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Court funding legislation on its way to Whitmer

Muskegon Circuit Court
Muskegon County
Muskegon Circuit Court

Legislation that could lead to an overhaul of how Michigan courts are funded is on its way to Governor Gretchen Whitmer for her signature. It is supposed to move toward a system that relies less on fines and fees and instead promotes more equitable funding between courts.

The legislation, adopted along party lines, requires the State Court Administrative Office to collect information and compile a report to help develop a new funding system. It could be a step toward taking all fines and fees and putting them into a single pot to help fund courts across the state. Republicans all voted no, with some saying the current system of local funding for courts isn’t broken.

“I guess I push back a little from some of the underlying conversations that are coming from the Dem side, which is that Michigan courts are unfair for some, fair for some because I just haven’t seen that from the judges and talking to the people that are upholding the law,” said Rep. Graham Filler (R-Duplain Twp.), an attorney who is the top Republican on the House Criminal Justice Committee.

Rep. Kelly Breen (D-Novi) says Michigan needs a single-stream court funding system.
Rick Pluta
Michigan Public Radio Network
Rep. Kelly Breen (D-Novi) says Michigan needs a single-stream court funding system.

Representative Kelly Breen (D-Novi) is a bill sponsor and chairs the House Judiciary Committee. She said there is an often-unfair mismatch between what communities generate from fines and fees and what they spend on courts.

“Their revenues far exceed their expenditures, meaning they are generating profit off of speeding tickets – that makes up a huge chunk of the funding. That’s not a good look,” she said. “We have other communities that are upside down. They are bleeding. They have expenditures that far exceed revenues.”

The Michigan Supreme Court has also called for improving how courts are funded.

State Court Administrator Thomas Boyd told Michigan Public Radio local courts rely too much on fines and fees to fund their budgets. He said that creates an incentive for authorities to impose those penalties.

“That is the potential corrupting influence we’re trying to eliminate,” he said. “A court that brings in a ton of money of money from the people who drive around its city streets does not make it a good court. It doesn’t make it a safe community.”

The Legislature faces a deadline of late 2026 to come up with a revamped court funding system.

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.