In campaign season, incumbent legislators often boast how they have held the line on taxes. Some even hold out examples how taxes have been reduced.
These things are true, but they do not paint a complete picture of the state revenue stream. While cuts have occurred in recent years such as reducing the sales tax on food revenues from fees have grown faster than all other state revenue sources. Over the past decade, fees charged by state departments have grown by 148 percent on average. Another concern is some departments of state government appear to be generating revenues that far exceed their operating budgets.
Part of the problem is that lawmakers and agency directors are not following established procedures. Legislators are not closely examining fee changes they approve. Some agency officials send proposed fee hikes to legislators for their approval when, under law, lawmakers do not set those fees. Instead of conducting public hearings about fee changes, some department heads consider airing these issues during legislative budget hearings as meeting the state public hearing requirements.
Both lawmakers and agency heads need to shore up proper procedures. Lawmakers need to ask pointed questions about any fee increases, particularly as it appears that some departments are making money on fees. State agency officials conduct public hearings on fee changes. The public deserves to know why agencies need to increase licensing or camping fees and be informed how increased revenues will be spent.
At a minimum, legislators need to ensure that state fees that are supposed to be brought to the Legislature for consideration in fact are.
Although fees generate only 2.5 percent of all state revenues, they are growing faster than any other revenue source. That should be a red flag for state lawmakers. Fees are supposed to cover the costs of services a purchaser wants, such as a fishing license, or that are required, such as a professional license. Fees were not intended to be profit generators. Lawmakers and agency directors need to ensure fee increases are justified and that proper procedures are followed when fees are changed.