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Two years ago, California tried to raise money and clear court dockets by rolling out a ticket amnesty program. How effective was that program, and is a return engagement likely?

Many traffic tickets - and especially speeding tickets - seem to be given out more for revenue-producing purposes as opposed to safety reasons. And while there may have been some incidental goals, the primary goal of the amnesty program was always revenue-production. The plan itself gave a 50% discount on most old ticket fines and penalties, if all the money was paid during the amnesty period:

The amnesty program lasted from January 1, 2012 to June 30, 2012.

The amnesty program generated a veritable windfall for some counties ($6 million in Los Angeles County) but only amounted to pocket change in some other jurisdictions ($175,000 in Santa Clara County).

While the gross amount varied greatly, the net amount collected was nearly always rather small. San Mateo County, for example, collected about $31,000. It cost the county nearly $29,000 to set up the program and reprogram the online payment portal, and the remaining $2,000 barely covered the extra time the staff spent processing payments.

California ran similar amnesty programs in 1992 and 1996, so there is some precedent for another encore. But mid-sized counties like Kern County and Tulare County simply did not raise much traffic ticket revenue in 2012, which was the entire point of the amnesty program in the first place. If there is a future program, expect the state to offer a lesser discount or exempt certain add-on fees to increase the amount of net revenue.

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