Taxation by Citation (Fifty more bushels of corn for the king)

Recently by John Brennan: Papers, Please

Years ago, at its inception, the Internal Revenue Service, was duly deputized as the primary government agency responsible for collecting all personal and business taxes. The IRS, as it is referred to by most, has, over the years, grown into a mammoth operation. Steadily and methodically expanding, and with the use of new technology, has become very, very proficient at keeping track of what working Americans earn, and conversely, how much earnings should be returned to feed the king's coffers. With so many financial transactions now recorded electronically, it is very difficult indeed to conceal real income and avoid any tax liability. The long tentacles of the IRS have extended into the purses and pockets of every working stiff. These tentacles act like powerful vacuum hoses, sucking every last penny they possibly can in order keep the wasteful wheels of government grinding away . But apparently the government needs even more from us. So now, in addition to employees of the IRS collecting tax revenue from us, another group of government extortionists has been deputized to perform this task. ; the men and women of law enforcement. Yes folks, cops have become the new ugly face of taxation here in America.

Two years ago I happened to be near a municipal court building in southern California that dealt solely with traffic infractions; no criminal cases were heard here. Out of curiosity , and having a little free time, I decided to sit in one of the courtrooms and observe the proceedings. Straightaway, I was amazed at how crowded all four courtrooms were. This was a Thursday morning at about 9:00 am, and all four of them were busy attending to overflow crowds. The place was really jammed; the walls lined with all manner of folk; cash and checkbooks in hand , waiting impatiently to lay payment at the foot of the king. I randomly chose one of the courts without thought, and was lucky to find a seat in the rear. I sat there for the next hour as case , after case, after case, after case was called up to the judge. What I witnessed was astounding.

It goes without saying that, over the years, prices on consumer goods have increased substantially, so we can fairly assume that the cost of human error has also gone up. By human error, I mean the price one must pay when cited for an infraction while operating a motor vehicle here in California. A mistake, or error while driving will quite often attract the attention of some observant law enforcement officer sworn to keep an eye out for those violating any one of the thousands of traffic laws now on the books. Today , there are so many things that are against the law, we can barely keep track of what we can and can't do. No seatbelt; using a phone ; cracked tail light lens; burned out bulb, etc., etc., etc. That's just on the vehicle. Then, of course, we have the moving violations: Running a red light; running a stop sign; unsafe lane change; and probably the most common, speeding. In the past, I have been the unlucky recipient of my share of traffic tickets, but have not had one in more than ten years. I was last cited for not coming to a complete stop at a stop sign. I didn't fight the case and reluctantly paid the $40.00 fine. And the amount was just that; $40.00. I thought that it was a bit high, but at the time, I remember not feeling overly gouged. Today, that same fine would be $280.00 dollars; quite an increase in just ten years. As I sat in that court, I could not believe how expensive fines have become. Running a red light is now $425.00. Not signaling; $140.00. Five miles over the speed limit in a school zone sucks you of $530.00 .I listened to the judge on almost 50 cases in that brief time and roughly estimated the state of California took in about $50,000.00 dollars in that one hour. The assessed amount for fines was astronomical. But now you pay not only the fine, they also throw in the court costs. You pay for the cost of the court to collect that fine from you. And these fees have also become absurd. To now settle my $40.00 ticket , I would be charged another $35.00. Which simply says one thing, and one thing only: traffic fines have become an incredible source of revenue for the states. I say states because I am sure it is the same across the country. So, by applying simple logic, we can deduce that the more tickets issued, the more income for the state. It doesn't take a genius to see writing tickets has become very profitable indeed. There's a lot of money in traffic fines. And right now, every municipality across the country is in desperate need of every last cent they can lay their greedy little hands on. Which clearly translates to: More tickets.

I know there are idiot drivers out there that deserve every ticket they get. In California here, everyday I witness the actions of moronic, selfish drivers. The freeways are filled to capacity not only with vehicles, but the with the impatient people operating these vehicles. These operators are capable of making serious, and quite often, deadly errors. When a gross traffic violation occurs, I hope there is a cop nearby to witness it and to issue a ticket to the negligent driver.

But now municipalities have devised a new system for enforcing traffic laws, and it doesn't require a cop driving around all day looking for violators; the violators now come to him. This new system of traffic enforcement involves a checkpoint. This checkpoint is set up on some busy highway and is there for no other reason than to issue as many tickets as possible to unsuspecting drivers caught in the snare. Police don't like to call these forced traffic stops, checkpoints, so they call them safety inspection operations, That way folks will be fooled into thinking law enforcement is doing something good for the people; something that will benefit we "civilians". But any astute person can see that this new form of stationary policing is nothing more than a very efficient way to collect tax revenue from unwitting drivers.

It all began a few years back with DUI checkpoints , designed to get drunks off the highways, which is commendable. We can't have pie-eyed drivers operating vehicles after consuming copious amounts of liquor. But cities and counties soon realized that these unwarranted checkpoints brought in lots of money. On any good night in a busy southern California location, a thousand or more drivers will be subjected to unwanted questioning by some overweight man or woman-man in uniform poking his or her head in the drivers side window. They start off friendly enough; "How are you tonight?", they'll ask, as if they really care. While they ask this, they get closer to see if they can detect the smell of alcohol. If they do, you are asked to step out of the car and are given a road side sobriety test. Of course now, having just one or two beers can sometimes get you arrested. But , it is not only the odor of alcohol they are looking for, it is something far more profitable; You and the car you are driving are scrutinized for any infraction. Your name is now run through the system to see what kind of person you are . They couldn't get you on the alcohol, so they have to get you on something else. And this is how the new tax collectors provide cities and counties with enormous amounts of revenue.

I remember the moment I realized what these Nazi-like checkpoints were really about. I was reading an article 12 years ago about one DUI checkpoint set up in a popular beachfront town here in southern California. I was amazed when I read that out of 1, 450 cars stopped, they made only three arrests for DUI. But the article went on to say that 35 others were arrested and 37 cars were towed. "Well," I thought, "that's interesting." It turns out those 35 others were arrested for outstanding warrants, driving without a license, possession of drugs, opened containers, and other traffic violations having nothing to do with alcohol. The cars were towed by a private company in cahoots with the city. A quid-pro-quo arrangement had been made, so issuing as many tickets as possible and towing more cars benefited all those involved except for the person who's vehicle was forcibly taken and held hostage by the unscrupulous towing service. The city wrote 94 citations, many of them for nothing more than a broken tail light lens, or bald tires. "Ah!", I said, "So this is what it is really about". The numbers say one thing; what they were really interested in was writing tickets and towing cars. Later I witnessed something in this same beachfront town that clearly told me that policing has reached a new low when it comes to issuing traffic violations.

I was sitting on a bench enjoying the beautiful ocean view in this beachside community, when I noticed something peculiar Pacific Coast Highway is the main thoroughfare that goes through this town. The highway , and the town , are popular and attract tourists from around the world. As the highway passes by the main beach area, there are a series of three traffic lights. On a nice summer day, when the lights are red, there can be lines of backed up traffic, sometimes 50 cars deep at each of these signals. . This one day I noticed that with each red light, cops on both sides of the street would walk alongside the trapped cars and look inside. Many of the cars were then motioned over to an area where two cops were stationed , ticket books in hand. It got me curious, so I went over and asked one of the cops what was going on. "Traffic safety patrol", he answered. "What exactly is that?". He looked at me and walked away, not saying another word. Still wondering what shenanigans these cops were up to, I asked one of the unfortunate drivers who had just been issued a ticket. The guy was from Des Moines, Iowa and was with his family enjoying a drive along the spectacular Coast Highway. His wife and three children in a rented car, just driving through on their way to San Diego.

"What did you get a ticket for?", I asked. He was quick to reply, "You mean what did I get the five tickets for?".

"Five tickets, for what?"

"For not having seatbelts on", he said with a look of disgust on his face. "I was stopped at the light and the cop came up to the window. I thought he wanted to tell me something important or to say hello. So, I rolled down the window and he pokes his head inside and says were violating the law and need to pull over up ahead. Issued me a ticket for every one of us. I'm never coming back to this chicken shit place again"

I know what you may be saying, "Well, they should have had their seatbelts on", and you're right, they should have. I don't know if seatbelts are mandatory in Iowa, but I suspect they are. But don't you think the tactics used are a little underhanded? Don't you inherently feel that checkpoints aren't right? Doesn't your gut feeling tell you this new way of policing is wrong? It does me.

So, the desperate cities and counties continue on with these tactics and no one seems to fight back. Along with tolerating groping at airports, we tolerate these checkpoints. We accept being questioned by idiots in uniform, and fear them knowing they have the ability to make our lives very uncomfortable. We have come to accept forced compliance. If we speak out, we know we may not get on that airplane, or we may be pulled out of our autos for further scrutiny, so we keep our mouths shut . Those in positions of power know this and use our fear to their advantage.

These "Safety Inspection Operations", will continue on and will become even more intrusive in the future. With many municipalities on the verge of bankruptcy, you can expect even more of these Nazi-like checkpoints and even more frivolous tickets being issued. Money isn't the root of all evil, lack of money is. When government needs more of your cash, they will devise clever ways to get it, and will be relentless when it comes to forcing you to pay the king more bushels of corn.

All that money collected in just that one hour I was in the courtroom went somewhere, but where? We'll never know. Are we so stupid to think that there aren't ticket quotas set by cities? Do you actually think that a city council would instruct officers to write less tickets next year? Not a chance. Not in these uncertain economic times. At this very moment, there are people trying to figure out how to get more out of us. And they will. But for now, taxation by citation is the most profitable way to collect from us. Increased fees and penalties are the sneaky way to raise taxes without raising taxes. I just wonder how much running a red light is going to cost next year. Or the year after that?. $800.00? Maybe a $1,000.00. Where and when does it end?

December 12, 2011

John Brennan [send him mail] is a freelance writer living in Mexico and will respond to any comments.