Gov’s Budget Would Beef Up Red Light Camera Program

red_light_cam.jpgRed light cams have been proven to increase safety on New York City streets. Photo: mwilkie/Flickr
Dig deep enough into Governor Paterson's austerity budget and you'll actually find a few pieces of good news. Case in point: One provision would allow New York to expand its red light camera program, currently limited to 100 cameras, and a second would authorize other cities to launch their own automated red light enforcement programs (see page 65 of this PDF, or follow the jump).

Red light cams are a proven life-saving technology, but one that is circumscribed by Albany. Previous attempts to expand automated enforcement measures -- including cameras to monitor red lights, speeding, and bus lane violations -- have been blocked by Rochester Assemblyman David Gantt, who chairs the transportation committee. That won't necessarily be the case this time around. "Putting it in the budget says the governor is firmly behind it," said Russ Haven, legislative counsel with NYPIRG. "That may mean it's more likely to happen."

It's still unclear how much New York's program would expand, but if the proposal survives the budget negotiating process, the final version will almost certainly extend the current red light camera "demonstration," which is due to sunset in December 2009. Advocates also hope that new red light cam programs proposed for Buffalo, Syracuse, Long Island, and yes, Rochester, will build more of a constituency for automated enforcement measures throughout the state.

Big questions remain about whether the expansion proposal will emerge intact from the Albany sausage grinder. As the state legislature works on passing a budget, members of the Assembly and Senate could try to sabotage the cams by substituting other measures. "If the governor's proposal is going to raise revenue then legislators need to come back and find other ways to replace that revenue if they don't like the idea," said Haven. The negotiation process is famously opaque, taking place largely behind closed doors.

Gantt, who ran for re-election unopposed this year, could still play the role of obstructionist. "He’s a formidable guy, he’s been around for decades," said Haven. "Unless he has a change of heart or unless he starts to see things in a different way, the governor and speaker may be the only figures who can move him."

Here is the budget language in question, in all its glory.

  • Provide New Local Revenue and Financing Flexibility for New York City. Along with substantial mandate relief savings, the budget will authorize an expanded red light camera program and a range of local fee increases such as fees for birth certificates and marriage licenses worth $109 million in total. To enable New York City to better manage its finances during the current credit crisis, the City will be allowed to fund more of its capital program through the Transitional Finance Authority instead of general obligation debt, and Bond Anticipation Note (BAN) financing terms will be lengthened consistent with those allowed for the state.
  • Provide Additional Targeted Revenue Flexibility for Municipalities Outside New York City. The cities of Buffalo, Yonkers, Rochester and Syracuse, as well as Nassau and Suffolk counties, will be authorized to establish red light camera programs to enhance public safety, while generating an estimated $48 million in local revenue. Cities outside New York City, as well as villages, will also be permitted to levy a gross receipts tax on cellular phone services similar to that currently charged by New York City, thereby raising up to $12.5 million in new revenue.