8/23/2019Ohio AG Moves To Save Law That Defunds Speed Cameras
Ohio attorney general battles city of Dayton over the ability of the legislature to reduce funding to cities that raise money with speed cameras.
The city of Dayton, Ohio, has until next Monday to prove its case against the General Assembly's law cutting state funding from jurisdictions that generate revenue from certain types of speed camera. Judge Mary Katherine Huffman's temporary restraining order expires on August 26, and the Ohio attorney general's office sent a team of lawyers to the Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas to back the constitutional power of state legislators to decide how state funds are spent. Dayton has taken the lead in suing to block the law, House Bill 62, which took effect last month. The measure reduces state funding in an amount equal to the amount of speed camera profit the city generates (not counting profit generated in "school zones").
Judge Huffman has already shown her inclination to side with Dayton by imposing the temporary restraining order blocking enforcement of the law under the theory that Dayton's "constitutional rights" were jeopardized since a reduction in state aid could lead to a reduction or elimination of the speed camera program. Dayton receives $6.6 million in local government aid from the state.
"It is unconstitutional, under Ohio law, for the state to punish the exercise of a constitutional right," Dayton's chief trial attorney, John C. Musto, argued. "Accordingly, the state cannot prohibit indirectly, by withholding Dayton's allocation of local government funds, conduct that the government could not constitutionally prohibit outright."
Assistant attorney general Halli Brownfield Watson argued that the restraining order should be lifted since state tax commissioner Jeff McClain already has said he cannot now calculate the reduction in state aid amounts until next year. Judge Hoffman's temporary order has already had the effect of delaying the timing of speed camera ticket revenue reports. Watson also pointed out that Dayton is not entitled to cash from the state's taxpayers.
"The General Assembly must past laws before state money may be spent and its ability to pass those laws is limited only by other constitutional provisions," Watson wrote. "Nothing in the Ohio Constitution requires the General Assembly to distribute local government fund monies. The General Assembly has the constitutional right to change the statutes governing how this money is disbursed."
The state constitution does include a provision that authorizes the General Assembly to require cities to provide financial reports.