Changes to Macks Creek Law Making Their Way Through Missouri Legislature
Since the events in Ferguson last year, there has been an increasing push from across the political spectrum to do something about the way some Missouri municipalities use fines and fees to fund city government. Reports show that 20 municipalities in Saint Louis County, mostly clustered in North County, collect more than 20 percent of their revenue from fines and fees. Eight collect more than 30 percent, in possible violation of the less than rigorously enforced Macks Creek Law.
Starting late last year, Missouri has finally started to see action to curtail the use of police forces as tax collectors. In August, the state launched an audit of four Saint Louis County municipalities, and in December the state attorney general sued 13 municipalities for failing to abide by Macks Creek Law.
Enforcement of the existing Macks Creek Law is long overdue, but now a new state bill (SB 5) greatly strengthens the law. The bill would, within two years, bring down the total amount of general revenue a city could receive from fines and fees to 10 percent, excluding smaller cities outside of populous counties like Saint Louis. The bill makes it clear that any amended traffic fines would count toward that percentage. Furthermore, fines collected on Missouri interstates in excess of 5 percent of general revenue would also not be able to be collected by municipalities. As for enforcement, the bill makes it clear that municipalities have to provide an annual addendum to the state auditor regarding its compliance with the measure. Failure to comply triggers a vote for municipal disincorporation.
Some local officials claim that this law hurts municipalities, since the fines protect public safety. This argument falls flat because revenue collected in excess of SB 5’s provisions is simply remitted to the state, which in turn gives that money to the school systems in the county of the municipality in question. If police in local cities need to fine people to protect health and safety, they can still do so. But SB 5 takes away the narrow financial interests of the city government.
SB 5 passed the Missouri Senate and has now reached the house.