Todd C. Frankel
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
January 6, 2009
The economist got a speeding ticket, and it got him thinking about why.
Thomas A. Garrett, an assistant vice president at the St. Louis Federal Reserve, knew he deserved to be ticketed while on vacation in Pennsylvania a few years ago. But, he wondered, are traffic tickets purely about public safety? Or are other factors at play? Many motorists probably have wondered the same thing sitting on a highway shoulder waiting for a citation. But Garrett turned it into a scholarly pursuit. He decided to conduct a study.
What Garrett and a co-author discovered provides yet another reason to hate a recession.
Traffic tickets go up significantly when local government revenue falls, they found. Their study showed for the first time evidence of how “local governments behave, in part, as though traffic tickets are a revenue tool to help offset periods of fiscal distress.”
No surprise, some ticketed motorists might say. But Garrett and co-author Gary A. Wagner, an economist at the University of Arkansas Little Rock, say they confirmed a connection that seemed to exist only in isolated anecdotes. And they put a number on it: Controlling for other factors, a 1 percentage point drop in local government revenue leads to a roughly .32 percentage point increase in the number of traffic tickets in the following year, a statistically significant connection.