Red Light Camera Revenue: Where Does It Go?

A suprising question was raised at Houston City Council. Councilmembers discovered the city's red light camera revenue might not be used to fund trauma centers as previously believed. Houston Public Radio's Laurie Johnson reports.

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During the last legislative session, state lawmakers approved a bill that allows cities to issue citations using red light cameras as long as half the revenue from those citations goes to a state trauma center fund. The City of Houston has been paying into that fund under the good-faith belief that the money would be funneled to regional trauma centers. Now a question has been raised about whether that money could actually be used in the state general fund. Councilmember M.J. Khan says he discovered the situation while reviewing the city's monthly finance report.

"City of Houston is collecting all these revenues from red light cameras and what they're doing with it -- people should know that half the money is going to the State of Texas and it was supposed to go for trauma centers. But it is not going to trauma centers, it is going to the State of Texas General Fund."

It's not quite that simple. The money goes into a dedicated account. But state lawmakers haven't appropriated that money yet. But Texas State Comptroller Spokesman R.J. DeSilva says there are clear rules for how it will be used.

"The bill kind of lays out the steps in terms of how much money the cities have to send to the state and it's sent into this account -- sent to the Comptroller's office which then puts it into this regional trauma account. And then it talks about what the Health and Human Services Commission has to do with this money."

However, a publication called the Lone Star Report has stated if lawmakers don't appropriate the money in the fund, then those dollars could be certified for use in the general revenue fund. Houston Mayor Bill White says the city needs to find out the facts on this and make sure those funds are being directed to trauma centers. 

"Since many of our hospitals are now on drive-by status for trauma care and ER care, then we certainly believe that money that has been -- you know taxes that the legislature passed, the tax on municipal fines, the tax on fines from red light cameras should be spent for the intended purpose."

The mayor says hospitals and emergency rooms are in a crisis situation when it comes to funding and the money is sorely needed. Laurie Johnson, Houston Public Radio News.

 

Bio photo of Laurie Johnson

Laurie Johnson

Local Host, All Things Considered

Laurie Johnson is the Houston host for All Things Considered at KUHF NPR for Houston. Before taking the anchor chair, she worked as a general assignments reporter at KUHF, starting there as an intern in 2002...