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Legislators aren’t the only ones who can dream up fees

RALEIGH — The $19 billion state spending plan rolled out by House Republicans last week contained a little surprise: nearly $100 million in fee increases.

The higher fees probably shouldn’t have been unexpected. State budgets often contain fee increases, even in years when taxes remain the same or decrease.

In this case, the bulk of the fee hikes would raise various court costs, including higher fees to file civil court actions and for those dreaded traffic infractions.

Politicians can justify the increases because they are often designed to match a specific service to a specific cost.

Nevertheless, House Democrats jumped at the opportunity that the higher fees afforded. They accused their Republican colleagues of disproportionately aiming the increases at the middle class and working poor.

Maybe they’re right. So to settle any imbalance, I’ve come up with a few ideas for fees myself. Republicans might even like a few of the ideas.

  • A $100 fee to file a bill in the legislature. During the previous two-year session of the legislature, legislators filed 3,447 bills, so that $100 fee would have raised $344,700.

Of course, if it cost $100 to file a bill, legislators would probably be a lot more judicious with their notions about creating new state laws. The numbers might dropped substantially, meaning that legislators would complete their business quicker, get out of town sooner and taxpayers would still save money.

  • A $10,000 fee for the governor to issue a veto. This fee would be a big hit with Republicans right about now. With five vetoes already issued this year, Gov. Beverly Perdue would have already wiped out most of her annual salary.
  • A $5 fee each time someone utters or writes the phrase “terminal groin.” It’s too bad that whoever dreamed up this bureaucratic euphemism for jetties can’t be sent off to work for the old Soviet newspaper Pravda. (That’s the Russian word for “truth,” by the way.)

Over the past year, the phrase has become the punch line for jokes circulating around the Legislative Building. I’ll go ahead and offer up my $5 for using the term at the start of this paragraph, so long as people stop making the claim that it’s not really just mindless government jargon.

  • A $100,000 fee to become the official state festival for this flower, that fruit or vegetable or this or that fish. Why not force local communities to pay the state if it’s become so important to have an official state designation for their annual spring festival?
  • A $100,000 fee each time a company takes incentives from the state, pledges to create a certain number of jobs and later leaves the state without creating the promised jobs.

Sure, the state has claw-back provisions that allow it to get back most of the incentives invested in these companies. But after those ribbon-cuttings and glowing headlines, shouldn’t there be an extra penalty for failure to deliver on the jobs?

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