Speeding tickets may carry no points
State photo-radar plan is aimed at revenue, not curbing violators
By Howard Fischer
Capitol Media Services
Tucson, Arizona | Published: 06.26.2008
PHOENIX — Speeders caught by Arizona's new photo-radar system would not have to fear losing their licenses — no matter how often they were photographed going too fast — under a budget deal being negotiated by Gov. Janet Napolitano.
As the governor and state lawmakers search for ways to balance the budget, Napolitano believes deploying 100 photo- radar cameras will bring in an extra $90 million.
A proposal approved Wednesday by the Senate Appropriations Committee would let speeders caught on photo radar avoid the points that could cost them their license by paying a fine.
And those citations would not become part of each driver's permanent record, meaning they would not be available to insurance companies to decide whether to raise drivers' premiums — or whether to insure them at all.
The deal would authorize the Department of Public Safety to contract with private firms to set up about 50 fixed and 50 mobile speed cameras, with the profits from the system going into the state treasury where they could be used for various expenses.
Senate Minority Leader Marsha Arzberger, D-Willcox, said there's a simple reason for agreeing to let multiple scofflaws escape having their licenses yanked: It generates more money.
"If people know that their tickets are not going to count against their insurance and points on their driver's license, they will pay their fine," she said. "It will be an incentive to pay the money."
The provision was tucked into a last-minute amendment in the Senate plan to balance the budget for the new fiscal year that begins Tuesday.
Arzberger said a high number of people now simply ignore the tickets when they come in the mail and hope no one ever pursues them.
She believes motorists who get the tickets — which will have a fixed $165 penalty plus $16.50 for the Citizens Clean Election fund — will write out the check, figuring that's the worst that will happen to them.
She said there is the "possibility" motorists on state roads, no longer afraid of losing their licenses or insurance coverage, would continue to speed, figuring the cost of the occasional ticket is worth it.
Does that make the state more interested in getting the money than getting bad drivers off the road?
"Yeah, well," Arzberger responded.
Senate President Tim Bee, R-Tucson, who helped negotiate the budget, would not comment on this provision.
"Talk to the governor," he said.
But the governor isn't talking. "We're not going to negotiate the budget through the media," said Napolitano press aide Jeanine L'Ecuyer.
The Senate Appropriations Committee also approved the rest of the Senate budget plan, though several Republicans voted against the package.
Sen. Bob Burns, R-Peoria, said the amount of borrowing proposed to balance the new budget will leave the state at least $1 billion in the hole for the following fiscal year. By that point the state's "rainy day" fund will have run dry as will other special funds now being raided to balance the books.
Burns recessed the meeting, demanding that someone from the governor's office come to the committee to explain how Napolitano intends to balance the following year's budget.
That did not happen. Instead, Sen. Jorge Garcia, D-Tucson, said it is Napolitano's intent to present lawmakers with a balanced budget for the 2009-2010 budget year next January.
Burns said waiting that long is irresponsible.
And with little desire to cut spending, he said that leaves only one option: higher taxes.
Legislative budget staffers said it would take a 1.15 cent increase on the state's 5.6 percent sales tax to make up that difference — or individual income tax hikes ranging from 38 percent to 47 percent.
The House gave preliminary approval to a plan by Republican leaders there, one with only about half as much borrowing and deeper spending cuts. But some question remains as to whether there are the necessary 31 votes for final approval today.