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Red-Light Camera Measure Vetoed

By Sean Olson
Journal Staff Writer
    Gov. Bill Richardson saved Albuquerque's red-light cameras over the weekend, vetoing a bill that Mayor Martin Chávez has said would have caused a "slow death" for the program.
    The bill would have required a third of the proceeds from every red-light camera ticket to go to the state Administrative Office of the Courts to help pay off bonds for Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court and to other programs around the state.
    "I see no reason for the state to micromanage this program and jeopardize the impressive results in order to fund other programs," Richardson said in a news release Saturday.
    Richardson said the red-light cameras have improved traffic safety in Albuquerque.
    The legislation had also called for limiting the camera-generated fines to $100, a provision Richardson said he liked. The governor said in the release that he had secured a commitment from Chávez to work with the City Council to try to limit fines and make them "more reasonable" before he vetoed the bill.
    Currently, offenders pay $100 for their first ticket, $250 for a second ticket and $500 for each additional ticket.
    The state assesses fees on criminal citations statewide, but Albuquerque avoids paying fees on the camera-generated tickets because those citations are civil, not criminal violations.
    The cameras photograph motorists who run red lights or speed through the 17 intersections that are equipped with cameras.
    So far, the city has collected more than $6 million in fines, but Chávez has said that most of the money has been plowed back into the program for maintenance, expansion and to pay the contractor that runs the program.
    Chávez said Saturday that the city will continue the program, which he said has reduced traffic accidents and injuries.
    "This is a program that is working. I think the numbers are indisputable," Chávez said in an interview.
    He said that charging $100 for all the tickets would provide enough revenue but that he wasn't positive the City Council would be comfortable charging third-time offenders the same as first-time offenders.
    "Somewhere in there, there is an amount the City Council can agree on," Chávez said.
    Sen. William Payne, an Albuquerque Republican, said the agreement to lower fines was a good step. He said it proved the mayor's office wasn't "completely tone deaf" to citizen concerns on the issue.
    Sen. Tim Jennings, a Roswell Democrat, criticized the veto, saying it would allow Albuquerque to get off the hook for its "fair share" for the Metropolitan Courthouse.
    Jennings had sponsored similar legislation, which failed.
    "The people of Albuquerque need to stand up and pay for their own court," Jennings said.
    The Legislature appropriated about $950,000 to cover a shortage on $5.5 million owed annually for court costs this year.
    Jennings said he would go after revenue from the red-light citations in future sessions.
    "When I see something wrong, I try to right it," he said.
    Richardson has yet to sign or veto another red-light bill, which requires warning devices before camera-equipped intersections, according to the release.