Taxation, theft, and gouging

I knew a woman who habitually jammed parking meters to get free parking. It seemed like theft to me. Parking meters were supposed to encourage sharing of scarce real estate.


It doesn’t feel like theft any more, now that Massachusetts cities and towns are encourged to dig deep into drivers’ pockets.

The new law was meant to benefit Boston, which had a huge surplus in its parking account. Under the old law parking revenue could only be used to pay for parking. Boston does not want more parking. Boston may not even be allowed to add parking thanks to an order from the EPA.

The legislature reclassified parking revenue as general revenue. The law specifically encourages spending drivers’ money on anti-motorist programs.

A few weeks ago the city announced it would triple Back Bay parking rates. The revenue would be spent locally on unspecified transportation projects. Based on recent history, that means turning shared lanes and parking spaces into bike lanes. It probably means more spending on sidewalk maintenance of residential streets where outsiders are not allowed to park at any price, but which are within the parking revenue district.

If parking revenue were put in the state transportation fund I’d believe Boston’s claim that the purpose was to manage parking by making demand match supply. But that’s not where the money goes.

This is right out of the bible of progressive parking policy. Now-retired UCLA professor Donald Shoup’s book on parking encourages an us-against-them policy where residents’ favor is bought with nonresidents’ money.

Taxation without representation is not illegal in America — the Declaration of Independence is not binding law — but it undermines the feeling that goverment is a cooperative effort to benefit society. On my moral scale evading the new parking fee is a lot less serious than “forgetting” to fill in the use tax line on your state tax return. (You do know that online shopping is not really tax-free, right?)

Technology has advanced since you could sabotage a meter with a coin slot. Boston is moving to pay-and-display. I don’t know if it’s easy or hard to forge a receipt now, but that’s a losing battle in the long term. And probably not worth the effort now.

So you can pay whatever they want, or you can stay in the suburbs.

The opinions expressed in this post belong to the author and do not necessarily represent those of the National Motorists Association or the NMA Foundation. This content is for informational purposes and is not intended as legal advice. No representations are made regarding the accuracy of this post or the included links.

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