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NYS Exposed: Why is the mandatory surcharge so high for tickets?

February 23, 2017 11:44 PM

If you've paid a traffic ticket recently, you were probably astounded by what it cost you.

Why so much? It's probably the mandatory surcharge. Often the surcharge is more than the fine.

Why and where does the money go? We took a closer look in our New York State Exposed report.

"If you get a charge, they're going to put money on it," says Codi Goungo. "I know how that works. I don't like it; nobody obviously likes being taxed for a crime."

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Goungo walked out of Greece Town Court with $100 less in his wallet. He got a ticket for failing to signal 100 feet before his left turn. The fine: $37, the surcharge, a whopping $63.

"I mean being hit with a surcharge on top of a fine -- it's a two hit," said Goungo.

Goungo wasn't alone; everyone who pled guilty to a traffic violation in Greece Town Court paid a fine and a surcharge -- no exceptions.

Last year, the Greece Town Justice Court took in $1.5 million from vehicle and traffic violations, as well as other criminal offenses. How much came back to Greece? Less than a third: $400,000.

Most of that money came from surcharges -- and almost all of that money goes to New York State. If you plead guilty to a traffic violation, you will pay a surcharge: it's the law. $93 for moving violations, $63 for equipment violations and a $25 mandatory surcharge for all parking tickets. In most cases, surcharges are higher than the fines and judges don't have a say.

"There's a range of discretion that I have to impose the fine," says Greece Town Justice Gino Nitti. "It can be anywhere from 0 to a few hundred dollars depending on the infraction. The surcharge is mandated by state regulation actually...state law and has to be imposed."

Judge Nitti has been on the bench for 12 years. While he's seen the surcharges nearly double, he says judges don't decide the amount of the surgharges.

"There's no leeway -- you're mandated to impose the surcharge," says Nitti. "You have to do it."

And there is no skirting that. The state comptroller requires courts report their revenue monthly. So where does the $93 go? $5 goes to crime victim's assistance, $5 goes to the village or town court and the remaining $83? It goes in New York state's general fund and if you're ticketed on a state road – the state gets all of the money.

Lynette Adams: "I can't help but say it sounds like a money grab from the state."

Judge Nitti: "I suppose that's a possible interpretation of it. In my role I don't make the laws; I don't legislate them, I'm not a legislator or executive obviously. My job is to read it and apply it in the appropriate circumstances."

Traffic surcharges were last raised in 2013. In fact, in the last ten years, the amount New York State collects in surcharges has nearly doubled. What used to cost you $55 is now up to $93.

We reached out to the governor's office, but after passing my request off, the DMV provided no response to why the governor pushed for the increases in 2012. A spokesperson for the Department of Motor Vehicles says these surcharges help prevent repeated risky driving behaviors.

However, a source with the DMV called them simply a "revenue raising measure."

Robert Napier, Attorney: "It's just another sin tax that's easy pickings for the state really taking advantage on a cross the board bases often people who can't afford it and it's really unfortunate."

Robert Napier has been practicing law for 32 years and handles a number of traffic cases. He says there's nothing you can do about the surcharges and that's just what Jessica Bell learned when she answered a speeding ticket.

Jessica Bell, Greece Resident: "I feel like I'm overpaying but this is my first time doing something like this. I never got a ticket or had to go to court for this. I feel like this is the way things are, but maybe they shouldn't be like that."

Credits

Lynette Adams

Copyright 2017 - WHEC-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company

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