To avoid Detroit’s Fate Chicago looks at Revenue Generation from Speed Cameras

Posted by PITHOCRATES - August 11th, 2013

Week in Review

The City of Detroit bankruptcy shows how the massive costs of a city’s public sector are strangling these cities.  Promises of generous pensions for a long retirement and free health insurance up until you die are just promises these cities can’t pay for.  So some (like Detroit) raised their tax rates so high that people left the city in droves.  Further reducing the tax base.  While other cities turn to other revenue generating schemes (see Speeders were plentiful in camera test run by David Kidwell and Bill Ruthhart posted 8/12/2013 on the Chicago Tribune).

As Mayor Rahm Emanuel rolls out his long-delayed speed camera plan, new numbers his office released suggest that drivers who speed in Chicago could rack up way more in fines than a cash-starved City Hall initially projected.

The mayor had hoped to bring in $30 million this year. But results from a monthlong test of the automated camera system indicate the city could reap well into the hundreds of millions of dollars in the program’s first year.

City transportation officials argue that estimate is overblown, but the test period statistics the mayor’s office released Friday reinvigorated critics who argue that the program is more of a cash grab than the child safety measure Emanuel sold it as…

City transportation officials put estimated first-year revenues at $40 million to $60 million, arguing that several factors will cut down on the number of tickets actually issued.

For starters, they argue that it’s incorrect to estimate revenues based on the test program. They suggest the money will never reach into the hundreds of millions of dollars because of a number of factors. The most important: the fast learning curve of Chicago drivers…

Ald. Leslie Hairston, 5th, who voted against the speed camera program, said the number of speeders captured on the test cameras supports her insistence that the main motivation is to generate more city revenue.

“I guess this is just going to be a city for wealthy people, that’s where we’re headed,” she said…

The speed camera rollout was scheduled for closer to the start of the year, but it was delayed after City Hall came under scrutiny following Tribune reports of an alleged bribery scandal involving its 10-year-old red light camera program.

Making the streets safer for children is a noble goal.  But like their red light camera program it’s all about the Benjamins.  The money.  And they love cameras because they can rake in the money without having to put more costly public sector workers (i.e., cops) onto the streets.  That is, they’re outsourcing these costly union jobs to machines.  To minimize their labor costs.  Just like corporations try to minimize their labor costs.  Because union workers are very, very expensive.

But like every government revenue policy they’ve overstated the expected revenue from these cameras.  Just like a higher cigarette tax rate reduces cigarette tax revenue.  Taxes, and these revenue cameras, change human behavior.  Actually achieving the stated purpose for them (better health if people don’t smoke and safer streets if speeders are punished).  Which means though they have a burst of revenue in the beginning it will eventually taper away.  Requiring a new revenue generating scheme.  And then another one to replace that one.  And so on.  On and on.  Forever and forever.  Instead of doing the simpler thing.  And the thing that would work best.  Forever and forever.  Just stop spending so much.

If the public sector union enjoyed pensions and health care benefits like they do in the private sector there would be no Detroits going bankrupt.  Because there would be no generational theft.  These workers would provide their own pensions—401(k)s—and pay a much larger portion of their health care expense.  And they would work into their Sixties (or more) like the rest of America.  Instead of retiring in their 40s or 50s.  To enjoy a retirement that in some cases lasts longer than their working career.  This would solve the budget problems of the big cities.  Instead of passing it on to future taxpayers who were not included in those generous contract negotiations that they find themselves stuck paying for.

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