We all want roads and highways that are safe, uncongested and well-engineered. And yet, just about every state has a growing list of roads and bridges that have been long neglected... the money isn't there.
On the local level too, municipalities are looking for every way they can to generate revenue to maintain infrastructure and pay for basic services since more of the burden is falling on state and local budgets. Consequently, more and more are toying with "ticket amnesty", a practice that advises motorists that if they received parking tickets and haven't paid them, they can pay just the face value now, and the city will grant them amnesty on the late fees, which can often double or triple the original fine.
That's what St. Louis did this month. If you get a parking ticket there and you don't pay it on time, the fine triples after 45 days. But this month, they're giving those people a break, hoping to gather funds the city views as "found money."
The good thing about the program is that it brings in money the city believes it would never have gotten otherwise, according to Andres Broussard, of the St. Louis Treasurer's Office. The city also offered amnesty for people with outstanding warrants.
The way it works is that motorists had to show up at the St. Louis Convention Center, (America's Center), and were required to buy a $10 ticket to get in line. At the end of the line, city employees issue a voucher for the cost of the original tickets which must be paid at the city parking bureau or on line. (So basically, the city is getting its fine +$10, per each participating scofflaw. And if they still don't pay by the new deadline, the original fines are added back onto the cost of the tickets.
Obviously, it's one way for a city to stimulate cash flow, but is it fair to law-abiding people who never get ticketed, or, even to those who pay on time to avoid the penalties? Some of them may have endured hardship in order to pay their tickets, while others who ignored them, perhaps for months or years, are now rewarded for their indifference.
In New York's Nassau County, they tried the same thing a year ago. They offered a 45-day amnesty period, targeting people with three or more parking tickets or red-light violations. The county had 359,000 outstanding parking tickets valued at $49.4 million, not including fees and late charges they agreed to waive. The city found that drivers of 20,782 vehicles had accumulated three or more outstanding tickets, some dating as far back as 1987, and those scofflaws owed $20.5 million.
When the program ended, they city was embarassed when it announced its amnesty program was a bust. The city thought it would raise $21.7 million in unpaid tickets, and instead, the Traffic and Parking Violations Bureau took in just $186,481 on 5,145 tickets.
Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano later announced that those motorists who ignored the program would be subject to increased costs due to boot and tow enforcement actions. The county is in the process of signing an agreement with a private vendor to search for scofflaw vehicles and place a boot on their wheels. Some of those vehicles will be towed to private lots until all
fines are paid in full.
The contract will not cost taxpayers as the boot-and-tow provider will be paid through a fee paid by violators. Previously, New York and Nassau County had turned over their names to a collections agency.
What do you think? Should cities offer scofflaws ticket amnesty?