Big Money Behind Maryland Speed Camera Cash Grab

April 23, 2009
Governor O'Malley with his favorite thing: Money

They sure do love money has dissected what happened in the Maryland legislature to compel legislators to adopt a policy that is obviously contrary to the majority of residents (evidence suggests that opposition is as high as 80% against). You may not be surprised to learn some lawmakers value cash in their pockets more than anything else. Full article:

Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley (D) is expected to sign into law recently passed legislation authorizing a massive expansion in the use of speed cameras throughout the state. The measure is the culmination of a coordinated effort by photo enforcement companies, their lobbying firms and the insurance industry to sway the opinions of key legislators. TheNewspaper reviewed state records over the past ten years and found that parties with a direct financial interest in automated ticketing showered members of the Maryland General Assembly and the governor with $707,725 in gifts and campaign cash.

The official legislative analysis for Senate Bill 277 predicted $65,335,400 in new photo ticket revenue at the state level by 2014. The private contractor selected to run the program will pocket $9,783,700. Because a number of localities implementing their own programs expect equally generous levels of revenue, four traffic camera specialists had an incentive to make a long-term strategic investment in Maryland’s legislative process. American Traffic Solutions (ATS) of Arizona, Affiliated Computer Services (ACS) of Texas, Sigma Space/Optotraffic of Maryland and Traffipax of Germany together wrote checks to lawmakers worth $183,780 between 1999 and 2009.

To ensure the best reception for their proposals, these firms also retained heavy-hitting lobby shops with their own history of providing $213,055 in financial support to the campaigns of influential state lawmakers. ATS hired Capitol Strategies for $41,000; Sigma hired Rifkin Livingston Levitan LLC for $68,873; Traffipax hired Gildea Schmidt LLC for $50,000; and ACS hired Alexander Cleaver PA for $211,453. Some local governments even got into the act and spent taxpayer money on speed camera lobbying efforts, like Prince George’s County which hired Darryl Kelley LLC for $47,500.

The extra money spent by ACS made an impression on lawmakers serving on four state legislative committees. The ACS lobby shop, Alexander and Cleaver, feted these members with $6286 in food and wine from Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse in Annapolis. Similarly, the American Automobile Association (AAA) threw a $10,933 party at the Lowe House Office Building for General Assembly members to build good will for the full range of AAA’s legislative agenda.

Insurance companies like AAA, Geico, Nationwide and State Farm have an intense interest in the promotion of photo radar and red light cameras. These companies collect millions in extra premium revenue in states like Arizona, California, Colorado and Illinois where certain categories of photo tickets carry license points. As a result, these companies lobbied heavily in favor of Maryland’s photo ticketing plan.

“AAA Mid-Atlantic supported the statewide bill to ensure continuity throughout the state in terms of practice and enforcement,” AAA said in a statement issued Tuesday.

Geico, Nationwide and State Farm together kicked in $293,671 in campaign donations to ensure lawmakers paid attention to their favorite issues, including speed cameras.

For the photo ticketing firms, it makes sense to invest $555,106 in direct lobbying and campaign expenses when the possible payoff is at least $9.8 million. A growing number of ordinary Maryland residents, however, want to keep that victory short-lived. Last week, Maryland for Responsible Enforcement began the process of circulating a petition that would give voters a chance in November to repeal the statewide photo radar legislation. In just a few days, 662 members signed up on the new group’s Facebook page.

The group has already collected thousands of signatures for a similar effort to ban photo enforcement in Arizona, and the group’s national capital branch supports the Maryland referendum. Once on the ballot, no photo enforcement program has ever survived a public vote. Earlier this month, for example, 86 percent of voters in Sulphur, Louisiana voted to reject speed cameras.

(reprinted with permission)


More Speed Cameras Coming to Maryland

February 1, 2009

The first speed camera bills of 2009 have officially been introduced to the Maryland General Assembly.

Senate Bill 277 and House Bill 313 have been submitted to the MD state Senate and House of Delegates, at the request of Governor O’Malley. This bill is based on the legislation which came within a hair of enactment in 2008. It would authorize every county in the state to use speed cameras on roads up to a 45mph speed limit, and also on highways in temporary “work zones”.

These bills still included the following change from existing law which legislators attempted to pass in 2008:

(6) “Speed monitoring system operator” means [an individual who] A REPRESENTATIVE OF AN AGENCY OR CONTRACTOR THAT operates a speed monitoring system.

This change would have grandfather in the alleged loophole which Montgomery County has attempted to use to defend their Illegal contract, and also deny the accused the right to request the REAL operator to appear in court, by allowing the counties to specify any person they want as the operator regardless of whether they perform any physical work on the device.

In addition, local bills have been submitted to the House and Senate under the labels HB0396 and sb0388 on behalf of the Baltimore local govt. That local bills would give Baltimore the ability to set up speed cameras, however anyone who visits Baltimore is affected by this.

Two other speed camera bills which would authorize cameras in Prince George’s County (PG 309-09) and Howard County (Ho.Co. 06-09) have been drafted and will be submitted soon.

If you disagree with the expansion of scameras in Maryland, please get involved. Find out who’s responsible for these bills, with contact information, after the jump.

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Virginia House Punts Sneaky VDOT Oversight Bill

January 31, 2009

On Thursday the Virginia House Transportation Committee by a 12-10 vote tabled H.B. 2416, the sneaky attempt by Virginia Beach fraud merchants to eliminate the Virginia Department of Transportation’s ability to stop cities from installing red light cameras in locations where engineering studies do not support their use. In other words the idea is: Virginia Beach and Fairfax want their money now, there’s no time for engineering or safety.

What does “tabled” mean? It means the committee looked at the bill and shoved it in the drawer. In the normal process, the bill is dead as far as the committee is concerned, although it is possible to introduce a motion “To take H.B. 2416 from the table” and pass it. In a part-time legislature, that doesn’t happen. The bigger danger is that this three-word provision gets inserted in the dead of night into a “must pass” piece of legislation like the budget. That’s the way these scam artists do business.

Here’s the vote count. YEA is a vote to dump the bill, but take note that many of those who voted correctly on this are scamera supporters (bold). All of the NAY votes are scamera supporters.

YEAS–May, Oder, Saxman, Carrico, Cosgrove, Gear, Rust, Hugo, Scott, E.T., Fralin, Loupassi, Knight–12.

NAYS–Tata, Ward, Ebbin, BaCote, Marsden, Valentine, Brink, Toscano, Nichols, McQuinn–10.