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Davis, California

Sunday, April 21, 2024

Column: A red light means stop

Even people who don’t follow politics are subject to its consequences. This becomes far more apparent when times are bad than when times are good.

For students there are higher fees and mounting debts. For graduates and the unemployed there is an uncertain and barren job market. For business owners there is the challenge of maintaining it and keeping it profitable while dealing with great amounts of uncertainty.

The common theme is that we are experiencing a recession. People are hurting, so it is understandable that there’s a great desire to fix our situation by any means necessary.

There are a number of ways to fix the state’s budget, some of which would do more harm than good.

For instance, The Associated Press released a story last week about new traffic lights in California. They would be placed all around the state and would detect both red light runners and speeders.

Depending on your point of view this could be a good thing or a bad thing. Obviously there are laws against speeding that are designed to protect the general population and it is assumed that these laws would be enforced. On the other hand there is a natural tendency to be repulsed by a system that becomes too intrusive and allows “Big Brother” to watch you at all times.

My main problem with the report was neither of these complaints, it was the reasoning used by lawmakers to implement these traffic light cameras. The report stated, “The state would collect 85 percent of the money, using the projected $338 million to help pay for courts and court security as it scrapes for money to close a $20 billion deficit.” The spokesperson for the Department of Finance, H.D. Palmer, said, “If the revenues come in below our conservative projections, then so much the better for public safety.”

The problem with this statement is that it is the only reference to public safety, and it is not coming from a scientist or expert. The main concern of the Department of Finance is not public safety; it deals only in the financial concerns of the state.

So the ultimate reasoning behind making these laws is not the general welfare of California citizens, but merely a new revenue stream.

Is this what we want from our state government? Is it an entity that operates to sustain and preserve itself?

While I am pleased with the state government’s honesty, I am disturbed by the way they acknowledged their reasoning so openly.

There seems to be a lack of evidence that this kind of action is necessary. Automobile accidents cause many deaths and fatalities each year, but I am not convinced that speeding through intersections is one of the leading causes. Furthermore, most people know where these cameras are and simply continue reckless behavior once they have passed through.

Perhaps one of the greatest questions that our state and perhaps our nation faces is the citizen’s relation to government.

While the placement of traffic lights and the reasoning behind it may seem trivial and unimportant in the grand scheme of things, it underscores the general mentality of our government. Using the resources and money of the people for the government’s own benefit instead of the people could easily extend to other areas beyond traffic citations.

Fixing the state’s budget is a serious problem and should be treated as such. What can’t be lost is that ultimately someone will have to pay for it. We should naturally want to get the most out of what we pay for.

If lawmakers cease to serve the public’s interest and impose unnecessary rules to support themselves, then perhaps we need to find new ways to limit their power.

JARRETT STEPMAN is actually a very slow driver and has never had a speeding ticket. If you don’t believe him or want to send him a comment you can reach him at jstepman@ucdavis.edu.


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