‘Ad­dicted to rev­enue’ from booze, tick­ets

AAA pans D.C. Coun­cil bud­get

The Washington Times Daily - - Front Page - BY TOM HOW­ELL JR.

D.C. Mayor Vin­cent C. Gray’s plan to raise $30 mil­lion by ex­pand­ing a traf­fic-cam­era pro­gram is ev­i­dence the city is “ad­dicted to rev­enue” and bal­anc­ing its books on the backs of out-of-dis­trict driv­ers with no say in city hall, AAA Mid-at­lantic says.

Mr. Gray’s bud­get pro­posal for fis­cal year 2013 would close a $172 mil­lion gap through $102 mil­lion in cuts and $70 mil­lion in new rev­enue, in­clud­ing a mas­sive uptick in au­to­mated traf­fic en­force­ment and ex­panded hours for al­co­hol sales.

While bar own­ers are ex­pected to cheer the mayor’s po­si­tion to­ward drink­ing hours, his “traf­fic-calm­ing ini­tia­tives” are get­ting jeers from the na­tion’s pre­dom­i­nant mo­torist club.

“We’re in a very slip­pery

slope now,” said John B. Townsend II, spokesman for AAA Mid-at­lantic. “I think this ruse has been ex­posed.”

Mr. Townsend, who plans to tes­tify against the mea­sure be­fore the D.C. Coun­cil, said the or­ga­ni­za­tion sup­ports au­to­mated traf­fic en­force­ment for safety and to as­sist po­lice, but it de­cries mea­sures aimed at fill­ing city cof­fers and has long op­posed the way cam­eras are used in the Dis­trict.

The mayor’s bud­get al­lows the Met­ro­pol­i­tan Po­lice Depart­ment to ex­pand its cam­era pro­gram through photo and laser-radar equip­ment, in­clud­ing “speed on green” cam­eras that catch ve­hi­cles speed­ing through in­ter­sec­tions. It would also fund pi­lot projects to catch speed­ers in tun­nels, mo­torists who “block the box” and cre­ate grid­lock, and mo­torists who vi­o­late a pedes­trian’s right of way.

The ini­tia­tives are ex­pected to bring in about $25 mil­lion in net rev­enue, af­ter the city spends $5.8 mil­lion to im­ple­ment the ad­di­tions.

Traf­fic cam­eras gen­er­ated a record $80.4 mil­lion for the Dis­trict in fis­cal 2010 and were on pace to ex­ceed that to­tal in fis­cal 2011, AAA Mid-at­lantic said in Au­gust af­ter fil­ing a Free­dom of In­for­ma­tion Act re­quest with the city.

Sup­port­ers have long held that the pro­gram is first and fore­most about public safety.

The con­tro­versy over traf­fic cam­eras is not ex­clu­sive to the Dis­trict.

Au­to­mated en­force­ment ef­forts are forc­ing states across the na­tion to weigh the no­ble cause of re­duc­ing death and in­jury on public road­ways against the le­gal­ity and le­git­i­macy of the tech­nol­ogy. Last year, law­mak­ers in 28 states de­bated more than 100 bills re­gard­ing au­to­mated en­force­ment, ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional Con­fer­ence on State Leg­is­la­tures.

The re­sult is a patch­work of state and lo­cal laws de­signed to ei­ther catch speed­ers and red­light run­ners or pro­hibit au­to­mated en­force­ment from the get-go. Nine states have passed laws that pro­hibit the use of cam­eras to en­force traf­fic laws, with a few ex­cep­tions for school zones or cam­era equip­ment used by an of­fi­cer, ac­cord­ing to the con­fer­ence.

The Dis­trict joins Colorado at the other end of the spec­trum by grant­ing the au­thor­ity to en­force all mov­ing vi­o­la­tions with cam­eras, and not just red-light run­ning and speed­ing, ac­cord­ing to the con­fer­ence. Ten­nessee also al­lows cam­era en­force­ment of some traf­fic vi­o­la­tions.

Mr. Townsend said au­to­mated en­force­ment is less nim­ble than nor­mal po­lice sur­veil­lance be­cause it can­not ac­count for pe­riph­eral cir­cum­stances that might lead to in­frac­tions, such as a pedes­trian who darts across the street or driv­ers urg­ing the mo­torists ahead of them to cross busy in­ter­sec­tions. He also thinks the Dis­trict is tak­ing ad­van­tage of mo­torists who have no po­lit­i­cal clout in the bud­get process.

“They know the plu­ral­ity of driv­ers who get these tick­ets live out­side the city,” Mr. Townsend said. “So they’re easy pick­ins.”

Mr. Gray’s spokesman, Pe­dro Ribeiro, de­fended the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s in­ten­tions Mon­day in a re­but­tal of Mr. Townsend’s com­ments.

“AAA is there to ad­vo­cate for mo­torists. The mayor is there to ad­vo­cate for res­i­dents, mo­torists and non­mo­torists alike,” Mr. Ribeiro said. “A lot of driv­ers come through the city like it’s an ex­press­way, but it is not. There are neigh­bor­hoods. Peo­ple live here.”

The mayor’s bud­get faces sun­nier, although still con­tro­ver­sial, prospects in al­low­ing city bars to stay open un­til 3 a.m. on week­days and 4 a.m. on week­ends. Un­der the plan, stores that sell al­co­hol will be al­lowed to open at 7 a.m. in­stead of 9 a.m.

Ad­di­tion­ally, Mr. Gray’s pro­posal al­lows bars to stay open un­til 4 a.m. ev­ery night in the week sur­round­ing the pres­i­den­tial in­au­gu­ra­tions of 2013 and 2017 and lets restau­rants over those pe­ri­ods serve cus­tomers around the clock.

The al­co­hol-re­lated mea­sures are ex­pected to gen­er­ate $5.3 mil­lion in sales tax rev­enue. Yet neigh­bor­hood groups will likely re­sist them, cit­ing bois­ter­ous par­ty­ing well into the morn­ing, and Mr. Gray said his ad­min­is­tra­tion has not con­ferred with Metro about the dis­crep­ancy in ser­vice that would have trains stop­ping an hour be­fore last call on week­ends.

“I think it will be se­ri­ously con­tro­ver­sial,” said coun­cil mem­ber Jim Gra­ham, Ward 1 Demo­crat. “I can’t see my­self sup­port­ing it, but the prob­lem is it’s not just a pol­icy is­sue — you have to plug the bud­get hole.”

A spokesman for the D.C. Cham­ber of Com­merce said it is pleased with the mayor’s bud­get for re­sist­ing taxes and fees in its quest for bal­ance be­tween pro­gram spend­ing and rev­enue. On the al­co­hol pro­posal, “The cham­ber gen­er­ally be­lieves in eas­ing the reg­u­la­tory bur­den and cut­ting red tape in D.C.,” spokesman Max R. Far­row said.

Be­sides gen­er­at­ing money for the city and the bars, later hours would al­low for “more of a soft clos­ing,” said Bill Dug­gan, owner of Madam’s Or­gan Blues Bar in Adams Mor­gan.

Mr. Dug­gan said pa­trons tend to leave the bars be­tween 1:30 a.m. and 3 a.m., so an ex­tra hour would lead to a more or­derly ex­o­dus on the streets.

“By clos­ing ev­ery place in town at 3, it leaves lit­er­ally ev­ery­one in the street at the same hour,” he said. “I’m sure that most, if not all, bars would sup­port this be­cause you’re not forced to stay open.”

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