Ohio Cities Likely to Take Up Legal Fight Over Traffic Cameras

Under the recently approved two-year transportation budget, the state could withhold millions in tax revenue-sharing dollars from cities using the cameras to wipe out any financial gain they might realize from civil fines issued for violations.

by Jim Provance, The Blade / April 4, 2019

(TNS) — Gov. Mike DeWine on Wednesday approved an $8 billion, two-year transportation budget without vetoing legislative language that financially punishes cities like Toledo and Dayton that operate automated red-light and speed-enforcement cameras.

The budget also includes a 10.5 cents-per-gallon hike in the tax on gasoline and 19 cents on diesel fuel, effective July 1.

Proponents of the traffic cameras in question had called for the governor to exercise his line-item veto authority. The mayors of Toledo and Dayton have both said more litigation would be likely if the camera language became law.

In the end, Mr. DeWine did not exercise his line-item veto authority at all.

Under the bill, the state would withhold millions in state tax revenue-sharing dollars from camera-using cities to wipe out any financial gain they might realize from civil fines issued for violations.

Exempted from the new rule is revenue generated from citations from cameras in school zones.

The language also eliminates the administrative hearing process that Toledo and some other cities use to hear appeals of camera-related, mail-issued citations and would hand that jurisdiction instead to municipal or county courts that hear other traffic-related citations.

The city, not the cited vehicle owner, would have to pay court costs and fees, even when the city wins the appeal.

The Ohio Senate’s nine Democrats, including Sen. Teresa Fedor (D., Toledo), sent a letter to the governor Wednesday urging him to strike the camera language, even though many supported the final bill.

They noted that the Ohio Supreme Court has upheld the right of cities to operate these cameras as an extension of their home-rule authority.

“Municipalities in Ohio utilize safety cameras … because they have been proven to deter reckless driving, reduce crashes, and save lives,” the letter reads. “Law enforcement and city leaders should have the ability to use photo-enforcement technology as a tool to improve public safety without being punished with funding cuts and unnecessary reporting requirements.”

Toledo Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz said, “The budget signed by the governor today will have a devastating negative impact on our city. Toledoans will now be forced to pay higher gas taxes, and yet incredibly enough, they will see their budget cut by $6.5 million ....’’

“Toledo gets higher taxes, less money, and streets that are more dangerous. This is a slap in the face to our police department, our police Chief George Kral, and to every citizen who believes Toledoans should have the right to govern themselves,” the mayor said.

“ ... There can no longer be any question what the politicians in Columbus think of us — they hate Toledo, and they have now passed a budget that proves it,” Mr. Kapszukiewicz mayor said.

State Rep. Paula Hicks-Hudson — a Democrat, former Toledo mayor, and “yes” vote on the final bill — sent a similar letter urging Mr. DeWine to “veto this legislative overreach.”

Mr. DeWine signed House Bill 62 even though it doesn’t provide the long-term funding solution for Ohio’s transportation needs that he had sought.

“Things are changing,” Mr. DeWine said after the bill’s passage on Tuesday. “Cars change. The situation in a few years may be very different. … I think [lawmakers] were surprised, as I was, at the depth of the problem. We started really at zero, and we’ve come a long way.”

Mr. DeWine had originally insisted on an 18-cent increase in the state’s motor fuels tax to raise $1.2 billion more a year.

He also wanted to index the tax rate to inflation so it would automatically adjust annually as Michigan and Indiana’s rates do.

Ohio’s current tax of 28 cents per gallon for both gasoline and diesel has been at that level since 2005. Only Kentucky has a lower rate among Ohio’s neighbors.

The new plan would raise an estimated $865 million more a year with 55 percent of the new revenues kept by the state and 45 percent going to local governments. Existing revenues will continue to be distributed at 60 percent to 40 percent.

Ohio’s new gasoline tax rate of 38.5 cents per gallon, effective July 1, would place it fourth among its neighbors — behind Pennsylvania’s 58.7 cents, Michigan’s 44.1 cents, and Indiana’s 42.9 cents.

According to the American Petroleum Institute, Ohio’s new diesel tax of 47 cents per gallon also keeps it in the middle of the pack — behind Pennsylvania’s 75.2 cents, Indiana’s 49.1 cents, and Michigan’s 44.1 cents.

The federal tax remains at 18.4 cents.

At 10.5 cents more a gallon, a driver who puts 15,000 miles a year on a car that gets 25 miles per gallon would expect to pay $63 more a year.

“Maintaining and improving Ohio’s infrastructure is critically important to investors looking to Ohio for development projects,” says Matt Szollosi, the former state representative from Oregon who now serves as executive director of Affiliated Construction Trades Ohio.

“This agreement sends a message to investors that Ohio is serious about building our logistical advantages over competing states for industrial investment,” Mr. Szollosi said.

The budget more than doubles state funding for public transit to $70 million and eliminates the current mandate that vehicles have front license plates in addition to rear plates effective July 1, 2020.

Mr. DeWine was not a fan of the latter provision, which is opposed by law enforcement. The governor convinced lawmakers to delay the front plate’s demise for a year to give police time to prepare.

The bill also creates registration fees of $200 and $100 a year, respectively, for electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles that buy no or less fuel but still use Ohio’s roads.

©2019 The Blade (Toledo, Ohio). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.