Sacramento, CA – California Governor Gavin Newsom is pushing to expand a pilot program that slashes fines and fees for low-income drivers convicted of traffic offenses.
The plan, which is part of Newsom’s latest state budget proposal, would only benefit drivers who make less than approximately $26,000 per year, KSBY reported.
Instead of paying the full amount for their traffic citations, they would only be required to pay half – and sometimes even less than that, according to The Sacramento Bee.
Traffic violators who make more than the $26,000 cutoff can expect to pay full-price.
In order to compensate courts for the massive loss in citation revenue, Newsom proposed pulling $11.5 million from the state general fund for 2020-2021.
The governor said he also wants to expand the program statewide by 2023 – thereby creating even more loss in citation revenue – and advocated pulling a whopping $56 million from the general fund to backfill the courts by that time, The Sacramento Bee reported.
Approximately 3.6 million traffic tickets were issued throughout the state last year.
While over $1.4 billion worth of fines were collected, another $1.8 billion went unpaid, The Sacramento Bee reported.
“We have crossed that tipping point,” State Judicial Council Administrative Director Martin Hoshino said. “Why impose a level where they can’t pay and never will pay?”
Hoshino said that low-income offenders likely don’t have enough disposable income to pay steep fines, and that the state “might be incentivizing it the wrong way” by suspending their licenses or garnishing their wages due to nonpayment.
“You have gotten away from what you want, which is to create a deterrent for people not to engage in that [poor driving] behavior again,” he told The Sacramento Bee.
The so-called fine reduction program has already been implemented in Ventura, Tulare, Shasta, and San Francisco counties for the past several years. A total of 1,500 low-income drivers had their fine obligations slashed by an average of $657 last year, lowering their payments to an average of $362, according to the paper.
If approved by the legislature, multiple counties will be phased into the program every year until it has been enacted statewide, KSBY reported.
Although the base fines for most traffic violations have remained steady for many years, a slew of fees aimed at helping to fund other programs have been stacked on top, resulting in totals that are often three to five times the amount of the base fines themselves, according to The Sacramento Bee.
The programs that those add-on costs support help to fund medical life-flight helicopters, victims compensation programs, public safety training, DNA identification programs, brain injury research, and local court costs.
“Over decades, the state has increased the fines, fees, assessments and surcharges levied on individuals convicted of criminal offenses,” Newsom’s proposal read, according to The Sacramento Bee. “Expanding the [program] provides targeted relief for low-income individuals while maintaining accountability.”
San Diego resident Eric Abramson said that it isn’t fair that low-income traffic violators have been held to the same standard as more affluent traffic violators, KFMB reported.
“Some people of low income can be trapped in a cycle of a tax that's going to be the same or a ticket that's going to be the same as someone with a larger income that can pay that," Abramson said. "Maybe there's a chance that more tickets will get paid and there will actually be more revenue for the state.”
“I’d be more inclined to pay mine if they were reasonable,” Oceano resident Rory Medlin told KSBY.
But not everyone is backing Newsom’s idea, KFMB reported.
"Why separate the lower income folks from the higher income folks when it comes to driving?" asked San Diego resident Kevin Allen, who could potentially qualify for the reduced fines. “I think we just got to make sure we follow the law when it comes to driving your car. Drive safely.”