Localities across the state will no longer have to share money with the state that they receive from certain traffic fines under legislation expected to get final passage today in the State Senate.
Local government officials accused the Legislature of grabbing traffic fines that they had always received and using them to help balance the state budget.
For the state, it wasn't much money -- $22 million out of a $100 billion budget. But local officials, especially those in bigger towns, said they faced budget deficits -- in some cases, of hundreds of thousands of dollars -- because of the loss of traffic fine revenue. Besides the financial hit, local government officials said the issue became another example of the state either taking money from them or pushing through mandates that create new costs.
But state officials have voiced concerns that localities were using a loophole in state law to let drivers charged with speeding, for example, plead to lesser infractions. Had the speeding fine been levied by a town or village judge, for instance, the state would have gotten the money; by letting them plead to lesser counts, towns could keep the revenues.
Redirection of the fine money, first proposed in January by Gov. George E. Pataki, was included in the state budget passed in August. Almost overnight, local officials began complaining. State lawmakers, facing re-election, reacted to the sudden groundswell; a month after passing the budget, the Assembly in September repealed the measure.
The Senate, back in town for a one-day meeting, is set to repeal it today, aides to Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno said.
In September, the Pataki administration expressed concerns about the Legislature giving money back to the towns without coming up with corresponding savings or revenue to help the state, which is facing a budget deficit this year and next year.
Still up in the air are a number of issues. Chief among them is whether the Legislature will attempt to override several recent Pataki vetoes, including several hundred million dollars in budget spending, a hike in the minimum wage and a measure that supporters say would reform the way the state budget is crafted to end the years of late state budgets.