As the desperate financial plight of many state and local governments comes increasingly into view, expect many of those august bodies to become ever more petty and audacious in their hunt for any and all sources of revenue — whatever it takes to fore- stall the inevitable declaration of bankruptcy.
First, an example of the petty: Los Angeles is sending round canvassers to get a count of unregistered dogs. City council president Eric Garcetti estimates that, if perhaps two-thirds of the city’s dogs are unregistered at present, that payment of the registration fees would bring in about $3.6 million. But even before removing the costs of the extra paperwork and the salaries of the canvassers, this is a paltry sum for a city that is at least $200 million in the hole for this year alone, and which projects a $400 million deficit in 2011.
On to the audacious: Chicago is only one of many cities shortening yellow lights on traffic cycles, so that their red-light cameras might capture more offenders. City officials seem to regard this as printing money, but the move comes at a very real human cost: a Texas A&M study indicates that adding a second of yellow-light time leads to a 35–40% decrease in crashes, and a 60% decrease in citations. Taking that second away means more damage, more injuries, and more deaths.
Seriously dealing with these budget shortfalls would involve taking on public unions and entitlement programs. But that takes courage, and a willingness to be voted out of a cushy government chair. So instead legislators will continue nickel-and-diming the citizenry, and endanger- ing the public welfare, in order to buy themselves a little longer in the halls of power.