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EDITORIAL: No criminal charge for avoiding tolls

EDITORIAL: No criminal charge for avoiding tolls

Misdemeanor charge and higher fines for avoiding paying tolls are excessive
EDITORIAL: No criminal charge for avoiding tolls
Photographer: Gazette file photo

On the one hand, the state is making it easier for people who commit serious crimes to get out of jail without bail and making it easier to cover up past crimes by sealing people’s criminal records.

On the other, it wants to make people who avoid highway tolls into criminals.

To quote the movie, Blazing Saddles, “What in the wide, wide world of sports is a-goin’ on here?”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, as part of his budget, is proposing to charge drivers who deliberately attempt to avoid tolls with a Class A misdemeanor, a low-level but nonetheless criminal “theft of services” charge that could net the scofflaw a fine of up to $1,000 and a year in jail.

He’s also proposing to significantly boost the fines for people who drive with an unreadable or partially obstructed license plate to avoid a cashless toll.

We understand the state doesn’t want drivers not paying tolls.

But there are already mechanisms in place for catching and punishing them without adding a misdemeanor criminal charge to their record.

The state has the driver’s license plate on camera. It has the registered owner’s name and address. It already has a system in place for collecting unpaid tolls. If the individuals don’t pay, the state can impose escalating fines, suspend registrations or refuse renewals until the fines are paid. What more does it need?

As for out-of-state drivers, surely, states can cooperate enforcement, since many state toll systems are connected. 

Second, the punishment doesn’t fit the crime. Is the state really going to force someone to pay a $1,000 fine and face jail time for avoiding a toll that’s likely to be only a few dollars?

Third, the state has a history of imposing and trying to collect false or excessive fines on tolls. What will happen to someone when the violation becomes an actual crime? Hard time on Alcatraz?

As for the bigger fines for obscured or damaged license plates, didn’t we already go through this when the governor tried to make us all get new plates after 10 years, whether they were damaged or not?

Crack down on unreadable plates at inspection time. Or ticket drivers for it when they’re pulled over for something else. And if the state can identify the vehicle by the partially readable plate, then just send the driver a bill along with an order to replace the obscured plate. 

What we’ve got here is an extreme response to a problem for which sanctions are already available and which is far more punitive than the offenses call for.

This is nothing more than another grab for power and money by the state. 

Enough’s enough.

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