How 'Small Government' Conservatives Raise Your Taxes Through Stealthy Back-Door Fees
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Here's a simple fact the Right would like you to ignore: cutting public spending doesn't lead to fewer dollars being “taken out of your pocket” for the services government provides; it merely shifts those costs around, and often increases them.
When conservatives say, “I'm for lower taxes and fiscal responsibility,” what they really mean is that they favor cutting top marginal tax rates – those paid by a relatively wealthy few – capital gains taxes on investments, inheritance taxes and taxes on corporations. And to make up for those revenue losses, they are happy to run higher deficits and very quick to raise taxes on the rest of us.
At the federal level, they can and do finance some of the tax cuts they hand out to their patrons through deficit spending. That's why Ronald Reagan increased the national debt by almost 14 percent per year, both Bushes upped it by around 10 percent annually and yet under Bill Clinton it increased by just 4.2 percent per year.
But the states – and local communities – can't run deficits. Whether dealing with a massive drop in tax revenues as a result of a recession, or gaps they created by pandering to voters with endless tax cuts, they have three ways to go. They can: a) cut services, which is politically unpopular and also can lead to situations such as in Texas, most of which is on fire after it slashed firefighting budgets; b) make up the gap with federal funds, as so many conservative governors who rail about federal spending are happy to do; or c) hike the fees their citizens pay for government services – fees for everything from motor vehicle registration to hunting licenses and user fees for recreational areas.
This last option has proven appeal with conservative politicians because they can say, with only technical accuracy, that they didn't raise your taxes. Across the country, state and local governments are squeezing ordinary people for every penny they can lay their hands on, and the burden these fee increases can put on ordinary families is often significant. Make no mistake: these fees are completely regressive -- it costs a billionaire the same amount to renew his or her driver's license as it does a pauper.
There isn't much in the way of 50-state data on fees for services. But whether you know it or not, significant fee hikes are nickle and dime-ing you pretty much wherever you might live. USA Today reported that, across the country, “state and local governments are turning to user fees to raise quick cash — from increases on hunting licenses to fees for enrolling in the Little League. One town is considering charging accident victims who need to be extricated from their cars.”
Consider a few examples of how we're being gouged, day in and day out, in order to keep our “taxes low,” at least on paper.
In May, the Wall Street Journal reported that “public schools across the country... are shifting costs to students and their parents by imposing or boosting fees for everything from enrolling in honors English to riding the bus.”
Though public schools have long charged for extras such as driver's education and field trips, many are now asking parents to pay for supplies needed to take core classes—from biology-lab safety goggles to algebra workbooks to the printer ink used to run off grammar exercises in language arts. In some schools, each class comes with a price tag, to be paid at registration. Some schools offer installment plans for payment. Others accept credit cards—for a processing fee.