California Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s budget proposal to raise $336.9 million dollars in new revenue through the use of automated camera-ticketing speed enforcement of California drivers had Senate Democrats and consumer rights representatives seeing red during the Senate budget review committee February 4th.
Several Democrat members of the Senate budget committee expressed serious concerns about the proposal despite a positive recommendation from the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office.
“I think it’s fair to say there wasn’t a ringing endorsement of the idea,” the governor’s Department of Finance spokesperson, H.D. Palmer, told the California Progress Report.
According to the governor’s proposal, the new speed enforcement program would utilize red light violation monitoring systems to identify and fine persons speeding through intersections in order to raise both local and state revenue.
The administration proposed the revenue generation to allow for a $296.9 million General Fund reduction to Trial Courts. In addition, the proposed revenue would allow for a $41 million dollar augmentation for trial security which would address the trial court’s current security funding shortfall. The plan would also allow for $59.6 million for cities and counties.
The LAO and Schwarzenegger’s Department of Finance spoke in favor of the plan, saying it would generate money for the state and increase driver safety.
“Overall we feel like the proposal is a good one because it would create an opportunity for the locals to generate some revenue and the state to generate some revenue,” LAO analyst Drew Soderborg told the Sacramento Bee.
But a number of consumer rights and union groups testified against the idea, from the Teamsters union to the Automobile Club of Southern California. Teamsters lobbyist Barry Broad warned that cities could manipulate the length of yellow traffic lights, shortening them to encourage more ticketed drivers – and more revenue.
“How do I hate this, let me count the ways,” said Broad, accusing the administration of making the proposal on behalf of Redflex, the company which installs and operates the equipment and gets a percentage of the revenue generated, according to Broad.
“Staff advise me that the payment that the vendor(s) would receive would be negotiated between the vendor(s) and local jurisdictions, and would come out of the 15% share of penalty revenue that the Administration’s proposal would set aside for local governments,” Palmer told CPR.
“Redflex pushed this in the governor’s office, that’s why it’s happening,” Broad said, in testimony before the committee members.
“Let me put it in the way my son would put it. ‘It creeps you out, and it should,’” Broad said.
“This is a cynical attempt to generate revenue without going through public safety policy,” said Senator Alan Lowenthal. “The purpose of automated enforcement is to enhance safety, not revenue.”
Lowenthal called the proposal an attempt to change the state’s policy on red light cameras without going through public safety committee review.
“This has never gone through public policy committees,” said Lowenthal, who pointed out how reluctant legislators had been to allow the first of the red light cameras, and when they were allowed, it was at railroad crossings where public safety was the sole issue.
Lowenthal, prepared for the debate, cited statistics from Arizona showing what he claims is voter anger over the proposal. “In Arizona, since sept of 2008, they have issued tickets totaling $127 million but they’ve only collected some $35 million. Showing people there are just so angry.”
Broad and other opponents to the governor’s proposal, including representatives from the CHP union and Triple A, pointed to the fact local jurisdictions aren’t encumbered by a statewide timing standard on the length of yellow lights.
“Jurisdictions are allowed to shorten the time on yellow lights,” said Broad. “It’s simply going to double the number of speeding tickets so that Redflex gets rich.”
Broad called the proposal a “get out of town proposal,” referring to the governor’s last year in office.
“If you want to see your constituents gets mad,” Broad warned the committee, “let them start getting $500 dollar tickets.”
“We believe that fines should be to get people to drive more safely, not to raise revenue,” stated a representative for the California State Automobile Association, opposing the proposal for the organization’s “four million
“I didn’t hear any proponent of this even attempt to imply this is proposed with safety improvement in mind,” said San Francisco Democrat Senator Mark Leno.
Leno joined Lowenthal in supporting the Trial Courts, but agreed with his colleague that funding them through a “cynical” and hidden revenue like increased “red light revenue” wasn’t the way to do it.
“This is a detriment to public safety, not a proponent of public safety,” Leno said, noting the only action this proposal should inspire is a consideration of a state standard on yellow light timing.
Republican Senator Bob Huff joined Democrats in opposition to the proposal. “There are more rear end accidents at intersections where red light cameras are used,” said Huff. “Red light cameras increase accidents. And maybe not all, but certainly many of these local jurisdictions put these cameras in for revenue reasons.”
Schwarzenegger’s press office declined direct comment on the proposal or accusations leveled by Broad regarding Redflex, referring CPR to the Department of Finance office.
At the end of testimony, the committee’s chairwoman, Sen. Denise Moreno Ducheny, D-San Diego, said the speed camera idea was unlikely, suggesting to fellow members, “we should all look for another $300 million.”
Schwarzenegger’s budget proposed the “red light revenue” come from the installation of 77 locations in the following jurisdictions:
Baldwin Park, CA
Beverly Hills, CA
Bell Gardens, CA
Citrus Heights, CA
Culver City, CA
Daly City, CA
Del Mar, CA
El Cajon, CA
El Monte, CA
Elk Grove, CA
Garden Grove, CA
Grand Terrace, CA
Huntington Beach, CA
Laguna Woods, CA
Loma Linda, CA
Los Alamitos, CA
Menlo Park, CA
Moreno Valley, CA
San Rafael, CA
Rancho Cucamonga, CA
Redwood City, CA
Rio Vista, CA
San Bruno, CA
San Carlos, CA
San Jose, CA
San Leandro, CA
San Mateo, CA
Santa Ana, CA
Santa Clarita, CA
Solana Beach, CA
South Gate, CA
Topanga State Park, CA
Union City, CA
Yuba City, CA