March 11, 2021

Traffic Citations, Other Fines and Fees Unsustainable as Revenue Source for Clerks of Courts, Report Finds

Non-profit think tank points to 10-year downward revenue trend, volatility of fines and fees collection, and mere 20-percent collection rate for debt sent to collection agencies

Lawmakers must look to long-term, stable revenue raising solutions and an end to driver’s license suspension as a compliance tool

ORLANDO, Fla. - The unstable nature of court fines and fees collection, which is susceptible to policy changes in other state agencies, natural disasters, and economic disruptions, is an unreliable source of revenue, according to a new report from the non-partisan Florida Policy Institute.

The report, “The Consequences of a Broken Revenue System: Relying on Fines and Fees is Harming Florida’s Clerks of Courts,” also highlighted that the state’s use of driver’s license suspensions disproportionately harms Floridians of color and those with low income. In counties where families have negative residual income — meaning they have no income left over after paying for typical living expenses or have living expenses that far exceed earned income — three out of every five license suspension notices issued go into effect, according to FPI’s analysis.

Additionally, the report found that:

  • Revenue from fines and fees has been on a downward trend for the past decade. The steepest decline was between county fiscal year (CFY) 2013-14 and CFY 2017-18, when clerks’ budgets saw a $63 million cut.
  • Fines and fees from traffic citations are the largest revenue stream for the clerks of courts. Notably, in CFY 2016-17, actual revenue from criminal cases funded 42 percent of their expenditures, with the remaining 58 percent being covered by traffic collections and filing costs.
  • Driver’s license suspension is an ineffective method of enforcement. In CFY 2018-19, a total of $353.9 million across 111 contracts was distributed among 10 collections companies in Florida. Only $69 million, or 20 percent, was collected. A similar trend prevailed in CFY 2016-17 and in CFY 2017-18, with total collections received only amounting to 17 percent and 23 percent, respectively.

“State lawmakers must look to long-term, sustainable revenue solutions, like streamlining enforcement of online sales tax collection and closing corporate tax loopholes, to solve the clerks of courts’ funding woes,” said Sadaf Knight, CEO of FPI. “The clerks’ over-reliance on fines and fees collection, coupled with ineffective compliance methods that trap low-income Floridians in a cycle of debt, are in dire need of an overhaul.”

"Relying on fines and fees to fund vital services like Florida's Clerks of Court is penny-wise and pound-foolish," said Ashley Thomas, Florida Director of the Fines and Fees Justice Center. "Our state’s inefficient fines and fees policies are costing all of us. Fines and fees are an unreliable source of government revenue and collection practices are costly. It’s a lose-lose situation for both Floridians and our state government."

FPI’s policy recommendations include:

  • Reforming the clerks of courts’ budget model to draw from an alternative source of funding that is independent of fines and fees collections;
  • Eliminating driver’s license suspension for unpaid civil and criminal traffic citations and allowing clerks to waive, modify, or convert outstanding fines and fees to community service; and
  • Implementing standardized payment plan options across counties.

The report, authored by Tachana Joseph-Marc, policy analyst at FPI, analyzed the annual budgets of Florida’s clerks of courts and county-level data on both driver’s license suspensions and fines and fees collections.

FPI is an independent, nonpartisan and nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing state policies and budgets that improve the economic mobility and quality of life for all Floridians.

Downloadable Resources

There are no attachments currently.
No items found.
Related posts
No items found.