State of Florida Wants A Piece City Revenue

A cynic’s view of government holds that “If it moves, tax it.” And if it moves right on red? Tax it uniformly across the state.

A bill introduced in the state Legislature would bring consistency to the mishmash of local red-light camera programs operating in Florida cities and counties. It would also bring millions of dollars to the state treasury.

Rep. Ron Reagan of Sarasota is the primary sponsor of House Bill 325, the Mark Wandall Traffic Safety Act. The bill would take the details of red-light camera use away from local jurisdictions and place them under state regulation. Cities and counties will decide for themselves whether to use the cameras and strike their own deals with vendors who provide them, but the amount of the fines will be set by the state, with the state receiving more than half the money generated.

Reagan says the purpose of the bill is not to raise money. It is named after a Sarasota resident killed by a red-light runner and Reagan said the goal is to enhance highway safety. “I don’t ignore the revenue side but I’m in it for safety first and foremost,” he said.

Using previous years’ volumes of red-light citations and assuming cameras will catch at least twice as many violators, he estimates the bill could mean an additional $80 million to $100 million to the state, adding, “I hope it’s zero.”

The fine for a red-light violation under the bill, which has a Senate companion version, would be $155. Of that, $75 would go to the local jurisdiction, $55 would go to the state general fund and $25 would go to the Health Administration Trust Fund, with the biggest share of that set aside for trauma centers and emergency rooms.

Whatever local jurisdictions pay to private companies to supply, maintain, and operate the systems would have to come out of their $75 cut.

The new arrangement would potentially boost Collier County’s receipts from its red-light camera program. First-time violators here now pay a $62.50 fine, with the vendor, American Traffic Solutions of Arizona, getting $47.50 of that. But second- and third-time offenders pay fines of $75 and $100, with the county keeping a larger share. There’s no graduated fine schedule in the state law. Other places, like Orlando where the fine is $125, would stand to lose money.

While the question is not addressed in the bill as written, Reagan said language may be added to take on the most controversial aspect of the cameras -- the preponderance of tickets written to drivers turning right on red. “I’m working on that. I don’t have an answer yet,” he said.

One approach would be to follow the example set in Orlando, where they don’t issue tickets if a driver turns right on red at less than 5 mph and there are no pedestrians at the intersection. Another is to waive fines if drivers hesitate before turning right on red and a third is to ticket all drivers turning right unless they follow the letter of the law. The latter approach sends a signal that the program is about raising revenue, Reagan conceded. On the other hand, “We can’t tell people, ‘You can break the law.’”

When Reagan first introduced legislation governing red-light cameras in the state five years ago, only one city was using them. Now there are 64 cities and counties using cameras, making the case for uniform standards more compelling. “I have all the confidence in the world we’ll get this through,” he said.