Alabama Takes From the Poor and Gives to the Rich


Little of the money generated by county courts makes it back into the judicial system; most is remitted to the state. For example, Shelby County, a wealthy suburb with historical sites and reconstructions of important buildings in American history, is funded partly by every court filing in Alabama, well over $300,000 a year.

To raise taxes in Alabama, cities and counties must go through the state legislature to initiate a constitutional amendment allowing them to pass a law to raise property or income tax. As a result, from 1920 to 1992, revenue from property taxes fell from 63 percent to two percent. This news report details the history of Alabama’s tax system and how a mandate that property taxes permanently remain low and exclude poor people from the political process resulted in local governments’ reliance on fines and fees to generate revenue. This report also includes personal stories of people in Alabama who have been hit the hardest by court fines and fees and the collateral consequences resulting from their inability to pay them. 

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Robin Kaiser-Schatzlein
The New York Times