Enforcing Macks Creek Law: Progress in Saint Louis County
Last month, Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster sued 13 cities in Saint Louis County for violating Macks Creek Law, which caps the portion of a city’s general revenue that can be derived from traffic fines to 30 percent. This action, along with a separate state audit of the municipal courts in Bella Villa, Saint Ann, Pine Lawn, and Ferguson, is a positive step toward more active enforcement of state law in Missouri.
Of the cities named in the lawsuit, only four (Bellerive Acres, Moline Acres, Normandy, and Vinita Terrace) were sued for actually exceeding the 30 percent cap. The other cities have been cited for failing to meet reporting requirements or using improper methods of recording fees as a percentage of revenue. For example, one city divided the fines it received in six months by total revenue for the entire year, in what appears a very ham-fisted attempt to show compliance with the law. The chart below, with data from Better Together, shows the portion of revenue from fines that each city named in the lawsuit collects.
This lawsuit may be a step in the right direction, but it is only one step. As we pointed out in a previous blog post, there are at least five other cities not listed in this lawsuit that have more than 30 percent of their revenue coming from fines and fees. Among these are Calverton Park and Bella Villa, which collect more than 50 percent of their revenue from fines. These municipalities may be within the law, but state confirmation of this seems prudent.
Furthermore, many cities in Saint Louis County, while perhaps not in violation of the law, are still collecting very large portions of their revenue through fines. Twelve municipalities, mostly in North Saint Louis County, collect between 20 and 30 percent of their revenue from fines. In most municipalities, this percentage is less than 15 percent. The state could lower the cap on fines in the Macks Creek Law to further protect state residents from law enforcement acting as tax collectors.
But as the current situation demonstrates, it matters little if fines are capped at 30 percent, 25 percent, or 15 percent of general revenue if the state does not enforce existing law. The state clearly has not done this in the past, and without the tragic events in North Saint Louis County and subsequent scrutiny of city policing tactics, who knows how long it would have taken for Macks Creek Law to be enforced? The state could benefit from a more systematic, not crisis driven, approach to statutory oversight.