- The Washington Times - Monday, March 29, 2004

Mayor Williams yesterday presented his budget for the next fiscal year, and one of the most notable negatives is the new “shakedown” on motorists. The mayor says his budget proposal focuses on public safety; we say it focuses on raising taxes — with a heavy dose of Big Brother photographic snooping thrown in for bad measure.

As part of his $6.25 billion budget plan, the mayor proposes raising $47 million next year by increasing fees and fines related to parking and driving. For example, the city wants to up the ante on parking meters and increase the cost of a driver’s license. He wants to increase fees for vehicle registration and the required inspection of motor vehicles.

In a page straight out of Marion Barry’s tax-and-spend book, the Williams administration also proposes doubling the residential parking tax. That means residents who now only have to pay $15 a year for a windshield sticker enabling them to park on the streets in front of their own homes will have to pay twice as much. Whether they can count on the D.C. Council to tell the mayor nothing doing, enough is enough, is certainly in doubt. In 2002, a veto-proof majority of the D.C. Council — led by a Republican, no less — exempted themselves from the parking tickets the cops write with such abandon for the rest of us. So, for the most part, all 13 privileged characters of the Council get to park where they please — at an expired meter or in front of someone else’s home — with no risk of being slapped with a ticket.

The Williams administration wants to hire more parking enforcement officers to ticket your car a little sooner or tow it before you can get to the bureaucracy that beats all bureaucracies — the Bureau of Traffic Adjudication. And, just to make certain that motorists shouldn’t even think about hurrying, the Williams administration wants to increase the number of speed traps and raise fines on those tickets, too. Since speeding and red-light running have declined from 31 percent to 6 percent since July 2001, the city has to increase the number of traps and raise the accompanying fines to make up the difference. These are not safety tools, but revenue raisers, and to present them as otherwise adds insult to the injury to constituents. The Mid-Atlantic chapter of the American Automobile Association (AAA) rightly calls the automated traps a “shakedown” and a “back door” to a commuter tax.

The lead in averting these bad policies falls to Council member Carol Schwartz, who is the Republican chairman of the public works panel. Mrs. Schwartz chides the mayor practically every chance she gets. We’ll see if she stands by his side and attempts to balance the budget on the backs of D.C. motorists. Since she’s the councilwoman who introduced the legislation exempting herself and the dozen other council members from traffic tickets, we wouldn’t bet against it.

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