Many states, including Nevada, have faced budget shortfalls since the Great Recession began. But this one isn’t caused by a decline in tax revenue, but by a decline in traffic tickets, which provide the majority of funding to the state supreme court. “Now with all due respect to the citizens of Nevada, I don’t think anyone is driving better,” Hardesty told legislators. “I think the truth is we’re seeing less traffic violations because law enforcement’s priorities have changed and it has changed dramatically.”
According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, the state highway patrol shifted its focus towards more dangerous violations instead of trivial ones. As a result, the number of tickets issued declined by over 10 percent over the last two years. The Nevada legislature, which only sits part-time, drafts its budgets in two-year blocks. When their projected revenue estimates don’t match what the state collects in that two-year span, shortfalls occur. The state supreme court now faces two of them: first, a $700,000 gap in its current budget that will leave the court broke on May Day, and second, a $1.4 million shortfall in its next biennial budget.
Nevada isn’t the only state where ticketing enforcement is in the headlines. A blockbuster Department of Justice report released last month found that the Missouri municipality funded itself by harassing and fining its residents for trivial offenses. Statistics from nearby municipalities suggest the problem isn’t limited to Ferguson, and may even be worse elsewhere in Missouri. If Ferguson illustrated the pitfalls of turning law enforcement into a collection agency, then Nevada shows the bind facing states as they try to extricate themselves from relying on tickets and fines for revenue.