Special Report: Addicted to Fines–Small towns in much of the country are dangerously dependent on punitive fines and fees

All throughout the country, select cities and towns generate substantial fines and other court revenues that fund sizable portions of their budgets. Some are known for issuing lots of speeding tickets. Others raise revenues from parking citations, municipal ordinance violations or traffic cameras.

Five years ago, the issue of excessive fines and fees gained national attention following the civil unrest in Ferguson, Mo., and reports that many St. Louis area municipalities prioritized generating revenues from their courts. No reliable national data quantifying fine revenues for individual governments exist, however.

To better understand the extent to which local governments rely on fines, Governing conducted the largest analysis of fine revenues to date, constructing a database from thousands of annual financial audits and reports filed to state agencies. We found that for hundreds of mostly small cities and towns, fines are a critical source of funding, at times accounting for more than half of all general revenues.