New York State has a big problem! Technically, New York State has plenty of problems, but the way in which the state funds itself is a big problem. Currently, in New York, the reliance on fines and fees as a revenue source is extremely troubling. A national study found that 34 New York localities collect over 10 percent of their revenue via fines and fees with a dozen of them receiving over 20 percent of their revenue that way. This is just as bad as what the Justice Department discovered in Ferguson, Missouri, after the police killing of Michael Brown. Though New York elected officials may claim otherwise, New York has a serious Ferguson problem.
In New York City, the issue is getting worse. The number of agencies that either issue or adjudicate fines and fees is like alphabet soup, OATH, TVB (which is state run), PVB, NYPD, are just a few. Though many elected officials in NYC would like to take responsibilities away from the NYPD they are not remotely interested in removing the harmful revenue generating practice that causes economic injustice, the excessive use of fines and fees. In fact, in his last budget as Mayor, Bill de Blasio increased the amount of revenue the city expects to receive via fines and forfeitures by $150 million. This would represent a 10 percent increase and would raise the yearly amount the city brings in through code and law enforcement to an absurd $1.1 billion.
Not only are these cruel ways to raise revenue, but they also tend to make places less safe. A new study from the Institute for Justice finds that a $1,000 increase in forfeiture proceeds is associated with a decrease in the rate of violent crimes cleared. New York City is seeing a surge in violent crime as well as an exodus of residents. Turning fines, fees, and forfeitures into a billion-dollar industry is going to exacerbate these problems rather than solving them.
To listen to our conversation with Fines and Fees Justice Center Co-director Joanna Weiss click here.