I disagree with Phil’s interpretation that the GA is giving drivers a break and allowing the fines to be paid over a three-year period. The bill reads that the drivers “shall be assessed a fee to be paid in three annual payments of $1,000 each”. To me, that means a felony infraction will cost the driver $3,000. The bill also sets different fines for driving on a suspended license, reckless driving, driving while intoxicated, and any misdemeanor driving-related violation with the same three-year payment.

    The bill gets even worse with the demerit point piece. Drivers with eight or more demerit points must pay an annual fine of $100 plus $75 for every point above eight. Check out the list of demerit points on DMV’s website at

    Getting caught tomorrow going above 80mph is reckless driving, which gets you six demerit points on your record for the next 11 years. Under the provisions of the bill, a decade later, you could be nabbed for any one of the relatively minor three-point violations and pay $175 for the next couple years. How is that aimed at targeting those “drivers whose proven dangerous driving behavior places significant financial burdens upon the Commonwealth”?

    The more the one reads the abusive driver section of the bill, the more it becomes clear that the GA is simply targeting a segment of the driving population who don’t have a lobby to fight for them. Who is going to stand up on the behalf of drunk drivers and those with road rage? And who should? I certainly think a DUI ought to cost more if it prevents somebody from driving drunk. But the bill does not allow for any discretion. The fines even apply to drivers who violate laws in other states. The bill defines a conviction as “a conviction under substantially similar laws of any locality, territory, other state, or of the United States, shall be a conviction.” How is this targeting abusive Virginia drivers, when violations 1,000 miles away count?

    Bills introduced in the GA in the past have given judges discretion to increase fines on drivers whose abusive behavior could be proven to have cause traffic delay. This bill makes no separation between getting picked up in the middle of the night on a desolate highway or causing an accident in rush hour. It is just a way for the legislature to avoid making hard revenue-raising decisions and pick low-hanging fruit. The severity of the punishment ought to be related to the severity of the crime, not how desperate the state is for cash.

  9. Phil Rodokanakis Avatar
    Phil Rodokanakis

    Jim Bacon said: “Reckless drivers are more likely to cause traffic accidents, which cause the worst congestion incidents. It makes sense to punish reckless driving.”

    Jim, I agree. However, the question rests on what criteria you use to define reckless drivers.

    I think you’ll agree that if a driver gets a moving violation once every five or ten years they are not reckless drivers. Yet, under the current bill, we penalize these persons with fines and penalties exceeding $1,000, which I think you would agree are excessive.

    Furthermore, just because a driver gets a few speeding tickets, that doesn’t necessarily make him a reckless driver. I’m sure there are countless of drivers out there that have gotten a number of speeding tickets, but have never been involved in an accident. Are those reckless drivers?

    According to the impact statement prepared for the earlier bill submitted by Del. Albo, 2006 HB 314, there were 248,058 violations in FY2005 for the type of misdemeanors traffic citations covered in the bill. And the impact statement for 2006 HB 527, says that according to FY2005 data, some 470,000 drivers have accumulated demerit points that range from 4 to more than 12 points. Interestingly, the impact statements for the bills submitted this year are silent as to how many drivers will be affected.

    There are some 5.4 million registered drivers in Virginia. According to the Albo and Rust definitions that were carried over into HB 3202, close to 10 percent of all registered drivers are reckless. If 10% of the licensed drivers drove recklessly I would suspect that traffic would have come to a standstill by now.

    Obviously, there is little correlation between issued citations and actual cases of reckless driving. So to use this system to collect additional revenues in the name of raising money for transportation makes little sense. A traffic fine should stand on its own—the punishment should be commensurate to the underlying offense and traffic citations should not be used to raise revenues for the state.

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