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California Cities Seek New Sources of Revenue

Posted by Rick · January 5th, 2004 · No Comments

California’s cities are looking for new sources of revenue due to the Governator’s decimation of their budgets by repealing the car tax. He did this immediately after the farcical show we Californians nostalgically refer to as “the election” wherein big business hires actors to pretend to be knowledgable political and social engineers to front for them, presumably because Americans would not simply turn over California directly to a corporation or conglomerate of corporations.

And there’s no lack of creativity in finding new ways to get that money — it’s just going to cost the taxpayers even more to give it to them now than it did in the past. For example, Los Angeles and Berkeley, among others, are planning to sue the state for replacement revenues. If they do, it will not matter whether Californians pay the original tax which would have kept these cities going without the lawsuits, or not. The loss to Californians will eventually be significantly higher than the original tax would have been. And this will happen even if the cities eventually lose the lawsuits. Why? Elementary, my dear Watson: Legal fees.

Other changes are already becoming noticeable as well, but are doomed for the long-term.

For example, another way in which cities’ attempts at raising revenue will hurt us more than taxes relates to traffic flows.

Where I live, recent letters to the editor of the Fresno Bee included complaints about speed traps that have popped up in particularly critical arteries, combined with (so the word goes) a lowering of the speed limit below that for which the streets were designed. In response to the standard political answer that this was being done for public safety and not to boost speeding ticket revenues, it was countered that other significant traffic flows were not being similarly impacted. Herndon Avenue, which cuts across north Fresno, is a very busy street, but more difficult to police; there aren’t many hiding places and the flow would make it difficult for even motorcycle police to chase down a speeder once he’s gone past — the traffic is that thick. Yet the incidents of reckless speeders is higher than — as is the speed limit — than in arteries that are receiving heavy patrols.

This is no surprise, though. Cities now have an economic incentive to base their ticketing strategies not on matters of safety, but on the basis of which strategy will generate the most revenue.

The California Senate has endorsed this move. California normally allows the establishment of speed limits for roads and highways only after an engineering survey determining the appropriate safe speeds for those roads. (California Committee Analysis, StateNet, af Bill No. AB 872, May 9, 2003 hearing.) People v. Goulet (13 Cal.App.4th.Supp. 1; 17 Cal.Rptr.2d 801) pointed out that speed limits set more than 5 miles below the 85th percentile “do not facilitate the orderly movement of traffic.” They do, however, generate larger revenues for cities, because more “reasonable and prudent” people will speed. The court appears to indicate that it is because they are “reasonable and prudent” and the speed limit is set too low that this results. In Goulet, the conviction was reversed on the court’s determination that Goulet’s ticket resulted from an illegal speed trap. Now, however, cities are pressuring the California legislature to alter rules regarding the setting of speed limits and the definitions of speed traps. (Yes, the law does define what constitutes a speed “trap”; technically, they’re not allowed. The rules cover things like what constitutes an acceptable speed limit for a particular type of street, based on engineering and safety studies.)

Meanwhile, in Fresno at least, we’ve never seen so many police on the streets. On my fifteen-minute drive to work today, I counted four police officers watching traffic; two on the freeway and two on city streets. One was on the small road that passes out front of my workplace. On the one hand, this street has been a hazard to the numerous pedestrians in the area for years. I’ve worked there six years and have seen a few accidents due to speeding. And pedestrians from the businesses are always crossing the street to get to work (parking is also bad), lunch and — in cases like ours where we own more than one building in the same two blocks, but not immediately adjacent to one another — to get from one office to another. The presence of a police officer ready to hand out tickets is therefore welcome. Yet, in spite of complaints, it’s only now, when the leadership of so many cities like Fresno are complaining about the revenue cuts from taxes that we’re seeing police diverted to enforcing traffic laws on all sorts of roads, whether large or small. Frankly, I didn’t know we had so many police officers.

“So what?,” you say. If people are speeding, let them pay! It’s better than taxes.

But what happens when people begin slowing down, as they’re already doing along my normal path to work? As noted above, the cities begin lowering speed limits in ways that “do not facilitate the orderly movement of traffic.” (Goulet, supra, at p. 10.)

And this, I propose, impacts us all much more negatively in the long run than higher taxes on gas-guzzling, road-hogging, public-endangering, environmentally-unfriendly SUVs.

What we need is to begin electing real people — not actors fronting for business interests — who will work to actually solve our problems instead of looking pretty, speaking nice words to us and leaving us worse off than we were before. As Assemblyman Joe Nation said,

I don’t think you get yourself out of a hole by digging deeper – [Schwarzenegger’s] action [of cutting $300 million in taxes] just means that there will be more devastating [service] cuts down the road.

Voters need to realize that we can’t have our cake and eat it, too. It’s time for clear-thinking, public-oriented politicians. It’s time to get rid of the actors who can only carry out the scripts handed to them by big business.

Categories: Politics-In-General


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