New ‘fees’ are taxes, too

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Poll most people, and they will agree that many “fees” charged by government agencies are just another way at taxing people for services.

Business license fees would be one example. Marriage license fees would be another. Testing fees for drivers licenses. License plate fees. The list could go on and on.

And yet, Gov. Robert Bentley, faced with a passage of a General Fund budget described as dire, a budget so grim that there is a possibility Medicaid will no longer fund kidney dialysis, refuses to consider new taxes while instructing his cabinet to look for new fees to implement. The proposed budget cuts funding to non-education state agencies an additional 20 percent next year.

Really? Does Bentley think we will laud him as a “no new tax” governor for balancing the state’s budgets with fees?

Unlike with taxes, residents could skip out on new fees if they are willing to do without the services to which they are attached. But those services aren’t optional for many.

So it makes no sense to us that Bentley has refused – as House Republicans did yesterday in debate over the General Fund – to hear Democrats’ pleas that they consider a cigarette tax to generate revenue. Surely, cigarettes are more optional than, say, car tags. And both common sense and data suggest that smokers are more likely to be health care consumers, ergo driving the costs of Medicaid up.

What we will forego in healthcare by refusing to evaluate our state’s tax system and make needed changes could literally mean death for some people.

House Ways and Means General Fund committee chairman Jim Barton, R-Mobile, who drafted the budget, said there is “no will” in the legislature for new funding.

We can’t help but wonder if Alabamians might find the will to compel legislators to act when their parents or grandparents are no longer eligible for Medicaid coverage of nursing home care; when their adult special needs children can no longer participate in adult day-care programs; when there is no space to house and care for the mentally ill.