Tax-Feeders and the New Debtors’ Prisons

In Houston, Texas, a city of about two million people, the tax-fed revenue-farmers known as “police” seek to enforce 1.7 million warrants. Almost none of them deal with actual offenses against persons or property, notes the Houston Chronicle; instead, the warrants were issued against “average residents who haven’t settled minor traffic and ordinance citations.”

Most Houston-area residents sought for class C misdemeanors “have one to three active warrants,” including one “for failure to appear in court.” The “worst offenders” in this group of “scofflaws” are property owners, particularly businessmen, who have been cited for building code infractions or trivial cosmetic violations of the tax code.

“How trivial?” you ask — or, at least, you should. Well, of the eight people listed as “Houston’s Most Wanted” — people who have 100 or more outstanding warrants — four were cited for the apparently grievous offense of “failure to securely attach a tax permit to a coin-operated machine.”

Other violations committed by that band of shameless rogues include failure “to conspicuously post at every entrance a sign stating smoking is prohibited,” and “having no hand-washing sign in a bathroom used by employees.”

Not surprisingly, given the state of the economy, the political class that afflicts Houston has made enforcement of the warrants a priority: “Court officials estimate the warrants are worth about $300 million, which could be pumped into the city’s general fund when collected,” notes the Chronicle.

Toward that end, the Houston Police Department last year “purchased automated license plate readers that read up to 60 vehicle license plates per minute,” thus allowing them to identify those with outstanding warrants, including the growing number of people who “have to choose between paying their grocery bill or their tickets.”

What a shameful lack of civic consciousness! How dare such people put food on their tables when there are tax-feeders desperate for revenue? And coughing up the money is so much more convenient now that police “have the ability to run credit card payments so people can settle their outstanding warrants on the spot.”

For those who cannot pay off the parasite class and its armed enforcers, debtors’ prison awaits: As the Texas Court of Appeals recently observed, Class C misdemeanors “are still crimes, and … the person charged can be arrested on warrant like any ordinary criminal, forced to travel a long distance to attend the court, [and be] remanded in custody and imprisoned in default of payment of the fine.”

The Texas Public Policy Foundation points out that 779 Texas statutes identify “misdemeanors,” but “only 64 of those instances are in the Penal Code or Code of Criminal Procedure.” Half of all Texans behind bars were  incarcerated for nonviolent offenses. That proportion will increase — in Texas and elsewhere — as the depression deepens and the tax-feeding class becomes more predatory.

(Thanks to Scott Henson of the must-read Grits for Breakfast blog.)


7:06 am on August 11, 2009