Every now and then a story comes along that precisely illustrates what would happen to California taxpayers if — when facing budget problems — two-thirds of the Legislature and the governor could take the easy way out and raise taxes instead of cutting and reforming programs, and ending automatic pay raises and unjustifiable retirement benefits that exist solely as a function of union political power. The Sac Bee story about how traffic tickets cost vastly more then their nominal penalty is a perfect example. What? You think it’s your money, not the government’s? Fool. And you think the government will act fairly when it deals with you and your money? Sap.
As the Bee story makes plain, the fact the Legislature can raise fees on a simple majority vote has made for some pretty crazy hidden fees:
When you pay a citation, you aren’t just paying for your errant act. The Legislature has, for years, been adding fees to finance dozens of programs, some that aren’t even related to driving safety. …
[Consider] running a stop sign. That’s Vehicle Code Section 22450. The base fine is $35. But you’ll pay $236.
Why? Because, per the Bee, the original $35 base fine goes mainly to city and county general funds. Other mouths need to be fed:
The state, along with the county, makes a bundle off you nonetheless, thanks to an $80 state penalty assessment that’s tacked on.
Much of that $80 goes to the state’s trial court fund and the state courts construction fund. Ten dollars of it goes to the local county’s general fund, to be used any way the county wishes. Some of it gets put into the county courthouse construction fund. Seven of those dollars go to the county’s jail construction fund. A few dollars go to the county fingerprint fund, and $7 goes to an account that reimburses doctors and hospitals for unpaid emergency care for crash victims and others.
But as the Bee notes, the Legislature isn’t done yet. There are all kinds more of hidden ludicrous fees.
You’ll chip $7 directly into the state general fund via what’s called the state criminal surcharge. …
They even charge you $10 to reimburse the county court for the cost of searching the DMV database to see if you have prior convictions.
There’s $8 you pay into a state court construction fund called the Immediate and Critical Needs Account.
And add on a $4 fee for the Emergency Air Medical Transportation Act.
If you think that’s all, you’re nuts. The Democrats and unions who control the Legislature allegedly hate regressive taxes but they love them some regressive fees.
Per the Bee, you also ….
… pay a “criminal conviction assessment” of $35 that also helps pay for state court construction …. [and] $40 for what used to be the local court security fee (such as X-ray machines at the doors). It’s been expanded to cover court operations costs.
You’ll chip $16 into the state’s DNA testing program. Finally, you pay $1 to fund the county night court..
By my count, the $35 fee for running a stop sign has 11 additional levels slapped onto it by the Legislature and by local govs it delegates authority to. ELEVEN!
Now imagine if the California Legislature had the same power to raise taxes as it did fees. What would it do? Well, we have a very good parallel to look at: what the liberal, union-beholden New York state legislature did in 2009 when facing a vast revenue gap. It actually chose to increase spending by $10 billion — and paid for it with …
… 20-plus increases in taxes, fees, surcharges and assessments.
Income taxes were raised on the rich.
A popular state program providing rebates of $200 to $900 to homeowners on their school property taxes was eliminated.
An extra 1 percent tax was added on utility bills.
New taxes were imposed on HMOs; health and auto insurance; and tobacco retailers.
The excise tax on beer and wine went from 11 cents to 14 cents per gallon.
A 5-cent-per-bottle deposit was put on plastic water bottles.
Fees to register cars and boats and to get a driver’s, hunting or fishing license all went up.
That’s from a blog post I wrote in May 2009.
I know a popular current trope on the left and in the media is to rail against Mitt Romney and the Citizens United decision and the idea that corporations are people with speech rights. But why won’t the media look at what the fees story and the New York state story say about Democrats and unions and how they look at the 300 million-plus people in this country? If the right is going to be mocked for defining corporations as people, shouldn’t the left be mocked for defining poor, working-class and middle-class people as revenue machines? As the “I will work harder”/Boxer/”Animal Farm” exploited class of modern politics? The left’s relentless stealth embrace of regressive taxes at the local and state level should matter, and it should be reported on.
Why? Because at the local and state government level, the whole progressive aura of the U.S. left is an immense crock. The $236 real cost of a ticket for running a stop sign is a killer to the 99 percent, not the 1 percent. But in California, the most regressive taxes and fees of all are welcome if they keep the spigot flowing for public employee pay and benefits.
If this is social justice, social justice is a joke.