- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 29, 2002

The D.C. Department of Motor Vehicles has finally admitted overbilling motorists for various parking-related infractions. But it'll still be up to drivers to prove it. Anyone who has dealt with the infamous Bureau of Traffic Adjudication (BTA) and its labyrinthine bureaucracy knows this won't be easy. Even when confronted with clear, irrefutable evidence of error, BTA officials usually refuse to budge. There are untold cases of people who have been hit with tickets for illegally parking outside their own homes the fact that they had the requisite permit and complied with all lawful regulations notwithstanding. Motorists who have sold a car, or duly reported their license plates stolen, with a dated police report as clear evidence, are dunned for parking violations for years and years because someone else is buzzing around town with the old plates on his car. The list of abuses could fill up a phone book and just about everyone in Washington either has a story, or has heard a tale of woe from a family member or friend.

Now, the D.C. Department of Motor Vehicles is acknowledging, officially and in public, what we've all known for years: It has massively overbilled or wrongly billed to the tune of $17.8 million a staggering sum, when you think about it. Some states have budgets not a lot bigger than that. And of course, in keeping with the extortionate tactics of the IRS, the city won't be refunding a penny of interest on the near $20 million it has wrongly taken and been using these past 20 years. That naturally strikes a lot of us as unfair even hypocritical. As Bowie resident Shirlette Satterwhite told this newspaper's Brian DeBose, "When we owe the government, they want their money with interest, but they won't even give us our money back."

To date, only a few hundred drivers have been reimbursed out of some 21,000 who received notices. If prior experience is a guide, the city bureaucracy will waste more money issuing the refunds than it took illegally in the first place. Still, an admission of wrongdoing by the parking apparat of the city is at least something. But even that would have happened had it not been for an embarrassing expose by WTTG-TV (Channel 5) last year that forced the city's hand.

Efficient, fair enforcement of basic laws is one of the fundamental obligations of any government but that, sad to say, is still beyond the ability of the government of the District of Columbia.


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