The Washington Times - January 15, 2008, 03:11PM
Virginia

\ At the center of the story is Delegate David B. Albo, Fairfax County Republican and one of the most popular members of the General Assembly.\

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\ In today’s story, Albo explains why he has not bowed to the public and political pressure to end the fees.\

\ Albo thinks the fees can be successfully tweaked. He says drunken drivers and other people who commit serious driving offenses should still pay more for roads than the average Joe that does not break the law.\

\ Many lawmakers agree that drunken drivers should face stiffer penalties, but they feel the public outcry against the fees has risen to such a feverish pitch that the plan needs to be scrapped. Then they can address drunken drivers some other way.\

\ That likelihood has encouraged lawmakers to propose ways to make up the projected $65 million that was projected to roll into the road maintenance after the program was fully implemented.\

\ Some Senate Democrats have proposed different gas tax increases to make up the money.\

\ In response, Albo seems even more dumbfounded that Senate Democrats are in favor of swapping out the fees, then turn around to tax “law-abiding citizens.”\

\ In addition, here is a press release Albo issued Jan. 13 in an attempt to answer many of the questions related to the fees and his proposed changes:\ \

VIRGINIA’S ABUSER FEE COLLECTIONS ON TRACK BASED UPON TEXAS‘ SUCCESSFUL DRIVER RESPONSIBLITY PROGRAM\ \ \ RICHMOND, VA — Proponents of the civil remedial fees for abusive drivers are citing a similar program in Texas that is presently delivering $180 million per year.\ \ \ The Texas Public Safety Driver Responsibility Surcharge Program began in June of 2004. The experience in Texas counters recent claims that the Virginia Abuser Fee program will not eventually yield the $65 million/yr. estimated by the legislation. The experience of Texas indicates that Virginia’s collections are right on track. \ \ \ The Texas program applies the fees to all drivers in state and out of state, but has a more limited set of offenses than Virginia. Like Virginia, Texas includes Driving While Intoxicated, Driving On a Suspended License, and Driving Without a License (e.g., never having obtained a license), to name a few. However, unlike Virginia, it does not include Reckless Speeding. Both plans assess fees once a year for three years. Texas, like Virginia, also includes a points section which charges drivers with six or more points on a Texas driver’s license. In addition, Texas outsources the collection of the fees to a private contractor, MSB Government Services. (New Jersey uses ACS.) Virginia has not yet hired new staff nor a contractor to collect the Abuser Fees. \ \ \ The Texas program began in 2004, and in its first year, $8.394 million was returned to the State Treasury. While that year was very low because the program was new and enforcement mechanisms were not yet in place, the fees soon added up. In 2005 $68.908 million was raised, 2006 $129 million was raised, and in 2007, $181 million was raised. Since Texas is approximately three times larger than Virginia, this would extrapolate to a prediction that Virginia would $2.8 million in the first year and $60 million in the fourth year.\ \ \ Delegate David Albo has proposed a replacement for the current Virginia Abuser Fees that reduces the number of offenses to the most serious and makes them apply to both in state and out of state drivers. Albo’s bill, HB 161, is like the Texas plan. These Texas figures show that HB 161, which fixes the Abuser Fee plan by reducing the number of offenses to the most serious and brings in out of state drivers, should still be able to bring in its expected $65 million in revenue. \ \ \ Delegate Dave Albo stated, “Abuser Fees were put in place because Virginia needed money for roads and driving in Virginia was too dangerous. We figured that people who commit crimes on Virginia roads should pay more to drive in Virginia than those who just get a traffic ticket now and then. As an added bonus, increasing the punishment on dangerous driving should reduce that behavior. It seems that we were right. The Texas experience shows us that Virginia is on track to raise $65 million per year, and Reckless Driving has dropped by 11%, thus our roads are more safe. Thus, the Abuser Fees should not be repealed, as has been suggested by some, but rather fixed.”\ \ \ “I am the first to admit that the bill is not perfect. We need to include out-of-state drivers. In addition, our hopes of lowering all types of dangerous driving are mixed. While the JLARC report shows that Reckless has dropped 11%, it also shows that DWIs are up. However, state police reports show that DWI deaths are down dramatically. It’s hard to make sense of it all, however, repealing Abuser Fees, and therefore reducing punishments on drunk and dangerous drivers, is certainly not the answer.”
\ \ \ Delegate Albo previously sent out a press release regarding his Abuser Fee rewrite in December. His new bill models the Texas program by including out-of-state drivers and reducing the number of offenses to the most \ egregious. (See HB 161 here.)\ \ \ Albo states, “Any rational person who reads the list of offenses in HB 161 should be all for the increased fees on these people who threaten all of us on Virginia roads.” \ \ \ — Seth McLaughlin, Virginia politics reporter, The Washington Times \ \