Backlash Against the VA Driving Tax

The new civil fees(pdf) being imposed in Virginia have generated backlash.  Looking at the fees, the smallest fine listed is $250.  What many don’t realize is that is an annual fee.  The total cost would be $750.  Thats mandatory.  There is no room for a judge to reduce the cost of a ticket.

Another problem with this law is it creates an additional motivation to issue potentially discriminatory traffic tickets.  Forget to signal?  That’s now a cash cow for the state.  Have you checked your tires lately?

Starting today, driving on bald tires could cost you $900 under new Virginia driving laws created to pay for road improvements.

Police have been assigned the role of tax collectors for the state of Virginia, and residents are sounding off about it:

Mayor Susan P. Irving […] can’t abide that “civil remedial fees” that took effect Sunday apply only to Virginians, not the out-of-state motorists who throttle into her town.

On talk radio, blogs and in letters to the editor, Virginians like her are sounding off about a burden only they bear while nonresident bad drivers are exempt.

The NYTimes has more:

“They’re ridiculous,” said Aaron Quinn, a spokesman for the National Motorists Association, which claims about 6,000 members. The very legislation that created the penalties “says its purpose is to generate revenue,” Mr. Quinn said, adding: “It’s essentially a tax on drivers and has nothing to do with safety. There is no evidence that increasing fines increases safety.”

And the backlash is bipartisan against a bill written by a Republican, and signed into law by a Democrat.  Even the ultra-conservative washington times is on this:

But $1,050 for driving 20 mph over the speed limit is predatory, tax-and-spend government at its worst. For families in the middle or at the bottom of the economic ladder, this reaches 4 percent and 5 percent of annual take-home income. Government is supposed to serve the people, not fine and tax them toward the poor house for what amounts to ordinary behavior.

Some legislators like Terry Kilgore (R) are joining governor Kaine in taking another look at the bill:

Nonetheless, he admitted that since the public became aware of the fees, there’s been such an uproar that the General Assembly may have to revisit the law.

“We don’t want it to cast too wide a net,” he said.

The 1st District delegate said the law was the brainchild of Delegate Dave Albo, R-Fairfax, who based it on similar legislation in New Jersey and Texas.

The fees were adopted as part of the overall transportation funding package, he said, and during negotiations of the package nobody brought up the concerns that are now surfacing.

Kilgore said once the legislation was approved and signed, the Virginia Supreme Court compiled a list of offenses to which the law would apply and, “once I saw the list, I knew things need to be looked at again.”

But Kilgore fundamentally misrepresents the law and the surrounding discussion:

This list, he added, is also in part responsible for much of the misinformation being circulated.

In a letter he has drafted to constituents concerned about the fees, Kilgore said the basic premise of the transportation abuser fee is that Virginia’s most dangerous drivers should proportionately pay their share for safety improvements to roadways rather than placing the bulk of the burden on the general public. The possibility of being assessed these fees is meant to serve as a deterrent to unsafe driving since the fees are targeting habitual offenders and extremely reckless drivers.

How is the list of offenses helping spread misinformation?  You would think knowing the violations which trigger the mandatory fines would be informative.  Additionally, Kilgore is wrong to represent the fees as “a deterrent”.  If they are meant to be a state fundraiser, they are counting on violations.  This isn’t about safety.  Its about taxes.  As Todd Foster writes, this is about “Virginia legislators too spineless to raise the outdated gas tax to pay for highway maintenance”.

Nick wonders whether this is a fine or a fee, and answers:

Their chief complaints: The fees are outrageously high, and they apply only to Virginians – not to out-of-state drivers.

The “fines” are actually “fees” because they are administrative rather than judicial. They are not meant as less a punishment for wrongdoing but rather than as a revenue source for highways.

Nick’s assessment of the bill is right on:

I’ve long ago suspected that if government didn’t make as much money as they did off of traffic violations, that the 55 mph speed limit would have gone the way of the dodo long ago.  Almost nobody obeys it, and there is very little need to.  Cars are significantly safer today than 20 or 30 years ago, and not just in a crash.  Suspensions and steering improvements make 55 mph laughably slow.  No… this is selective taxation.  It’s like a reverse lottery ticket.  If you’re unlucky enough to get pulled over, then you get to pay for some highway.

But he’s made a really interesting catch with regard to the Bill’s Republican sponsor:

But who on Earth would come up with such an egregiously selective and arbitrary law?  The part of the story that few people seem to be catching onto is that the architect of this law is a Virginia state legislator who just happens to also own a law firm which specializes in… wait for it… defending people charged with traffic violations!

The self-described “chief architect” for this bill is Delegate David Albo. Albo boasts on his website that he’s worked for 20 months to bring this bill into law. What his website doesn’t mention is that when Albo isn’t legislating tough new laws aimed at Virginia‘s motorists, he’s representing those same motorists in court.

That’s right. Albo’s a lawyer. And not just any lawyer. The firm that bears his name specializes in traffic law, particularly in representing people charged with DWI and reckless driving. And yes, that’s the firm’s actual URL:

Isn’t that graft?  It appears as though the media is picking up on the potential problems(via Terminal Chaosity):

But the hefty penalties could be a bonanza for the politically connected law firms that chase down unpaid court fines.

The contracts are awarded by local commonwealth’s attorneys, who get campaign contributions from the lawyers they hire.

This bill is a mess, from start to finish.  But when you look at what went into passing this bill and the motivations of its sponsors, it really starts to stink.


8 Responses

  1. Here are my concerns:
    1- Are you trying to tell me (as a VA resident) that you are favoring me by passing this law?
    2- Who is overlooking enforcement of this law? How will you make sure it won’t be abused?
    3- To whom ever suggested this law: Did you talk to the people you represent? How many of them were in favor?
    4- Punishment might be necessary but should not be a goal, Please make sure it is included in any bill you pass. We are the one who give you this power don’t cut the branch that you are sitting on

  2. Jon,
    1-Yes they are trying to say this. They are trying to have it both ways. “It will make the roads safer”, and “it will be a reliable source of income”. Both, as isolated items, would be beneficial. Virginia does need more money for the roads, and safer roads would be nicer.
    2-Very good question. This law creates an incentive for abuse.
    3-Another good question. I’m betting its down to a “few concerned citizens” at best. Certainly his law firm would be in favor.
    4-The question is appropriate punishment for the crime. These already exist. The “fees” are nothing more than taxes using civil violations as a cover.

    Glad to know another VA resident is against this ill advised law!

  3. […] 2007 There is a growing chorus against the civil fees for traffic violations in Virginia. As noted before the bill’s author David Albo has an obvious conflict of interest: What’s […]

  4. Oh ,how I am looking forward to the next election!
    Now it is so blatantly obvious to even those who pay zero attention the types of corrupt bastards that are running our state government.

    It seems pure stupidity not to recognize that the tourists whom you do not want to tick off DO NOT VOTE IN VIRGINIA!.

  5. Come on people, if you obey the trafic laws out there you have no worries. So how about you actually do the speed limits, actually use your turn signals, etc, and stop whinning about how this is so unfair. You voted on it people of Virginia, now live with your “No New Tax” laws.

  6. Michael,
    Right On!
    If everyone obeys the traffic laws, no extra funding, and hence no point to the fees. VA is counting on it, and blatantly imposing excessive fees as a hidden tax. Just because the people targeted violated traffic laws don’t mean they are no longer entitled to the protection of the law.

    I personally was not around for any “No New Tax” initiatives, and would gladly work to repeal them. When you need taxes, you raise taxes and cut spending. Alternatives like this are ridiculous.

  7. Hey Richard,
    Why don’t we just lock them all up until they pay those huge fines.
    Just because we don’t plan to kill someone doesn’t mean that killers shouldn’t be protected by the law. Unfair is unfair. Go ahead look the other way. I won’t be looking the other way when I get to vote again.

  8. yes this bill is not fair to the people of va.i my self is in for a fight against this bill. I will use what the 2 judges that have already ruled against this bill have said THIS BILL IS UNFAIR in my defence .
    All I have to say to anyoneis to know the speed limit of the road you drive on if you dont then go 45 cause if you go any slower .you can get a ticket for that..Im referring to back country roads where the speed is only posted at the starte of the road so dont come onto it off a side road..

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