Tempe mulls increasing speeding tickets to pay for elections

The Arizona Republic
Thursday, August 6, 2015
Darren DaRonco


Drivers and others unfortunate enough to get fined in Tempe could soon pony up more to help pay for city elections.

Tempe is considering tacking on five dollars to every ticket it issues to create a local clean elections system similar to the statewide program, raising questions about whether tickets are designed to punish and deter bad behavior or generate revenue for governments.

Proponents say a local clean elections fund would mitigate the possibility that wealthy candidates or business interests could buy an election. Such a fund would also level the playing field so an unknown, or cash-strapped, resident has a fair shake at winning.

“What clean elections has done (statewide) is allow regular people to run a viable race. You don’t have to be rich. You don’t have to have a bunch of friends with a ton of money to be able to run for office in Arizona,” said Tempe Councilman David Schapira, who was the impetus behind the Tempe clean elections project. “One of the things that I want to replicate in Tempe is that...just because somebody has a lot of name (recognition) or friends with money, that shouldn’t guarantee them an election.”

Critics argue that if certain programs, such as clean election funds, are that popular among residents, cities should fund them through direct taxes, not surreptitious surcharges.

“When you put fees on citizens and earmark those monies to completely unrelated activities, the only thing that’s happening is they’re side-stepping general taxation because they know they’ve got an idea that’s not going to be supported by the general populace,” said Kevin McCarthy, president of the Arizona Tax Research Association. “So what ends up happening is they look around for some of the easiest targets to raise revenue.”

Today, the base fine for a typical speeding ticket in Tempe is $62.73. But after the city tacks on $50 for court and police funds and the state adds roughly $128 for things such as DNA testing, probation, the statewide clean elections fund, juvenile corrections and the Gang and Immigration Intelligence Team Enforcement Mission, the price balloons to $241.

Tempe’s proposal would add to that cost.

McCarthy said the myriad charges affixed to fines belie governments’ argument that tickets are solely about deterring bad behaviors.

“It undermines their fundamental argument that ... this has nothing to do with the revenue, it has to do with public safety,” he said.

Bloated charges can hurt residents in other ways if they can’t afford to pay them, such as landing them in jail or losing their license until the fine is paid.