Thursday, April 10, 2014

Epic Fail: Critiquing the 'Driver Responsibility' surcharge

At the Texas Tribune, Cathaleen Qiao Chen has a substantive overview of problems with the Orwellian-named "Driver Responsibility" surcharge in which your correspondent is quoted. Long-time readers know of Grits' profound disdain for this program, in which 60% of assessed penalties go uncollected. Around 1.3 million Texans currently have suspended licenses because of the surcharge, which is a civil penalty assessed in addition to criminal fines and penalties for offenses like driving with an invalid license, no insurance, and DWI. Williamson County Justice of the Peace Edna Staudt told the Trib that "she believes the program is unconstitutional because it penalizes drivers twice for the same violation."

I'm all for funding the state's trauma hospitals but this is the wrong way to do it. Better to pay for them out of the general fund or charge sin taxes on alcohol or junk food. A slight reduction in the amount socked away in the state's "rainy day fund" would easily do the trick. Besides, the state isn't distributing all the money to hospitals anyway, hoarding hundreds of millions in the "dedicated" account for trauma centers in order to help balance the budget. There's enough money in that account that, at current payment rates, the state could fund trauma centers through 2021 even if the Lege decided to abolish the surcharge next year. And half the surcharge money goes off the top straight into the general fund - hospitals never see most of it.

I've been performing some consulting work for the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition on the topic, helping them prepare reform proposals for a legislative committee hearing on Monday. Grits will post more on the topic after the hearing.

See prior, related Grits posts:

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