- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 9, 2005

If you received more D.C. parking tickets than usual last year, you weren’t alone. As The Washington Times reported Monday, the District issued 1.6 million tickets in 2004 for a total of $99 million in parking fines, or about $399 for every household. If this seems excessive, that’s because it is. There’s no getting around this one: The Williams administration is trying to milk the parking-ticket cash cow to the very last drop.

The city has tripled the number of ticket writers since 1999, even though the District’s population has fallen, and would presumably necessitate fewer meter maids. The number of tickets bounds upward each year, and ticketing revenues are figuring prominently in the mayor’s budget plans. Meanwhile the D.C. Council, including Republican Council member Carol Schwartz and Democrat Phil Mendelson (who last year criticized Mayor Tony Williams’ moves), seemingly now support the mayor strong-arming residents and visitors alike. After all, council members exempted themselves from tickets, boots and tows.

D.C. officials aren’t saying the tens of millions in revenues are the driving force behind more ticketing, of course. They say they’re responding to increased public demands for stricter enforcement. “In the last several years, at the request of District residents and businesses, the Department of Public Works has tripled the number of parking officers that are charged with monitoring curbside parking,” DPW spokeswoman Mary Myers told The Times. “We have seen that there is plenty of work for them to do.” Things were much worse in 1997, she pointed out as an apparent consolation, when 2.3 million tickets were issued.

Whatever the truth about Washingtonians clamoring for tougher enforcement may be, there’s an unmistakeable trend at work here. Last year, the mayor’s budget included plans to increase the cost of a driver’s license, fees for vehicle registration and inspection, fines and parking taxes. The budget also included additional photo-radar cameras to catch speeders. When all these indicators point upward, we know public safety is taking a back seat to revenues.

Chris Hoene of the National League of Cities, of which Mayor Williams is president, all but admitted as much speaking with The Times, calling fines and fees “extremely important as an alternative revenue to local taxes,” and voiced sympathy for over-fined car owners.

As the mayor prepares his budget, we urge him and his minions to ease up — especially since the city enjoys a surplus of more than $230 million. Nearly $400 per household in parking fees and fines is too much. Indeed, when residents and consumers consider what they get in return, it’s highway robbery and a back-door means toward a commuter tax.

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