LAO 2004-05 Budget Analysis: General Government

Analysis of the 2004-05 Budget Bill

Legislative Analyst's Office
February 2004

Local Government Financing (9210)

This budget item contains funding for six purposes:

Booking Fees


Faced with a $3.6 billion shortfall in the 1990-91 state budget, the Legislature and Governor enacted measures that significantly reduced state support for county and joint state-county programs. To mitigate a portion of the impact of these budget cuts, the Legislature enacted Chapter 466, Statutes of 1990 (SB 2556, Maddy), authorizing counties to raise revenues locally from three sources:

Legislative materials regarding Chapter 446 suggest the Legislature intended booking fees to serve purposes beyond simple county fiscal relief. Specifically, booking fees would provide a disincentive to local agencies booking low-level offenders into county jail. This, in turn, would reduce the pressure on severely overcrowded county detention facilities and preserve county jail space for more serious offenders. Booking fees also would give cities an incentive to develop alternatives for nonviolent, less serious offenders.

Currently, most counties impose booking fees. The fee rate is determined locally, based on a county's annual costs for jail booking services and the number of bookings. In most cases, the fee is in the range of $100 to $200 per arrestee. The total amount of fees imposed statewide is unknown, but may be in the range of $40 million annually.

Booking Fee Relief. Seeking to offset local government costs associated with booking fees, but not alter the fiscal disincentives local agencies face regarding booking arrestees into county jails, the Legislature enacted a booking fee relief program with a fixed allocation formula. Under Chapter 79, Statutes of 1999 (AB 1662, Leonard)—as amended by Chapter 1075, Statutes of 2000 (SB 225, Rainey), and Chapter 1076, Statutes of 2000 (AB 2219, Battin)—the state provides a $38.2 million continuous appropriation to annually reimburse local agencies for booking fees paid in 1997. That is, every year the state reimburses local agencies for booking fees paid in 1997; the reimbursement amount does not vary to reflect changes in the booking fee rate or the number of people booked into county jail.


The administration proposes to eliminate the $38.2 million continuous appropriation for booking fee relief provided under Chapter 79, as well as county authority to impose booking fees under Chapter 466. The administration indicates that it will support passage of AB 1749, Committee on Budget (legislation considered, but not enacted, as part of the 2003-04 budget package), as the means to accomplish its proposal.


The administration's proposal would reduce state costs by $38.2 million. The direct fiscal effects on local governments, in turn, would vary by agency. Local agencies that pay booking fees (principally cities) would realize net savings to the extent that their future booking fee liabilities would have exceeded their booking fee relief payment. Counties, in contrast, would experience direct revenue losses equal to the amount of booking fees that they would have charged local agencies, probably about $40 million annually.

Of greater concern than the direct fiscal effects of this proposal, however, is the effect it would have on local agency fiscal incentives to minimize unnecessary bookings at county jails. Since creation of the booking fee, cities and other local agencies have taken steps to minimize their booking fee costs, including (1) creating programs such as "sobering centers" to treat people detained for public drunkenness and (2) expanding city jails. Because city jails typically house nonviolent detainees for short periods of time, they cost much less to operate than county jails. Since creation of the booking fee, the California Board of Corrections indicates that city jail space capacity has increased considerably and bookings at city jails now exceeds 400,000 arrestees annually. By eliminating the fiscal incentive to operate these city jails and alternative programs, local agencies may discontinue them and book their arrestees into county jail. County detention costs would increase accordingly.


Because booking fees encourage local agencies to use county booking and detention services efficiently, we recommend the Legislature reject the administration's proposal to eliminate county authority to impose booking fees, but approve the administration's proposal to end the booking fee relief program.

County authority to impose booking fees gives local agencies incentives to use county booking and detention services wisely and efficiently. Eliminating this incentive likely would result in significant increases to county costs, without any identifiable gain to public safety. Accordingly, we recommend the Legislature maintain county authority to impose booking fees.

In terms of cities, special districts, and other local agencies, we think it is appropriate that they pay for the jail booking-related costs their activities impose on counties. Such a payment requirement is analogous to many other financial arrangements among local governments, including the sharing of costs for property tax administration. In addition, we note that the $38.2 million booking fee relief program, as currently structured, allocates funding in a manner devoid of any policy rationale. We note, for example, that cities in Orange County continue to be reimbursed for their 1997 booking fee costs despite their county's decision several years ago to repeal its booking fee.

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