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Buffalo will be allowed to run traffic court, keep revenues

ALBANY – The city of Buffalo, after years of lobbying, is about to get its wish to handle traffic violations and keep the revenues instead of the state getting the funds.

Permission for the city to handle the violations and keep the fines is contained in the first budget bill made public shortly before midnight Friday. It comes a few months after Gov. Andrew Cuomo vetoed a bill approved last year to give the city, like nearby localities, the ability to run its own traffic violations system. Cuomo at the time pledged to work out differences between his administration and lawmakers and get the program into the budget.

Major elements of a new state budget are still being negotiated at the state Capitol Saturday morning, but the Senate and Assembly printed two bills late Friday night. The two pieces of legislation contain provisions that the sides have agreed to as well as many non-controversial, or more easily resolved, matters. These agreement affect medical parole for inmates with terminal illnesses, money for more public access to fishing and hunting areas.

The state budget is supposed to be resolved by Tuesday.

The Buffalo traffic measure should bring satisfaction to City Hall, as the city’s current budget already banks on getting $2 million from violations’ revenues.

Backers say the city’s handling of traffic violations would allow drivers an option to plea bargain tickets and get an infraction reduced, thereby lowering points slapped onto a license.

Such an option also would have the effect of keeping auto insurance rates lower for some traffic law violators.

The governor vetoed last year’s measure because there would have been no transition time to a new city-run system, which could have created problems for drivers. The specifics of how the city would run the program also were not clear in last year’s legislation. In the new budget bill, set to be approved Monday when lawmakers return to Albany, a new executive department of the city government will be created and known as the Buffalo Traffic Violations Agency. The mayor would control the office. Traffic prosecutors will be hired or retained to handle cases on behalf of the city. Some infractions will not be handled by the new office. The complete list of such infractions was not immediately available, but they include misdemeanors and violations or traffic law violations involving a “criminal transaction."

The mayor is being given the authority to hire an executive director for the traffic violations bureau. It is unclear how many jobs might be created by the legislation, though supporters have said traffic violation revenues will make it a money-maker for the city. email: tprecious@buffnews.com