[Letter to the Editor (LttE)]
The Fee Bill is one of several annual bills acted on by the legislature. It comes to the House every year from the governor’s office, no matter who is governor. Individual fees have to be looked at every three years on a cycle, but the Fee Bill itself is an annual bill.
Regular readers will remember that I have served on the House Ways and Means Committee twelve of the fourteen years I’ve been in the legislature and currently am Vice Chair.
When the Fee Bill arrives from the governor’s office early in the session, the Ways and Means committee consults with the other committees who know about the topics involved, like agriculture, commerce, health etc. This helps to determine if the fee changes make sense and will serve Vermonters in the way intended. Then W&M sets a fee that is reasonable. The requests for change always include fee increases, fee decreases, and elimination of fees and creation of brand new fees.
This year the committee threw out several requests for changes and redesigned others so when the fees left our committee they raised less in revenue than when the bill first arrived.
It is often difficult to understand if a charge is a fee or a tax. Both of them take money out of our pockets! Fees are not taxes and taxes are not fees. There is a difference between them and it is based on who is paying for the cost and where the money will go. Users pay for the fees incurred by government to regulate those specific products and services. All citizens pay taxes to support the work of government through the general fund. Fees collected go into special funds to be used only for the purpose they were originally set up to pay. Taxes go into the general fund.
A person can get out of paying a fee but cannot get out of paying a tax. A tax pays for the cost of things government must do for its citizens’ safety like build roads, provide prisons and a state police force. Fees pay for the cost of particular things citizens request like a service or product.
For example some people want to use pesticides. The state charges a fee on pesticides according to their toxicity, because they are so dangerous if misused. The people who buy pesticides have to pay the fee. People who do not buy pesticides get out of paying the fee. The money collected from these fees is used to run tests to make sure the toxicity does not exceed the label, to make sure the label is correct and to determine if the containers or unused portions of chemical are disposed properly.
If the state did not charge a fee, then the cost of overseeing the safety of pesticides would have to come out of the general fund and be paid for by everyone whether they use pesticides or not. With the use of fees, those who do not want to buy the pesticides do not have to pay for providing the oversight.
Fees are a way to keep taxes down because they limit the cost to only those who use the product or service. I have always felt fees are fairer than taxes and are a way to keep taxes lower than they would be otherwise. I vote for fees that are fair, justified by actual need and related to real cost incurred by the state. This keeps the costs they cover from being paid for by those who do not want to use the product.
I want to hear from you. Let me know what you are thinking about this issue. Contact Me!
Rep. Carolyn Branagan
Vermont House of Representatives