Local Government Fine Revenues By State

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.)

Local Governments by State: Fines as a Share of General Revenues

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%
Alabama 9 3 - -
Arkansas 44 14 11 3
Colorado 6 4 2 -
Delaware 4 1 1 -
Florida 7 2 1 1
Georgia 92 52 30 13
Illinois 33 11 4 1
Indiana 9 3 - -
Iowa 1 1 1 -
Kansas 4 - - -
Louisiana 70 49 40 25
Maryland 8 4 3 -
Michigan 8 - - -
Mississippi 8 1 - -
Missouri 18 6 2 -
Montana 1 - - -
Nevada 1 - - -
New Jersey 2 - - -
New Mexico 1 - - -
New York 34 12 5 1
Ohio 24 15 10 8
Oklahoma 55 42 29 14
Oregon 4 2 1 -
Pennsylvania 4 - - -
South Carolina 11 6 4 1
Tennessee 18 12 10 2
Texas 90 39 22 10
Utah 5 1 - -
Vermont 1 1 1 -
Virginia 3 3 2 1
Washington 3 - - -
West Virginia 3 - - -
Wisconsin 2 - - -
TOTAL 583 284 179 80
States not shown recorded no localities meeting revenue thresholds. Note that these totals represent underestimates as data for many jurisdictions not responding to requests were unavailable.
SOURCE: Governing calculations of local government financial statements. (See methodology and notes for states)

Local Governments by State: Total Fines Per Adult Residents

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
Alabama 12 3 2 1
Arizona 1 1 - -
Arkansas 19 11 10 5
California 12 6 4 2
Colorado 8 6 5 3
Delaware 6 3 3 3
District of Columbia 1 1 1 -
Florida 19 8 6 2
Georgia 87 54 37 19
Illinois 41 14 11 4
Indiana 19 6 4 3
Iowa 1 1 1 1
Kansas 6 1 1 1
Louisiana 66 48 36 21
Maryland 14 6 5 4
Massachusetts 2 - - -
Michigan 14 1 - -
Mississippi 6 1 - -
Missouri 15 8 3 -
Nevada 2 1 1 1
New Jersey 18 6 2 -
New Mexico 1 1 1 -
New York 39 11 4 2
Ohio 41 21 16 6
Oklahoma 53 33 22 14
Oregon 6 2 2 -
Pennsylvania 1 - - -
South Carolina 12 8 5 3
Tennessee 24 14 8 6
Texas 147 77 40 22
Utah 6 2 - -
Vermont 1 1 - -
Virginia 8 3 2 1
Washington 6 1 1 -
West Virginia 4 2 - -
Wisconsin 5 1 - -
TOTAL 723 363 233 124
States not shown recorded no localities meeting revenue thresholds. Note that these totals represent underestimates as financial data for many jurisdictions not responding to requests were unavailable.
SOURCE: Governing calculations of local government financial statements, 2017 Census Bureau five-year ACS estimates. (See methodology and notes for states)