1/4/2008Virginia: Lt Governor Calls for Total Repeal of Abuser Fees
Virginia Lieutenant Governor calls for total repeal of abuser fees, while fee architect Dave Albo attempts to save them.
Virginia's lieutenant governor yesterday called on members of the General Assembly to unconditionally repeal the controversial speeding ticket tax that took effect last July. In a letter to lawmakers preparing for the 2008 session that opens on Wednesday, Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling (R) suggested that the concept of funding highways with ticket surcharges may have seemed like a good idea initially, but that it has been a disaster in practice.
"It is my belief that the abusive driver fees should be repealed," Bolling wrote. "While it may be possible to address some of the concerns that have been raised... through revisions to the 2007 legislation, I believe that would be a mistake."
Under current law, anyone convicted of driving either 20 MPH over the speed limit or 80 MPH on any road is subject to the remedial fees. On Interstate 85, which has a top legal speed of 70 MPH, a 10 MPH speeding ticket automatically becomes "reckless driving" which carries a mandatory remedial fee of $1050 in addition to a fine of up to $2500 imposed by a judge.
Bolling wrote that the public lost confidence in the program after learning that "less serious traffic offenses" were included and that the fees only applied to state residents. Bolling noted that as of November 30, the ticket tax only generated $2.8 million in revenue -- far short of the initial projections. The safety impact thus far has been equally unimpressive with traffic deaths hitting a 17-year high last year. Bolling put his weight behind legislation offered by Delegates Mark Cole (R-Fredericksburg) and Lacey Putney (I-Bedford) and Senator Ken Cuccinelli (R-Fairfax County).
The original architect of the abuser fees, state Delegate Dave Albo (R-Springfield), is lobbying to save the ticket tax. His proposal would expand the fees to include out-of-state drivers but eliminate them for certain minor infractions such as reckless failure to use a turn signal and speeding less than 25 MPH over the limit. It would, however, boost the maximum possible speeding penalty to $4420. This sum would be imposed in the form of a $120 tax on each mile-per-hour driven in excess of 25 MPH over the posted limit, with the total fine capped at $1920. This means driving 96 MPH in a 55 zone brings that hefty fee in addition to a court-imposed penalty of up to $2500. (View full text of proposed legislation, 64k PDF file)
Albo, a traffic lawyer, separately introduced legislation that would require anyone who fails to pay the abuser fee to be arrested, fingerprinted and photographed (view bill).
Text of the Lieutenant Governor's letter to members of the General Assembly:
January 3, 2008
I look forward to seeing you in Richmond next week and working with you during this year's legislative session to achieve our mutual goals.
One of the important issues we will consider this year is repeal or revision of the abusive driver fee legislation that was enacted by the General Assembly last year. I am writing to advise you of my belief that the abusive driver fee legislation should be repealed and to ask for your support of our efforts to accomplish this goal.
When the concept of abusive driver fees was first discussed several years ago, many of us felt it was a legitimate way to raise money for transportation construction. In addition, by applying these fees to the most serious traffic related offenses, we also felt it was a legitimate way to improve safety on Virginia's highways. This was also one of the things that the members of the General Assembly seemed to agree on, so it was appropriate to include this legislation in the 2007 transportation package.
Unfortunately, it has since become apparent that the legislation inadvertently applied the abusive driver fees to a number of less serious traffic related offenses, and the Governor's amendments, which exempted out of state drivers from the abusive driver fees, made the legislation terribly unpopular. Both of these problems with the legislation are unacceptable.
In addition, recent information provided by the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission indicates that the abusive driver fees are not generating anywhere near the $60M a year we had been told they would generate. In fact, the fees only resulted in total collections of $2.8M through November 30th of 2007.
Given these considerations, it is my belief that the abusive driver fees should be repealed. While it may be possible to address some of the concerns that have been raised, such as those discussed above, through revisions to the 2007 legislation, I believe that would be a mistake. While this was the most noble of efforts, it simply has not worked out the way it was intended, and it has become terribly unpopular in the public eye. That is why I favor the total repeal of the abusive driver fees, as opposed to their modification.
I am pleased to report that Delegate Lacey Putney, Delegate Mark Cole and Senator Ken Cuccinelli have agreed to introduce legislation calling for repeal of the abusive driver fees. Other legislators will most likely introduce similar legislation. I encourage you to sign on as a co-patron of this legislation and give it your support during this year's legislative session.
Thank you for considering my views on this important issue. If you have any questions, or would like to share your feedback with me on this issue, please let me know.
Very Truly Yours,
WILLIAM T. BOLLING
Commonwealth of Virginia