Editorial: Red-light ruse is waste of time

Published July 5, 2013

The Hernando County Commission plans to ask voters to put a stop to red-light cameras in the county. There is just one catch. The only cameras in Hernando are under the jurisdiction of the city of Brooksville, and they won't be affected by the referendum.

This waste of time — the county legal staff must draft the ballot language and commissioners must take public comment before placing the referendum on the November 2014 ballot — is nothing more than a public relations move by commissioners frustrated by Brooksville's red-light cameras. Commission chairman David Russell pushed the referendum and proclaimed confidence that voters will approve it overwhelmingly. So what? The county will be left with nonbinding election results that aren't applicable to Brooksville, where red-light cameras generated $1.1 million in fines over a seven-month period.

The ploy is ineffective, but the commissioners' angst is understandable and it is shared across the region. Voting against red-light cameras has become a matter of routine for three St. Petersburg City Council members, and the deputy mayor of New Port Richey recently wondered aloud about the value of the cameras in that city. The public questions the timing of yellow lights and the inability of motorists to make rolling right-hand turns without stopping at a red light.

The criticism continues because local officials have been unable to offer persuasive arguments that red-light cameras are imperative public safety tools rather than an easy cash cow for state and local governments. Attempts at reform didn't go entirely as planned. State legislators complicated the appeals process by forcing local governments to set up an appeals process or hire special magistrates to hear cases, while putting additional costs on drivers challenging their tickets.

The ultimate fix for the red-light camera craze must come from Tallahassee. Hernando commissioners think an outraged local electorate can send a strong signal to legislators. Don't hold your breath. The state and local governments have become addicted to the millions of dollars red-light cameras generate, and real change isn't likely to occur without an alternative source of revenue.