Voters reject gas taxes, speed cameras

David Shepardson
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Voters on Tuesday across the country rejected speed cameras, higher gas taxes and funds for new light rail as automakers prepare for a new Republican controlled Congress.

Automakers are bracing for auto safety legislation next year in the wake of a series of high-profile recalls linked to defective General Motors cars and Takata airbags — and a reform bill could be attached to a highway reauthorization bill next spring.

Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., is in line to become the next chair of the Senate Commerce Committee, while Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, will remain chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee. Both have been pressing automakers to do more on auto safety.

Automakers will also be pressing the case to convince Congress to approve more for vehicle to vehicle communications to prevent thousands of crashes, ensuring the final years of the plan to hike fuel efficiency requirements are feasible and tax reform.

Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers President and CEO, Mitch Bainwol, said the leaders of the next Congress both come from auto states — House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and incoming Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

“The next Congress will be without some good friends, particularly those from Michigan who were so senior in service and steady in leadership. But we are delighted that the Commerce Committees of such importance to our sector will be chaired by two uniquely capable leaders — Senator Thune in the Senate succeeding Senator Rockefeller and Congressman Upton continuing his service,” Bainwol said. “We also are fortunate that the leaders of both the House and the Senate come from auto states and understand so well the manufacturing story and the amazing innovations (automakers) are putting into the marketplace.”

In Cleveland, voters overwhelmingly rejected the use of speed cameras and red light cameras — by a nearly four to one margin.

Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson told the Northeast Ohio media group last week that the tickets raise $6 million in revenue, but the number of tickets issued had fallen from 118,000 in 2008 to 77,000 in 2013 — and 70 percent of the camera tickets are issued to drivers who live outside of the city.

The Governors Highway Safety Association called the decision “sad news.”

More than 600 communities in 28 states and the District of Columbia use speed and red-light safety cameras to enforce traffic laws. Michigan does not because then-state Attorney General Mike Cox issued an opinion in February 2007 declaring that red-light cameras are illegal under state law.

In Massachusetts, voters repealed a state plan to hike gas taxes annually to adjust for inflation after the legislature in 2013 voted to hike taxes three cents a gallon to 26.5 cents.

On Wednesday, Gov. Rick Snyder told The Detroit News editorial board that some problems with the state’s road funding could have been eliminated if gas taxes had been adjusted annually for inflation, but he reiterated he has no plans to seek a general gas tax hike to pay for road repairs.

In Florida, overwhelmingly voters rejected a sales tax increase to raise $130 million annually to pay to expand Pinellas County’s bus service and build a 24-mile light rail to connect St. Petersburg and Clearwater. A nearby county is working on its own plan for regional mass transit.