Cities Charging for all the Wrong Things


It’s not surprising to learn that cities across the country are responding to recession-induced revenue shortfalls by raising all kinds of fees. It is, however, disappointing to see which fees are being raised. Economists have long argued that certain kinds of fees, such as congestion charges for accessing crowded roads at peak hours, or higher parking rates in scarce-parking areas, could do a lot to improve life in many American cities, towns, and suburbs. But status quo bias and political reluctance to embrace revenue-raisers has lager deterred politicians from seeking such fees. A dramatic financial crunch that makes painful measures absolutely necessary would seem to be the ideal time to impose some fees that, though people are initially skeptical, would ultimately prove broadly beneficial. Instead we’re getting stuff like this:

After her sport utility vehicle sideswiped a van in early February, Shirley Kimel was amazed at how quickly a handful of police officers and firefighters in Winter Haven, Fla., showed up. But a real shock came a week later, when a letter arrived from the city billing her $316 for the cost of responding to the accident.

It just doesn’t make sense to be looking to this sort of thing in the first instance when so many more appealing possible sources of revenue are still on the table.