Communications Decency Act

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Police as Tax Collection Agents

For many years police around the country have flatly stated that there is no "quota" of tickets that any officer must meet. On the other hand, the state of California state tax structure punishes any municipality that does not meet "anticipated revenue goals" from tickets.

Part of the money that the state collects as taxes is supposed to go to the individual municipalities general funds. However, this amount is reduced by any "shortfall" in the anticipated revenue the state receives from tickets served by that community.

Let's consider this example:

The budget of the mythical California town of Littleville includes $100,000 dollars it expects to receive from the state at the end of the year. It has nothing in the budget for "parking tickets" because all of the money for those parking tickets goes to the state; at the end of the year, a portion of that money is returned to the cities acording to some magical formula that is the heart of heated political wrangling.

In previous years, Littletown handed out thousands and thousands of $25 parking tickets. Let's assume that (for whatever reason) this year Littletown hands out 25% less parking tickets.

When the end of the year arrives and the check from the state arrives, instead of receiveing the anticipated $100,000 Littletown only receives $75,000 and a note explaining that the missing $25,000 is the amount the town "owes" for the "shortfall" in the anticipated revenue goals set by the state.

The message is clear; if your town doesn't hand out enought tickets, the state reduces your funding. In effect, every dollar that the police force of Littletown fails to collect by handing out tickets is billed directly to the city.

I think you can guess how cities respond to this... they hand out more tickets, they increase the "value" of each ticket and they add "administrative" fees to the amount. (Administrative fees are are not forwarded to the state for distribution.) I know that in Sunnyvale the amount of the "administrative" fee is almost three times the value of the ticket. A twenty dollar parking ticket is suddenly an eighty dollar pain-in-the-wallet.

It is time that we stop using the police as tax collection agents. There are more important things for them to do, and the current situation fosters an unpleasant fear and loathing of the police and their duties.

Bob Simpson, 1996-Mar-12

P.S. There was an article in the San Jose Mercury News about this in the middle of 1995. If anyone can help me identify the date, or has a copy of that article, I would appreciate it if they could help me locate a copy.

Last modified: 2001-Sep-19 19:58:13

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