Select cities and towns collect sizable fine revenues that help fund often limited budgets. Such governments are commonly found in some parts of the country, while they're generally rare most elsewhere.
Governing's national analysis of fine revenues identified hundreds of governments where fines and related court revenues fund significant portions of budgets. We found they were most prevalent in southern states, particularly Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Texas and Oklahoma, along with New York.
A number of factors explain differences across states. Local governments in some states possess very limited tax bases to raise revenues, while those in the Northeast raise substantial property tax revenues. How areas are performing economically similarly influences their budgets.
Cities and towns in some states may levy significant fines and court fees, but don't actually retain much of the revenues. That's because local governments frequently share court revenues with states. Many states have further enacted restrictions on revenues resulting from traffic fines and other citations. North Carolina mandates its cities' fine and forfeiture revenues be appropriated to public schools. Georgia, Maryland, Missouri and Texas similarly maintain caps restricting amounts of fine revenues that their localities retain. (See related story for more information.)
Additionally, a number of states have enacted bans on speeding or red-light cameras. Pennsylvania prohibits municipal departments from using speed radar devices.
The following tables show state totals for local governments exceeding different revenue levels for those reporting at least $100,000 in fines and related revenues. It's worth noting that some states have more jurisdictions listed simply because they contain far more local governments. There are more than 2,800 local jurisdictions in Illinois, for example, while about half of states have fewer than 500 general-purpose governments. (Read more about these measures and notes for individual states.)
One measure considers general fund fines, forfeitures and other court revenues as a percentage of a local government's total general fund revenues.
|State||Over 10%||Over 20%||Over 30%||Over 50%|
This rate was computed by dividing total fines, forfeitures and other court revenues in all governmental funds by the number of residents age 18 and over for each jurisdiction.
|State||Over $100||Over $200||Over $300||Over $500|
|District of Columbia||1||1||1||-|
Methodology for "Addicted to Fines" special report.
Small towns in much of the country are dangerously dependent on punitive fines and fees.
Hundreds of small cities and towns throughout the country rely significantly on fines to fund their budgets.