A Fistful of Dollar

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1) The state as a well-oiled broken clock

My state’s Public Records Law, in short, allows any citizen to request and receive any and all information that is of public record in the state. So I did.

I recently received a speeding ticket and wanted to prepare for my day in court and therefore requested all educational and service-related information about the sheriff’s deputy who cited me.

I received the information and had to go down to the county courthouse to pay for it: $53. When the young lady from the court house called me to tell me the records were ready, I specifically asked if I could pay with a debit or credit card. She told me yes.

There are two cashier’s windows at the county courthouse: one has a big sign over the top "BAILS." Pretty clear to me. The other reads: "PROCESS AND LEGAL DOCUMENTS." Although, neither seemed appropriate for someone paying for open records requests, I certainly knew I wasn’t paying someone’s bail, so given my choices I queued up in the "PROCESS AND LEGAL DOCUMENTS" line. I waited some 20 minutes to get to the window and have the stone faced, indifferent, I-hate-my-life-just-shoot-me-now-and-do-me-a-favor county employee tell me I need to pay in the "BAILS" line. The cashier for the "BAILS" line was sitting elbow-to-elbow with my friend at the "PROCESS AND LEGAL DOCUMENTS" window but he couldn’t simply hand her my papers. I waited another 20 minutes.

When I reached the cashier window with all the usual credit card logos on the window: Visa, Mastercard, Diners Club, American Express, I was told I couldn’t pay with a credit or debit card. Only cash or check. I mentioned that I specifically called to verify this and was told I could. She said: "Sorry." I then pointed to all the credit card logos on the window to which she replied: "That’s only for bails." So I shot her.

Not really. What I did was ask her: "What’s the difference? You have the resources to process a credit or debit card payment; couldn’t you simply do that for me?" "No," she replied, "next."

2) The state as an economic gangster

Parts of the interstate highways in my state are toll roads. Being the almost cashless society that we live in today — all banks offer debit cards — it’s becoming more and more usual for people to carry less and less cash on them. I am certainly one of those people. I find it convenient not to have to worry about exactly how much something costs and then going to the bank or ATM to withdraw exactly that amount I need when I want to buy something.

Probably 99% of all private businesses have the resources and the ability to process debit or credit card transactions regardless of the context: in a retail store, at a movie theater, an eating establishment, at a sporting event, in a taxi, even at 40,000 ft. in an airplane. But not my state. Even at such a simple point-of-sale as a toll booth it’s cash only.

So what do you do if you don’t have enough cash on you? Well, the state realizes that mistakes can happen and someone may not have enough cash on them. From their website:

  • The Tollway grants a 7-day grace period to pay your missed toll.
  • The Tollway recognizes that honest mistakes happen — we allow 2 mistakes in a 24-month period. Upon your third unpaid toll within a 2-year period, a violation notice will be issued and fines assessed.
  • You are allowed to pay up to 4 missed tolls within a 12 month period. After four payments, additional missed tolls will be treated as violations.

An unpaid toll is when you don’t have cash on you and you’re expected to pay it online or via the post after the fact, and you simply choose not to pay it.

A missed toll, however, is simply the fact that you didn’t have cash on you. Even if you subsequently pay the toll online or via the post you are still only allowed to do this 4 times a year and after that you are in violation. To clarify then: even if you have a million dollars in your checking account and a credit card with a $100,000 limit, if you don’t have fiat money on you more than four times a year then you can be held in violation of the law. Even worse if you really do simply forget to ensure that you have cash handy, you will be penalized for simply being human. The state of course, being our moral compass, knows how many missed tolls is human and how many thereafter is just being a bad person and trying to cheat them. That number is 4.

The more laws there are, the more criminals you have.

So, if you don’t have cash then you have 7 days to pony up your fair share of the cost for these roads — funny how these roads never seem to be paid for — or it will become a violation. If you don’t have enough cash more than twice in two years and you don’t pay them within 7 days then It becomes a violation and from their website:

Failure to pay tolls can result in fines and possible suspension of your license plate and/or your driver’s license.

So, as ridiculous as it may seem, for choosing not to carry and transact business with fiat currency you could actually end up losing your driving privileges. That is to say: your freedom to move around the state at your free will.

The cost of this travesty of justice against the state? The cost in terms of lost revenue to the state that is so great that anyone being found guilty of this heinous crime should be immobilized? The imperative nature of this money? The cost of a toll?

One dollar.

Fines for not paying that one dollar on time begin at $20 and go up to $50 or more culminating in your loss of driving privileges.

So three times in two years would be a total of three dollars over a 24-month period of time. Clearly cause to consider rescinding your papers comrade and limiting your movement. So it would be wise to remember: you can either make it easy on yourself and give us our dollar voluntarily or we will take it from you and you don’t want that.

Now, I don’t know if anyone has ever actually lost their driving privileges for not paying tolls but that is the actual statute in my state. The state feels it necessary to use such fear mongering tactics like these to extort money out of us. As absurd as it seems to think that the state would be so arrogant as to do something like this, they don’t hesitate to pursue legislation like this and then put it out there on their website for all to see just to let us know who really works for whom. And, if we push them, exactly what measures they are prepared to go to in order to get you to comply.

For a dollar.

Don Cooper [send him mail] is a Florida native, Navy veteran and economist living and working in the Midwest.

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