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Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Catching Speeders to Balance State Budget

Arizona's Budget Depends on $120 Million From Ticket Revenue

According to Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano, the installation of new photo radar or other speed enforcement technology on state highways is for public safety—yet the state budget she proposed depends on the anticipated speeding fines to help eradicate a projected revenue shortfall.

The proposed budget, submitted to the Legislature, predicts $120 million in revenue the first year, inclusive of $90 million in net income after expenses from the statewide endeavor. Even bigger dollar amounts are predicted in future years.

In the fiscal year that starts July 1, the state will be confronting a projected revenue shortfall of at least $1.2 billion.

Although there are states that employ photo radar and similar technology on a limited basis in locales such as construction zones, experts believe Arizona is the forerunner of widespread deployment of speed technology on highways.

Napolitano said, "It wasn't designated primarily for revenue generation but since we have it (and) it works, we want to move statewide. We made that decision before the whole budget issue arose. Now we take advantage of it and use it for law enforcement highway safety purposes."

Recently, the governor's budget aides were unable to immediately supply details on presumptions used to project the revenue estimate, including the numbers of predicted violations.

The Republican-led Legislature must approve Napolitano's plan, and one key lawmaker immediately conveyed opposition.

"I don't know whether Arizonans want to be policed by cameras," said Senate Transportation Chairman Ron Gould. "It smacks of Big Brother to me." Gould added that he plans legislation that calls on voters to decide the issue.

In some states, propositions calling for even limited use of cameras have run into opposition

In Maryland, the state’s transportation secretary advised lawmakers that employing cameras in highway work zones would reduce accidents and improve worker safety, but lawmakers expressed concerns about privacy, effectiveness and motive.

Linda Gorman, spokeswoman for the Arizona Automobile Association, said the 750,000-member group representing drivers is in favor of employing photo radar as a method to improve traffic safety, but not as a means to help the state balance its budget.

In early 2007, Napolitano quoted results from suburban Scottsdale's employment of fixed cameras on an expanse of state freeway when the state Department of Public Safety to begin researching the possible use of new speed enforcement devices, under her direction.

According to an Arizona State University professor, who studied the Scottsdale project, it reduced speeding and accident rates. That system employs sensors implanted in the freeway to activate cameras that take pictures of speeding vehicles. Motor vehicle records are pored over to find the vehicles' owner, which eventually leads to citations for identified drivers.

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