Big Surcharge on New York State Traffic Tickets

2:23 PM, Nov 24, 2009   |    comments
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As New York State slips deeper into financial crisis, we're finding out more about taxes and fees slipped into last year's budget.  

Two On Your Side's Kristin Donnelly found state surcharges on traffic tickets increased 240 percent in nine years.   

If you've ever driven faster than the speed limit, talked on your cell phone while driving, even forgotten to put your blinker on, police could pull you over and write you a ticket.

No one's disputing those things are wrong. But, we've heard from viewers who are upset because above and beyond any fine, you'll pay a whopping $85 dollars.  It's a mandatory amount for state surcharges.  Something many drivers, like Matt from Williamsville are finding out the hard way.

He calls it "ridiculous, absolutely ridiculous".

In some cases, like Matt's, the surcharges are more than the fine.  In Matt's case, his surcharges were more than eight times the original fine. 

He was pulled over last month for not using his turn signal.  For the minor infraction, he agreed to plead guilty and pay a $10 dollar fine.  Then, he realized, along with it came an $85 dollars in New York State surcharges.

"An $85 dollar tax or surcharge on a ten dollar ticket is a little ridiculous to me," he told us after emailing Two On Your Side for answers.   

The state legislature agreed to jack up the fees in August 2008 to balance the budget.  But, over the last nine years,  lawmakers have raised the fees four times.

From May 1990-June 2000:  $25 dollars

November 2003:  $30 dollars

June 2008:  $50 dollars

July 2008: $60 dollars

August 2008: $80/$85 dollars

In nine years, the mandatory surcharges have more than tripled.

(Dates and fees provided by New York State Department of Motor Vehicles.)

We asked State Senator George Maziarz about the surcharges. 

"That's very excessive- the surcharge is excessive,"  he said.  

Although, he says it's unlikely to be repealed. 

"I would tend to doubt that that would change," Maziarz said. 

Assemblyman Sam Hoyt says unlike other taxes and fees, this one can be avoided.

"Most important point here is, don't break the law," Hoyt said. 

But, it didn't make it any less painful for people at traffic court, who didn't know anything about the fees until we told them.

Nick Beauharnois said, "I don't even know what to say."

The Division of Budget told us the money goes into the state's general fund, but couldn't tell us how much.

So we did the math ourselves. We compiled numbers from the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles, the Office of Court Administration, and the New York State Comptroller's Office, each responsible for a different set of municipalities. 

In 2008, the surcharges brought in more than $138 million dollars and more than $100 million went to the state's general fund, to be spent at lawmakers discretion. 

Considering the fees were raised in June, July, and August of 2008, the first half of the year, revenues were much smaller.  Revenues from the surcharge in 2009 should be even bigger. 

State Senator Maziarz said, "The easiest way to get the revenue is always to increase those fees." 

It's a gimmick, he says the state has been using for too long.   

"It clearly doesn't go to pay for police or law enforcement," Maziarz. 

Assemblyman Hoyt agrees. 

"Too many times we look at the revenue side, let's increase the revenue.  That's not the answer, taxing and nickel and diming people right out of this state," Hoyt said. 

But, it's a habit that Albany just can't seem to break. 

One that's crystal clear when you walk into the Department of Motor Vehicles.  In 2009, it's now more expensive to renew a license and a car registration.  

We asked Erie County residents what they think about increased surcharges, like the one on tickets, and other increased fees. 

Bernard Wiggins said, "I see how everything is just costing more, but the wage is just not catching up with it, that's what I'm upset about."

Elise Robinson agrees, "Just one more thing that's coming out of my paycheck- eventually what will I have left to bring home?"

And though lawmakers and even Governor David Paterson are now pledging not to increase fees, it's a promise some have heard before.

"No wonder people are moving out- no wonder they're moving out," Matt wonders after he paid his $85 dollar surcharge.   

"They got ya..." he shakes his head.   







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