The 7th Circuit, in upholding a $30 booking fee imposed by the Village of Woodridge on every person arrested by its police, explained its rational basis in simple but brutal terms:
Woodridge’s booking fee clearly passes the rational basis test. In imposing the fee, Woodridge hopes to offset the cost of booking arrestees, or at the very least to collect revenue, either of which is a legitimate goal.
To “collect revenue,” even without a necessary connection to the “fee for service” aspect of the sentence, is close enough. The collection of revenue is a legitimate goal. And indeed, it’s not merely legitimate, but overarching.
In his new home at the Washington Post, Radley Balko offers a laundry list of horribles where the collection of revenue is not only legitimate, but sufficiently important to come before public safety.
Bad for safety. Good for revenue collection. And, of course, that’s a legitimate goal.
Last week, the New York Times offered an editorial calling for the end of price gouging of inmates:
The Federal Communications Commission ended a grave injustice last fall when it prohibited price-gouging by the private companies that provide interstate telephone service for prison and jail inmates. Thanks to the F.C.C. order, which takes effect next month, poor families no longer have to choose between paying for basic essentials and speaking to a relative behind bars. The commission now needs to be on the lookout for — and crack down on, if necessary — similar abuses involving newer communication technologies like person-to-person video chat, email and voice mail.
The old scam of charging inmates ridiculously exorbitant rates for telephone calls, with the fees kicked back to the prisons, was put to rest after decades of abuse, but with each new piece of communication technology comes new opportunities to engage in revenue collection.
An analysis provided last month to the commission by the Prison Policy Initiative, a Massachusetts research group, urged similar rules for video visitation, email, voice mail and other systems. It said that for-profit video visitation systems (allowing families and inmates to talk using, in some instances, personal computers outside the prison and video terminals inside) are being “driven by the same perverse incentives that caused market failure in the correctional telephone industry.”
Absent regulation, prisons and phone companies will simply use the video chats to get around the price caps on interstate calls.
While each of these methods of revenue collection differ, they share a common thread. Each provides an opportunity for government to get money by shifting the burden from the general population, the taxpayer in its broadest sense, to the individual least capable of fighting the charge.
Where is the interest group, the super pac, to stand up on behalf of the accused red light violator, the arrestee, the prison inmate? Even though anyone could find themselves a member of each club, most don’t, and are more than happy to let these disliked (if not despised) miscreants shoulder the costs.
Sure, when it’s a good guy’s turn to get nabbed by the red light scam, he’ll be outraged. It will be totally unfair, utterly wrong. And he will seethe with anger, but find that no one cares any more about it when it’s his turn than he did before it touched his life.
The insatiable appetite of government for revenue that falls below the radar of most voters is the driving force behind these disingenuous, if not unconstitutional, revenue collection methods. They are contrary to the glorious platitudes that are chiseled into the lintels of government doorways, whether safety or fairness or integrity, but then, platitudes are there to pacify the ignorant. The 7th Circuit explained it accurately: revenue collection is a “legitimate goal,” and if a method collects money, then it must be right.
To urge people to give a damn about impropriety that doesn’t touch their lives is foolish. No one cares that money is being sucked out of someone else’s pocket. If anything, they applaud, as every dollar taken from some guy arrested in Woodridge is another dollar they won’t have to pay. It’s tough out there, and they have to take care of Number 1.
Nor is it good enough to suggest that “they” are “us,” even though it’s true. By the time anyone realizes the significance of this truism, they are already lost to the dark side and ousted from their lofty position of Good Citizen.
But where this could be headed makes the problem more interesting:
It seems to me that this case, according to the majority, depends on the fact the $30 is not charged as a result of the underlying crime for which the arrest was made. That being the case, I see no reason, under this decision, that the police could not charge a fee for every time they become involved with citizens. The police could charge for making traffic stops regardless of whether a ticket was issued, they could charge for conducting searches, or giving breathalyzers. Maybe they could charge every time they testified at trial, why should expert witnesses be the only ones paid?
Another commenter added:
Think about the possibilities this ruling opens up: a city could charge an admission fee to anyone who crosses the city limits and an exit fee to those leaving, every time police pull over a vehicle the driver owes a $25 fee for the stop even if no ticket is issued, every Terry stop and frisk comes with a $50 fee payable immediately by the friskee whether or not a weapon is found.
I believe that we’ve recently established that the fee for a digital vaginal search is $5,000. A few more body cavity searches per jurisdiction at that rate and the budget deficit will be history. And as long as they can charge for the pleasure of the government doing something against your will, then some enterprising legislator or executive will embrace its virtue, because revenue collection is a legitimate goal. And good government is all about fulfilling legitimate goals, no matter what the price.