If ever we needed to confirm that for dozens of Louisiana towns it’s all about money, a legal request initiated by one of them confirmed that.
Act 188 of the 2009 Regular Session of the Louisiana Legislature makes all non-home rule charter municipalities remit any speeding ticket revenue from an infraction on an interstate 10 miles an hour or less over the posted limit to the state. Several communities generate a large portion of their overall finances from these citations on all roads, as ridiculously high as seven-eighths of the towns’ total revenues.
One at the higher end, Washington Mayor Joseph Pitre, gathered about three dozen signatures of mayors to petition Gov. Bobby Jindal to veto the bill that became the act, to which Jindal wisely responded by not doing so. Pitre now has come back with more signatures on a request for an advisory opinion from Attorney General Buddy Caldwell on the constitutionality of the new law to go into effect Aug. 15. The opinion may be get rendered by that time.
But not only is this request odd, the logic behind it is flawed and the basis of complaint disingenuous. Pitre and other smaller-town mayors complain that enforcement will wither away as the reduced volume of money to their jurisdictions will discourage funding of enforcement mechanisms; i.e., paying for the detailing a patrolman to sit on the short stretches of interstates under town incorporation and shoot with a radar gun, and thus safety will decline.
Yet nothing of the sort must logically happen. Nothing in the new law prevents the writing of tickets in any way, so if safety is utmost on the minds of towns, they should be willing to make the commitment. Further, being stopped for speeding regardless of the excess is a probable cause that can be used to detect other lawbreaking activity. Often enough, somebody pulled over for speeding may be engaged in something like illegal narcotics transport, which would not end up in a city court, but other infractions in addition or separately may be present that are adjudicated in a city court, thereby bringing in revenue. There’s also an argument that the truly reckless, knowing of this law and betting that there is no enforcement as a result, will jack up their speeds even higher and end up shoveling even more revenue to these towns (generally there is a sliding scale where the fine increases as does the excess amount of speed).
So to argue that there will be a crippling decline in revenues that will negate enforcement simply does not wash. The real, unstated complaint is that the revenue decline, if there is one, will be to the point that while it may fund enforcement, it won’t fund a number of entirely unrelated city activities on which they have become dependent for fine revenue. Again, as in the case of red light cameras, municipalities genuinely concerned about safety should have no qualms about the new law. The present system also invites abuse harkening back two decades created by the asset forfeiture scandal.
The request also is in a strange format using an unsustainable justification. If the practice under the new law is unconstitutional, why are the plaintiffs asking for an attorney general’s office opinion instead of heading straight to court? That opinion has no basis in the law’s enforcement and would not alter implementation of it. While speed is of the essence, no doubt a state district court would recognize this and, at the very least, grant injunctive relief before the law went into effect if not make a summary judgment about it.
This odd route is explained by the fact that the plaintiffs know that their rationale is very weak. The request claims that treating the distribution of revenue from municipalities that have a charter versus those that do not violates “equal protection.” However, the concept of equal protection applies to individuals concerning their exercise of political and civil rights, not to corporate government beings such as municipalities. Thus, knowing they have next to nothing to stand on, a desperate attempt to get mileage out of a favorable AG opinion, if they get it, is preferred over being laughed out of court.
Dillon’s Rule makes clear that states as the principals can make local governments without charters agents of any constitutional or legal state purpose. If Louisiana thereby decides fine revenue will be allocated a certain way, there is no inviolable status these local governments maintain independently of powers granted to them by the state that can challenge this. A proper opinion, or any subsequent court ruling, should recognize this pursuant to the present frivolous request.
Posted by Jeff Sadow at 09:50