What if the Cash Cow Goes Dry?

I’ve written in the past how DUI arrests have become an increasingly important source of revenue for local governments, providing incentive for making more arrests — whether justified or not.  (See “How to Make a Million in the DUI Business” and “DUI: Government’s Cash Cow”).  Reader response has included a fair number of those doubting that law enforcement is driven by the need to raise more money for the local coffers.

So what would happen if the local governments getting the fines and fees from DUIs didn’t get the money?  What if the money went instead to the county or state?  That shouldn’t affect the number of arrests, should it?

Cities lose out on DUI revenue

Money from criminal traffic cases now goes to the county. Tampa lost almost $1-million.

St. Petersburg Times, December 9.  The money stopped coming more than a year ago, but many Florida cities are just figuring it out.

Tens of millions of dollars in fines from DUI and criminal traffic cases that once went to cities and towns go to county clerks instead. It’s a result of 2004 legislation that put the state in charge of running Florida’s courts.

Now cities are struggling with the impact.

The cuts have surprised city leaders who believed the changes would not burden municipal budgets. Revenue from those fines has fallen 16 to 45 percent, cities report. Tampa lost $950,000 last year alone, according to the Florida League of Cities.

The significant losses have prompted some city officials to question whether expensive and time-consuming DUI patrols can continue as a high priority without revenue to pay for them.

“In theory, we are going to still enforce DUI laws, but it does send a message that maybe it’s not as important,” said Clearwater City Council member Bill Jonson….

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