Proceeds from all those new red-light cameras are flowing into the state coffers â€“ but the money isnâ€™t being spent like people were told it would be. Oh, the shock and surprise.
Itâ€™s funny how the promise of free cash makes otherwise rational adults weak-kneed, and willing to believe almost any promise a politician makes them. While Texans are correctly suspicious of Big-Brother-like red-light cameras robotically sending out tickets, municipalities were eager to install the cameras to enhance their monthly revenues, er, to promoteÂ public safety.
Legislators put a mild brake on the cameras, telling cities that half the money had to come to the state. In return, lawmakers promised to use the proceeds to fund hospitals and trauma centers.
Doctors and hospital administrators got weepy, supporting the cameras and the cash grab-and-release program.
Now they are weepy; weepy because they were had. The money is flowing into the special red-light fund, but nothing is being paid out. The comptrollerâ€™s office said, in effect, sorry, but the legislature didnâ€™t provide for spending the dollars in the budget. Therefore, the money just sits there.
The response from the hospitals as quoted in the Fort Worth Star Telegram was one ofÂ shocked outrage: â€œThere is an absolute need for these dollars.â€ Sure. Whatever. There is always an absolute need for whatever dollars.
Truth be told, this is sadly all too common. Whatever you might think of the way these funds are being collected, or the guise under which they were to be spent, or even of the people lined up to take the cash, its fiscally immoral for the legislature to have not made good on their word.
Legislative special funds are a convenient fiction unless they are backed by a constitutional protection. Dedicated funds should be used exclusively for those dedicated purposes; and if not, then they should be returned, or not collected in the first place.