Florida Hikes Traffic Fines to Pay Court Costs

January 9, 2009

From the St. Petersburg Times:

Desperate for cash, lawmakers will impose a new charge of $10 on all traffic infractions ranging from driving with an expired tag to running a stop sign. The state also is eliminating an 18 percent discount available to scofflaws who go to traffic school and taking away the right of judges to waive fines, regardless of whether the judge makes a finding of guilt. Little by little, it adds up to a lot.

The new money, $63-million next year, includes a redirection of court filing fees from the state treasury to the courts.[…]

Sen. [Victor] Crist [R-Tampa, no relation to Gov. Charlie Crist] said the higher traffic fines serve an important purpose: to insulate the court system from budget cuts in hard economic times, when the demands on civil and criminal justice typically increase. Not only are lawmakers creating a new pool of money, but they are creating three new budget accounts, known as trust funds, to ensure that money from fines is steered to the court system.

It’s difficult for fines and fees to cover all court costs, but covering some share is good policy. I’m pleased to see that Florida will dedicate the money to the court system, rather than using it as a cash cow to fund other government enterprises as happened previously. Siphoning fines to the general fund, as Louisiana and Virginia once did, converts those fines into taxes.

More on Florida here.

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