In tough budget years, lawmakers have often looked for alternative ways to bring in revenue to support state government operations. In the case of the judicial branch of government, the Legislature has repeatedly raised the charges, fees and fines charged to the users of the court system, shifting much of the cost burden for court operations to the courts themselves.
However, court cost collections have proven to be a less than reliable source of revenue. In 2014, total criminal and civil court collections were down by $8.5 million to 2013, a drop of 6 percent. Compared to 2011, total court cost collections are down $17 million, or 10 percent. That’s a decline in collections even through the Legislature raised fee amounts during that same time period.
About 2/3 of court costs are collected through the criminal courts, amounting to just over $96 million in collections in 2014. The biggest component of that is traffic court collections. And that’s where the steepest drop in collections has come. In 2014, the state court system collected $54 million through traffic courts across the state, compared to $72 million in 2011. That’s an $18 million decline, or a 25 percent drop, over that time period.
This decline could be linked to problems in other departments. The Department of Public Safety reports that currently it has only 289 Troopers assigned to Highway Patrol statewide, far short of past staffing levels. According to figures provided by the State Personnel Department, DPS, as a whole, had 276 fewer employees in FY 2014 than it did in 2008, which amounts to an overall decrease in employees of nearly 20 percent. According to DPS, troopers issued 792,860 citations in 2012. That number fell to 690,323 citations in 2013. From January to November of 2014, troopers had issued 663,414 tickets. Beginning in 2015, DPS will be folded into the new Alabama Law Enforcement Agency. LEA director Spencer Collier has said he plans to put a priority on putting more troopers on the road.
Collections in the civil courts make up the remaining 1/3 of collections, totaling $48 million in 2014.That total is roughly the same amount collected in 2011.