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Dollars And Sense

Dollars And Sense$10.2 billion could buy school supplies and laptop computers for every kid in a public school, or it could almost cover four years of tuition costs for every student in the UC system. Alas, $10.2 billion is also the amount of unpaid traffic ticket fines and uncollected penalty assessments in California.

Penalty assessments started essentially as court costs, but because it was more politically popular, lawmakers began adding extra costs to traffic tickets instead of raising taxes. Now, penalty assessments are so high that many ticketed drivers cannot afford to pay them. Other drivers are in jail, with absolutely no way to pay. Legislators must then raise taxes and/or decrease services to make up for the revenue shortfall. Observers also pointed to the system itself as part of the problem.

Sacramento County and San Joaquin County lead the way in uncollected fines and penalty assessments, with $542 million and $250 million respectively.

The broken system may actually work to your advantage, if you received a traffic ticket in Lamont or Shafter. On average, Kern County and other counties only keep a fraction of the traffic ticket money they collect. So, they have little incentive to collect traffic ticket money that will probably go to the state.

What does that mean to you? In our judicial process, everything is negotiable, including traffic ticket fines and penalty assessments. Since Kern County doesn't keep much of this money, local prosecutors are more willing to reduce the amount you must pay.