A three-year pilot program to catch reckless motorists through red-light cameras in Philadelphia is set to end this month, and reauthorization for another three years appears likely, officials said yesterday.
However, as the state's legislative session winds down, lawmakers want to redirect some of the ticket revenue from the state Department of Transportation to the Philadelphia School District.
The enforcement program is run by the Philadelphia Parking Authority, which has been buffeted by recent criticism of its spending practices and its unfulfilled pledge to funnel millions to city schools.
Red-light money for schools could amount to as much as $1.5 million annually, and pending legislation would target those dollars for programs aiding advanced students and youths with behavioral problems.
If a bill is not passed, the cameras would go dark. That, a legislative staffer said, probably would be due to other political disputes' causing gridlock in Harrisburg. Nonetheless, lawmakers likely would take it up again after the holidays.
Still, Rep. Tony J. Payton Jr. (D., Phila.) said he had "full confidence" the bill will pass the House in time. He said he did not see anything blocking its way through the Senate and onto the governor's desk.
Linda Miller, a spokeswoman for the Parking Authority, was more cautious. She said legislative leaders had told the agency they are working "rigorously to get passage of the bill."
The program was authorized in 2004, and the first cameras were activated at Roosevelt Boulevard and Grant Avenue on Feb. 23, 2005. Seven more locations received cameras along the Boulevard, as well as two in South Philadelphia.
There are 52 cameras, and they cost $4,995 a month each to operate, said Chris Vogler, manager of red-light photo enforcement for the Parking Authority. Revenues first go to cover operational costs.
PennDot did not get its first check for $753,000 until September because of initial grace periods for ticket enforcement and the small number of initial cameras.
PennDot spokesman Gene Blaum said the agency believes it should continue to get the full funding, which it wants to direct toward road-safety projects in Philadelphia.
Catherine L. Rossi, spokeswoman for AAA Mid-Atlantic, agreed. She said red-light revenue should not be used as a "cash cow" for politicians.
If that happens, she said, "law enforcement will lose credibility."