The next time you get a speeding ticket in Mojave, be thankful that you
don't live in Helsinki and don't earn $7 million a year.
Some countries in northern Europe, including Finland, set traffic ticket
fines on a case-by-case basis according to the violator's income.
That formula was really bad news for businessman Reima Kuisla, who was
caught travelling 64 mph in a 50 mph zone. Officials reviewed his 2013
tax return, and set his fine at 54,000 euros, or about
$60,000. Mr. Kuisla took to Facebook and complained that he was singled out, but
these cases are not unheard of. One Swiss driver was fined $290,000 for
a 2010 speeding ticket, and fines in Germany can be even higher.
Look on the bright side. The $60,000 citation was less than one percent
of Mr. Kuisla's annual income.
Finland may be onto something. Instead of saddling drivers with high penalty
assessments they cannot afford to pay, California may be better served
by a sliding scale. But such a system would mean much more work for an
already overburdened system, so it's probably not going to happen.
California penalty assessments date back to the 1950s or 1960s. Back then,
it was $1 for every $20 in fines, and the money went to driver training
programs. Not surprisingly, PAs increased pretty much every year and by
2002, it was $17 for every $10. The formula has almost doubled since then,
and it's now
$30 for every $10. Legislators also tack on court costs, including a $40 court operations
fee, a $4 EMT fee and a $35 records fee. So, a $100 fine becomes a $480 bill.
PAs are theoretically tied to the citation, but in effect, they are basically a
back-door tax increase which does not require voter or government approval. The good news is
that many prosecutors are willing to reduce the PAs, because Tulare County
and other local jurisdictions don't keep very much of the money.