Is the money for enforcement, or for the ‘General Fund’

There seems to be a lot of conversation out there about the reasons cities set parking fines the way they do. In some cases the fines are very low, other times, over the top.

As parking rates have increased, sometimes as much as $5 or $10 an hour on street, and parking fines have remained low, there is a tendency on the parker to ‘roll the dice’ and hope that they will not be cited. If the parking fee is $20 and the citation is $30, the difference may not be great enough to get a parker’s attention. Raising the fee in this case is certainly appropriate.

However, when the parking citation rate is already $75 or $100 and the local city dads and moms have a shortfall in their budget, is raising the citation cost to fill that shortfall the thing to do?

I understand that cities are looking everywhere for revenue, but is this the place to look? I say no. They are turning a tool used in parking enforcement (the parking ticket and its related fine) into a tax to pay for government goods and services. This is a slippery slope. Where will it end?

It seems to me that if the citizens of a community are unwilling to pay for the services through normal taxation (property, sales, use, etc) that the city wants to provide then those services should be curtailed. Hammering a person who overstayed their parking meter by 10 minutes to pay for a new program instituted by the city council just isn’t the way to go about it.

Eventually we have to learn to live within our means. Governments have to learn that the money they spend belongs to taxpayers, and is not unlimited. If the populace votes to raise taxes to pay for a project or program, so be it. But raising fines which exist to protect an asset as valuable as parking so the money can be used for other programs goes beyond the reach we provide our government.

If Detroit teaches us anything it should teach us that we cannot, must not, spend more than is reasonable. And ‘reasonable’ is a number that must be set by responsible people who understand the business of government, not by those who see an unlimited source of money and feel an unlimited need to spend it.

There is another way to look at this. We pass a law, like the one that says you don’t park in a driveway or in front of a fire hydrant, or in a permit controlled residential area. There is a reason for the law. It might be public safety, or to preserve parking for a certain group, or whatever. The purpose of the fine is to help enforce the law.  In a perfect world, no one would break the rule, no one would pay the fine, and there would be no pool of money constantly being generated.

Its almost as if the government suddenly has moved from passing rules and regulations for the good of the community, to passing them to generate revenue. Just as we are seeing in many communities today, the law of unintended consequences teams the Nemesis and streets aren’t repaired, trash isn’t collected, police take an hour to respond, street lights don’t work, and governments go bankrupt.

Just as in business, well run governments can’t keep coming back to the well for more and more funding, particularly funding that results from people breaking rules.

JVH

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