Distribute enforcement camera money to residents, Alaska-style
Whenever speed cameras and red-light cameras go into a city, many people loudly object.
A Washington Post article last month cited many cases of citizens hating the cameras, voting against them, vandalizing them and otherwise being significantly opposed. The cameras don't bother me, since I do not speed or run red lights. That is is the ultimate weapon against the cameras: don't speed or run the light.
However, objectors make one good point: governments often become addicted to the revenue from the cameras. At the end of the day, if everyone obeyed the rules, the cameras would collect no revenue, which is a laudable goal. However, until that day, the cameras are collecting fines. Instead of spending the money on budget priorities, money could be strategically used to garner support for the use of the cameras themselves.
The Post reported that DC collected about $36 million in revenue for fiscal year 2008 from camera fines. Some of that revenue went to operate the cameras and administer the fines (I don't know how much), but that leaves plenty of extra revenue.
Instead of spending the money, DC could take a lesson from the state of Alaska. The Alaska Permanent Fund, which collects the state's share of mineral royalties, pays out its surplus to all residents of the state. DC could do likewise, refunding each citizen their share of the camera excess revenues fund. Some have suggested a similar system for a potential carbon tax or road pricing.
If half of the camera revenue went to enforcement and maintenance (and it's probably less), then each citizen would get a check for about $30. That's not an enormous amount, but it helps resolve two key issues. Arguments about the cameras being used primarily as revenue generators would become moot, since the city would not keep any revenues beyond the costs of administering the program. And second, support would strengthen, particularly among law abiders and non-car owners. I know that if my household were going to get a check every year from fining criminal drivers, I would be very supportive.
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