This recent podcast by NPR’s Planet Money reminded me of my own issues with the government, Episode 923: Good Teachers, Bad Deal:
A Department of Education program gives talented, up-and-coming teachers a grant, not a loan, to help them pay for college. The condition: After you graduate, you have to teach in a low-income school.
Thousands of teachers kept their end of that bargain but had their grants turned to loans anyway after sending in a required form a day late or accidentally missing a signature. Some are in crippling debt because of it.
Hearing about these teachers’ struggles reminded me of why people hate governments: governments act like they’re here to control or rule us, not to serve us (through the taxes we pay). It’s not supposed to be this way, at least not in the United States.
Chris Rock made a joke that when it comes to the police, you get what you pay for, and that got me thinking: if police were paid double, would you get more talent into the employee pool? Could we do more with fewer officers? People who would be open to trying new ideas, more efficient ways of keeping community? If job security were no longer a guarantee, as it is for many government employees, would that change how they treat people (who should be recognized as the customers)?
A year ago I received a citation from the City of San Jose about a car that was registered to someone with a similar name. There’s no number to call or person to talk to so you can resolve the issue directly. Instead, you are directed to pay first, and then appeal. I thought that was ridiculous, why should I pay first when this person is not me? There’s no proof it’s me included here either, like a title for the car showing me. I sent the letter below.
Dear City of San Jose,
I am sending this notice for your information. Previously, I was issued a parking violation citation issued under license plate ****.
As I mentioned before, I have no relationship to this vehicle. I have never heard of this vehicle (or owned or leased it) until I received the notice from the City of San Jose. Since then, I have conducted research with the DMV on this matter.
On Friday, February 16, 2018, I visited the Santa Clara DMV and called the DMV office at 1-800-777-0133.
Elvin (ID ****) and Georgett (Rep and Senior Technician) at the 1-800 DMV number helped me with the following information:
- I have exactly one vehicle (2013 ****) registered under my name and address. This is clearly not the Red Nissan that was cited.
- You may look up my vehicle information under license plate ****. I have included a DMV report of this vehicle (from February 23 CA DMV Visit in Santa Clara).
- The release of liability for the Red Nissan lists a “Michael ****” and San Jose without a street address or additional identifying information. There is no information that ties the vehicle to me.
- In the city of San Jose alone, there are 123 people under the name “Michael ****”. In California, there are 1191 people with my name.
I believe this provides clarity that your citation is a mistake.
No response from the City. 1 year later, earlier this year, I received notice that San Jose made a claim on my taxes. I called the City to protest this. The person I talked to confirmed that they received my letter a year ago but since I had not paid the fine, they would not review my complaint. I reiterated everything mentioned in the letter and told them, but the employee had this “I don’t care, that’s your problem” attitude and could not give any evidence about why they believed the car was mine. She said there was proof it was mine, but did not go into more detail – her case was it’s your name, why would we be wrong? She said I could write a letter to the City, but in a “yeah right, good luck” way.
I asked her what she would do if she had gone through the process I had to prove that the person in question was not me, and she had nothing to say but to dismiss me.
I wrote the city again after that, and a few months later, I got a check for the amount that had been taken from me in the fine. However, there was no information in the letter, no message saying this had been a mistake, that the fine had been cancelled. My concern is what if I get another notice next year that I have another claim on taxes for an unpaid fine, how am I supposed to provide evidence that the issue has been cleared?
There’s no transparency, no responsibility for the government with its constituents. As a citizen, I’ve been treated like a pain in the ass the government is trying to get rid of, and when you listen to the Planet Money podcast, that’s exactly how it feels.
And this makes me question, why do we pay taxes, what is the government’s relationship with its citizens?