Thursday, September 09, 2010

Local Taxes Update: Fees For Stuff Taxes Pay For

I note this story with some trepidation as I know a number of local politicos monitor this site and I really loathe to give any of them any ideas of this nature...

It ought to be a crime to double tax a citizen. I mean, it is bad enough that we have to pay taxes in the first place. I consider it a necessary evil in order to have government provide vital services such as police, fire and rescue, and garbage collection; but enough is enough with the nickel and dime nonsense.

Charging fees for services that taxes already pay for is absurd. I mean, I understand that the idea is to stop people from abusing the system; but this is ridiculous.
As local governments strain against declining revenues, many have turned to a controversial -- and legally dubious -- way to raise money: They're charging accident victims for municipal services that are already covered by taxes. And the biggest proponents of these “Accident Response Fees” -- also known as "crash taxes" -- often are not good government groups and economists, but debt collection agencies looking to expand their business.

The increasingly popular revenue-raising plans generally work like this:

Every time a local public safety service (police, fire, ambulance, hazmat) responds to an emergency call, a bill gets sent to the person who receives aid. In most places, only non-residents get a bill; but in others, everyone does. And in a few places, only those found to be at fault are billed.

The idea is to make up for lost tax revenues by turning municipal workers into on-call contractors. But as often as not, these taxpayer-paid public servants wind up adding to the grief of accident victims by charging for their services at the scene.

The bills can be huge. A simple response to an accident usually costs just less than $500, but the bottom line can quickly soar. In Florida, if a fire chief shows up at your accident, it'll cost you an extra $200 an hour. Need a Jaws of Life rescue in Sacramento, Calif.? Add $1,875. In Chico, Calif., going into a ditch could cost as much as your car, because a complex rescue goes for $2,000 an hour, plus $50 per hour for each rescue worker. And if there is gas or oil to clean up, the hazmat team will bill another $100 per hour per team member. In San Francisco an ambulance ride will cost $1,642 under a new proposal there. A Pennsylvania man recently complained that his bill for an accident on his motorcycle included charges for “mops and brooms.”
There has to be a better way than this...