Local Government Should Not Be Funded With Fines and Fees

Testimony by NJPP Policy Analyst Marleina Ubel in opposition of using law enforcement fines and fees to fund government services.

Published on May 9, 2022 in Economic Justice, Public Safety

Good afternoon, Chairman Spearman and members of the Committee. Thank you for the opportunity to testify today.

I’m Marleina Ubel from New Jersey Policy Perspective (NJPP), a nonpartisan think tank focused on advancing economic, social, and racial justice for New Jersey residents, and it is in keeping with this mission that I testify in opposition to A-959.

Municipal government and services should be funded with robust, reliable, and progressive revenues, not fines and fees extracted by law enforcement or court systems. A-959 would divert funds generated by fines and fees from state coffers to the municipal government where a motor-vehicle violation happens to take place. “Taxation by citation” for local government through law-enforcement-generated fines and fees has a history of being discriminatory, falls heavily on low-income residents, and creates an unreliable source of revenue.

Motor vehicle fines and fees disproportionately fall on lower-income residents and communities of color. In the first half of 2021, Black motorists made up more than 24 percent of State Police summonses, despite making up only 13 percent of the state’s total population.

Law enforcement and government finance groups on the left, right, and center agree that funding government through motor vehicle fines and fees distorts government services and undermines public safety and public trust in law enforcement and courts.

If the goal of A-959 is to ensure appropriate funding for municipal courts, NJPP recommends robust state funding for municipal courts. As the Supreme Court Working Group on Municipal Courts report from 2019 suggests, the Legislature should focus on reducing local reliance on law-enforcement- and judicially-imposed fines and fees, rather than deepening municipal reliance on these unstable and discriminatory revenue sources.

Like this publication?

Please consider supporting NJPP.

Your support powers the research, communications, and partnership building necessary to make policy work for people, so every New Jerseyan can achieve their goal for a healthy and vibrant life.