Unsurprisingly, I'm one of the people who were flabbergasted and incensed over Virginia's "abusive driver" fees. All the general reasons apply: unfair, unwarranted, and sponsored by an unscrupulous legislator who stands to make a few bucks in his day-job as a lawyer representing drivers tagged with the fees. If you want to raise money to fix the roads, then raise taxes so the cost is spread across everyone who uses them or cut some spending elsewhere to cover it.
But that would require doing something up-front, honest and straightforward when it comes to tax issues, so I suppose it's a little much to expect from Virginia Republicans.
I'm thinking it's also going to be a little much to expect some sense to come out of Republican efforts to change the law in response to massive public outcry. During yesterday's press conference on how the panicked state legislators planned to calm angry constituents who are likely registered to vote, Va. Senate Majority Leader Walter A. Stosch said:
"Many citizens believe the fees are unnecessarily harsh and do not fit the crime. That can and will be fixed," Stosch said. "But lost in that discussion has been the safety factor. Will our highways be safer because of this law? . . . There are some early indicators they will."
According to the Post, House Speaker William J. Howell attempted to buttress that "safety first" approach by dragging out some statistics:
Between July 1 and Aug. 1, state police issued 23 percent fewer reckless-driving citations and 11 percent fewer speeding tickets than the previous year, Howell said. There were also 88 traffic fatalities in July, compared with 94 during the same period last year, according to state police.
Okay, I'm game. Let's take the first one, on the number of tickets. Is it possible that Virginia drivers engaged in less reckless driving and speeding because they had heard about the draconian fees? Could be. Is it possible that some state troopers, realizing how people feel about the new fees, are going a little easier by issuing fewer tickets and more verbal warnings (or even ticketing for lesser infractions in the stead of some fee-triggering offenses)? Could be. But politicians cherry-picking data aren't going to be bothered by looking at several possible, and realistic, causes.
The second data point that Howell claims shows the resounding success of the legislature's grab for dollars is, quite frankly, idiotic. A statistically irrelevant difference of six fatalities in one of the highest-volume traffic months of the year, when airwaves and publications are flooded with information on safer driving shows nothing. And it doubly shows nothing when it's not even compared as a trend over a few years time.
I do have to say, however, it's a lovely sight to watch these guys scramble in fear of their political future. If only Virginians could have gotten worked up about other gross government overreaches like constitutional marriage amendments. Ah, one can dream.