In early April, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine approved an $8 billion, two-year transportation budget that included a 10.5 cents-per-gallon gas tax hike and a 19 cent hike on diesel fuel. Raising taxes is always controversial but what has the state’s mayors in a tizzy is something entirely different.
When the governor signed off on the budget set for July 1st, he did not veto language that financially punishes cities like Dayton and Toledo that operate automated traffic camera programs.
State lawmakers pushed for a mandate that requires cities that use automated traffic cameras to report annually to the state how much red-light and speed camera ticket revenue is collected (school speed camera tickets being the exception). The state will now deduct that amount from state funding that would normally go to those cities.
Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley and Toledo Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz said they would sue the state over the newest law just passed. Cities have sued the state before over their home rule authority. Ohio’s constitution allows municipalities to self govern, i.e., establish their own laws, as long as local ordinances do not conflict with state statutes.
In July 2017, cities won a case in the Ohio Supreme Court against a 2015 law that required speed-camera programs to station a full-time police officer with each automated enforcement device in use and to conduct a three-year traffic study before deployment.
However, the state’s Supreme Court has never ruled whether legislators have the authority to cut off the flow of cash to offset any financial benefits the cities might experience from operating ticket cameras.
Representative Bill Seitz of Cincinnati, a major critic of cameras, told the Toledo Blade that lawmakers do have the right to control the Local Government Fund, which distributes a share of state taxes to local municipalities. He stated, “We cut the Local Government Fund by 50 percent seven or eight years ago. Cities have no constitutional right to the Local Government Fund. Period.” Seitz added that the new legislation does not tell cities how to operate their programs, which has been something the Supreme Court has frowned upon in previous court cases.
Kapszukiewicz said after the budget was signed that this would potentially cost Toledo $6.5 million a year. The city was expected to receive $5.1 million more in the next fiscal year as its share of revenue from the gas tax increase.
Also included in the compromise deal is a provision that would require cities to file all automated ticket camera appeals in municipal court. That would prohibit the use of administrative hearings to deal with drivers who contest their photo tickets.
Toledo Municipal Court Presiding Administrative Judge Tim Kuhlman has many questions about how this will work. He feels the move would transform the city trial court into a quasi-appeals court. Kuhlman added, “We have very little time to stand up a new docket and [have] no funding for it…I cannot go to the city of Toledo in April or May for funding to start up a new docket in July.” Under the new law, the costs for appeal cases would be paid in advance by the city rather than by the cited vehicle owner, even if that person later loses the appeal.
Toledo might well see automated traffic enforcement banned if Chester Straley has his way. In March, Straley organized a petition drive to place a referendum on the ballot to end the city’s use of red-light and handheld speed cameras. He started the drive after receiving two camera tickets on the same day and after his wife received another two citations at the same traffic signal. One of the petition’s stated goals is to get the city “to stop doing business with a company (Redflex) that has a track record of violating the law and unfair practice of law enforcement.” Up until now, photo ticket fines are $120 and are considered a civil penalty with no assessment of driver’s license points.
Ohio cities will continue to fight for all the ticket revenue they can get, but it will take local action and help from state lawmakers to get rid of the cameras entirely.
The battle against photo enforcement will undoubtedly continue, and with the amount of money involved, it isn’t confined to just the Buckeye State.