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NJ: Red light camera supporters quiet as opposition grows

As opposition to red light cameras in New Jersey continues to grow, supporters of the program aren’t saying much.

Last week the controversial program took center stage at a campaign rally for Republican Alieta Eck, candidate for U.S. Congress in the 12th District.

“This is red light taxation and that’s not fair to the people, to pretend they’re making them safer and instead just harassing them,” she told the Times of Trenton. “We want a government that works for us, that’s smart and efficient but isn’t harassing its people.”

Congressional candidate Alieta Eck (Campaign website image)

Congressional candidate Alieta Eck (Campaign website image)

Eck rallied at an intersection in Lawrence Township that issued more than 17,000 violations between November 2011 and January 2014, according to the Asbury Park Press.

Her Democratic opponent, Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman, voted to authorize the red light camera program in 2008.

A call to her office was not returned, but a campaign spokesman responded to Eck’s camera crusade by slamming her for not focusing on “pay equity, women’s health care, job creation or gun safety,” according to the Times of Trenton

“All of that is simply out of step with our opponent in every possible way,” spokesman Sean Darcy said.

The Times report does not mention if Watson Coleman continues to support red light cameras.

Joining Eck at the rally was Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon, one of the leading critics of red light cameras. In an earlier interview with Watchdog Wire, O’Scanlon called the cameras “government sanctioned theft.” 

“There is no question they should not be renewed,” he said. “These cameras are nothing but government sanction theft from motorists.”

Assembly could still introduce a bill

Assembly Transportation Committee Chairman John Wisniewski. (Legislature website)

Assemblyman John Wisniewski. (Legislature website image)

Another quiet voice in the red light camera debate is Assemblyman John Wisniewski. By most accounts he’s one of the programs biggest supporters and was an original sponsor of the bill.

He’s also one of the biggest beneficiaries of red light cameras: the company that runs about half of them in New Jersey, Redflex, gave him $2,500 in campaign contributions from 2007-2010, according to the Star-Ledger.

Watchdog Wire has requested comment from the Assemblyman, but multiple requests were ignored. Last month he spoke with New Jersey 101.5 about the uncertain future of the cameras.

“It’s hard to say,” Wisniewski said. “Clearly there is going to be a discussion about whether or not there is legislative support. If we can find a way to make the roads safer we ought to have an intelligent conversation about making the roads safer.”

Speed cameras near school zones and work zones are also being mulled by legislators. “If we have a way of enforcing our laws that saves us money by not requiring a ‘beat officer,’ so to speak, to be at every roadside measuring speed, it’s something we ought to consider,” Wisniewski said.

If the legislature doesn’t act, New Jersey’s red light cameras will go dark in December.

Wisniewski seems to be signalling a desire to continue the program in some way. But even if the Assembly passes a bill, it would face two large roadblocks: the Senate and Gov. Christie.

Gov. Christie says his “gut feel” is to not renew the program.

Traffic cameras (Shuttestock image)

Traffic cameras (Shuttestock image)

“I’ll wait until all the evidence comes in. As governor, that’s one of the things I need to do,” Christie said on New Jersey 101.5 radio’s “Ask the Governor” program last month. “But I will tell you that my gut feel on this one is that I don’t favor it.”

Meanwhile in the Senate, Transportation Committee Chairman Sen. Nicholas J. Sacco told Watchdog Wire that a bill to renew the program “won’t be heard in my committee.” 

Perhaps we would be hearing more from red light camera supporters if they hadn’t gone to prison. According to the Star-Ledger, two of the four sponsors of the original bill went to prison for corruption.

Though their criminal convictions were not tied to their support for red light cameras, it raises questions. Redflex’s former CEO was indicted earlier this year for paying off officials in Chicago.

Public divided

The public is divided over red light cameras, but a clear majority believe they are about raising money, according to a Monmouth University/Asbury Park Press poll.

When asked why towns install the cameras, 60 percent of respondents said the main reason is to raise money. Just 27 percent said the main reason is public safety.

Gov. Chris Christie agrees, calling the cameras “an opportunity for municipalities to grab money” last month.

The public is more divided over what to do about the cameras, as reported by NJ.com:

A Monmouth University / Asbury Park Press poll conducted earlier this month found that there is no clear public consensus on what should happen when the 5-year pilot program expires.

About 39 percent of residents polled said the program should be shut down, while 32 percent said it should be expanded to more towns and 26 percent said it should be continued as a limited program.

On the issue of using cameras to issue tickets, “Some 44 percent of those polled agree with the concept of using cameras to issue tickets, while 38 percent disapprove and 18 percent have no opinion, according to the poll,” according to the Asbury Park Press.

Have a tip about red light cameras in your area? Let us know by emailing info@watchdogwire.com.

Josh Kaib

Josh Kaib is the Assistant Editor of Watchdog Wire. Twitter: @joshkaib

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