The law directs a portion of fines generated by the cameras toward trauma centers. But instead of helping hospitals, the money is simply piling up in Austin.The Lege cut its line-item appropriation for trauma centers by 23% in 2011, so the loss of red-light camera revenue pales in comparison to their overall shortfall (and likely is a subset of the larger number), but it's still notable that they hijacked a dedicated revenue stream. This is one of the valid reasons why the "no new taxes" crowd opposes tax hikes, etc., across the board. Even when the supposed justification is "dedicated" to a good cause, like trauma centers, in practice they divert the money whenever they want.
The $46 million pot earmarked for hospitals is helping lawmakers certify a balanced budget even though much of the money in state accounts can’t be used for general expenses. It’s an accounting trick that has been used for years and defended by budget writers who say such maneuvers are necessary in lean times.
Budget writers face a choice: They either have to cut spending or reduce appropriations, said Steven Polunsky, spokesman for Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, who wrote the bill that set aside red-light camera funds for trauma centers.
“In the past, the state has appropriated trauma funds,” Polunsky said. “However, the state was in a difficult budgetary situation.”
In their last session, lawmakers set a record by refusing to spend $4.1 billion raised from earmarked fees and taxes. The programs that suffer include electricity discounts for the poor and, in the case of red-light ticket revenue, trauma centers.
While Greyson was among those who lobbied for red-light cameras, critics of the law say the state’s refusal to let go of the money is another reason for repeal.
“This is just another lie we were told,” said Byron Schirmbeck of Baytown, who successfully petitioned to get the cameras removed from his city. “They sell the system to the public by saying that all this money will come back to the community — to the trauma centers. But the state is holding on to the money.”
Grits queried DPS this a.m. to clarify the precise extent to which the Lege did the same thing with revenue from the Driver Responsibility surcharge, so stay tuned for a followup on these themes.