Now, I'm sure Cons will start babbling about how charging accident victims enforces personal responsibility, makes us drive more carefully, and that accident-free people shouldn't have to pay for other people's bad driving. They'll repeat such tropes ad nauseum - right up until they're the ones in an accident, when they'll instantly start shrieking about how outrageous it is to have to pay for a police response. Not that they'll see the light and authorize a tax increase to pay for basic emergency services - they'll just demand we do something like let poor people starve to death in the streets (but not any streets where sensitive Cons might see their icky dead bodies). Budget cuts, we're told, are the solution to every governmental budget woe - as long as those cuts only impact the icky poor people who do awful things like vote for Democrats.A month ago, the New York Times reported that cash-strapped states and municipalities are resorting to "major life-changing cuts in core services." This includes four-day weeks for public schools, local bus systems being shut down, and turning off streetlights in Colorado Springs. The report came on the heels of a Wall Street Journal piece about several state governments cutting back on paved roads, because they can only afford gravel. More recently, we learned that struggling public schools, finding their budgets slashed, used to simply require students to bring in glue, scissors, and crayons. They're now demanding that families provide everything from paper towels to garbage bags to liquid soap. In one instance, children are asked to even bring in toilet paper.
Today the NYT reports on "a nascent budget-balancing trend in municipal government: police and fire departments have begun to charge accident victims as a way to offset budget cuts."Ambulance charges have long been common and are usually paid by health insurance, but fees for other responders are relatively new. The charge is variously called a "crash tax" or "resource recovery," depending on one's point of view. In either case, motorists are billed for services they may have thought were covered by taxpayers.Sometimes the victim's insurer pays. But if it declines, motorists may face threats from a collection agency if they don't pay.The AAA opposes such fees, said Jill Ingrassia, managing director for government relations and traffic safety advocacy. "Generally, we see that public safety services are a core government function that should be properly budgeted for with general taxes and not addressed by fees after the fact," she said.Ms. Ingrassia says such charges can place an "undue burden on motorists who can't choose the size or duration of an emergency response," which means they cannot control the size of the bill they may get. "We also really don't want to discourage any motorist involved in a crash from calling for police or rescue services if they fear they are going to be billed for it," she said.
Quite soon, we'll start hearing about how emergency services would do much better if they were privatized, as the free market is almost godlike in its ability to solve our every problem. City and state governments, they'll say, should contract with private entities for the provision of fire and police services. Why, that would be almost as good as cutting programs meant to help icky poor people out of the budget! Someone should explain the history of private firefighting to them and ask if they're pining for a return to those halcyon days of private enterprise.
Something tells me they still won't get it even when they're house is burning down and the private companies are too busy fighting over who's going to put out the fire to actually put out the fire, but one can always hope that a tiny spark of sense will ignite somewhere in the depths of what passes for their brains.
I don't hold out much hope, however. We are talking about a group of morons who believe that $50 billion for infrastructure improvements is an outrageous, unaffordable expense (probably because it's already paid for by removing minuscule amounts of public money from private oil companies), while around $800 billion in tax cuts for the fabulously wealthy is a bargain. You cannot reason with people whose math skills are only equaled by Dr. Evil's.
And in the must-be-seen-to-be-believed category, watch Teabaggers and Con candidates rally round a man who thinks stringing up murdered gays is an excellent decorative idea. I'm sure these folks could be a lot more offensive, disgusting and morally bankrupt. It's just hard to imagine how.