California motorists, already in sticker shock over rising fines for parking and traffic tickets, should prepare for more beginning Saturday.
The state is adding $4 to the price of every traffic ticket. The fee will pay for emergency air transport services because of a revenue shortfall in Medi-Cal funding. It is set to generate an estimated $34 million a year through 2016, according to state estimates.
FOR THE RECORD:
Traffic fines: In the Dec. 31 LATExtra section, an article about the state's addition of a $4 fee to the price of every traffic ticket stated that a proposal would have allowed cities to ticket drivers who failed to make full stops, based on photos taken by red-light cameras. In fact, the defeated proposal would have lowered the fines for incomplete stops by distinguishing them from the more costly penalties for running red lights. —
The increase is the latest in a string of fee increases statewide and in Los Angeles, as governments turn to motorists to pay more amid budget problems. Last year, the state increased the fines for traffic tickets and used the proceeds to help renovate courthouses. The changes included a $35 surcharge on traffic tickets.
"We have so many different fees tacked on to traffic tickets and many tickets are in the $400 range now," Auto Club of Southern California spokeswoman Marie Montgomery said. "They should be paying a fine because they broke the law but it's just a question of how disproportionate this is on drivers versus other taxpayers."
Another law taking effect Saturday opened the door to a potential revenue stream for cities: allowing local agencies to install cameras on street sweepers to catch parking violators.
Assemblyman Steve Bradford (D-Gardena), who wrote the bill, said in a statement that it "is vital to keeping our waterways clean" and that ticketing more cars that block street sweepers will help.
Operators of the street sweepers won't actually issue tickets to violators. Rather, cameras on the vehicles would capture the date and time of a violation and cities would mail citations, similar to the way red-light camera tickets are issued.
Bradford said the photo tickets would "remove personnel from potentially volatile confrontations when issuing citations and allow local parking enforcement officers to focus time and efforts on more pertinent matters."
It's unclear how many cities plan to use sweeper cameras. Los Angeles had no plans to install the cameras on street sweepers yet but it "may be looked at in the future," said Sean Anderson, a spokesman for the Los Angeles Department of Transportation.
There has been grumbling from some motorists over rising traffic fines. According to a report prepared earlier this year, revenues from red-light cameras more than doubled in Los Angeles from $200,000 a month in 2007 to $400,000 a month at the end of 2009.
The $4 surcharge that takes effect Saturday will apply to all traffic tickets issued in California. The Emergency Medical Air Transportation Act calls for the $4 fee to be augmented with matching federal funds for the helicopter ambulances, which transport the most critical patients from accident scenes to trauma centers.
Another law taking effect will make social hosts older than 21 legally accountable for injury or death if they knowingly give alcohol to someone under the legal drinking age.
Several proposals that would have allowed government to raise further traffic ticket revenues failed to become law.
One would have allowed cities to ticket drivers who failed to make full stops, based on photos taken by red-light cameras.
"It may come back again," the Auto Club's Montgomery said. "Given the budget problems this year, who knows?"