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Chicago aldermen are thrilled with the way traffic cameras have helped the city nab drivers who blow off red lights over the last few years--while bringing in more than $70 million for the city's always inadequate coffers. They're so happy about it that they'd like to start nailing speeders the same way.
But the Illinois General Assembly keeps saying no.
"There's a lot of dysfunctional things going on in Springfield, and this is just one of them," state senator John Cullerton told a joint meeting of the City Council's transportation and finance committees Wednesday.
The committees gathered to pass a resolution urging state lawmakers to change the Illinois Vehicle Code to allow Chicago to use "radar cameras" to bust speeding drivers. Three years ago the full City Council passed an ordinance authorizing the city to start installing the cameras, but because the state vehicle code prohibits their use outside of highway construction areas, they can't be set up in city neighborhoods until the General Assembly does a little rewriting.
Cullerton, the chief proponent of the idea in Springfield, explained that the proposed amendment was killed in 2005 and again just a couple of weeks ago by legislators who have an Orwellian aversion to introducing more cameras in law enforcement. "They fear Big Brother," he said.
Finance committee chairman Ed Burke appeared outraged and frustrated by this--thousands of deaths a year are caused by speeding; who on earth would be against making the roads safer? "I can't believe there would be opposition if this was limited to school zones, parks, et cetera," he said. "It just doesn't make sense."
Cullerton then admitted libertarian principles weren't the only things motivating the opposition.
"There's a suspicion it's not about the safety--it's about the money," Cullerton said. "And that the city of Chicago, or other cities, would falsely accuse people of speeding just so you can get more money."
This brought on several long seconds of silence. Why would anyone think that?
A few minutes later, Third Ward alderman Pat Dowell asked Cullerton about the costs of installing radar cameras. "The beauty of this is that the city doesn't have to put up any public money--that's where the private sector comes in," he said. Camera companies "put the equipment in and they're paid off over time from fines that are collected, and the city is helped by not having to go ahead and raise property taxes."