Red light, not a green light, nothing's 1-2-3 these days for Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano.
Mangano wants to help close the county's budget gap by doubling its red-light camera program to 100 intersections. Nassau saw $10 million last year from the initial installation of the cameras and was hoping to double or triple that amount this year. But Mangano was so desperate for the money, that he bungled the politics of getting state approval.
Mangano's first mistake was tying revenue from the tickets to funding for the county's youth programs, giving opponents of this increasingly controversial automated traffic-enforcement device more evidence that it exists primarily for dollars, not safety. Assemb. Charles Lavine (D-Glen Cove), who is trying to pass the bill for Mangano in the Democrat-controlled chamber, said it was a setback to his efforts to overcome opposition from those who see the cameras as an invasion of privacy. The cameras take a photo of the license plate of vehicles moving into an intersection against the light. Violators pay $65.
Not only did Mangano, a Republican, strip the legitimate veneer of safety from the argument for more cameras, his administration then tried to take the youth programs in Democratic areas of Nassau hostage. Late last month the county sent these organizations a letter announcing midyear cuts because of Nassau's financial problems. In a conference call with the agency heads, Mangano's chief deputy, Robert Walker, said the cuts could be avoided if the state approved more cameras. Democratic county legislators then released a list that showed Republican districts getting cuts of only 5 percent, compared with dramatically higher cuts in their districts, especially in some minority areas. And in those represented by Assemb. Earlene Hooper (D-Roosevelt), the influential deputy speaker.
Getting in Hooper's crosshairs is never a wise move. She put a stranglehold on the Mangano bill and introduced her own, requiring that 25 percent of any camera revenues be put in a locked box for youth programs. And Hooper has apparently extracted a promise from the administration that none of these 50 new intersections would be in her district.
After Walker's power play backfired, the administration notified all youth organizations that cuts were off the table for now and that the checks were in the mail for the first four months of 2011. That effectively ties Mangano's own hands on a much-needed review of the quality and efficiency of the youth program, which the county spends millions funding. Meanwhile, it seems that residents in Hooper's district will not get the benefits of safer intersections.
The Assembly left for vacation yesterday without passing any red-light camera bills, and Nassau's antics may have jeopardized similar expansions requested by Suffolk County and New York City. Though there needs to be more information on the duration of yellow caution lights and the need for a three-second full stop before a right turn on red is permitted, the evidence is mounting that these cameras reduce accidents, especially serious side-impact collisions. Despite the Mangano administration's poor driving, the camera expansion bills should get a green light.