Virginia lawmakers imposed steep new fees on bad drivers this year despite warning signs from states with similar programs that they cause a surge in unlicensed motorists and have crippling effects on the poor.
The licenses of tens of thousands of motorists in New Jersey and Michigan have been suspended because they cannot afford the fees, and little evidence has emerged that such fines improve highway safety, according to state officials and studies.
Numerous lawmakers, judges and social activists in both states have sought to either repeal the fees or make major changes in how they are collected. But once the programs are implemented, they are difficult to get rid of, because state lawmakers are unwilling to give up the revenue they raise, judges and lawmakers said.
Which is why Kaine and those coward Republicans refuse to have a special session to do anything about them.
Lawmakers predicted that the measures, in effect since July 1, would improve highway safety and raise $65 million a year, to be used for new road and rail projects. On Monday, however, Del. L. Scott Lingamfelter (R-Prince William) joined a growing list of legislators calling for repeal, saying the measures are “beyond repair.”
But you were supporting them a couple weeks ago, are you saying you didn’t read the legislation you voted on, Mr. Lingamfelter?
At a news conference last week defending the fees, Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) and House Speaker William J. Howell (R-Stafford) said they had no information to suggest that there were problems in states that use such fees.
Yeah, I bet, you weasels.
When Buhl heard that Virginia lawmakers were considering the fees last year, he e-mailed all 140 legislators, explaining why he thought the program was a failure in Michigan, which began assessing the fees in 2003. No one responded, Buhl said.
Officials in Michigan and New Jersey say Virginians should brace for problems, including clogged courts and the prospect of thousands of residents having to choose between keeping their licenses and paying their bills.
Under pressure to repeal the fees, the state [New Jersey] commissioned a study last year that found that although only 16 percent of residents live in low-income areas, those neighborhoods house nearly 40 percent of the people whose licenses have been suspended for failure to pay fees and fines.
Cathleen Lewis, a New Jersey motor vehicle agency spokeswoman, said there is no way to determine whether the fees “conclusively impact highway safety.”
In Michigan, traffic fatalities declined 12 percent from 2003 to 2005, compared with a 2.2 percent increase nationwide during that period, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. A spokesman for the Michigan State Police said it is too early to tell whether the decline can be attributed to the fees.
In Virginia, Henry County Commonwealth’s Attorney Bob Bushnell said state prosecutors are bracing for similar problems.
“The way this thing works out, it is going to have an absolutely ruinous effect on financially challenged Virginians,” he said. “To my knowledge, no one from the police was consulted. We weren’t consulted. The court clerks weren’t consulted. Had it come up, I think the General Assembly would have been aware of all kinds of concerns from Virginians about the unanticipated downside to this program.”
Well, it’s nice to see the Republicans are going to lose the General Assembly this year (note the sarcasm). However, it might be worth it since Kaine has just Gilmored himself.
Hat tip: Overlawyered