Houstonians rejected the city’s red light camera program in a hard-fought ballot contest, delivering an immediate $10 million hit to an already dire budget situation at City Hall.
With almost all votes counted, a majority of voters put a decisive end to the use of the devices, which had been used to issue more than 800,000 tickets and collected $44 million in fines since 2006.
Proposition 1, a referendum asking voters to pay a drainage fee to support a 20-year, $8 billion spending program to shore up the city’s infrastructure and alleviate flooding problems, passed by the narrowest of margins Tuesday. Proposition 2, which would have reduced the residency requirement for those seeking to hold city offices from one year to six months in the 2011 election cycle, was soundly rejected.
“This is a victory for the people,” said Paul Kubosh, an attorney who defends red light runners and collected more than 20,000 signatures with his brothers to get the referendum on the ballot. “The voters said that they do not like cameras.”
City Controller Ronald Green said the loss of the devices would amount to a $10 million shortfall in revenues, a sharp decrease that would greatly complicate efforts to close a shortfall that was already nearing $80 million.
“We’re going to have to cut expenses,” he said. “We need to really start talking about the fact that furloughs and layoffs may really be a potential option. … It’s now time for drastic cuts.”
Jim McGrath, a spokesman for Keep Houston Safe, said he did not anticipate that the political action committee — backed by the Arizona-based company that runs the city’s red-light camera program – would try to fight the election results in court.
“We’re disappointed,” he said. “We put together an unprecedented coalition of police and firefighters and hospital groups who told the truth. … At the end of the day, the voters got the last word.”
The election results reported Thursday evening did not include any of the 10,000 paper ballots cast county wide Tuesday, said Hector de Leon, spokesman for the county clerk’s office.
Proposition 1 supporters were thrilled Tuesday night, given that some polls had showed voters rejecting the measure by wide margins.
“We’re very excited,” said City Councilman Stephen Costello, one of a number of influential engineers who organized and financed the campaign for the drainage initiative. Costello said supporters knew it would be a close race based on early voting results. He said the proposition would help Houston shed its national reputation as a flood-prone city.
Mayor Annise Parker campaigned actively on the measure’s behalf. She ran into opposition from leaders of schools and churches who did not want to pay a drainage fee and City Council members who expressed concerns that voters would be approving a “blank check” because the city had not spelled out exactly how the measure would be implemented.
Chronicle reporters Renee C. Lee and Peggy O’Hare contributed to this report.