“They Would Just Be Poor Forever”

Kudos to Tim Craig with the Washington Post for finally writing a story about Abuser Fees that should have been written long ago — and confirms every worst fear that I’ve been raising on this blog all along.

Craig takes a look at the impact of Abuser Fee-like legislation where it has been tried in Michigan and New Jersey. The experience of those states shows that Virginia can expect: (a) an increase in unlicensed motorists, (b) crippling financial hardship on the working poor, and (c) less revenue than anticipated because so many of the fines go uncollected.

Writes Craig (my italics):

Numerous lawmakers, judges and social activists in both states have sought to either repeal the fees or make major changes in how they are collected. But once the programs are implemented, they are difficult to get rid of, because state lawmakers are unwilling to give up the revenue they raise, judges and lawmakers said.

“I think it is a very destructive piece of legislation that is designed primarily for revenue purposes and is disguised as a highway safety measure,” said William C. Buhl, a Circuit Court judge in Van Buren County, Mich. “In my opinion, it increases the dangers on the highways because it creates an enormous, growing pool of unlicensed motorists.” …

New Jersey issues about 800,000 license suspension notices a year, a quarter of which result when people are unable to pay the surcharges, according to the New Jersey Treasury Department. A 2001 study by the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice found that the suspensions were creating a permanent underclass. …

Michigan has issued 750,000 suspension notices for failure to pay the fees since they went into effect in October 2003. In December, Buhl and three other Michigan judges told a legislative committee that the state’s unlicensed motorists are increasing in number and are regularly fleeing police. Once caught, they face another round of fees they cannot afford.

Several judges in Michigan are taking matters into their own hands by lessening the charges for some motorists so that the fees are not triggered. “We are trying our best to get them past this rather than impose another $1,000 fine on them, or they would never drive. They would just be poor forever,” said District Court Judge Roger J. La Rose, who presides in suburban Detroit.

On the potentially positive side, the number of traffic fatalities in Michigan has declined since the abuser fees went into effect — a significant benefit. But the state police say it’s too early to say whether there is a causal connection.

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3 responses to ““They Would Just Be Poor Forever””

  1. Norman Leahy Avatar
    Norman Leahy

    My favorite quotes from the piece:

    “When Buhl heard that Virginia lawmakers were considering the fees last year, he e-mailed all 140 legislators, explaining why he thought the program was a failure in Michigan, which began assessing the fees in 2003. No one responded, Buhl said.”

    Closely followed by:

    “Had any lawmaker in Virginia called me, I would have said, ‘Don’t do it,’ ” said Tom Pearce (R-Kent), a state representative in Michigan. “An awful lot of my colleagues would not have voted on these had they understood the unintended consequences.”

    Increasingly, this all seems like a bad parody of the monorail episode from The Simpsons.

  2. Groveton Avatar

    Abuser fees are a tax just like congestion tolling is a tax.

    Both are regressive. The poor pay more in relative terms than the rich.

    Both are touted by their proponents as being a cure for bad behavior. One claims to slow the bad behavior of low density lifestyles while the other claims to slow the incidence of bad driving.

    Proponents of both claim that people can avoid the fees (or, more properly, taxes) by behaving better.

    Using public transportation or walking would change an individual’s economics with either of these fees/taxes.

    Neither one has any real empirical data to support it nor any good way of discarding the program if it turns out to be a bad idea.

    Both will have unintended consequences.

    The only difference is that the abuser fee “tax” is not regionally specific while the congestion tolling “tax” is.

    Ans, in the end, isn’t that always the issue in Virginia?

    Keeping the welfare county philosophy alive.

  3. rodger provo Avatar
    rodger provo

    To All-

    Now we learn the higher abuser driver fees that spared us a hike
    in the fuel taxes to meet on need
    for revenue for our transportation
    system will create other problems
    for us while this controversial
    tax hits Virginians, but not those
    who live outside of our state.

    Monday, two anchors on the Today
    Show while talking about this issue
    said they thought it wasn’t fair
    for Virginians and we have a right
    to be angry.

    This is a story that will have an
    impact on the fall elections.

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