What if traffic fines were based on a sliding scale like income tax?

Jim Lee: Local Columnist

One of the best ways for a storyteller to get something started is with a simple question beginning with the words “what if?”

Of course I don’t mean to pass myself off as a storyteller. Everybody who has read this column for a while knows I never exaggerate, resort to silliness, veer off into fantasy, or just flat-out make something up. We all know everything that appears in this spot is the gospel truth and never just my opinion. As I have said many times on this page, “Hey, would I lie to you?”

We can use that magic “what if” to make our world a better place by speculating about scenarios and ways to handle them. We can come up with questions we think people should think about. After all, we have to come up with the questions for everything before we can have the answers to anything.

That’s why we need philosophers and other thinkers for something more than burger flippers, underemployed radio voices, and under-appreciated educators. With the right questions we may even come up with some pretty cool answers, daddio. It’s worth a shot, right?

So here’s a good “what if:” What if traffic fines were based on a sliding scale like income tax?

Of course we can look at this issue either of two ways. We can say the fines should be the same for everybody because of equal punishment for the same crime — so don’t change anything. Or we could say punishment is not equal if the fine is more of a hardship on one person than it is on another.

We already know how the former works because that is how things are done now. The latter requires a bit of explanation.

If fines are based on a percentage of the person’s income, does that make things more equal? Should equal protection under the law mean equal enforcement of the law? Is a fine of $100 a more severe punishment to the person who earns $12,000 a year than to the person who earns $40,000 a year?

All other things equal, such as prior offenses, why should two people convicted of the same thing receive unequal punishment?

So, instead of dollar amounts, maybe income percentage is a more equal basis for fines.
It’s something to think about.

Let’s face it, thrill seekers, punishments vary. We have sentencing guidelines, but judges have discretion within those guidelines. To put it simply and directly, if two people are convicted of the same legal indiscretion, such as going a half mile per hour over the Elida speed limit, who will get the biggest fine: the defendant right after the judge has enjoyed a particularly pleasant lunch, or the defendant right after the judge just had a big argument with his wife?

So we have to do something to even up what we can.

Well, I suppose I just kicked up some controversy again.
Good. We need controversy now and then. We need to bring up questions we don’t normally consider. That’s how we pump smart juice to the brain.

Most of us like to take the easy path in life like everything else in nature, so we need a little nudge now and then. That’s why I like to stir things up once in a while. Maybe it will make some of us actually think about something, make us actually pay attention to matters more important than Jessica Simpson’s tank tops.

Yes, some things are more important than that, even for guys.

Maybe I can get people to think for themselves. At least I gotta try, right? I wonder how much I’ll get fined for that.

Jim Lee is news director for KENW-FM radio. He also is an English instructor. He can be contacted at 359-2204. His e-mail: