Higher fees replace tax increases in state budget

Last December when the governor unveiled her state operating budget proposal, she asked the Legislature to refrain from tax increases. “Now is not the time to be raising taxes on our residents and businesses,” she said.

House Republicans were glad to hear that statement, but skeptical that the majority party could finish the legislative session without asking citizens for more money. Unfortunately, we were right.

When the Legislature adjourned April 26, press releases issued by the majority party touted passage of a “no-new-taxes” budget. However, those press releases failed to say that Washington’s citizens will be paying $435 million more to the government in new and higher fees.

Here’s a sampling of fees I opposed:

House Bill 1413 authorizes an annual fee for domestic wastewater facility permits.

House Bill 1778 increases hunting and fishing license fees.

House Bill 2331 substantially increases the fee for document recording of judgments, liens, deeds, mortgages, property ownership and real estate transactions.

House Bill 2339 adds a $5 fee to vehicle license tabs for state parks, with an “opt-out” box if you don’t want to pay it.

House Bill 2358 substantially increases liquor license fees for establishments that serve alcoholic beverages.

House Bill 2362 increases court fees.

Senate Bill 5976 makes a temporary $1 per tire replacement fee permanent.

The same governor who said “now is not the time to be raising taxes” has approved nearly all these bills.

Republicans used an Initiative 960 provision to challenge whether several of these measures are a tax or a fee. The initiative requires tax increases to have two-thirds House and Senate approval. The requirement does not apply to fees.

What is the difference between a tax and a fee?  Here’s the Office of Financial Management’s definition:

“A tax is a required contribution to the support of government exacted by legislative authority, ordinarily without regard to receipt for particularized or special benefits. A fee is a charge, fixed by law, for the benefit of a service or to cover the cost of a regulatory program or the costs of administering a program for which the fee payer benefits.”

In a rare case, the House speaker ruled in favor of our challenge of House Bill 2029, which would have implemented a telephone tax. The measure died after failing to get two-thirds approval. However, all the other cases were ruled as fees, which allowed the majority party to skirt past Republican opposition and approve them by a simple majority.

Regardless whether you call it a tax or a fee, it still comes from the same place — taxpayers. And in this budget, taxpayers will be paying $435 million more at a time when they can least afford it. So really, it’s not a “no-new-taxes budget” at all.

The governor also said in December, “Our families are tightening their belts, and that’s what government needs to do.”

Now that you’ve read this, who do you think will have to tighten their belt more?

EDITOR’S NOTE: State Rep. Dan Kristiansen, R-Snohomish, represents the 39th Legislative District, and also serves as chairman of the Washington House Republican Caucus. He can be contacted at (360) 786-7967 or from his Web site at: houserepublicans.wa.gov/Kristiansen.

State Representative Dan Kristiansen, 39th Legislative District
426A Legislative Building | P.O. Box 40600 | Olympia, WA 98504-0600
(360) 786-7967 | Toll-free: (800) 562-6000