- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 21, 2010

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Proponents of traffic cameras in legislatures and city councils around the country share a fundamental flaw: They underestimate the people who put them in office. A fine example of this will be on display in Sykesville, Md., next month as the Carroll County town of 4,200 holds the region’s first referendum on outlawing speed cameras.

After engorging themselves with thousands in campaign donations from industry lobbyists, Maryland lawmakers last year foisted these robotic ticketing systems on an unsympathetic populace. The politicians boldly asserted that “restrictions” written into the new law would protect the public from being exploited. All of the so-called restrictions are being ignored.

For example, state law forbids the private corporations that operate speed cameras from being compensated on a per-ticket basis. This is to prevent companies from having a financial incentive to mail out more citations. Despite this prohibition, the private firm Affiliated Computer Services (ACS) began issuing $40 speed-camera tickets in Bowie on Monday. According to city documents, ACS will pocket $16.25 for each ticket issued. Bowie and the other jurisdictions that ignore the same law defend the practice with a disingenuous “it depends on what the word ‘operate’ means” defense.

Maryland state law also requires that the for-profit camera companies operate solely in school zones. This, the legislators claimed, would protect children. Local jurisdictions responded by creating brand-new “school zones” on high-volume roads where no children are ever found. In addition, the law requires a documented, daily test to ensure the radar system’s accuracy. The intrepid watchdogs at the website StopBigBrotherMD.org asked the city of Gaithersburg for a copy of the daily test reports. According to the documents provided, up to 10 days would pass without any of the legally required daily tests being performed.

Understandably, Marylanders are upset by this lawless scheming for profit. Sykesville’s residents circulated the referendum petition last month, garnering 523 signatures - or about 23 percent of registered voters. This forced town officials reluctantly to set a May 4 vote and upset their plans to cash in with fast, easy revenue.

The contrast with Anaheim, Calif., could not be more stark. Residents in the city best known as the home of Disneyland will vote Nov. 2 on a photo-enforcement ban proposed unanimously by the city’s own leaders. Mayor Curt Pringle explained in an interview with The Washington Times that he wants to encourage tourism by keeping out traffic cameras. “Why should we be aggressive against visitors who come to our city … just for revenue generation?” he asked.

Mr. Pringle was quick to point out, however, that he is equally convinced that the devices are a bad idea because they increase the number of rear-end collisions and represent a big-government power grab. Using the charter amendment process is the right thing to do, he explained. “This doesn’t say the city will never have them; this says if you want them, you have to ask the voters to agree - which will never happen.”

Revenue-crazed lawmakers across the country - especially in Maryland and Virginia - could learn a lesson or two from the “happiest place on earth.”

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