Greed may apply to governments,

The term “greed” gets thrown around a lot lately and I suppose it has to do with the election, but it seems pretty selective.

For instance, on the television chat show “The View” recently, the ladies were busy discussing the shocking news that Mitt Romney had been successful and made a lot of money in the business world. I know this is bad, because during the discussion there was a large graphic behind the women with the playful term “greedy bastards.”

This always surprises me in the entertainment world, where an individual between rehab stints is paid $10 million to pretend to be someone else for a few months, often shooting films out of the country to avoid union pay scales. Yet such a person is welcomed on these talk shows as though he created the polio vaccine.  Meanwhile, folks who run a company creating a few jobs or, God forbid, manufacturing a product, are treated as though they have just arrived in a puff of smoke from the underworld.

What seems to be missed is that it’s not just individuals or amorphous corporations that manifest these greedy tendencies. It’s more often governments who have the tools to make sure you pay, like the criminal justice system.

I’ve received a number of comments over the last few months from folks who have seen an uptick in traffic enforcement and, while that’s often a good thing, some noticed the enforcement seems to be in areas where safety issues don’t appear so prominent, but the pickings are easy. We all know these kinds of places, a long straightaway with maybe a little bend in the road that makes it hard to see somebody sitting with a radar gun. Not many accidents but a fair amount of mild speeding.

People don’t mind legitimate safety enforcement, but they don’t like police crossing the line between public safety and raising revenue. Colorado really got into this game over the last couple of years when it started doing things like raising the costs of traffic fines for speeding from $50 up to $135 and allowing construction zone tickets to be written before workers have even shown up.

There is valid enforcement reasoning behind some changes, but when revenues are crashing and fines start increasing, it doesn’t take a genius to see what’s going on.

Someone remarked recently that they had seen a police car they referred to as a “revenue enhancement vehicle,” because it sported what appeared to be front and rear radar units, a laser and the trunk may have contained a police ostrich that could be deployed to chase down mopeds, bicyclists and dangerous joggers.

Cities can establish their own municipal courts for city ordinances that are specific to the city or mimic state misdemeanor and traffic laws. Sometimes it’s for location specific reasons, but most of the time it’s for the money.

Here in Grand Junction, the city’s municipal court system has been quite the cash cow over the last two years, taking in about $2.1 million.

It’s not just traffic scofflaws who are generating money for the city, it’s parking desperados as well. Just recently, some news outlets reported concerns from downtown merchants about a drop-off in business they attributed to parking issues.

I wonder how many of them were aware that overtime parking fines in the downtown area were increased 50 percent by the City Council in 2011, from $10 to $15, and illegal parking fines were boosted from $15 to $20. The city saw an increase of $38,547 in fine revenue for 2011 reaching $170,512. That is just for the fines, not all the quarters we pump in the no-arm bandits to avoid citations.

These sort of costs discourage shoppers, just as non-safety related traffic tickets leave citizens with a feeling that sometimes discourages them from voting for expensive public safety buildings. 

Ultimately officials need to preserve the police as valuable members of our government community to do the job intended for them and grow business for revenue. They could start by giving downtown businesses a break on parking rather than giving their customers expensive tickets.

Rick Wagner writes more on politics at his blog, The War on Wrong.


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