Captive Taxes

One line in the Angry Poodle‘s piece on the North County jail proposal stood out: To pay for the jail, Sheriff Bill Brown is planning to raise $1.4 million, most of which comes from inmate phone charges? Does anyone hear echoes of Ferguson, Missouri?

In the aftermath of the police shooting of Michael Brown, news media and activist groups began looking into the finances of Ferguson. The largest source of revenue for the city’s $20 million budget was the $2.6 million that came from what critics describe as excessive court fees, fines, and traffic tickets. In effect, Ferguson was using traffic tickets and other minor violations not to deter people from breaking traffic laws but as a tax on the poor to pay for city services.

While most of the nation was appalled at Ferguson’s behavior, Sheriff Brown has decided to copy it. The revenue-generating phone charges are a tax on the inmates and their friends and relatives. It is a discriminatory tax targeting the poor and minorities to pay for county services. This is shameful behavior.

The county supervisors need stand together to reject Brown’s tax.

Eric Smith is chair of UCSB’s Political Science Department.

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