02 Jul 2007

Virginia: State Speedtrap

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A classic American bête noire is the grasping rural village which makes a practice of enhancing its municipal revenues by officious enforcement of some exaggeratedly low speed limit on the portion of state highway passing through its jurisdiction.

As the Washington Times observes, the Virginia General Assembly has turned the whole Commonwealth into a speedtrap, aiming at vacuuming the wallets of its own residents.

Starting today, Virginia drivers are in for one of the region’s most egregious money grabs in a long time. Authorities are slated to begin imposing a jaw-dropping $1,050 “abuser fee” on drivers registered in-state who are caught speeding 20 or more mph over the limit. It was tucked into the state transportation bill and passed quietly by the General Assembly months ago, with very little notice.

Any Washington-area driver knows that in some stretches of the Beltway, it is quite common for motorists to cruise along at 70 -75 mph in 55 mph zones. In some cases, this is what it takes to keep up with traffic. Under Virginia state law, however, this is right on the cusp of a reckless driving charge. A absurd fee is now being imposed in the name of public safety and budgetary sense.

This is a colossal abuse of public trust well before it is either a safety boon or a budgetary salve. Certainly it will be a major financial hardship on low- and middle-income motorists. …

But $1,050 for driving 20 mph over the speed limit is predatory, tax-and-spend government at its worst. For families in the middle or at the bottom of the economic ladder, this reaches 4 percent and 5 percent of annual take-home income. Government is supposed to serve the people, not fine and tax them toward the poor house for what amounts to ordinary behavior.

The story of how Virginia got here goes something like this: Downstate Republicans have repeatedly refused to compromise with Northern Virginia over transportation funding. This led Northern Virginia lawmakers to view fees as the only means of balancing revenue and spending. Not wanting to pass unpopular tax increases or cut rapidly growing but allegedly untouchable unrelated programs, lawmakers in Richmond quietly tucked this into a transportation bill. They now have the gall to complain that no one criticized the plan earlier. Meanwhile, some are calling this the “Lawyer Full Employment Act of 2007.”

And Radley Balko, at Reason Magazine, identifies who’s behind all this.

The self-described “chief architect” for this bill is Delegate David Albo. Albo boasts on his website that he’s worked for 20 months to bring this bill into law. What his website doesn’t mention is that when Albo isn’t legislating tough new laws aimed at Virginia’s motorists, he’s representing those same motorists in court.

That’s right. Albo’s a lawyer. And not just any lawyer. The firm that bears his name specializes in traffic law, particularly in representing people charged with DWI and reckless driving.

It’s time for a rebellion in Virginia.

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