COLUMBUS — The Ohio Supreme Court has already struck down state restrictions on cities’ automated traffic cameras, but on Wednesday it decided to delve into whether lawmakers were within their rights to punish the cities financially for not complying with that law.
At issue is a budget provision calling for the state to withhold formula-driven revenue sharing dollars from cities like Toledo that won court orders to keep their stationary speed and red-light enforcement cameras operating while they challenged a separate, 2015 law they said unconstitutionally stepped on their home-rule authority.
In July, the Supreme Court, by a 5-2 vote, sided with Dayton in finding portions of the new restrictions unconstitutional. Among them were provisions requiring a police officer to be present at the location of a camera, prohibiting citations in most cases when a driver is traveling less than 10 mph over the speed limit, and requiring cities to conduct safety studies and public information campaigns before turning on the cameras.
The court, however, has yet to officially apply its findings in the Dayton case to Toledo and Springfield, who own appeals were placed on hold while Dayton’s was decided.
Attorney General Mike DeWine successfully urged the state to hear its appeal of decisions by Lucas County Common Pleas Court and the Sixth District Court of Appeals. The lower courts prohibited the state from withholding funds equal to the amount of civil fines issued by Toledo from camera citations.
The budget provision did not take into consideration whether the city collected those fines, setting up a potential scenario in which the city could lose money by insisting on continuing the program.
“The Assembly decided that it would not subsidize, through the discretionary funding in the Local Government Fund, cities that used traffic cameras in a manner inconsistent with the Assembly’s preferences, at least not to the extent of the amount of revenue cities raised in that way,” Mr. DeWine’s office wrote in its motion.
If the cities don’t prove they are compliance with the new restrictions, their share of the Local Government Fund would be distributed among other governments in the county.
Common Pleas Judge Dean Mandross called the threat “economic dragooning,” finding that attempts by the state to take money from the city for failing to comply with a law he’d already ruled unconstitutional would the permanent injunction he’d issued.
Mr. DeWine requested the appeal before the Supreme Court handed down its July decision in favor of Dayton. That city’s cameras had gone dark under the state’s threats of financial penalties, but the city recently started using them again.
Mr. DeWine’s motion argues that the lower rulings, if allowed to stand, would give courts “unrestrained power to block the General Assembly’s prerogative to respond to litigation with new legislation.” It argues that the trial court had no authority to extend its jurisdiction in the case and find the state in contempt of the prior injunction.
“It doesn't surprise me the case would be accepted by the Supreme Court because it is of great public interest, and we look forward to defending the city's interest,” Toledo Law Director Adam Loukx said. “I think it will be an interesting case.”
Toledo had budgeted for $2 million from the stationary cameras for this year, and through August had collected $1.2 million.
Revenue from the stationary cameras, however, is being greatly outperformed by hand-held speed cameras that were not affected by the state legislative reforms. So far the state has collected $3.4 million, more than $1 million above its budget for the year.
Blade Staff Writer Jennifer Feehan contributed to this story.
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