Serve and protect or collect taxes?

By DAVID MOON, Moon Capital Management, LLC
September 22, 2013

This past weekend I was invited to make an unplanned tax payment to Iredell, North Carolina. The revenue officer drove a company vehicle with blue lights and a siren.

I was speeding. I was also driving the speed of the small amount of traffic around me.

I am conscious of the dangers and unknowns faced by our brave law enforcement officers every day. I know I am a good guy. But when a policeman is walking to my car, he has no idea that I’m a good guy. That’s dangerous.

Once this officer reached my car, however, there were a few clues that I wasn’t a prison escapee.

I was traveling in a car full of blankets, pillows, and Goldfish crackers, along with two sleeping kids and wife. With the exception of Aunt Edna and a dog leash hanging off the bumper, we looked like the Griswolds.

Nevertheless, the revenue collection agent acted as if he had discovered a roving Al Qaeda cell in rural North Carolina.

I certainly hope he doesn’t act like such a jerk at home.

Municipalities are openly and unapologetically turning to traffic citations as a new source of revenue, especially following periods of declining traditional tax revenue.

According to a study in the Journal of Law and Economics, North Carolina is among the worst jurisdictions.

The New York City Police Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, the nation’s largest police union, has publicly complained about quotas and a mounting pressure to write tickets, prompting denials from Mayor Bloomberg, among others.

Leaked documents and officer statements from towns and highway patrol departments in Massachusetts, New Jersey, California, Alabama, Pennsylvania, Washington, Michigan, Iowa, Denver, Utah, Colorado, Fort Worth, Atlanta, New Orleans, Florida indicate the existence of explicit or effective ticket quotas.

A Connecticut trooper commander actually urged his officers in an internal memo to compete with each other over who could write the most tickets, offering pizza to the shift with the highest ticket total.

It’s no wonder that the only interaction most citizens have with the police—receiving a speeding ticket—is a negative one.

The research is contradictory about whether or not higher speeds cause more accidents. What is not debated, however, is that accidents occur when cars move at divergent speeds.

After receiving my ticket, I set my cruise control at 5 mph above the speed limit, easily becoming the slowest vehicle on I40. Two passing motorists gave me the finger. Three police cars passed me.

One presumably unintended consequence of the randomness of traffic law enforcement is that the fines more onerously affect low-income drivers, often placing them into a spiraling and costly legal system from which it is difficult to ever escape.

I have incredible respect for the law enforcement profession. I’m fully aware and respectful of the risks of their work. Two of my friends died in the line of duty. Neither was killed by a speeding automobile.

And neither went into that noble profession to be a tax collector.

David Moon is president of Moon Capital Management, a Knoxville-based investment management firm. This article originally appeared in the News Sentinel (Knoxville, TN).

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