SADOW: The Leges’ Shocking About-Face On Fee Increases

It’s funny what a difference of a few years and a billion or so dollars makes when it comes to legislator attitudes about fee increases related to vehicle operation.

Currently, two bills, HB 445 and HB 833, after being approved in the House had different Senate committees tack on the same major revenue increase based upon fees – a $50 hike for gaining a certificate of title and the same for a salvage title, which represent raises of 270 and 333 percent, respectively. Together, the fee changes are predicted to generate at least $59.8 million a year. Similarly, rumor has it HB 37 will experience the same treatment in the Senate where it could tack on $39.50 to the existing $32.25 Class E (individual) charge (and parishes may be permitted to charge as much as $3 extra), or at least 122 percent, which would add an estimated $18.8 million more.

The title fee hikes might reflect current, fluctuating budget necessities where state police have received around $60 million a year from the Transportation Trust Fund, a sore spot among some legislators as that money otherwise could go to infrastructure needs. Legislation to increase taxes going to roads has stalled, and jacking up these fees may represent a fallback position to retain money in the TTF while not dramatically decreasing funding to state police.

But the current quietude surrounding these moves resonates in marked contrast to five years ago, when state police said under state law they could boost the Class E fee $15 to account for hooking up to a national database. At the time, police head Mike Edmonson said this constituted an additional cost of a service that already the provision of exceeded its charges, drawing money from the general fund as a subsidy.

However, many lawmakers, particularly in the Senate, took a different view, if not calling the increase unconstitutional (it wasn’t) then saying it was unjustified, and proceeded to pass a law stripping it. Now, five years later, Senate committees see no problem tacking on a far higher increase to license issuance/renewals and throwing in the title fee hikes as well, with Edmondson using the same rationale to justify these.

Cries of five years past that doubted the Gov. Bobby Jindal Administration’s explanation that fees ought to match costs of service provision suddenly have been replaced by silence about this rationale. Times – and the level of desperation of legislators to pass a budget that presents numerous tax and fee hikes in as painless way as possible to voters in an election year – certainly have changed. There’s nothing like financial necessity to sweep away political posturing and to cancel out great remonstrations allegedly based on principle by politicians.



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