Pressed to come up with the money to stave off its public employee pension time bomb, the state of California is jacking up the cost of traffic tickets. Reuters reports:
California legislators have raised fines for traffic infractions to some of the highest in the United States to generate revenue, and the poor are bearing an unfair burden, losing cars and jobs because they cannot pay them, civil rights activists said on Friday.
The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area said in a new report that the $490 fine for a red light ticket in California was three times the national average. The cost was even higher if motorists wanted to attend traffic school in lieu of a conviction or were late paying.
This is a variation of what we call the “blue civil war”—the way the tightening fiscal vise around state and local governments end up pitting Democratic constituencies against one another. In this case, poor and minority Californians, who tend to need to drive further to work, are paying the brunt of the increased traffic fines—which are going to cover the retirement hole for unionized public employees.
In the long run, California’s growing pension liabilities will also likely force cuts in education and welfare programs that vulnerable citizens depend on, creating a further conflict between the interests of unions and the interests of the poor.
As the blue model becomes fiscally unsustainable, the political coalition that holds it together will come under strain as well. The big question is whether Republicans or reform-minded Democrats can take advantage of this looming schism.