Many people who receive traffic tickets call and ask what the “surcharge” box on the ticket means. Some suspect it has to do with the officer’s evaluation of the driver’s demeanor and helpfulness during the stop, a “jerk tax” if you will. Others think the excess charge is how municipalities make money off of traffic enforcement.
In actuality, the surcharge is Pennsylvania’s way of generating revenue outside of tax increases. The Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts has provided this helpful chart to show exactly where the money goes. You’ll notice that the surcharge does not return to the municipality where the infraction occurred. When the chart was made all of the surcharge proceeds went to the state general fund. Now, most of the proceeds go to the Transportation Trust Fund. 75 Pa.C.S. sec. 6506(b)(1)(ii).
The municipalities get a portion of the fine, not the surcharge. As this article from York County shows though, not all police departments are enthused about acting as tax collectors. And some believe the increased surcharges will cost local police departments more money than they currently spend on traffic enforcement because more people will want to contest their tickets. So officers will have to attend more hearings, which means more overtime costs.
Surcharges for traffic violations add an extra $45 to $450 dollars on each ticket, meaning that in most cases, the surcharge is greater than the fine itself.