Analysis of the 2006-07 Budget Bill
Legislative Analyst's Office
This budget item contains funding for three purposes:
Citizens' Option for Public Safety (COPS). The COPS program was created in 1996 to provide local governments with funds for law enforcement. The program was expanded in 2000-01 to include funding for the Juvenile Justice Crime Prevention Act. The 2006-07 budget provides $100 million for each component. This level of funding is the same as in 2005-06, after adjusting the 2005-06 funding level to reflect some one-time carryover funds.
Disaster Relief. This program provides funds ($1.6 million) to backfill property tax revenues lost by local governments due to specified natural disasters.
Booking Fees. The administration proposes $40 million to reestablish payments to local agencies paying jail booking fees to counties.
The Governor’s budget specifies that it will propose legislation to reform the booking fee program and create a $40 million continuous appropriation to offset fees that cities and special districts pay to counties when they book suspects into county jails. At the time this analysis was prepared, the Legislature did not have details regarding the administration’s proposal. This analysis provides background information regarding booking fee payments and outlines some issues for legislative consideration in reviewing the administration’s proposal.
Ever since the Legislature authorized counties to impose fees on public agencies that book their arrestees into county jails, these fees have been a source of friction between the state, counties, and cities. The Legislature’s original intent in creating this program in 1990-91 was to allow counties to recoup certain costs imposed on them by other local agencies (primarily cities), thereby offsetting state budgetary reductions associated with the 1990-91 Budget Act. The Legislature also intended for booking fees to provide a disincentive to local agencies booking low-level offenders into county jail, thus (1) reducing the pressure on overcrowded county detention facilities, (2) preserving county jail space for more serious offenders, and (3) giving cities an incentive to develop alternatives for nonviolent, less serious offenders.
Virtually every year beginning in 1999, the Legislature has considered proposals to offset the fiscal effect of the fees on local agencies or reduce county authority to impose fees. Most notably, Chapter 79, Statutes of 1999 (AB 1662, Leonard)-later amended by Chapter 1075, Statutes of 2000 (SB 225, Rainey), and Chapter 1076, Statutes of 2000 (AB 2219, Battin)-established a $38.2 million continuous appropriation to annually reimburse local agencies for booking fees paid in 1997. (That is, the state reimbursement amount did not vary to reflect changes in the booking fee rate or the number of people booked into county jail.)
In 2004, however, it appeared that city and county officials and the legislative leadership reached a resolution regarding this issue. Specifically, Chapter 227, Statutes of 2004 (SB 1102, Budget and Fiscal Review Committee): (1) eliminated state booking fee subventions after July 1, 2005, and (2) limited county booking fees charged to public agencies to no more than one-half of the actual costs. Thus, current law establishes a 50-50 sharing ratio between counties and public agencies regarding the cost of booking an arrestee into county jail. (Orange, Imperial, and Ventura Counties have chosen not to charge public agencies any booking fees and a number of other counties charge less than 50 percent of the cost.)
The Governor’s budget indicates an interest in “reforming” the booking fees program. Although the administration has not released its proposal, the budget indicates that the administration will propose legislation establishing a $40 million continuous appropriation to reimburse cities and special districts for booking fees paid to counties
While details regarding the administration’s proposal are not yet available, we recommend the Legislature consider these factors when reviewing the reform package:
Booking Fees Are a Tiny Portion of City Law Enforcement Costs. While booking fee charges vary, the magnitude of booking fees as a percent of city law enforcement expenditures is extremely low. In 2002-03 (the most recent available city financial data published by the State Controller’s Office), city expenditures for police services exceeded $6.8 billion. Total booking fees collected statewide are not known, but are not likely to represent more than one-half of 1 percent of total city law enforcement expenditures. Thus, although booking fees are a source of political friction between counties and cities, they do not represent a significant portion of city law enforcement budgets.
Booking Fees Rational From a Fiscal Perspective. Putting a price on jail bookings has some merit from a fiscal perspective. Before the Legislature authorized counties to impose these fees, cities could use as much of a county’s jail services as they wished without worrying about the costs they imposed on counties. In effect, county jails were a free good. Once cities had to pay these costs, county jail bookings by city police dropped. County authority to impose booking fees gave local agencies incentives to use county booking and detention services more efficiently.
Booking Fees Provide Incentive to Create Cost Effective Alternatives. Since creation of the booking fee, cities and other local agencies have expanded city jails and created programs such as “sobering centers” to treat people detained for public drunkenness. Because city jails typically house nonviolent detainees for short periods, they cost much less to operate than county jails.
Booking Fees Intended to Provide County Fiscal Relief. The original purpose of booking fees was to create a program whereby cities provided fiscal relief to counties to offset significant state budget reductions on counties. Should the Legislature wish to eliminate county authority to impose booking fees, it could carry out its original goal in other ways. For example, the Legislature could modify the allocation of the COPS program (funded under this item) to provide more revenues to counties and less to cities.