Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Virginia's Clown Princes: Governor Tim Kaine & Co.

Encouraged by their governor, Virginia has begun collecting what must surely be some of the most steep fines for speeding in the history of American motoring:
Earlier this month, Virginia began imposing huge new fines — some as high as $2,500 — for residents caught driving 20 miles above the speed limit or engaging in other reckless driving.

The fines were to raise money for road projects, but they have also raised Cain, with more than 100,000 people having signed a petition calling for their repeal.

All 140 members of Virginia’s legislature are up for re-election in the fall, and some say they have been deluged with angry calls and e-mail from constituents threatening to vote them out of office if they do not ask Gov. Tim Kaine to call a special session of the legislature to reconsider the law.

“You have no idea how angry people are,” said Delegate Robert G. Marshall, Republican of Prince William County, who did not vote for the bill that included the new fines and is leading the call for a special session.

“Criminal and civil penalties shouldn’t be created for raising money,” Mr. Marshall said, adding that constituents had stopped him on the street and even in the post office and called his office to voice frustration with the new fines. “You don’t want to turn our police into gun-toting tax collectors. They’re supposed to be officers of the peace, nothing else.”

Rather than raise money for road projects, he said, the state should stop diverting money allocated for such projects to other uses.

If two-thirds of the House of Delegates and the Senate petition for a special session, Mr. Kaine is obligated to call one, Mr. Marshall said, adding that he was not sure how many legislators would be willing to support such a request. Republicans control both houses.

The $65 million expected to be raised annually from the higher fines was intended as a partial substitute for a statewide tax increase, which Mr. Kaine, a Democrat, supported but the House opposed. Mr. Kaine then backed the new fines and has resisted the effort to revisit the issue.

“We’ve heard the public’s concerns, and we take that seriously,” said the governor’s press secretary, Kevin Hall. “The legislature can revisit these issues when they reconvene in January.”

Under the law, which took effect July 1, the new civil penalty for driving 20 miles an hour or more over the speed limit, a violation defined by the state as reckless driving, will be $1,050. First-time drunken drivers will face a civil penalty of $2,250. In both cases, judges can also continue to impose fines of up to $2,500, plus court costs.

“The fines are ridiculously high, and they don’t improve safety,” said Bryan Ault, a 28-year-old software technician who lives in Alexandria and who started an online petition, petitiononline.com/va3202, that calls for the repeal of the fines. The petition, which Mr. Ault started July 6, had more than 110,000 signatures as of Wednesday.

Mr. Ault said legislators could raise the gasoline tax, which would affect everyone more equitably, or they could levy smaller penalties.

Delegate David B. Albo, Republican of Fairfax County, a main proponent of the high fines, said that a one-cent increase in the gasoline tax would generate about $50 million a year, but that replacing the fines with a higher gasoline tax would undermine the transportation financing bill that was passed.

“It took two years to get all the different groups, from Realtors, to developers, to citizens groups, on board,” Mr. Albo said. “If you take away one of the fees from one group, every other group is going to start saying they want the entire transportation bill reconsidered.”

Clay Morad, a driver in Arlington who signed the petition, said: “There are other ways to get these road projects done. I’d be more than willing to pay an extra dollar per year in taxes to avoid having to worry about getting a $2,500 fine for going above the speed limit.”

While describing the fines as draconian, other drivers admitted they were having a positive effect. “I have mixed emotions about the issue,” said Stephanie Haley, standing alongside her family’s silver Volvo station wagon in Arlington.

“This is going to hit the poor the worst because they will be least able to handle such a huge fine,” Ms. Haley said. “Someone living paycheck to paycheck is going to be wiped out by a small mistake.”

Just two weeks before the new fines took effect, she said, she got a $250 ticket for traveling 86 m.p.h. in a 65 m.p.h. zone on Interstate 95.

“I have to admit it,” Ms. Haley said, “that getting the ticket and realizing the size of these new fines has made me more aware, and I’m driving more carefully now.”
Now I have little sympathy, really, for those who choose to break the speed limits on our nation's highways.

Those are the same highways that I and my family share with the speeders.

Excessive speed is very often the chief cause of fatal crashes.

Therefore, when some stupid idiot individual chooses to barrel down the highway at a high rate of speed, not only is he or she risking his or her own life, the speeder is also callously disregarding risking the lives of me and mine.

And that concerns me greatly.

So it should come as no surprise when I say that I like the idea of imposing severe fines for speeders.

But what I don't like is the fact that the plan pushed through the state legislature by Virginia's governor only punishes fellow Virginians with those high speeding tickets.

Exempted entirely from the high fines are those out-of-state drivers (many of which are, presumably, driving those 16-wheeled semi tractor-trailers who all-but-break the sound barrier as they go down the highway risking life-and-limb) who, under the law, (and in spite of the Constitution) receive preferential treatment over Virginia's own citizens.

And it's for that reason that I find Governor Kaine's plan to be so laughable strange.

But what would be even more laughable strange would be if the people of Virginia continue to accept this unequal treatment and don't send these clowns back to the circus from which they came at the next election

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