The hidden tax we’re all paying but you won’t find on your 1040

Posted: April 8, 2013 in Parking
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Taxes have been a big dispute in this country, particularly during the past few years of recession. While we’d all like to pay less taxes, the combination of federal and state level austerity combined with some of the lowest tax rates in our history (because apparently a lot of politicians somehow think that two negative hits to their budget will somehow equal a surplus) has left many local governments struggling to find new ways to generate revenue and get themselves back in the black, and for many cities this has meant ramping up parking fees and parking enforcement, using them as a hidden tax. The problem with this is that many municipalities had already been heavily relying on parking to shore up their budget, and the financial burden it creates is saddled almost entirely by low-income citizens.

The pressure to generate more and more revenue through parking puts an undue strain on both parking enforcers, who are still seeing budget cuts, furlough days and pay freezes on top of dealing with irate parkers who blame them for city ordnances, and average citizens who find that they’re having to pay more and more just to run errands, go shopping or just to go to work thanks to less and les free parking and skyrocketing meter rates and parking fines. And on top of all of that, all too often the money garnered through these more draconian parking policies isn’t being used to improve the parking situation for parkers or for long overdue infrastructure improvements that more and more parking garage and facilities are desperately in need of.

Examples of this are everywhere. In New York and New Jersey, the transportation authority raised rates on parkers and subway travelers yet again, and yet none of the their revenue for the next few years is budgeted for much needed upgrades to those services which have been overburdened and in need of upgrades for close to a decade. And all too often the funds being generated are being used to pay down massive debts incurred by parking authorities that were being mismanaged with next to no oversight for years if not decades, so that increased parking fees are going toward construction debts for projects that may not have even been finished or were unnecessary in the first place (cronyism is rampant in parking authorities, as I’ve pointed out before). And paying down these debts often keeps the authorities in question from embarking on projects that are actually needed and would either lessen the burden on themselves and parkers, increase revenues, or both.

At the end of the day, it’s folks like you and me that end up paying the price. Just the other day in Sacramento, a man left for work in the morning, leaving his car parked at the curb in front of his house like he usually did. When he returned home, he found that the city had put in “No Parking” signs along the street (without informing any of the street residents beforehand), including one right in front of his car, and had then ticketed him for being parked in a no parking zone; and when he tried to appeal the nearly $60 ticket, the county dismissed his appeal! Lucky for Casey Elson (our victim in this story), his local news station did some digging and was able to get the city to void the ticket. During a ride along with a parking enforcer earlier in the week, an L.A. reporter witnessed them ticket a car that had accidentally parked behind a street sweeping sign, a sign which was bent sideways and completely obscured by a low hanging branch. The enforcer reported the broken sign, but still slapped the car with a $73 ticket since there was a sign further down the block (because who doesn’t check the street signs a block away to make sure they didn’t accidentally park in a no parking zone?!).

I could go on and on, as the examples keep coming every week. And it doesn’t seem like there’s an end in sight, as local municipalities find themselves getting squeezed tighter and tighter. So what can we do, besides riding a bike or continuing to wait for Start Trek transporter technology? Well, at this point the best thing is to let your local government know; call your city council members, contact your local transportation authority, and when you hear or see a parking injustice, write a letter to the editor or email your local news. The reason that these parking authorities are so mismanaged and keep saddling lower income residents with more and more of these hidden taxes is because they are operating in the dark and they know that no one is paying attention to what they’re doing. That’s why a little sunlight shined on your local parking authority can lead to a little relief for yourself and other parkers and force your local government to actually tackle their budget issues instead of continually subsidizing government laziness with parking fees.

  1. […] a squeeze on the travel parking industry, citing a few examples across the country in addition to the numerous instances I have covered in this blog. This week, we’re going to examine the […]

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