Governor Jack Dalrymple Misleads On Fee Increases?

During his budget address earlier this month Governor Jack Dalrymple promised that the executive branch would not seek to take more revenue in the form of higher taxes or fees from North Dakotans. “Our budget neither bonds nor borrows, and it imposes no new taxes or fees,” Dalrymple said.

Those words make sense. Even with some concern over falling oil prices, North Dakota has strong revenue growth and substantial reserves. We can debate about what taxes or fees should be lowered and/or eliminated, but creating new revenues? I don’t think there’s going to be a lot of appetite from taxpayers for that sort of thing, which is no doubt why Dalrymple said those words.

Yet, in nine pieces of legislation (possibly eleven, depending on how you see the matter) each introduced at the request of the executive branch, there are requests for fee increases and expansions.

I suppose Dalrymple can claim that he only said there would be no new fees, leaving some wiggle room for increases to existing fees, but still. These bills seem to violate the spirit, if not the letter, of Darlymple’s promise on fee increases.

To my mind, fee dollars you weren’t paying before represent a new fee regardless if they’re an entirely new fee or just an expansion of an old one.

Here are the specifics, not including legislation originating from legislators. I’m not judging these bills one way or the other, just pointing out that them seem to run contrary to Dalrymple’s words.

  • SB2111: Increase motor vehicle entrance fee for state parks from $25 to $35, requested by Parks and Recreation Department
  • SB2109: Increases some registration fees for aircraft, also allows Aeronautics Commission to increase fees at rate of inflation, requested by the Aeronautics Commission
  • SB2139: Expands licensing and titling requirements to snowmobiles (treats them like motorcycles), requested by Parks and Recreation Department
  • SB2114: Requires payment of sales/use tax to register a snowmobile (would apply to snowmobiles bought out of state but licensed here)
  • SB2097: Requested by Board of Cosmetology, allows board to impose new fee for applications received after December 31st
  • SB2086: Expands licensing requirements and fees to outsourcing facilities and third-party logistics providers who handle drugs in the state, requested by Board of Pharmacy
  • SB2085: Requested by Board of Massage, applicants for massage license can be charged for a background check
  • SB2067: Requested by Board of Podiatric Medicine, doubles maximum licensing fee from $500 to $1000
  • HB1101: Requested by the Department of Financial Institutions, increases application fee for collection agencies from $300 to $400

There are two more bills increasing fees which were introduced by the Public Service Commission. While the PSC is a part of the executive branch, the commissioners are also elected on their own right, so I’m not sure to what extent we can hold Governor Dalrymple responsible for these changes. Still, Dalrymple is the head of the executive branch of which the PSC is a part.

  • SB2123: Creates fee of up to $175,000 for application by utilities for certificate of public convenience and necessity
  • SB2120: Increases fee from $5,000 to $25,000 for energy conversion and transmission siting application fee

Again, I’m not necessarily judging the efficacy of this legislation. And, I’d add that I tend to like fees a lot better than I like tax since fees tend to be narrowly focused on users (for instance, those who use state parks pay fees to access them).

Still, if you’re going to claim “no new fees,” that doesn’t exactly jibe with a bunch of bills that create or expand fees.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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