The Illinois Comptroller’s Office will no longer be collecting fines for driver’s who have been issued a ticket from a red-light camera. Suzanna Mendoza made the announcement today that her office would no longer collect the fines because it disproportionately effects low-income drivers and the company that has provided the red-light cameras is the subject of a federal corruption probe. “As a matter of public policy, this system is clearly broken. I am exercising the moral authority to prevent state resources being used to assist a shady process that victimizes taxpayers.”
Starting in 2012, the General Assembly allowed municipalities and other local governments to use the Comptroller’s offset system to help collect debts, such as court fines, administrative judgments, and traffic tickets generally through withholding of state income tax refunds or other state payments. Historically that offset system has been used to help collect child support, overpayment of benefits, and other types of debt. Mendoza says the arrangement is rotten: “It exploits taxpayers and especially those who struggle to pay the fines imposed, often the working poor and communities of color. We can’t continue the practice of municipal employees directly pocketing cash from contracts they arrange.”
In recent years, a growing number of these collections have involved red-light camera ticket violations in Chicago and other large municipalities. Many states outside of Illinois ban the use of these red-light cameras entirely. Mendoza has asked that any municipality in the state that uses the cameras to check their contracts to ensure that they were secured properly in light of the corruption probe. “I think it’s critical that the state’s collection mechanisms should not be hijacked by political insiders to profit from an enforcement system whose integrity is now being seriously questioned.” The probe has been tied to former Illinois Senator Martin Sandoval and his connections with the red-light company SafeSpeed. The Chicago Sun-Times quoted one government official who simultaneously acted as a consultant to a red-light company – helping get them contracts with certain towns – saying he gets a cut of the money paid on every such ticket issued in those towns. Several more arrangements like this one have been revealed in other reports.