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Richard Rider

California traffic fines are INCREDIBLY low — honest! But . . .

Here’s a trick question: How much is the driving fine in California for a “rolling stop”? (Counterintuitive hint: It’s cheap!)

The answer?

$35. Yes, that is correct.

The trick part of the question? I said “fine.” Not “ticket,” or total cost.

Add on to the $35 fine the many “fees” now imposed by California courts, and the ticket you must pay is about $235. Plus a $65 fee if you want to go to “traffic school” to remove the ding on your driving record.

And that $65 does NOT pay for the school itself — it’s just another state fee — you pay for the driving school IN ADDITION to paying the driving school fee.

Hence on such minor infractions, our state and local governments rake in either $235 or (more often) $300. Boss Hogg of Hazzard County would be green with envy.

In California, red light camera tickets are $480. The second highest state is $250. Most are around $100.

Consider how devastating a $480 ticket is for someone struggling to get by, paycheck by paycheck. Such a regressive penalty could put a family out of their apartment.

And, I might add, there is zero evidence that red light accidents in CA are lower than in other states with far lower traffic ticket costs.

Why this bizarre California pricing structure? And why so high?

In essence, our free-spending California politicians are desperate for more money so that they can avoid serious fiscal reform. Unfortunately for them, we have modest constitutional constraints on further tax increases in this high-tax state, hindering their kneejerk efforts to bump up rates. Their biggest problem is that voters won’t approve such state tax increases when put on the ballot — the last seven failed.

But no such pesky limitations exist for “fees.” So in California, “fees” are often the new taxes.

How nutty can it get? Consider the city of San Diego building permit structure and rates.

The planning department is funded as an “enterprise fund,” which means that their budget is largely paid by the permit fees they generate. While superficially this might seem to make sense, when economic downturns come, these rogue agencies too often run amok.

Here’s one example: A building-savvy acquaintance of mine wanted to add a very modest balcony on to his upstairs bedroom — a balcony smaller than a Ping-Pong table. He figured it would cost about $2,000 to build, and applied for what he presumed would be a routine city permit.

Care to guess the cost of the permit?

Wrong! Too low — WHATEVER you guessed.

The INITIAL permit fee would be over $8,000. And if there were permit complications (“complications” as judged by the planning department), that figure could grow.

And as if that wasn’t bad enough, the permit process for the balcony promised to run on for months — even if “routine.” This permit should have been handled in well under a week — probably a day.

But the enterprise fund structure gives the planning department a perverse incentive — the more hours they can “bill” to a permit, the more money is available for the department. Under this screwy plan, we citizens pay them NOT to work — or at least not to produce — indeed, to hinder production. If they want to remain fully staffed in economic downturns, they have learned to gin up the “work,” and bill accordingly.

Yes, supposedly there are constraints on such bloated fees. But it appears that too often the courts have decided to let fees run wild — in no small part because our court system is a government entity, dependent on coercive public funding.

Oh — my friend’s balcony? Never got built. He’s less happy with his home, and one more building project failed to employ anyone (even as tiny as it was).

Yeah, that went well!

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