November 13, 2007
Where'd that red light camera money go?

Remember how SB1119 from last session was supposed to allocate money collected by red light cameras for trauma centers? That hasn't quite happened.

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.

I'm curious - is it really the Comptroller's office that decides whether or not the Lege made an appropriation for funds like this? Do we need to ask the sponsors of SB1119 what they intended, or perhaps Appropriations chairs Steve Ogden and Warren Chisum? And was this one of those situations where everybody "knew" this was happening but no one explained it to the supposed recipients of the money, or is this one of those situations where the legislative intent was circumvented by a little budgetary sleight of hand? It would be nice to know.

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.

We've talked about that before. The red light camera mechanism is in my opinion more appropriate for funding trauma centers than the shakedown fees of the Texas Driver Responsibility Program. I'd like to see both of these things fixed. Let's at least start with SB1119.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on November 13, 2007 to Planes, Trains, and Automobiles