8/23/2007Virginia Speaker Pushes for Ticket Tax Expansion
Virginia House Speaker proposes changes to controversial ticket tax that includes expanding abuser fees to out-of-state drivers.
Virginia House Speaker William J. Howell (R) and Senate Majority Leader Walter Stosch (R) today announced a plan to expand the state's so-called civil remedial fee program to include out-of-state drivers (fee details).
"When Senator Stosch and I stood with Governor Kaine a month ago in support of this year's bipartisan compromise on transportation, we pledged to make the abusive driver fees apply equally to out-of-state and Virginia drivers, just as they were when HB 3202 was approved by the General Assembly in February," Howell said. "Our resolve to make that change has only strengthened since that July 19 news conference."
Howell also provided a four-point outline of changes to the program that he would support. First, he would remove class three and class four misdemeanors (see chart below) from the list of what qualifies for the $750 to $3000 surcharges. This would include failure to report an accident, driving with expired insurance and a few other rarely imposed offenses. Second, he would "reevaluate the remaining higher offenses for their seriousness." Third, he would "reassess" the fee imposed for reckless driving so that the fee would increase for drivers accused of driving at greater speeds. Fourth, he would give "judges greater discretion to waive the abuser fees for those subjected to them for driving on a suspended license where the suspension was solely due to failure to pay a fine or fee." Although no vote on any changes would take place until January 2008 -- well after the November state elections -- the fee changes would be retroactive to July 1, 2007.
Howell's move comes at a time when opposition to the fees has grown in the courts, with the public at large and with legislators from both ends of the political spectrum. Within the past two weeks, Richmond and Hanover General District Courts have struck down the fees as unconstitutional while the Henrico Circuit Court upheld them. Additional challenges are underway in Arlington, Chesterfield and Roanoke. Nearly 175,000 voters pledged not to re-elect anyone who supported the fees (view petition). Virginia House Democratic Caucus Chairman Brian J. Moran has sought to make repeal of the fees a campaign issue, although the list of delegates willing to repeal the fees is bipartisan.
Key conservative groups like the National Taxpayers Union and Club for Growth have also entered the fray, filing a lawsuit against the entire transportation tax package that created the speeding ticket tax. Virginia Club for Growth President Paul Jost said he did not trust Howell and Stosch to fix the fees and urged the legislature to repeal them completely.
"These are the same guys who boasted that they had passed legislation this year that would fund transportation without raising taxes when it turns out that the legislation they passed raises taxes on car repairs, sales of homes, car rentals, purchases of automobiles, automobile registration fees and even gas taxes in some areas of the state -- not to mention the abusive driver fees," Jost wrote. "They have fooled us twice. Can we trust them to not fool us a third time?"
To generate anywhere near the $65 million the fees were intended to collect annually, motorists traveling in Virginia would still need to be hit hard by fees for speeding offenses. According to the Virginia State Police, state troopers issued 100,592 reckless driving citations last year, a number which does not include tickets given by local law enforcement. Although a majority of these citations were issued for driving more than 16 MPH over the speed limit, a spokesman could not provide a breakdown of the types of the offenses cited. In total, Virginia courts heard 424,936 traffic misdemeanor cases, most of which would have qualified for the remedial fees.
Current Class Three and Class Four Misdemeanor Fees
Under 21 driving after consuming alcohol $2250 Consuming alcohol while driving $900 Failure to notify police of accident $900 Operate uninsured vehicle $900 Elude police/Disregard signal to stop $900 Riding as a passenger on motorcycle not designed for two $900 Failure to stop for pedestrian with white cane $900 Driving with working nitrous oxide device $900 Obscene image visible outside vehicle $900