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Parking Fines and Official Exemptions

March 11, 1993

The Feb. 25 story on plans for Santa Monica to raise its parking fines confirmed what many have long suspected: Parking fines have become just another form of taxation, a way for local governments to avoid having to endure the pain of cutting their budgets.

Santa Monica's annual $4-million parking swag, now slated for more than a 50% increase, is only one of many sad examples. The City of Los Angeles rakes in more than $100 million.

The victims are not just "scofflaws," as your headline writer would have it, but anyone who drives a car in this fair city--except for its government officials. They of course have carefully exempted themselves, apparently on the theory that where taxation is concerned, it is enough for them to be on the receiving end.

This tax is not only punitive; it is regressive. The burden falls most heavily on the poor, who often live and work where the parking restrictions are at their most Draconian.

It is abhorrent for people to be treated like criminals just so the city can squeeze more money out of them. What if violations should decrease? The city's perverse incentive is then to crack down even more to maintain the revenue flow.

The Libertarian Party of L.A. County has initiated a program to help motorists in Los Angeles County recover the bail they have paid in parking tickets over the last five years. Our program is among the reasons the state Legislature decided to decriminalize parking violations. But lest anyone think the new law is an improvement, please observe that the whole purpose of "decriminalizing" is to eliminate due-process rights for parking defendants.

We won an initial Traffic Court judgment in December, but a few weeks ago the judge reversed himself, revealing the tax collector hidden behind his judicial robes. We are now appealing and expect to prevail at the appellate or Supreme Court level, where, we hope, law is still law.

We will win because, under the old system, parking fines are not "fines" but bail: There can be no fine without a conviction. Most motorists just mail in their bail, which the judge then illegally keeps. Individuals willing to fight to recover bail have been winning. We plan also to contest the new law.

The injury is the cynically disguised tax increase. The insult is the official self-exemption. Isn't this why almost one in five voted for Ross Perot? Doesn't it make you angry, and want to do something?

NEAL DONNER

Los Angeles

Donner is outreach director for the Libertarian Party of Los Angeles County .

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