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Tuesday, August 28, 2007
posted by Timotheus | 3:08 PM | permalink
There is some discussion of the fee hikes in MA while Romney was Governor and whether they are taxes or not. Fees, of course, are generally applied to activities that require some sort of citizen-state interaction. Whether one wants to call them fees or taxes is semantics to an extent because it depends on how one defines the terms.

I can think of two types of fees that don't seem that objectionable to me though. Some fees are associated with a service provided by the state. To charge a fee rather than simply give something away free is good policy in my book. In fact, I would prefer that the state charge as much as possible so that everyone else doesn't have to subsidize the service with higher taxes. So, if the state provides health services in a state run clinic, I would hope the fees charged would come as close to covering the costs of business as possible.

A second type of fee deals with licensing and other regulations. If the state is going to regulate something, it seems to me that the cost associated with the regulation should usually be passed along to the people who are subject to the regulation. So, if the state wants to have a requirement that fisherman get licenses, than it would be best for the fisherman to pay for the cost of issuing licenses. To the extent that a fee does not cover that cost and higher taxes are needed to issue licenses, I would support a higher fee.

I am not saying whether or not any particular industry should be regulated, but if voters and lawmakers are going to regulate, than they should apply the cost to the given activity. If they were to apply the cost to society at large and offer free licenses, for example, it would tend to warp the costs associated with doing business and I fear we would not value the regulation properly. I want regulations to be painful and the costs of them very clear so that people hopefully want less regulation.
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