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Fines, Forfeitures, and Surcharges; Revenue Generation in a Tax Cut Era

It has been argued before that as our governments (federal, state, and local) decrease our taxes, the governments look to other sources of revenue to keep afloat.  You hear many stories about how fines, now a mainstay in the criminal defense world, were a rarity twenty to thirty years back.  These governments have to get revenue from somewhere, and many times it is through the criminal collections process, civil forfeiture or fines disguised as surcharges, such as DPS’ Driver Responsibility Program.

The perverse structure of Texas forfeiture laws has been documented in this blog (here and here) and elsewhere.  Now, a lawsuit has been filed by the Institue for Justice challenging the system.  We will see how it plays out.

Another example of the revenue generating notions of our legislature at work is chronicled at Grits for Breakfast taking on the DPS Surcharge system.  Those doubting that the surcharge system is both broken and out of control should view this video.

And, finally, we have this story from the Austin American-Statesman about the tiny Texas town of Martindale who was operating outside of the law with regard to traffic tickets and revenues.  Under a 1975 law, a town of less than 5,000 people cannot gain more than thirty percent of its revenue from traffic fines, an anti-speed trap law, if you will.  Martindale was outside the law by a wide margin, and had no idea about the law.  The story is an interesting treatment of the needs of the city for revenue vs. the law in place.  No real mention of how the citizen gets caught in the crunch between the two.

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