Penalty Assessment Funds – California’s Penalties and Fees Provide Inconsistent Funding for State and County Programs and Have a Significant Financial Impact on Drivers

This report reveals that California programs and services supported by revenue from fines and fees have been compromised by low-income motorists’ inability to pay those fines and fees. The California State Auditor supports their findings with research illustrated by charts, graphs, and diagrams, and the report also advances several recommendations for reform.

This report concludes that California’s current approach to funding state and county programs through penalties and fees from criminal and traffic violations has proven problematic both for the programs that rely on those funds and for drivers who receive costly citations.

You can read the full text of the report here.

Key Findings
  • “Although these penalties and fees generate more than $450 million annually for numerous state funds, the revenue is derived from penalty and fee amounts that do not appear to be based on the needs of the funded programs.” Only one of the seven bill analyses conducted by the California State Auditor articulates whether the estimated revenues from fines and fees would support the needs of the funded programs.
  • The fees tacked onto traffic tickets have increased over time, multiplying the cost of the original ticket. Simultaneously, California has seen an increase in partial payment or inability to pay traffic tickets: “penalty and fee revenues for state funds have decreased by 14 percent to 25 percent over the last three years.”
  • When state fees are collected, revenue is distributed to 8 funds. Only one of those funds is related to traffic violations.
  • “The Legislature could adjust or eliminate individual penalties and fees by considering the following factors identified in our report: revenue trends and the reliability of penalties and fees as funding sources, the significant financial impact of penalties and fees on low‑income individuals, how well aligned the uses of penalty and fee revenues are with the offenses that give rise to the penalty or fee, and the seemingly arbitrary amount of the penalty or fee.”
  • In cases where the Legislature finds that “a particular penalty or fee is not appropriate for generating revenue for a particular program, it should consider requiring the affected department to identify other funding sources or reduce the program’s scope of services.”
  • “The Legislature should consider revising state law to redirect all or part of the penalty revenue to the State Penalty Fund and using the budget process to allocate funds to align with legislative priorities.”
California State Auditor