D.C. Council approves more speed cameras, longer bar hours

Local,DC,Alan Blinder

The D.C. Council voted unanimously Tuesday to approve a $9 billion budget for fiscal 2013 -- a 4 percent bump from fiscal 2012's -- inching the city closer to an expansion of its lucrative traffic camera program and longer hours for alcohol sales to bolster the District's coffers.

"We're putting people first," said Council Chairman Kwame Brown. "This budget represents a solid commitment to our city."

The measure is likely to be modified slightly before a final vote in June, aides said, but the framework is poised to remain the same.

Though legislators have repeatedly said they are worried about the sizes of the fees and fines the city has levied in recent years, they approved a plan to raise $30 million by expanding the District's camera-based traffic enforcement.

Mayor Vincent Gray, however, has said the proposed surge in the program's size is solely to increase safety.

Ward 6 Councilman Tommy Wells said he hoped the new traffic cameras would encourage District officials to lower fines as the number of tickets issued increases.

"With more traffic cameras, that's a reason to lower the size of the fines," Wells said. "The fines don't have to be as high because there is more certainty of being caught."

John Townsend, a spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic, which has opposed the program's expansion, blasted the city's plan.

"The District's approach is idiotic," Townsend said. "People are being nickled-and-dimed to death. ... There's a pot of gold at the end of the traffic camera rainbow."

On Tuesday, Brown again said he plans to establish a special panel in the coming months to review fines and fees in the District.

In another effort to curb a $172 million shortfall, the council also backed a compromise proposal to allow longer hours for alcohol sales. Legislators favored a plan that allowed sales to 4 a.m. only during District and federal holidays, as well as throughout the weekends surrounding select holidays.

The budget also paved the way for liquor stores to open as early as 7 a.m., two hours earlier than existing law allows.

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