Finland's Progressive Fines
January 2, 2001
Like most other countries, Finland has progressive tax rates. But unlike other countries, Finland has extended the concept of progressivity -- under which the wealthy pay more than those of modest income -- to traffic fines. Indeed, the wealthy are also hit harder when convicted of such diverse crimes as shoplifting or securities-law violations.
But it is the traffic fines that are particularly irksome to well-off Finns.
- In one recent case police issued a $71,400 speeding ticket to a motorist who was clocked at 43 miles an hour in a 25 miles-an-hour zone.
- With traffic fines based on a combination of the severity of the offense and the driver's income, police until recently had been satisfied to accept whatever violators claimed as their current monthly gross income -- until they found that the figures were routinely being understated.
- But then motorists complained that fines should be based on take-home pay -- which is considerably less, given Finland's high tax rates, than gross income.
- So late in 1999 the government began basing fines on net income -- and police have begun using cellular phones to access official tax records to verify incomes.
While middle-income Finns seem to find the system fair, some of their wealthier countrymen wonder if they should even risk hefty fines by getting behind the wheel of a car in the first place.
Source: Steve Stecklow, "Helsinki on Wheels: Fast Finns Find Fines Fit Their Finances," Wall Street Journal, January 2, 2001.
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