Sacramento Passes Crash Tax

Katy Grimes: Defying its own push to increase the use of downtown restaurants, entertainment venues, as well as the K Street Mall and the nearly empty downtown shopping mall, the Sacramento City Council has just passed a new “crash tax.”

In a move meant to penalize visitors to the downtown region who get in bumper benders or collisions, the crash tax will cost nonresidents $495, to reimburse the fire department for the cost of crash cleanup. Crashes requiring a helicopter evacuation will cost visitors $2,275.

The tax is estimated to provide as much as $500,000 a year, according to the city, which is currently operating with a growing $35 million deficit.

But, the crash taxes have been banned in at least 10 states.

Sen. Tony Strickland, R-Moorpark, has introduced legislation banning crash taxes in California cities and municipalities. SB 49 would ban a local government from charging a fee or tax to nonresidents for the costs to dispatch police and fire. “Californians, regardless of the city in which they live, work, or visit, should be awarded certain public safety protections. They should be allowed to commute to work or travel on vacation without having to worry about a bill waiting for them when they get home,” Strickland said in a recent press release.

One of the biggest problems with the crash tax is the potential penalties to commuters. People who commute to work from outlying areas would be responsible for paying a crash tax in the event of an accident.

Strickland did a radio interview yesterday with talk show host Andy Caldwell on KUHL, and talked about his crash tax legislation, explaining how the tax is just another attempt by local governments to gouge the state’s residents. But he also pointed out that commuters spend money in the cities in which they are employed, further penalizing them.

The push for the crash tax is being fueled, according to many, by private bill collection firms offering to do the billing and collection of the tax for the cities, for a percentage of the fees, leading to questions of a potential conflict of interest.

The argument that public safety needs the financial reimbursement is fallacious. City and county residents already pay taxes for public safety.

Strickland also said the crash tax amounts to double taxation because commuters or people on vacation already pay the local sales taxes on food, entertainment and lodging. “If the city of Los Angeles were to pass a crash-tax law, people who commute to work — and arguably spend most of their time and much of their paycheck there — would also be responsible for paying a crash tax in the event of an accident,” Strickland wrote.

Crash taxes are another way for local governments to unethically take more money from taxpayers and responsible citizens, as well as shifting the city’s responsibility to provide public safety, onto the backs of the taxpayers.

Sacramento’s downtown nightlife has historically been a challenge. It is a government city, filled with offices of city, county, state and federal employees who go home at 5:00 p.m., at which time the sidewalks typically roll up.

However, recently, the city has made considerable investment and subsidy into nightclubs and entertainment facilities… just in time for the crash tax to be approved.

Sacramento’s city council did not need to give area residents any more reasons to avoid downtown at night – we have a big crime problem downtown, a homeless population thriving on downtown streets, the blight seems contagious and is expanding, and city parking is a nightmare, with unrelenting meter maids and San Francisco-priced parking garages.

Add the crash tax to your entertainment bill, and driving to San Francisco for an evening of fun won’t seem so expensive any more.

JAN. 26, 2011

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