Four of These Fees, Doing The Same Thing; One of These Fees, Doing Its Own Thing
To be honest, I’m reluctant to delve too deeply into the governor’s proposed budget for next year; it’s not as if the General Assembly is likely to let much of it stand. Still, the Providence Journal’s report thereon strolls past an interesting lesson in government revenue:
Those with good driving records would have to pay more to get a violation dismissed. Instead of paying a $25 administrative fee, the driver would have to pay the full cost of the fine attached to the violation, a figure that averages $85, according to a court spokesman.
Telephone customers would pay 7 cents more, instead of the current 26 cents, to help pay for Internet service in schools and libraries. Released prisoners on probation would pay $20 monthly, a $5 bump toward the cost of keeping them under watch.
For the elderly, there would be a new $2 per trip fee for state-provided rides to the doctor, a meal site or what is commonly called “elderly daycare.” Last year alone, the Department of Elderly Affair paid for more than 22,000 such trips.
The elderly also face increases in co-pays for home care and daycare. The minimum $3-an-hour co-pay for home care would go up by $1.50, and the minimum $5.50-a-day co-pay for time spent at a daycare center would also rise by a minimum of $1.50. Those with higher incomes would pay between $2 and $2.50 more.
These are sold as “fees,” thus allowing the governor to make the “no new taxes” pledge (which is so rife with dubious connotations), but taxpayers should take note of one of these fees that doesn’t seem to fit.
Drivers pay more for violations, which have administrative costs for the state (and have greater costs when they lead to accidents). The two fees targeting the elderly have to do with offsetting the cost of services that they, themselves, are using. And prisoners on probation pay a higher percentage of the cost of keeping an eye on them, which their own actions have persuaded the public is necessary.
The telephone fee, though, is a nearly arbitrary transfer of the costs of public services to people who use a vaguely related service, and almost all households are affected. That isn’t a fee; it’s a tax, albeit one tied to a designated expenditure.
Compared with the taxes that the General Assembly seems intent on including in its own budgetary actions, seven cents on the phone bill is barely a blip. But let’s be sufficiently honest to call it what it is.