Wednesday, February 18, 2015

If Lege can pay $735 million for border boondoggle, why can't they scrounge $220 million from the couch cushions to eliminate Driver Responsiblity surcharge?

The 84th Texas Legislature should be the time and place to finally eliminate the Orwellian-named Driver Responsibility surcharge, that bane of low-income drivers which has taken driver licenses from more than 2 million Texans for nonpayment, more than 1.3 million of whom remain unlicensed. Texas drivers owe billions in unpaid surcharges, most of which no one believes can ever be collected. All of these are folks who've already paid their traffic tickets but were then hit with an extra, three-year civil penalty that most Texans aren't even aware exists until it's assessed against them.

Many Texas legislators by now are keenly aware of the problem, and if they're not, their staffers working constituent service are. Plus, this year the state enjoys billions in extra revenue (though admittedly there are many state needs competing for the money). So if there was ever a time in recent memory when it might be politically feasible to get rid of the program, on its face this would appear to be the year.

Presently the Driver Responsibility surcharge sends about $55 million per year to Texas trauma hospitals and a like amount to the general revenue fund. So if legislators want to abolish it, they must find at least $220 million to fill the budget hole.

That sounds like a lot until you realize Gov. Greg Abbott yesterday proposed to spend $735 million on redundant border security - approximately triple what the Lege budgeted in the last biennium. Abbott wants to add 500 DPS troopers to the state's border contingent and keep the National Guard there until they're fully deployed.

So if it's that easy to find an extra half billion to tack onto border security spending, it should be possible to find $220 million, even if it meant deploying 300 troopers to the Valley instead of 500. But really, even that tradeoff isn't necessary. The state has extra money beyond the governor's border security promises, if only the Legislature and Greg Abbot prioritized the surcharge issue as much.

The state gains virtually nothing from border deployments but a nine-figure budget line item - the National Guard aren't really allowed to do anything and DPS' roadblock program got shut down and is unlikely to be authorized by the Legislature. So really all they can do is drive around giving traffic tickets and hoping they inadvertently stumble across a drug runner, as though there aren't other parts of the state which could use help from DPS with traffic enforcement. The Texas border was the safest area of the state before DPS ever began the "surge," so it's hard to credit calm in the area with any great state success.

I get that the $735 million has more to do with primary politics than public policy. But I see no good reason legislative budget writers couldn't make it $515 million, spend the other $220 million to wipe out the Driver Responsibility surcharge, and still get to claim in 2016 that they sufficiently thumbed their noses at President Obama. In the meantime, they can solve a huge problem for 1.3 million Texas drivers without licenses and millions more suffering under the yoke of onerous, harmful, counterproductive, and arguably unconstitutional civil surcharges.

Public safety wouldn't be harmed at all - in fact arguably it would be improved - and legislators seeking re-election would have the added benefit of having performing a massive mitzvah for a millions of surcharge-owers and the 1.3 million who've lapsed.


Anon by choice said...

And many drivers who apparently owe the surcharge were never notified either that they owed it or that their license was invalid until stopped and ticketed or arrested! I have a client who went to the DPS and got the address on her license changed and received no notice of anything until subsequently stopped on another matter.

Alan said...

Good thoughts.

Anonymous said...

I know no body cares about this. I know someone who came out of prison flat broke unless who count the $100 TDCJ gave them. They needed a Drivers license to get a job; however, they had a surcharge that was over ten years old. The parole officer only help was to threaten to send them back to prison for not being able to pay their parole fees. Got to love this system that is only designed to send someone back to prison. If you have to deal with parole, you will always wonder who the real criminals are.

Anonymous said...

They can eliminate the biggest fraud scheme ever committed against the tax-payers of Texas, the SAFP and IPTC Programs. That is a cesspool, sink hole, bottomless money pit. PURE CORRUPTION to add extra income in the high level over paid state employees pockets.

Anonymous said...

Ok, for those that have no clue as to exactly what the Driver Responsibility surcharge is, could someone include in their comment a brief explanation.

When did it come to Texas?

Why did it come to Texas?

Who brought it here?

Without knowing, the title of this state wide fundraiser and the negative replies (so far) simply leaves us to believe it's related to drivers and corrupt means of distracting money from those that drove at one time. Screw Google & Bing searches, for all that will bring is unwanted advertising for Golf clubs.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@11:33, here you go:

When did it come to Texas?


Why did it come to Texas?

It was supposed to be the funding mechanism for Rick Perry's Trans Texas Corridor. The TTC failed and was never enacted but the funding source went through.

Who brought it here?

Mike Krusee, a former state rep who has since said it was a bad idea and called for its repeal.

Anonymous said...

Common sense changes, as suggested, seem to have little traction in a situation where the rulemakers are more focused on non-sense.

Brunner said...

The surcharge is like the lottery: State fundraising off of the poorest of the poor. It can be a trap that grinds down those who can - literally - least afford it.

Anonymous said...

Just another stupid law to keep the poor person down...GOOD JOB BIG MONEY HUNGRY STATE!!

Anonymous said...

Oh...lets don't forget that we pay attorneys to help us with the surcharge problem, first by representing us when we go to jail for failure to pay what we didn't know existed, then by explaining whey we went to jail in the first place...Heil Hitler!!!

Anonymous said...

The border surge is a fraud. I hope the committee funds $1,000 for a fake camera to place on the border so all the Republicans can go film their campaign commercials in front of and talk about how they secured the border, while ICE / BP are spending billions more and are the real reason the number of illegal crossings are down.

DPS Colonel Steve McCraw really knows how to seek the funds, pushing more money for the Troopers who received a 20% raise last session. By screening out an extremely large majority of the Trooper applicants, he was not able to fill all 6 Trooper classes. He made the Trooper turnover rate seem like it was over 15%, but in reality that is the number of washouts in the highly physically demanding DPS academy, which is ran like a marine corps basic training camp. The real number of Trooper turnovers in DPS is 4% in FY 2014, mostly Troopers retiring.

DPS is wasting taxpayers money while other criminal justice agencies such as TJJD and TDCJ have thousands of officers leaving every year and are not funded at safe levels.

Anonymous said...

Ellis' bill is a good start but the problem with that bill is that it ends the DRP once passed but does not address the millions that are still stuck in the cycle. You are considered "old law" and still have to pay. These folk never took into account that the folk that are caught up in this farce are tax consumers and not payers because they cannot get jobs with these suspended license and the ones that have found work are doing so at a rate that still qualifies them for gov. benefits - food stamps, unemployment, housing assistance and so forth. I wonder if anyone has ever determined just how much more Texas tax dollars are being spent to continue to violate the constitutional rights of an individual (double jeopardy)?