D.C. Council cuts plan to cut traffic ticket fines

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

D.C. lawmakers pushed back Thursday against a city analysis that showed a controversial plan to curb traffic fines would end up costing the District $95 million in lost revenue over four years.

"The fiscal impact analysis is crazy," said D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, who chairs the legislative committee that approved a revised proposal to reduce all speeding fines and trim penalties for several other moving violations.

The amended proposal calls for the changes to expire after one year, though supporters were optimistic that city leaders would find the necessary funding to keep the reductions -- and the possible increases in speed limits -- afloat.

Barry disallows Mendelson's vote
Marion Barry tried to strip D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson of his vote on a controversial bill Thursday, instigating doubt about the vote's legitimacy.
Facing a close committee vote, Barry called a recess, and the leading dissenters, including Mendelson, departed.
But Barry quickly resumed the meeting and asked for a vote.
When Mendelson, who as chairman is allowed to participate on any panel, returned and attempted to cast his vote, Barry replied, "You can't vote. You're not yet sworn in."
Mendelson took office in June after a resignation, but was due to be sworn in again minutes later after winning a special election.
Mendelson disputed Barry's ruling, but the bill, designed to protect ex-offenders from discrimination, cleared the committee.

"It's a refined proposal, so we can see how to pay for it," said Ward 3 Councilwoman Mary Cheh, an author of the measure. "That's the only practical way to get it [done.]"

The lawmakers' objections to the analysis by Chief Financial Officer Natwar Gandhi stemmed from his assessment that a planned review of speed limits citywide -- and the potential for subsequent changes -- could leave the District's coffers emptier by $56 million through the 2016 fiscal year.

Ward 4 Councilwoman Muriel Bowser said she was concerned about the public safety effects of allowing speed limits to climb.

"I can't think of too many places where the speed limits need to be raised," she said. "Cars are already going plenty fast."

In another rebuke to Gandhi, the council's finance panel on Thursday approved an $11 million tax break for the proposed Howard Town Center development, which is slated to include 74,000 square feet of retail space and more than 400 apartments.

The committee unanimously approved the measure, which Gandhi had said was unnecessary.

At-large Councilman David Catania, a frequent Gandhi foe, said the tax breaks were an incentive for a company to do business in the District.

"There are times in which incentives are necessary to move projects forward that serve a larger purpose," Catania said. "The targeted use of financial incentives for economic development purposes is a well-tested, successful tool."

Both bills will face votes by the full council on Tuesday, and lawmakers scrambled Thursday to meet a looming deadline to clear legislation through committees so the legislative body can consider the measures before adjourning for the year.

ablinder@washingtonexaminer.com

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Alan Blinder

Staff Reporter, D.C. City Hall
The Washington Examiner