Pawlenty Drops the F-Bomb
Does Gov. Tim Pawlenty have enough baling wire to hold the state budget together until he can run for national office? That's the slow-motion melodrama being played out at the Capitol this session.
Pawlenty's contorted efforts not to utter the word "tax" have become silly enough to be the premise for a Monty Python skit, were the whole thing not so injurious to the long-term health of the state. Roads gridlocked? Well, let's wait a year or so and then ask the people to vote on whether they want to siphon more than $4 billion out of the general fund. Revenues not keeping up with expenditures? Well, let's just pretend inflation doesn't exist.
In deference to the tender, Bush-like sensibilities of our fearful leader, we won't use the "T" word for the rest of this piece. There will, however, be plenty of F-bombs flying around. Here's a detailed--but still abridged--list of revenue enhancement measures (whew! almost said the "T" word!) either enacted, proposed, or endorsed by Tim Pawlenty, whom we call Governor Fee.
Not every new fee may hit close to home--but keep reading. It turns out that everyone from beekeepers to divorcées will be paying the price for Pawlenty's dishonest promise.
- In 2003, thousands of elderly and disabled nursing home residents with private insurance began paying an extra $2,029 a year, with no increase in the quality of their care. The rate increase will pay for a new state nursing home surcharge, which adds $49 million annually to the general fund.
- In 2001, the average cost of tuition and fees in the Minnesota State College and University system was $2,993 a year. Now tuition and fees for MNSCU students--who make up 62 percent of Minnesota's undergraduate population--is $4,025, an increase of 34 percent.
- With cutbacks in state subsidies, the monthly cost of childcare for a family of four earning $33,000 a year has risen from $122 to $210 in the past two years. For a family of four earning $37,700, the monthly expense leaped from $208 to $404. Meanwhile, licensing and other fees paid by childcare centers to state and local governments have tripled.
- Monthly "parental fees"--family expenses that supplement state aid for the care of a severely disabled child within the home--rose from $32 in 2003 to $202 last year for a family of four making $55,000 a year. Many beleaguered parents have been forced to place their child in a nursing home, regional treatment center, or "intermediate care facility." All three types of medical providers have been hit with surcharges or other fee increases in the past two years.
- Minnesotans enrolled in one of the three state-supported health care programs are forking over more than $30 million in increased co-payments and insurance premiums in 2004-05.
But those are the "other people"--the poor, young, elderly, disabled, unlucky--aren't they? Not so fast, my friend. Do you drive a boat? How about a car? In the land of make-believe budgets, you too are throwing more ducats into the governor's coffer.
- Like to fish? Like eating fish? How much? There are separate fees for commerical fish netting, fish buying, fish packing, and fish vending, and the first budget of the Pawlenty administration boosted every one. The fee doubled for frog dealers (to $220 per year), tripled for minnow dealers ($310), and nearly quadrupled for resident fishing guides.
- As for hunting, no matter what you're shooting at--deer, small game, waterfowl, pheasant--you're paying higher fees before you load.
- The fee you pay to enter a state park has escalated from $4 a day to $7 a day; the annual permit went from $20 to $25. And curling up in your sleeping bag will cost an extra $3 per night.
- Prefer looking at animals to shooting at them? Governor Pawlenty has a fee for you, too! His administration created a brand-new surcharge for taking a classroom of kids to the Minnesota Zoo.
- You could say that in Minnesota, nothing is certain but death and fees. Two years ago the state implemented a $61 dollar fee to screen newborns for disease. Getting married will now pluck another $10 out of your garter. And if it doesn't work out? The state will reap twice as much money from the fee increase for getting divorced. When the end comes, the news is no better. The fee for depositing and executing your will has quadrupled in the last two years.
- Gone are the days when the fire marshal would inspect public schools for free. The state is now looking to collect more than $550,000 dollars a year for the privilege. Of course there's also a new $55 fee for taking the fire marshal exam.
- Ever complain about how lawyers are always trying to get into your pockets? Now, the state has launched a preemptive grab. The fee for filing a case in appellate court doubled; it's now $500. For civil court, the state charge rose from $135 to $235. You need a big claim to go after a small claim in "T" court (almost said that word again), now that the fee has quadrupled to $100. General court administration fees--for subpoenas, judgment transcripts, trust reports--have all quadrupled.
- The state attempted to slap $5.2 million worth of co-payments on those in need of public defenders, but the Minnesota Supreme Court took that cop-show talk ("if you can't afford an attorney, one will be provided for you") seriously. They ruled it unconstitutional.
- The state surcharge on traffic tickets soared from $35 to $60 two years ago. Pawlenty's latest budget wants to bump that up another sawbuck to $70. The surcharge on parking tickets has risen $3, netting the state an extra $2 million a year.
- But what if you're a cautious driver and a scrupulous parker? Fees for transferring the title of your car, getting license plates, and having your license reinstated after a DUI suspension have all increased--some by as much as $50.
- Bus fares are up even as routes have been cut. But cheer up. There is no fee for walking--yet.
- When Pawlenty took over, he raised fees on swimming-pool inspections and hearing instrument certifications, on the installation of potable water piping, the licensing of food handlers, the inspection of seeds, and the re-inspection of food handlers. And he created new fees for inspecting hotels and motels and reviewing plumbing plans.
- So that absolutely no one feels left out, Pawlenty's latest budget proposes additional state fees on beekeepers and cross-country skiers.
- The state's monthly fee on 911 service (paid through your phone bill) is more voluable than the NASDAQ. Two years ago, the state fee on each 911 call climbed from 33 to 40 cents. Now Pawlenty's budget proposes to raise that charge to 65 cents for 2006, then back it down to 50 cents the next year.
At the end of the day, even with all the new levies on frog breeders and swimming-pool inspectors, on people being born and people dying, the Minnesota budget has a gaping $1.1 billion hole in it. And so the governor has proposed the granddaddy of all fees: a cool $200 million. This fee, it turns out, is for the "good" of the payers--three northern Indian tribes. As Pawlenty continually notes, they don't have the same resources as other tribes in the state, and that's unfair.
To rectify this injustice, we'll allow them to be partners with us in a metro casino venture, as long as they take on the cost of buying the land and constructing the facility. And, before anything, they'll need to pony up a $200,000,000 fee for the state's coffers.
When it comes to doing right by our impoverished Native American brethren, we are standing on principal. With interest.
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