If It’s About Safety and Not Revenues, Why Let Local Governments Keep Revenues From Traffic Fines?

Yesterday the state House approved SB2304, allowing local governments to assess traffic fines beyond what is set in state law.

“There’ll be much talk about how the cities are trying to raise revenue, but that is not true. This is truly a safety issue,” Rep. Mary Adams, a Grand Forks Democrat and Hitler meme aficionado, said while carrying the bill out of committee to the floor.

But if this isn’t about revenue, why didn’t lawmakers craft the bill in such a way that it requires that local fines go into a state trust fund just as state fines do?

Article IX, Section 2 of the North Dakota Constitution states that “all fines and fees for violation of state laws . . . must be faithfully used and applied each year for the benefit of the common schools of the state and no part of the fund must ever be diverted even temporarily, from this purpose or used for any purpose other than the maintenance of common schools as provided by law.”

…now that the Legislature has cleared the way for local governments to assess speeding fees, those local governments will also see a revenue windfall. One that creates a serious fiscal incentive to police in a way that maximizes revenues as opposed to public safety.

Section 29-27-02.1 of the North Dakota Century Code builds on this requirement, stating “all statutory fees, fines, forfeitures, and pecuniary penalties prescribed for a violation of state laws, when collected, must be paid into the treasury of the proper county to be added to the state school fund.”

These provisions are a way to remove any fiscal incentive from the way our laws are enforced. Since state-level law enforcement doesn’t get any of the revenue from the fines, they’re more likely to enforce the law in a way that puts public safety first.

But these provisions don’t apply to local fines. In fact, section 40-11-13 of the NDCC states that any fines resulting from the violation of municipal ordinance be “paid into the city’s treasury.”

So now that the Legislature has cleared the way for local governments to assess speeding fees, those local governments will also see a revenue windfall. One that creates a serious fiscal incentive to police in a way that maximizes revenues as opposed to public safety.

I don’t necessarily have a problem with local governments setting fines for things like speeding over and above what the state levies. In fact, I think state fines are mostly too law as it is. If the locals want to exceed them, fine.

But they shouldn’t get to profit from it. That situation could have been avoided by an amendment to SB2304 which directs proceeds from local fines and penalties to the state trust fund, thus ensuring enforcement really is about safety and not revenue.

Lawmakers didn’t, and that’s a serious mistake.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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