Thursday, November 26, 2015 • 09:11

Taxes on demand

August 01, 2013
I'd love to have someone pay me $17 for my signature. The closest thing I ever came to that was when I was signing copies of my first book and someone said he'd pay me NOT to sign it. And people wonder how I have remained so humble all these years!

When I last visited the Sheriff's substation in Valley Center, I noticed a sign in the lobby that said that people who come to get their fix-it tickets signed off must now pay $17. I asked the sergeant about it, and he told me that it had been there for quite some time. I didn't ask him if there had been complaints about it. So consider this a complaint.

The jokes just write themselves for this, but I'm going to refrain from making them because I like individual deputies, although I don't have much use for their boss, Sheriff Gore, mainly because of his stupid policy of concealed carry. I presume that the $17 charge probably originated at the top.

Having to pay $17 for some Sheriff's deputy's John Hancock annoys me and it ought to annoy you too, especially if you are tired of the various levels of government nickel and diming us all to death!

Tennessee law professor Glenn Reynolds has observed in his paper Ham Sandwich Nation: Due Process When Everything is a Crime, that our laws have become so complex and tortuous that just about everyone is guilty of some sort of crime every time he or she gets into his car and starts driving, or engages in virtually any other activity.

When everyone is guilty of something, it's very easy for law enforcement to find a reason to issue citations, although Reynolds worries more about the opportunity it gives ambitious prosecutors to trump up charges against people they want to punish for whatever reasons, like political opponents. Thank goodness that doesn't happen much and that truly scary organizations like the IRS are also above reproach.

Fortunately, law enforcement agencies use fix-it citations and red light cameras as revenue generators—nothing more venal than that. Nobody, certainly not I, believes that when an officer gives you a ticket because your car's rear light has a crack in it that it's because he cares about your safety. And if I ever did believe that, the fact that we must now pay money for another officer to sign off on the ticket convinces me of its fallacy.

And, since police always insist there is no such thing as a "fix-it" ticket, that we are actually being issued citations for an infraction, but that the charge is dismissed when you prove that the reason for it no longer exists, we find ourselves vulnerable to instant, on-the-spot taxation at government whim.

Fix-it tickets amount to ad hoc taxes imposed on motorists.

In the same vein the state of California's annual $150 "fee" for rural residents has nothing whatsoever to do with fire prevention and has a lot to do with backfilling Cal Fire's budget as much as possible so that it doesn't have to cut personnel.

I've been convinced for years that if motorists started to drive the speed limit on our interstate highways that Sacramento would be forced to lower the limit to keep revenue flowing.

Misadventure plays as much a role in getting a ticket as actual speeding since, as we see, everyone violates the law. Perhaps it would be more fair for everyone to be forced to play a "negative lottery," in which the losers would have to pony up $10, $20, or in the case of a catastrophic jackpot, $1,000.

Wait a minute! Didn't I just see a movie about that?

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