Missouri bills limit locals' ticket revenue, tax stream

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Efforts that are aimed at curtailing communities in Missouri that pad their budgets with speed trap revenue could come up for consideration early next year at the statehouse.

Missouri law limits to 30 percent the amount of traffic fine revenue municipalities can keep. Cities or towns that receive more are required to turn it over to the state.

Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-Glendale, would like to see the threshold in the state’s “Macks Creek law” lowered to 10 percent. He says it would help right a wrong.

“Government exists to serve our citizens,” Schmitt said in a news release. “Unfortunately, the municipal court system, especially in the St. Louis region, has created a system of traffic ticket tricks and schemes designed to extract more and more from our citizens.”

Supporters say the effort isn’t intended to punish local governments. They want to rein in communities that use their police departments to “pester” nonresident drivers with unreasonable ticketing.

The community of Macks Creek in Camden County once spurred state lawmakers to act on the issue. In 1994, 75 percent of the small town’s budget reportedly came from traffic tickets.

In 1995, a Missouri law was enacted to limit the amount of traffic fine revenue that municipalities can keep to 45 percent. It was lowered to 35 percent five years ago and to 30 percent last year.

Cities or towns that receive more than 30 percent of their total annual revenue from fines for traffic violations are required to turn over the money to the state Department of Revenue. The agency routes the revenue to the state’s schools.

Failure by local departments to adhere to the 30 percent rule would lose their authority to enforce traffic laws until the requirements are met.

Sen. Scott Sifton, D-Affton, is also calling for changes. He said that while existing state law removes the carrot, he wants to add the stick.

He prefiled a bill that would keep the cap at 30 percent. However, he wants to strip from municipalities their portion of the St. Louis County sales tax pool if they collect more than 50 percent of their revenue from traffic tickets.

Sifton said the rule change would affect the cities of Bella Villa, Calverton Park and Vinita Terrace. Another St. Louis County locale he identified as being “perilously close” to the 50 percent threshold is Pine Lawn.

“I don’t want to limit local jurisdictions’ ability to assess fines in order to promote traffic safety, but my constituents are adamant that there has to be an upper limit on what municipalities can reasonably collect,” Sifton stated.

Schmitt’s bill, SB5, to lower the threshold to 10 percent and Sifton’s bill, SB50, can be considered during the regular session that begins Jan. 7.

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