D.C.: Cutting ticket fines could cost $95m

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Photo - Traffic camera (Examiner file photo)
Traffic camera (Examiner file photo)
Local,DC,Alan Blinder

The District's chief financial officer says a D.C. Council plan to reduce traffic fines would force the city to forego more than $95 million in revenue over four years.

"The bill is estimated [to] reduce traffic fine collections $621,000 in the fiscal year 2013 budget ... and $95.8 million over the four-year financial plan period," Natwar Gandhi wrote in a memorandum Wednesday.

The proposal, which Ward 3 Councilwoman Mary Cheh and Ward 6 Councilman Tommy Wells have championed, would reduce all speeding fines -- some by 50 percent -- along with penalties for several other moving violations.

Cheh described the plan Wednesday as "a strategy that has the best chance of avoiding public backlash and maintaining long-term legitimacy."

The measure also calls for a review of speed limits throughout the city, an analysis that Gandhi said could prove costly.

According to Gandhi's office, a decision to increase speed limits could prompt fine revenues to fall by $56 million through the 2016 fiscal year.

That's in addition to a $1.8 million loss for potential changes to fines for illegal turns against stoplights and $38 million in lost revenue because of the speeding fine reductions.

The council's transportation committee unanimously approved the measure, but it still faces a Thursday test before a second panel ahead of a likely vote by the full council next week.

Ward 7 Councilwoman Yvette Alexander supported the proposal, but she said she would monitor its effects to ensure safety isn't compromised.

"I really want to watch this closely to make sure there's not escalating violations of traffic laws," Alexander said.

The measure is the latest outgrowth of a contentious back-and-forth between lawmakers and Mayor Vincent Gray about traffic fines that has transpired amidst a backdrop of record revenues from the penalties.

The Washington Examiner first reported earlier this year that the city took in nearly $85 million in its most recent fiscal year from ticket-generating cameras, part of a $178 million haul.

As pressure intensified, Gray suddenly acted this month to cut traffic fines, an effort lawmakers said didn't go far enough.

Gray spokesman Pedro Ribeiro characterized the council proposal as "irresponsible."

"To lower the fines for people who are doing 25 mph over the speed limit is immensely dangerous," Ribeiro said. "If you hit someone and you're going 50 in a 25, you will kill someone."

ablinder@washingtonexaminer.com

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