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12.01.2008 0

Of Grenades, Fees, and Government Overkill

  • On: 12/19/2008 10:45:51
  • In: Government Transparency
  • By Isaac MacMillen

    There are two types of hand grenades commonly in theaters of war around the world: timed-fuse fragmentation grenades and percussion grenades. Both are antipersonnel fragmentation devices—that is, they target individual enemy soldiers with shrapnel. The only real difference is the method of detonation: The timed fuse fragmentation grenade is fitted with a fuse, while the percussion grenade relies upon physical contact with the target. Only the most duplicitous of apologists would contend that the fragmentation grenade is less deadly because it might take longer.

    And yet, Democrats in the California legislature are relying on similarly deceptive – and deadly — semantics by re-labeling the latest tax increase they’re trying to toss off in the taxpayer’s direction. Instead of raising taxes, they yammer, they are introducing “fees.” Sadly, its not the first time—or place—this terminological trickery has been used in an attempt to fool taxpayers. But more about that later.

    For years, California’s minority Republicans—led by Assembly minority leader Michael Villines—have taken advantage of the constitutional-mandate requiring a 2/3 majority to raise taxes. In doing so, they have successfully forced the majority Democrats to negotiate with them, keeping potential tax increases from passing the chamber.

    So, in a year when the politicians’ profligate spending has saddled the state with a $15 billion deficit, Democrats began looking for a way to outmaneuver Republicans and increase taxes—without having to abide by the constitutional supermajority rule. The answer: Introduce new, less explosive, “fees,” which can be passed by a simple majority — including a new 13.5 cent-per-gallon gasoline “fee.”

    Fees and taxes are “different,” salivating supporters claim. After all, a fee is used only for a specific governmental purpose, whereas revenue from a tax can be used for multiple reasons. Never mind that they both take money directly from the taxpayers’ pockets. Or that they both go directly into the grasping hands of greedy politicians.

    It certainly wouldn’t be the first time that a state has attempted to con taxpayers with user “fees.” Maryland Governor Robert Ehrlich, a Republican no less, was a past master at fleecing taxpayers with duplicitous fees. He enjoyed campaigning as “anti-tax.” But when it came to fees, he increased them in droves.

    A septic “fee,” higher license “fees,” highway tolls—the governor tried every trick in the book to increase the state’s revenue. Yes, that’s right, even including bilking Marylanders out of more money every time they flushed their toilets. Then when finally given a budget surplus, his true colors came forward, as he proposed a bigger budget (by $200 million) than the bipartisan legislative commission recommended. And thus, he continued the same reckless spending he decried when he inherited a deficit from his predecessor.

    Will Californians suffer the same “fee-verish” fate? California Assembly Republicans, on their budget website, recognize the failed policies that saddled California in its huge deficit: “higher taxes, more spending and no reform.” Indeed, as ALG News noted yesterday, spending cuts are key to balancing budgets. Yet under Governor Schwarzenegger and the Democrat majority, California’s spending has ballooned—by one third in the past 5 years. And their answer to this out-of-control government excess: Punish the taxpayers with usurious fees.

    If California Democrats think that they can continue their tax and spend—no, now make that “fee and spend”—policies, they will only continue to create deeper deficits and court economic disaster. California was once the world’s 6th largest economy. Now it is 8th,, largely due to former citizens fleeing the taxman. If it continues to embrace Big Government, it may one day find itself 195th. And whether its fiscal suicide is caused by “timed-fuse fragmentation fees” or “percussion taxes”—at that point, no one will much care. Instant death, or a delayed demise is at best a Hobson’s Choice.

    Isaac MacMillen is a contributing editor of ALG News Bureau.

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