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Big Cities Make Big Money on Tickets
States partner with big cities to generate hundreds of millions in revenue from traffic tickets.

Houston Police Department
Two major cities illustrate the partnership between municipalities and state governments that is generating millions in revenue from traffic tickets for budget balancing purposes. In Texas, the state legislature has added at least one new "surcharge" to citations every year since 1987. These extra fees have added up to big money from Houston's enforcement efforts. In California, the state directs millions of dollars in federal funding in the form of "traffic safety" grants to cities. In San Francisco, this funding is used as seed money to pay for operations and equipment that generate additional tickets.

The extra funding has paid off for the state. In 2005, San Francisco police issued 101,552 moving violation citations -- a thirteen percent increase on the previous year -- plus 11,500 red light camera tickets for a combined revenue of $10 million. The city keeps 50-60 percent of the money and sends the remainder to the state government. By directing the police to issue more tickets, San Francisco city leaders had another $715,000 to spend on various projects.

Houston's 2005 ticket revenue was $45 million. The state kept $18 million and the city $27 million. Statewide, ticket surcharges will generate $300 million on traffic tickets issued by municipalities. One of these, the $30 "state traffic fee," was enacted in 2003 to help fund road construction. Instead, $68 million generated by the surcharge will go to general spending and $22 million to trauma centers. A total of $0 will go to transportation, unless local police triple the number of citations issued this year. A "driver responsibility" tax will add a massive $300 surcharge on those with a few speeding tickets or a $750 tax for driving without a proof of insurance card. This tax is expected to generate $330 million this year, bringing the total state revenue from local tickets to $630 million.

Source: Loser fees help fund Texas government (Houston Chronicle, 3/5/2006)

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