Medical trauma centers in Texas have fallen victim to a legislative version of bait-and-switch.
This year lawmakers, who had previously decried the Big Brother and cash cow aspects of red-light cameras, did a U-turn and gave cities permission to use them. The biggest selling point was how the cameras would be used: Half the fine money paid by red-light runners would be dedicated to emergency rooms and trauma care centers.
Except, hospitals are just now learning, the state is keeping the money.
"There was no appropriation made for that fund, so whatever's collected will stay in that fund," said R.J. DeSilva, spokesman for the Comptroller's Office.
Budget writers said the funds were being kept to offset potential, unbudgeted Medicaid costs. And the same pot of money could be used to attract matching federal health care money - building the funds available, although that money wouldn't necessarily benefit trauma centers.
In 2003, lawmakers created a new menu of fees that bad drivers would have to pay on top of their traffic fines. Standing before emergency room entrances at hospitals, Gov. Rick Perry touted the bill as a new way to address medical needs.
Except, lawmakers initially kept the fees to fill state budget holes.
In 2005, they began sending some of the money collected to hospitals, and currently, about 50 cents of every dollar collected is flowing to trauma centers. In fiscal 2007, almost $100 million was raised from the fees and $46 million was sent to medical facilities.