August 18, 2003

A Tax by Any Other Name.

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jim @ 10:37 pm

Suppose you are a state legislator or a governor, and you have to figure out a way to raise additional revenue to fuel the state government money furnace. Advocating an increase in the sales or income tax is political suicide, and you sure as hell don’t want to have to get a real job.

Have no fear, because there is a way to squeeze more money generate additional revenue from the chumps your constituents, without them even realizing that you’ve again picked their pockets.

All you need do is legislate a bunch of new fees or increase the existing ones.

A recent survey by the National Conference of State Legislatures found that 31 states this year have raised more than $2.7 billion in new revenue through higher or new fees. Last year, fees raised only $926 million; in 2001 it was $405 million.

Due to the unpopularity of tax increases and the ongoing budget shortfalls in most states, more and more emphasis has shifted to fees,” the report states.

Fees have not replaced taxes as a source of new revenue for cash-strapped states: The conference found states raised taxes a total of $6.9 billion this year. But this year’s total fee increases are expected to raise more money than income and corporate tax increases combined, according to the group.

Here are some of the ways the pols have devised to relieve you of your money without them having to “increase taxes.”

New Jersey raised $111 million from increasing numerous fees, including the fees that divorcees pay for documents filed in a divorce action. The state also raised the fees for real estate and brewery licenses, and it jacked up fees charged to billboard owners.

Florida also jumped on the fee bandwagon. The state increased the fines for traffic violations, increased the fees for hunting licenses for out-of-state residents, and it began charging people boarding cruise ships a surcharge of $100.00. It also increased the fees for autopsies performed on cows. Cow autopsies?? Who knew??

Massachusetts is charging higher fees to skating rinks, while North Carolina has raised its fees for the Health Department’s processing of pap smears. Illinois has targeted drivers by instituting a surcharge of $1.50 on the purchase of tires.

Nevada made the most gutsy move by enacting a 10% surcharge on “live entertainment,” which includes the type of live entertainment provided by the state’s strip clubs and licensed brothels.

Higher fees often cause grumbling but rarely the sort of intense resentment that can lead to the defeat of candidates. That’s why they’ve become so popular among the nation’s governors. “It’s a lot easier to double the driver’s license fee than to raise the sales tax,” said Mandy Rafool, a policy analyst with the conference.

The moral of the story is that the next time one of your state politicians tells you that he did not raise your taxes, make sure your bullshit meter is turned on and fully charged.

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