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The Red Light Camera Tax

In a letter to the Asbury Park Press, Belmar resident Michael Rothenberg makes a common mistake, one made very often by politicians.

He states “Anything that can create more revenue for this bankrupt state and individual towns without raising taxes is fine by me.”  What he seems not to understand is that when money is taken from it’s rightful owner in the private economy and instead spent by the government it reduces that economy.  Some of the money collected by red-light tickets, if not sent to the government,  might otherwise have been spent at your company, or even Mr. Rothenberg’s.  Unless it was going to be buried in a shoebox in it’s owner’s back yard, it was going to be either spent or saved, either of which would grow the economy.  It doesn’t matter to the macro economy whether it was a tax or a fine, it’s deleterious effect is the same.

Now taxes and fines both drive behaviour, sometimes intentionally, such as with fines and with certain taxes, and sometimes unintentionally, such as the income tax (which discourages wealth creation.)  And if fines reduce certain antisocial behaviour then they may be justified.  But in general, when money is taken by force out of the voluntary economy to be spent politically instead, it reduces everyone’s standard of living.

The problem in New Jersey isn’t that government isn’t collecting enough revenue.  Whatever means they might employ, if the government collected enough to pay for all it’s ever-increasing obligations, there would be no economy.  New Jersey would look like East Germany.  Government comes at the expense of the economy.  The bigger the government, the smaller the economy.

Of course I am not in favor of running red lights.  But I am against the use of red-light cameras, and not just for economic reasons.

Aside from the creepy big-brother 1984ish aspect of always being watched, my main objection to red-light camera tickets is that they are unfairly difficult to defend one’s self against.

To begin with, the state doesn’t even have to know who is being charged.  This is why they can’t issue points against the driver.  They should have to know who they are charging and not just punish the owner of the car.  You can’t just press homicide charges against the owner of a gun used in a murder.  You need to prove that he pulled the trigger.

Another factor that makes it almost impossible to defend yourself against one of these tickets is that you don’t get the summons for several weeks after the supposed infraction.  When you get a ticket from a cop, you know what just happened.  You have the opportunity to explain to the cop any mitigating circumstances, and even if unsuccessful, at least you know that what you just did will have to be defended in court, so you will be sure to remember.

When you get a ticket in the mail, charging you with something from a month ago, you most likely won’t remember what the circumstances were, especially if it is an intersection you pass through regularly.  How can you defend yourself against something you don’t even remember doing?  This is fundamentally unfair prosecution and should not be permitted in a free country.

And despite the claims of public support for red-light cameras, every city and town where referendums banning red-light cameras were put to the voters, those bans passed easily.  The people don’t want this and the state should just drop the whole idea.


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