Empower Wisconsin | Oct. 18, 2019
By M.D. Kittle
MADISON — Big Brother could soon be coming to a Milwaukee intersection near you.
Proponents of a bill that would allow the city to install red-light and speed-enforcement cameras say the measure is all about safety. But there’s no doubt these automated traffic cops can be a big revenue booster for the municipalities that employ them.
The Assembly Committee on Local Government this week held a hearing on the legislation (AB 365).
While introduced by Milwaukee Democrats, the bill has garnered bipartisan support.
If the proposal becomes law, Milwaukee would set off on a multi-year pilot program, installing cameras at some four-dozen intersections. It would also become the first city in the state to allow the electronic spies.
The claims are the same in Wisconsin as they are elsewhere. Red-light cameras save lives, advocates say. Their very presence is preventative, stopping motorists from running red lights, cutting down on the number accidents.
But a number of communities that once endorsed automated traffic enforcement have changed their minds. Texas earlier this year became the latest state to prohibit red-light cameras.
Texas state Sen. Bob Hall, a Republican and sponsor of the bill nixing the devices, pointed to studies that show the cameras don’t improve public safety, that in some cases they cause accidents. Beyond that, he said, they’re unconstitutional.
“Red light cameras violate the right to due process by creating a presumption that the registered owner of the car committed a violation,” Hall said on the Senate floor.
But many Texas cities are loathe to let the cash cow go. As the Dallas Morning News noted, the cameras have brought in significant sums in fines. Dallas netted almost $5.8 million from their $75 per-incident assessments last year alone.
A report by the Illinois Policy Institute found local governments in the Land of Lincoln generated more than $1 billion combined in red-light camera revenue from 2008 to 2018.
Chicago, the report notes, has long been a poster child for red-light camera abuse.
“The city is home to the nation’s highest count of red-light cameras, a former high-ranking transportation official serving jail time for taking bribes from a red-light camera company, and a pricey settlement for drivers who a judge ruled did not receive proper notifications in the ticketing process.”
It is interesting to note that Milwaukee liberals constantly bemoan the burdensome costs of parking and traffic tickets on their low-income residents. Now, it appears, they want to add to those burdens.
“Cities and states in America that have utilized red light or speed enforcement cameras have gone in the opposite direction, banning the devices, after concerns over how and why the equipment was being used,” Megan Novak, legislative director at Americans for Prosperity-Wisconsin, wrote in testimony before the legislative committee.
“AB 365 is unlikely to increase public safety in Milwaukee, but it is likely to hurt Milwaukee’s poorest the most,” Novak said.