FFJC Fiscal Analysis Reveals NY State Can Easily Afford to End Predatory Fees   

A new analysis of New York’s fee revenue by the Fines and Fees Justice Center has revealed that eliminating court fees would have very little impact on the state’s budget, despite having life-changing implications for the tens of thousands of New Yorkers who face giving up food and rent just to pay them off. Over 60% of New Yorkers do not earn a living wage and current law demands that a person pay down court debts or be faced with more fees, arrest, and even jail. 

Our latest fiscal analysis demonstrates New York can easily afford to end this cycle of debt and punishment. The cost of eliminating these court fees would likely be between $28 million and $33 million, or approximately .01% of the state’s proposed $233 billion budget proposed for FY25 

To determine the extent to which the State of New York depends on court fees as a revenue stream, we looked at data from over 450,000 court cases; using updated data from the Office of Court Administration (OCA) on assessments and collections for statewide top-charge convictions from 2020-2022, DMV public data on traffic violations for the same period, and additional data from New York State public financial documents. Because the budget and planned spending can only depend on the revenue dollars that are actually collected, we focused our analysis on how much court debt was collected from those who were able to pay. This yielded an estimate of $33 million collected per year in mandatory court fees.

To reinforce our understanding of  the fiscal impact of eliminating court fees, we also looked at how much money was flowing into the Criminal Justice Improvement Account (CJIA) every year. This analysis, based on publicly documented receipts into the CJIA, revealed an estimated $28 million fiscal impact of eliminating court fees into this fund and the General Fund. 

Eliminating this negligible, yet dangerous, revenue source not only puts money back in the pockets of struggling New Yorkers, it puts money back in the budget. Our research indicates there could be well over 300,000 cases of outstanding fines/fees statewide. If just 20% of those cases required 1 hour of staff time, from all the public employees who are involved in collections work, that would cost over $20 million statewide in time and labor to collect the uncollectible. Instead of investing that money in programs that improve the lives of people across the state, New York is wasting millions of taxpayer dollars and court hours to criminalize people who can’t afford to pay up.  

Jailing people for unpaid court debt also comes with a big price tag for the state. In 2017 (the most recent year we were able to obtain data), in NYC alone, 161 people were incarcerated for non-payment of fines/fees, costing the city close to $4 million dollars.      

Our fiscal analysis of New York’s court fee revenue underscores what fee elimination advocates have been saying for years: court fees are a threat to both struggling families and strong budgets.  New York’s fines and fees practices are also out of compliance with key constitutional principles including the excessive fines clause, due process and equal protection principles. What’s worse: the state has continued these policies even after The United States Department of Justice issued a revised and updated ‘Dear Colleague’ letter, advising state and local courts that their fines and fees practices may violate the United States Constitution and federal law. 

If New York lawmakers continue to rely on this volatile revenue source, they are putting both the State budget and working class families at even greater risk of financial destabilization. Let’s make 2024 the year we end predatory court fees

Read and download our full in-depth fiscal analysis, including datasets and source info here