Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Tax the Rich: DWI Edition

Here's a note from the "wouldn't this be a fun campaign proposal" desk.

Consistent with Mark Dayton's "make the richest Minnesotan pay their fair share of taxes" slogan, I propose that Minnesota adopt a system of DWI enforcement that levies fines proportional to income and assets. Something like this:
A Norwegian businessman was ordered Tuesday to pay a fine of 700,000 kroner (80,000 euros, 109,000 dollars) for driving 400 meters while drunk, a court said.

Due to the man's wealth, the court in the southern Norwegian county of Aust-Agder handed down a heavier-than-usual sentence, which would normally be equivalent to a month-and-a-half's gross salary for the accused.

"The principle of proportionality implies that we should take into account the entire wealth of the person in cases where the defendant is more well off than most other people," a copy of the verdict obtained by AFP read.

The 49-year-old man is the heir of a rich shipping family.

His wealth totalled 228 million kroner (26 million euros, 35.5 million dollars) in 2008, when he had a gross annual income of around 752,000 kroner.
The framing you'd get from such a proposal would be brilliant: Let's talk about DWIs again! It's consistent with Dayton's revenue raising strategy, only it's harder to feel sorry for the job creators that are weaving all over the road.

In all seriousness, the deterrent effect of DWI fines are proportional to the income of the offender. Other Scandinavian countries have adopted the "day-fine" approach to equalize the impact of fines on offenders who have different incomes.

Additionally, there's a strong disincentive for prosecutors to go after wealthier people with lawyers over DWI offenses, and a strong incentive to plead them down. This is part of the reason that Tom Emmer has convictions for lesser offenses despite the involvement of alcohol. On the other hand, working class folks end up experiencing the full force of the law and the fixed fine has a much larger impact on them.

And since we're being serious for a moment, you could earmark these fines for enhanced enforcement efforts and mandatory ignition interlock devices for offenders, which would address the two factors that are most often cited in reducing DWI's - strong penalties and more certainty of being caught.

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1 comment:

blogspotdog said...

There is potentially a form of progressive penalties at work in the civil forfeiture system in Minnesota. If you have enough income to have a swanky car, the price of a forfeiture and seizure for a (usually repeat) DWI offense (or rather an arrest; no conviction necessary!) is higher than if you drive a clunker.