the county is unleashing more than 250 deputy constables and sheriffs across North Texas to begin arresting people who haven't paid their tickets.
The county is launching its 90-day zero-tolerance operation to collect as much of the $200 million in unpaid traffic tickets as possible.
The more than 600,000 outstanding tickets date back decades, but county officials need only to collect a small percentage to generate a windfall of needed revenue.
The county is facing a $34 million budget gap for the upcoming 2009 fiscal year.
Deputies will travel to as many counties as possible to serve the misdemeanor warrants, Commissioner John Wiley Price said.
"We'll go get them wherever we find them," he said.
As emergency options go, this idea makes more sense than firing lawyers in the public defender office, but not by much.
Increasingly counties rely on fine revenue (and using jails to extract it) in order to pay for basic services. It's expensive to use the jail to coerce debtors: It costs $45 per day to house everybody they arrest, and if they can't pay they must sit in jail at the taxpayers expense. Plus you can add a great deal of travel costs (at $4 per gallon) to the idea's downside. And that doesn't even consider the potential harm to public safety of taking 250 peace officers off the streets to track down old traffic misdemeanors. What would those officers be doing otherwise if not deployed on this money making scheme?
We're in a bizarre point in Texas history where the reliance on fine revenue has become so great and the range of offenses fined expanded so dramatically that approximately 10% of adult Texans have outstanding arrest warrants, mostly because fees were increased so much many people can't pay. The problem is, to the extent they actually can't pay, you can't fit 10% of the population in the jail!
"It's $200 million. We're going after our money," said County Commissioner John Wiley Price.
Make me philosopher king and I'd ratchet down traffic fines - or at least end the so-called Driver Responsibility program - and insist that taxation fund government's basic services. We've long passed the point where fining traffic offenders is primarily about safety. At this point, as Price admits, it's all about the money.