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What Would It Take for States to Reform Local Fines and Fees?


We use the term “fines and fees” to refer to fines and forfeits (Code U30) as defined by the US Census Bureau. This broadly includes financial penalties imposed for violations of the law, such as parking tickets and speeding tickets (including those from traffic cameras), court-imposed fees used to cover administrative costs and fund special initiatives, other criminal legal-related charges and penalties, and civil asset forfeitures, such as police seizures of property believed to be connected to a crime. The dataset excludes library fines, sales of confiscated property, and any penalties relating to tax delinquency. And we cannot separate revenue amounts by fines versus fees versus forfeitures in the data.

Census publishes the Annual Survey of State and Local Government Finances for states and local governments (in the aggregate) every year; the latest available data set on local fines and fees revenue by state is for fiscal year 2020. We choose to show the fiscal year 2019 data, last revised in June 2022 because those revenue amounts were not affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. (State and local totals for fines and fees revenue tend to be relatively stable as a share of general revenue, ranging around 0.5 percent annually.) We do not present information for the District of Columbia, which raised $202 million in fines and fees revenue (or $288 per capita) in 2019, because it is a single government unit (that is, state and local government activities are combined).

For information on individual localities, we use the Annual Survey of State and Local Government Finances’ fiscal year 2017 data because Census collects comprehensive individual local government (county, city, township, school district, and special district) data for fiscal years ending in two and seven. Data for fiscal year 2017 were released in 2019 and revised in June 2022. Per Census, general revenue refers to tax revenues, charges, and intergovernmental transfers and excludes revenue from utilities and government-administered liquor stores and insurance trusts. We do not present information on localities that did not have any general revenue in 2017, and we do not present information on individual school districts and special districts, though some do have fines and fees revenues (included in local aggregates).

State general fund revenue and budget surplus data are for fiscal year 2022 from the National Association of State Budget Officers’ Fiscal Survey of States: Spring 2022, released in June 2022. General fund revenues typically refer to revenues accruing to the state from taxes, fees, interest earnings, and other sources that can be used for the general operation of state government. The inclusion of separate special funds in general fund reporting, such as K-12 funds, can vary by state. State-by-state general fund revenue data are current estimates for fiscal year 2022’s general fund revenue collections, whereas the budget surplus data are the differences between current estimates and original estimates (both from table 16). If a state’s budget surplus is less than 0.5 percent of its general fund revenue, we present it as “N/A.”

Fiscal recovery funds data are for the Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds program, passed under the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, which included $195.3 billion for states and the District of Columbia. Total allocations data are from the US Department of the Treasury, and available funds data are as analyzed by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities’ Fiscal Recovery Fund Spending by States, U.S. Territories feature and reflect state funds unappropriated as of August 31, 2022. When newer data are available on each state’s appropriated and unappropriated fiscal recovery funds, we will update this feature accordingly. If a state’s available funds are less than 5 percent of the state’s total allocation, we present it as “N/A.”

We use the term “Latine” to refer to people of Hispanic or Latino origin. We recognize that this term may not be the preferred identifier for many, and we remain committed to using inclusive language whenever possible.

For further information, please contact Aravind Boddupalli at [email protected].

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Aravind Boddupalli
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Urban Institute
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Urban Publications
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Urban Institute. 2022. What Would It Take for States to Reform Local Fines and Fees?. Accessible from Data originally sourced from Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, National Association of State Budget Officers, US Census Bureau, and US Department of the Treasury. Developed at the Urban Institute, and made available under the ODC-BY 1.0 Attribution License.