Special Reports

Increasing fines could help solve two problems

In 1973, a bottle of beer at a bar cost about a dollar, and the maximum fine for public urination in State College was $300. Now the same beer costs about $3, and the fine for public urination in State College is still $300.

Fines in the borough have not increased since 1973. While fines for summary offenses remain unchanged, the borough’s deficit is growing.

Tom Fountaine, State College borough manager, projects that the borough faces a deficit of $270,000 for 2011. Increasing fines is one way the borough could lower that deficit.

With inflation, that $300 fine from 1973 should be a $1,500 fine today, Borough Council President Ron Filippelli says.

Misdemeanors, such as giving alcohol to a minor, carry heftier fines than summary offenses. But even those fines can’t exceed $1,000.

So, taking inflation into account, a public urinator was more severely punished in the ’70s than a promoter of underage drinking is today. That is illogical, especially in a college town like State College that has a serious alcohol problem.

Increasing fines is not a novel idea. Some have done it by targeting particular crimes.

Just a few years ago, the Maryland legislature increased fines for furnishing minors with alcohol from $1,000 to $2,500.

In this way, increasing fines can help alleviate the community’s social problems — such as underage drinking — while increasing the borough budget.

The borough currently collects about $400,000 annually from fines. That represents less than 2 percent of the police budget.

Because no one has discovered a singular solution to the borough’s finance woes yet, we must be open to exploring multiple solutions. Increasing fines won’t solve the problem, but it would help.

Filippelli says that the majority of State College residents favor increasing fines. So why hasn’t it happened?

The problem is that the local government has no control over the severity of the fines. The state legislature, which equates increasing fines with raising taxes, holds all the power, Filippelli says. The General Assembly is as opposed to increasing fines as it is to increasing taxes.

We must tell our legislature that we do not equate fines with taxes. Taxes affect everyone, but fines only affect those who snub the rules.

Natalya Stanko is a senior at Penn State and a correspondent for the Centre Daily Times. This op-ed column is a result of a class assignment.