March 26, 2009
Red light camera revenues unspent

The state has not yet appropriated the money in the trauma center fund that it has collected from cities with red light cameras.

That is because the Legislature, which passed a 2007 law requiring cities to share profits with the state, has not formally approved transferring the money to the hospitals.

To spend the camera money, which totals about $9 million so far, lawmakers this session must include specific language in the biennial budget plan being drafted.

"We need to get the money out to these centers," said state Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, whose 2007 law required cities to share their profits. "We promised the public that the money would be for regional trauma care, and, to me, there is no excuse for that money going any place else."

The Senate version of the biennial state spending bill, which is being printed, does not include language for the red-light camera funds. The provision could be added in later negotiations before being enacted into law.

The $9 million collected so far -- much of it from Houston -- is a fraction of the state's biennial budget. But trauma centers across the state need all funding available, said John Hawkins, vice president for governmental relations for the Texas Hospital Association.

He said that especially is true at facilities like Ben Taub General Hospital, which has seen increased traffic since Hurricane Ike damaged operations at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston.

"All of the money collected ought to be appropriated," he said. "There's real need out there."

There's a lot of needs, but yes, this is something that ought to be taken care of. I don't see any reason why it wouldn't happen during the budget process, but screwups most definitely do occur. The main question will be whether the budget is printed with enough time for everyone who's looking for a particular appropriation to see if it's there before it gets voted on.

It remains unclear how the money, if allocated, would be spent. City officials said they would prefer the money be distributed using a formula proportionate to what regions collect. Houston, for example, sent the state $3.7 million -- about 40 percent of the total.

No other city in Texas came close to collecting more than Houston. Arlington, Duncanville and Humble all collected about $1 million in profits, respectively, which they split with the state. Dallas collected only $336,000.


The money, so far, has been sent in by more than 40 cities, from Allen to University Park, that have collected fines since Carona's law took effect in September of 2007.

At least 10 cities reported to the state that they lost money on the cameras. A few others reported just breaking even, records show.

Leading the way was Garland, which was the first city in Texas to install cameras. Officials there say that city lost more than $300,000 from September 2007 to this month.

"We experienced a fairly substantial decline in the number of violations after a period of time," said George Kauffman, managing director of financial services in Garland. "They learn where the intersections are and probably take extra precautions at those intersections."

That city since has renegotiated a contract with the vendor that maintains the cameras in an effort to break even. There also are plans to add three cameras, bringing the total to 12.

Matt Stiles put together a list of the money-losers here. Those of you who believe the cameras are all about revenue may now say your piece.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on March 26, 2009 to Budget ballyhoo
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