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Of Safety and Solvency

By Eric L. Watts

March/April 2004

Eric L. Watts

I've been hearing an awful lot of talk lately about how this-or-that local, county or state government is facing drastic reductions in programs and services due to reduced revenue and budget cuts, or desperately seeking new sources of income to fund critically needed new projects and avoid numerous imminent crises. Last October, the Department of Human Resources' AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP), which helps about 900 Georgians pay for drugs that can cost $2,500 each month per patient, narrowly avoided a $10.3 million laceration to its budget, which is funded by the state and federal governments (Survival News, November/December 2003, pg. 3) -- but its future remains uncertain. The Fulton County Commission is currently considering a $500,000 reduction in the Department of Human Services' $4.4 million grant program, a significant portion of its $24.5 million budget. The proposed reduction would mean cutting four positions in the county's HIV/AIDS program and longer waits for clients accustomed to same-day service for counseling and HIV test results. City of Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin is desperately seeking $3.2 billion in funding over the next ten years for court-ordered repairs to the city's crumbling sewer system.

Our elected officials invariably seek to solve their budget problems by either cutting programs and services or by raising taxes. Governor Sonny Perdue fought for and won a 37?-per-pack increase in the state's tobacco tax last year -- although how you can expect to increase revenue by taxing a consumer product you simultaneously condemn as a dangerous health risk seems morally unconscionable and fiscally irresponsible to me. Franklin, astonishingly, wanted to triple city water customers' water bills to pay for Atlanta's sewer system repairs, a move condemned and rejected by the Atlanta City Council.

I am astounded by the lack of imagination our elected officials exhibit in their fiscal problem-solving. When I'm not editing this publication, I spend an enormous amount of time travelling Georgia's highways -- more than 80,000 miles in 2003. During my daily travels throughout Georgia, I see problems that need to be solved. I also see solutions to those problems, solutions that could easily be potential sources of new revenue for the city and state.

Georgia requires all passenger vehicles to pass an annual emissions inspection test prior to issuing owner registration renewals. There are far too many vehicles on Georgia's roads with no brake lights, burnt-out headlamps and taillights, cracked windshields, balding tires and other mechanically unsafe conditions. I propose an annual mechanical safety inspection of all of Georgia's 7.6 million registered vehicles, conducted simultaneously with the emissions inspection for an additional fee of $25. Shazam! We've just raised $190 million annually with virtually no additional administrative expense, boosted the statewide economy by increasing business at automotive repair shops and improved the safety of all of Georgia's roads and highways.

Currently, Georgia drivers are required to renew their driver's licenses once every four years at a cost of only $15 -- only $8 if you're an organ donor. Given the importance of driver's licenses in establishing residency and proving identification, especially in the era of post-9/11 heightened security, this is far too infrequent and inexpensive. If vehicle registrations are renewed annually, why not driver's licenses? I propose an annual mail-in license renewal fee of $25 for Georgia's 5.7 million licensed drivers, the nonforwardable notice for which to be mailed to drivers' home addresses on record, and every fourth year, a mandatory in-person renewal including a vision test for road safety and updated photo for ID purposes, also at a cost of $25. Shazam! We've just raised more than $121 million annually with little additional administrative expense and increased the currency of the state's primary method of personal identification.

Running red lights, especially through high-volume intersections, is both dangerous and rampant. Municipalities who install red light cameras, such as the one at the intersection of Clairemont Avenue and Scott Boulevard in Decatur, reduce traffic accidents by dissuading drivers who might otherwise be tempted to run the light to not do so. I propose installing such cameras at busy intersections throughout the state. The cameras do not photograph the vehicle drivers, but do take clear pictures of the vehicle running the light, including a close-up picture of the license plate. The photographs are later analyzed and reviewed by the local municipality's police department and a summons then mailed to the offender. Let's install 500 of these cameras around the state and set a fine of $100 for each violation. Assuming each camera snaps a shot of 10 violators a day, aggressive enforcement of the red light law could bring in -- Shazam! -- more than $180 million in revenue before expenses for Georgia's cities and counties. There really is no credible argument against using such technology for law enforcement, especially when statewide traffic safety would most assuredly improve.

That's nearly half a billion additional dollars for Georgia per year in three easy steps while increasing both safety and security statewide -- a classic win-win scenario. There's no reason why any of our HIV/AIDS programs -- or education programs, or any critically necessary state-funded program -- should face reduction or elimination with options like these available to our legislators.

This article was provided by AIDS Survival Project. It is a part of the publication Survival News. You can find this article online by typing this address into your Web browser:

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