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Legislation would allow Chicago to tap speed camera revenue for police, fire pensions

Chicago could use fines generated from its automated speed enforcement cameras for public safety pension contributions under legislation proposed by a Republican state lawmaker.

“Speed cameras are a function of public safety. It just makes sense that the revenue they generate goes back into keeping our streets safe,” said state Rep. Mark Batinick, R-Plainfield. “This bill is a new tool I hope the City Council and mayor use in their budgeting process because when it comes to public safety pensions, a bigger investment keeps everyone safer.” 

While generally not a fan of red light cameras, Batinick said, if they are going to be used, the fines should go to a source “that needs it and removes any motivation to simply use the cameras as a way to further tax the public.”

Batinick, who is not seeking re-election in the upcoming November election, said he would press for passage during the annual fall veto session. The new legislature is seated early next year. HB5774 introduced July 20 would take effect immediately if passed by lawmakers and signed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker.

Illinois Rep. Mark Batinick, R-Plainfield, introduced legislation that would allow Chicago to use speed camera ticket revenue for public safety pensions.

The state legislation that governs speed cameras requires fine revenue to go toward public safety initiatives to ensure safe passage around schools, and to provide police protection and surveillance around schools and parks, including personnel costs.

Non-personnel costs for the construction and maintenance of public safety infrastructure and equipment, initiatives to improve pedestrian and traffic safety, construction and maintenance of infrastructure within the municipality, and after school programs also are eligible uses.

The city can only install them in so-called “safety zones” near public or private elementary or secondary school, land owned by a school district that is used for educational purposes, or parks and land owned by the Chicago Park District.

While dozens of local Illinois governments operate red light enforcement cameras, Chicago is currently the only local Illinois government eligible to use speed camera enforcements based on its population. The law leaves the door open to installing them in areas like industrial parks. The law also allows the state police to use them in construction zones on highways, according to the Illinois Policy Institute which has studied fine patterns.

The program came under heated debate recently when several City Council members pressed to move the speed at which motorists receive tickets back to over 10 miles per hour over the speed limit from six. Mayor Lori Lightfoot won the change last year that imposes $35 tickets between six and 10 mph over the limit and then $100 for higher speeds. It is expected to generate about $40 million annually.

The attempt to restore the prior speed appeared poised for passage based on a committee vote, but the roll back attempt failed in an 18-26 vote, so the current practices remain intact.

From March 1, 2021, when the lower thresholds took effect through May 31st, speed cameras have generated a total of $122 million.

Alderperson Brendan Reilly recently introduced a resolution calling on state lawmakers to add using revenue from automated speed enforcement cameras toward municipal pension obligations but Batinick said he had not been aware that Reilly planned to introduce such a resolution.

The city ended 2021 with net pension liabilities of $33.7 billion.

The police funded ratio rose to 23.54% from 22.21% and the net pension liability rose to $12.5 billion from $12.05 billion. The firefighters funded ratio gained to 20.93% from 18.97% while the unfunded tab fell to $5.5 billion from $5.6 billion. The laborers funded ratio rose to 45.92% from 44.42% while the net liability shrunk slightly to $1.57 billion from $1.59 billion. The funded ratios for the municipal fund climbed to 23.41% from 22.96% last year while the net liability grew to $14.1 billion from $13.7 billion.

Total contributions jumped this year to $2.28 billion from $1.8 billion in 2021 as all four plans are now receiving an actuarially based payment that puts them on a track to reach a 90% funded ratio between 2055 and 2058.

The funds warn that the payments still fall short of a payment-based level on best actuarially practices.

“We are reviewing the proposed legislation introduced by Rep. Mark Batinick. However, pedestrian and traffic safety remains a priority for the city of Chicago and the current revenues are dedicated for those uses,” city Finance Department spokeswoman Rose Tibayan said in a statement.

Chicago draws most of its pension contributions from its property tax levy but is required to direct revenues generated by a proposed casino toward pensions, which would free up corporate fund dollars. The city awarded its first and only license to Bally’s Corp. but it is still pending approval by the Illinois Gaming Board.

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