NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


April 14, 2009

Cities around the country are starting to charge an "accident response fee" every time emergency personnel are called to a scene of a car accident.  Such cash-per-crash ordinances tend to infuriate motorists and generate bad press, but cities are finding them hard to resist.  With the economy flailing, state and local governments are being creative about ways to raise money, says the New York Times.

The go-to idea is to invent a fee -- or simply raise one:

  • Ohio's governor has proposed a budget with more than 150 new or increased fees, including a fivefold increase in the cost to renew a livestock license, as well as larger sums to register a car, order a birth certificate or dump trash in a landfill.
  • Wisconsin's governor has proposed a charge on slaughterhouses that would be levied on the basis of each animal slaughtered.
  • Washington's mayor has proposed a "streetlight user fee" of $4.25 a month to cover the cost of operating and maintaining the city's streetlights.
  • New York City recently expanded its anti-idling law to include anyone parked near a school who leaves the engine running for more than a minute.
  • Florida has proposed raising medical visit co-payments for inmates in state prisons.
  • Hawaii's Honolulu Zoo could raise parking fees by 500 percent if a proposal is passed.

If these patterns hold true, the new wave of fees is just getting started.  However, groups like the Tax Foundation worry that governments are now using fees to shore up budget shortfalls rather than cover specific costs incurred by specific users, says the Times. 

But politicians tend to regard fees as more palatable than taxes, and more focused too.  If a state needs to finance an infrastructure to oversee fishing, why shouldn't fishermen foot the bill?

Source: David Segal, "Cities turn to fees to fill budget gaps," MSNBC/New York Times, April 11, 2009.


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