First, let's cut parking perks


City officials have launched a big crackdown on parking.

They will erect more meters. They will write more tickets. They will boot and tow more cars.

The mayor has proposed a reorganization of the parking bureaucracy which, if approved, will create a new, lean, mean, ticket-writing machine headed by a lean and mean parking czar.

Soon, armies of cold-eyed parking control agents will hit the streets like predators looking for prey and you and I both know that what they seek they usually find.

So hold onto your hats 'cause they're gonna get ya. Sooner or later they're gonna get ya.

City officials are doing all of this, of course, so that they can wring that last wretched dollar out of the riffraff and the rabble (which, in case you didn't realize it, is a euphemism for you and me).

It is the city's unquestioned privilege to do this to us and I shan't complain.

These are hard times, after all, recessionary times, and city officials feel compelled to go after every buck they can get.

It is in this spirit that I make the following modest proposal to Baltimore's managing elite: Before you crack down on us, give up your own parking privileges. Enjoy a taste of what life is like down here on the ground.

Both the mayor and the president of the City Council enjoy chauffeur-driven service and curbside parking at City Hall at public expense -- although neither suffers from any debilitating deformity that I can detect.

Some department heads are assigned their own cars.

The city's 19 council members and several other dignitaries enjoy reserved parking around City Hall plaza.

Meanwhile, the city, in its largess, has issued reserved parking permits to judges, prosecutors, and a whole host of very important bureaucrats, ranging from members of the Liquor Board to the head of the city Film Commission.

Sun reporter Doug Birch surveyed the area surrounding City Hall last week and counted 205 reserved parking spaces for Baltimore's power brokers, big and small. The city could make as much as $410,000 a year, he found, if those premium spots were metered and opened up for use by the rabble.

All told, the city's Department of Transportation issues reserved parking permits for spots throughout the city to 936 important personages, a dramatic leap upward from the 726 reserved permits it issued in January 1990.

These little advantages for the managing class are modest enough, I admit, and in happier times I wouldn't squawk. But money's tight right now and in desperation, officials have just unleashed the hounds on scofflaw parkers.

In these troubled times, we can't afford the luxury of writing off the revenue these premium spaces would bring in -- not to mention the extra money we'd get every time these officials' cars were ticketed, booted and towed away to distant municipal impound lots.

And let's face it -- these officials are all especially ripe for the plucking, real prime venison for the city's meter predators.

They are affluent and responsible and they probably would pay their fines in cash.

Every day they park downtown where the meters are specially calibrated to provide the least amount of time for the most amount of money and where parking control agents are most active.

Often, their duties require them to leave the office and return several times a day, and each time they move their car, their chances of getting ticketed would multiply several fold.

And since they are all important people who must juggle many demands on their time, chances are very, very great that they will slip up and forget to pay off their tickets on time at least once or twice a year, allowing the city's usurious late fines to come into play.

Why I bet we could squeeze out $300 to $400 in tickets and fines each year just by focusing on the mayor and the City Council president. Add the other VIPs and the city could net thousands.

Am I a hard person? Do I insist that our very important bureaucrats suffer the indignity of paying for their parking for ever and ever?

Not at all. I propose that we crack down only for the duration of the current fiscal crises.

When Baltimore becomes bloated with wealth, when everyone in the city is prosperous and happy -- then, officials can have their petty perks back and with my blessing.

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