New Podcast: Dr. Michael Makowsky on Budget Problems and Traffic Citations

April 14, 2010

The Washington Examiner on Monday reported that governments in D.C. and its environs are targeting drivers to fill budget gaps:

In coming months, parking tickets, traffic fines and the price of merely owning a vehicle likely will increase as local officials, particularly in the District, look for ways to fill bare coffers — at the expense of car-dependent residents facing one of the nation’s harshest commutes.

D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty is seeking higher penalties for dozens of traffic violations in an effort to generate nearly $30 million. The plan is highlighted by a photo radar push to collect $40.7 million this year and $56.8 million in 2011, a 40 percent jump. …

Fairfax County is likely to bring back a $33 vehicle registration fee and raise parking fines from $40 to as high as $75 for commercial vehicles illegally parked in residential areas. Montgomery County lawmakers are considering a $5 increase in parking fines, coming on top of a $5 increase this month.

In this week’s Tax Policy Podcast, Tax Foundation Staff Economist Kail Padgitt, Ph.D., interviews Dr. Michael Makowsky, an assistant professor of economics at Towson University, on factors that affect traffic citations — including the budget situations of local governments. Makowsky co-authored a paper titled, “Political Economy at Any Speed: What Determines Traffic Citations?” which found that out-of-town drivers who are stopped in a municipality facing budget problems are much more likely to get a ticket.

The study looked at Massachusetts, which — due to Proposition 2 ½ — limits how much total tax revenue a town can raise each year, as well as how much a town can raise its revenue cap each year. Proposed increases are subject to voter approval. Makowsky’s research found that in towns where the override vote failed, drivers who were pulled over were 11 percentage points more likely to get a ticket.

“If you hold everything else constant, if you have a 50-50 chance of getting a ticket if you got pulled over in a town that had an override failing vote, you had a 61% chance of getting a ticket,” he says.

Those chances increase by as much as 26 percentage points if the driver is from out of town.

See the full paper here. Makowsky co-authored a related paper, “More Tickets, Fewer Accidents: How Cash-Strapped Towns Make for Safer Roads,” which looks at the relationship among budget shortfalls, the number of traffic citations and traffic safety.

Listen to the full podcast here, or check out all of the Tax Foundation’s Tax Policy Podcasts.

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