New Jersey’s State Government and 23 of its municipal governments will recover a morsel of integrity at midnight tonight when state sanctioned theft in the form of red light cameras cease to operate at 73 intersections. New Jersey’s Red Light Camera Program, authorized as a five year pilot during the lame duck session of the 2006-2008 legislature and signed into law by Governor Jon Corzine, expires tonight.
The fact that the Red Light Camera Program has not been renewed is due in large measure to the efforts of Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon and his staff. Their efforts have been heroic.
O’Scanlon and Co. have been relentless in monitoring the Red Light Camera Program and telling the truth about it. They have hired independent experts to investigate complaints and document fraud within the program. They have sorted through data that has regularly been obfuscated by the red light camera companies (and bureaucrats friendly to them) to reflect improved safety conditions at RCL intersections where in fact conditions had often worsened. They have worked hard in getting the word out about the program’s failure and corruption. They have countered expensive advertising campaigns by the red light camera companies and countered expensive lobbyists working the halls of the Statehouse, without the benefit of the profits the red light camera companies stole from the motoring public to fund their efforts.
In thwarting the Red Light Camera Program’s renewal, O’Scanlon has proved himself to be “the real deal”….a leader who fights for the right thing because it is the right thing. He is an example of what a “public servant” should be.
Ben Dworkin, the Director of the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics at Rider University teaches young people how government and politics works in New Jersey. Of O’Scanlon’s efforts on red light cameras, Dworkin said, “I think that it is a tribute to Assemblyman O’Scanlon’s doggedness that this policy change has been made. He certainly tapped into a grass roots concern when he latched onto this issue. Professors like me want to be able to teach that an individual can make a difference in politics, and when the full story of red light cameras is told, this will probably be a great case study of just that.”
There is little, if any, political upside for O’Scanlon in this fight. He could have, like Assemblyman John Wisniewski, for instance, accepted thousands in campaign contributions from the red light camera companies and/or their lobbyists. There are no red light cameras in O’Scanlon’s Monmouth County district. His 13th district seat is safe. He did not have to fight this fight. Throughout his effort, he didn’t sacrifice any other legislative responsibilities, which are substantial as the Assembly Republican Budget Officer and a legislator assisting thousands of constituents through the maze of Superstorm Sandy recovery.
President Abraham Lincoln, concluded The Gettysburg Address by honoring those men who made the ultimate sacrifice during the Civil War…”that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
The Red Light Camera Program, like a great deal of government in New Jersey, is not “of the people, by the people, for the people.” Touted by criminals, politicians and criminal enterprises who benefited from it (two of the original sponsors of the legislation authorizing the Red Light Camera Program are now convicted felons and one of the two companies that operates the cameras has been implicated in a bribery scandal), as a safety measure, red light cameras are in reality a money grubbing ripoff rigged to trick motorists into violations. The statistics show that accidents have not declined and in some cases, accidents, particularly rear end collisions caused by motorists stopping suddenly to avoid being photographed as yellow lights turned too quickly to red, increased. The red light cameras are money grubbing safety hazards.
Far too much government in New Jersey is not “of the people, by the people, for the people.” Rather, from public safety, to education, to infrastructure and more, New Jersey’s governments are controlled by people who do business with it and who are employed by it for their benefit to the detriment of “the people” it ostensibly serves. We see that in our cities where how dollars spent for police officers is determined by union leaders rather than by duly elected officials. We see it in our education system where failing schools and school systems cannot be reformed due to union contracts. We see it in our infrastructure where the cost to build roads exceeds $2 million per mile.
The corrupt and failed red light camera program does not improve public safety. It generates revenue for the municipalities, counties and the state and especially for the companies who operate the cameras while making our roads more hazardous. Often, during the five year program in New Jersey, that revenue was generated through trickery.
That the Red Light Camera Program has not been renewed is a remarkable accomplishment. It is rare that any government program is done away with, especially one that generates millions in revenue that feeds the beast.
Congratulations and thank you to Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon and his team. The battle is won, but the war continues as already there is legislation being proposed to reinstate the Red Light Camera Program in some form.