Scapegoats and Taxes in Virginia

I’ve been thinking about the incoming civil traffic fines in Virginia. What appears on the surface to be another attempt by Republicans to raise taxes without appearing to do so (yes, you read that right, Republicans), it is also a telling example of scapegoating as a political tool.

Republicans in Virginia’s state legislature have an image problem when it comes to taxes, and this cuts right to their conservative credentials. After all, aren’t liberals supposed to tax and spend while conservatives cut and save? Instead you see Bush style conservatives cut and spend (hence our magnificent national deficit), and state Republicans covertly tax and overtly spend. The interplay of tax/don’t tax is a very healthy debate to have in government. It can help keep the crazier spending to a minimum, but ensure vital spending doesn’t impact the state’s fiscal health.

The attempts to hide the new taxes are not effective at all. The Distributed Republic writes on How Republicans take more of your money. The Daily Pundit notes:

Read the whole thing, and you’ll see what happens when a state legislature decides to turn the state police into tax collectors. The people who came up with this are using the old, “If you obey the law, you have nothing to fear,” canard.

That canard is very revealing. While The Morning Brew wonders if the fines will actually prevent traffic violations, that is not what they are designed to do. While talking with my friend Gene, he presented the problem of using the police to collect taxes:

If the new fines are intended as a deterrent, you will see less violations, and hence, less revenue. If they are primarily intended as a revenue vehicle, the you are in effect imposing a tax on an activity you have no intent of stopping.

Take a look at the estimates (WaPo via Metroblogging DC):

Albo and Del. Thomas D. Rust (R-Fairfax), who co-sponsored the fee legislation, project that $65 million to $120 million will be raised annually to cover costs of snow removal, pothole repair and grass-mowing. Money for Northern Virginia’s congested roads had to come from somewhere, they reasoned, and new taxes were not going to fly in the GOP-controlled House of Delegates.

Is this law intended to discourage people from ignoring stop signs and speeding? Or is it a hidden, calculated tax imposed by a party afraid of being branded as tax-hikers? Do you think those estimates include the number of infractions decreasing?

In order to avoid the “new taxes” problem, oily Representatives Albo and Rust have decided to hide that tax in a particular grouping of people:  Those who have broken a law.  These scapegoats are always readily at hand.  It is why the debate is framed over preventing “illegals”, rather than being about all immigration.

The state of Virginia is gouging its citizens, and making a two pointed wager:   Virginians will not care since this happens to “law-breakers”, and we will be too stupid to see this as a tax.

The only lack of vision comes from the legislators who voted for this tax increase (WaPo):

Prosecutors say that in addition to possibly handling more trials, judges might suspend fines they usually impose, knowing that a heavier civil fee awaits. The money from fines will go to county governments, which could then face a decline in revenue. Funds from the new fees will go to the state.

The increase in costs to the state could offset the projected earnings for the fines.

Fortunately some people are standing up to this:

Michael S. Davis, a veteran Fairfax defense attorney, said he plans to file a legal challenge to the fees the first time he encounters them. “If somebody from out of state does not have to pay the same price,” Davis said, “I think there’s clearly an equal-protection issue” under the U.S. Constitution.

He’ll be joined in the next election cycle by Virginia voters.



3 Responses

  1. If speed traps and random stops rise dramatically, especially around the end of the month, then you will have your answer.

  2. 1. Rafael,
    I doubt they will be so obvious, but the incentive will be there. What I am doubting you will see is a decrease in stops.

  3. […] Scapegoats and Taxes in Virginia « Fitness for the Occasion Scapegoats and Taxes in Virginia […]

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