Ga. lawmakers consider raising outdated fees

 

 

ATLANTA  - Georgia lawmakers are considering raising more than 100 fees on everything from licensing gun dealers to permitting billboards.

Some of the fees have remained the same since the 1950s and 1960s.

As legislative leaders struggle to balance the budget, they are reviewing hundreds of old state fees to determine if they should be raised. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that the goal of lawmakers is to raise $100 million more in revenue.

That could mean higher fees for Georgians to renew their professional licenses, to borrow money for a home or to hunt on a private preserve.

"Obviously we're trying to find dollars," Senate Appropriations Vice Chairman Greg Goggans, R-Douglas told the newspaper. "We are trying to find fees that need to be brought up ... but there is nothing we are (considering) raising that will bring in more than it costs to provide a service."

Republican leaders a few months ago swore off tax or fee increases. But they have been softening their position in recent weeks as the extent of the state's fiscal problems has become more evident. They are considering new spending cuts that could reach $1 billion. They also have discussed proposals to increase cigarette taxes and tax hospitals, although neither has so far garnered much support.

A budget task force put together by Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and Senate leaders may recommend the fee increases this week. Goggans said legislative leaders are expected to consider legislation to raise some fees once they finish evaluating them.

In 2006, before the current budget crisis, the state Department of Audits found user fees were not administered consistently, were often outdated, and sometimes had no bearing on the cost of the services they were intended to fund.

A follow-up audit, released last year found that little had changed.

Auditors looked at four agencies: Agriculture, Banking, Human Resources and Natural Resources and found they were collecting $174 million from 347 user fees in the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2005. About 50 of those fees were set more than 20 years ago. Nearly half were more than 10 years old. Six had not been evaluated in more than 50 years.

One of the oldest fees being considered by lawmakers was set in 1955 and assessed counties four cents per forested acre for fire protection.

"In 1955, four cents was a lot of money. You could get a piece of bubble gum for that," said Dan Gary, director of administration at the State Forestry Commission.

The fee passed on to property owners across the state makes little difference in their tax bills, and the state raised less than $900,000 from it last year. The agency spent about $33 million on forestry protection last year.

One fee that's nearly as old, dating back to 1963, is the $25 the state charges to license firearms dealers. John Thomas, lobbyist for GeorgiaCarry.org and former longtime lobbyist for the National Rifle Association, said there was talk of raising the fee during the fiscal crisis of 2003-2004. But gun advocates fought it off.

The last time many fees were changed was in the early 1990s, when Gov. Zell Miller and lawmakers proposed increases to deal with yet another financial mess.

The fee increases brought in about an extra $200 million a year at the time. Miller caught the most grief for increasing driver's licenses and hunting and fishing licenses.

Yet another fee that hasn't changed since the early 1990s: late fees paid by politicians and candidates who are late filing campaign disclosure reports. The fee for being 15 days or more late filing reports has been $75 since 1993. The Ethics Commission said the state raised $90,000 from late fees last year. Legislation has been filed this session to raise the fees.

 

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