Fines and fees make up a small share of state and local revenue overall, but they can be devastating for low-income residents, especially Black, Latine, and Native American households, who are disproportionately affected by criminal legal systems. These penalties, such as traffic tickets and court costs, also create harmful incentives for police departments and courts.
States flush with budget surpluses and fiscal recovery funds could use this opportunity to reform fines and fees—and help their localities do the same. Cities and towns tend to rely more on these revenues than state governments do. Some have few other revenue options, making reforms challenging.
Wiping away fines and fees for even just one year, and backfilling that revenue with state funds, could take a heavy burden off some residents and give local policymakers and administrators the fiscal flexibility to explore more equitable and reliable revenue sources. This feature shows what it would take for states to do just that.