Tax Increases - It's Not Just Your State

Associated Press


An Associated Press analysis of budget work in all 50 states found many are trying to target their tax hikes or increase fees -- allowing politicians to make claims that they did not raise income taxes. But those states that have raised across-the-board taxes such as income, sales or property taxes will get more money.

States struggling to keep government running and balance their budgets are turning to higher taxes and fees to do the dirty work, potentially doubling the load of new taxes this year and erasing much of the savings from the high-flying 1990s.

Smokers, drinkers and gamblers are top targets. So are drivers and traffic offenders.

Businesses, too, small and large, are being forced to pay more as states confront billion-dollar gaps between the amount of money they gather and the amount they spend.

So far, of the 21 states with budgets signed into law for the fiscal year that begins in July for all but four states, Americans will pay $4.3 billion in new taxes and $2.3 billion in new fees.

Another $14 billion in proposed taxes and $2.4 billion in possible fees remain on the table in 29 states, including some of the most expensive proposals in states like California, Connecticut and Pennsylvania. In 10 of those states, legislatures have passed spending plans but governors have not yet signed them.

"Nobody ever likes any tax," said Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell. But he vowed during his campaign last year to tackle the state's tax system, which he says underfunds schools.

So he proposed a sweeping restructuring that would raise income taxes and cut property taxes. Rendell, a Democrat and former Philadelphia mayor, said the state would thrive with stronger education and business opportunities, while the wealthy would pay more and the middle-class slightly more. He braced for criticism.

"You have no choice. Any revenue-raising item, you're going to tick people off," he said. Pub owners complain about the tripling of the malt beverage tax. Cell phone users don't like higher bills. Said Rendell: "You try to be as fair as you can in spreading the tax burden."

Few will escape the pain, whether it is someone buying a new tire ($2.50 more in New York), hoping to hunt big game in Wyoming ($200 more for some licenses), or seeking care in a nursing home (a $6.50 daily fee per patient in Colorado, charged to nursing home owners).

The hikes are chipping away at the $35.7 billion in state taxes cut during the 1990s. Since the economy went sour, states raised $9.1 billion in new taxes; this year, more than twice that is possible now -- some $18.3 billion in new and proposed taxes.

While states scramble for money, the federal government is cutting taxes. What does that mean to the average American? Some will pay more to their state than they get back from Washington, others will come out ahead -- depending on where they live and their habits, like smoking, drinking or speeding.

At Congress' insistence, President Bush's federal tax law gives states $20 billion over the next two years. That could ease pressure for taxes and fees, though many policy-makers say the money will go mainly to putting off program cuts or into near-empty reserves.

Governors and legislators say they raised taxes and fees reluctantly -- because they saw few other choices. Budget problems were too severe to be solved by spending cuts alone.

Each choice is difficult, because it has immediate pocketbook consequences for workers, poor people and families. And each decision could bring political consequences, whether for governors living up to campaign promises or legislators worrying about elections.

Much work remains in 18 other states, where lawmakers also are looking at cuts in services -- usually, before they resort to taxes -- to fill in their state's financial hole. Governments will earmark some tax and fee hikes for a specific purpose, like fixing potholes, to try to preserve that service.

In the streets and corporate offices of the country, demands for more state money have upset taxpayers.

Allen Young, a security guard in midtown Manhattan who steps onto the sidewalk three or four times a day for a smoke, can't escape the rising cost of government. New York state raised its cigarette tax last year; New York City and Connecticut raised it this year; New Jersey is weighing higher cigarette taxes for next year.

"It's unfair," said Young. "They figure if we're still going to smoke our cigarettes, we'll pay any price for it."

So-called sin taxes on cigarettes, beer and gambling are the biggest targeted tax (meaning they're only aimed at one segment of the population). They're easy money with little risk: People like their vices, rarely speak up when they're taxed and the levies hit a relatively small group. Some $1.5 billion in sin taxes are being considered nationwide, with $455 million already passed into law.

Business taxes are also climbing. So far, the 21 states that have passed their spending plans hope to raise at least $329 million from new or higher taxes -- and from closing loopholes or ending tax exemptions -- on business. Another $1.2 billion is being debated.

Broad-based taxes -- income, sales and property taxes -- still bring in the most new revenue, simply because they tax nearly everyone. Even though they've only passed in six states so far, the first $3 of every $4 in increased taxes that's been approved has come from such taxes.

But broad-based taxes can also make a lot of people angry. In many states, fees are the choice.

Like officials in Florida and Colorado, Massachusetts' Republican Gov. Mitt Romney relied heavily on fees in his spending plan. One proposal would charge blind people $10 for a certificate of blindness so they could access state services.

"The injustice of it, of course, is that the wealthy have benefited greatly from tax cuts," said Bob Hachey, blind since birth and a member of the Bay State Council of the Blind. "And here they are trying to charge little fees on the poorer folks."

Florida turned to fees, too, with many lawmakers proud to avoid a tax increase. Some skeptics, however, said the state was just relying on borrowing and financial gimmicks to get by.

"The day of reckoning is coming," warned Republican state Sen. Tom Lee at Florida's end of session. "I have voted for my last budget in the state of Florida that's put together with Band-Aids and paperclips."

Understandably, the big states have the biggest impact -- New York's $2.6 billion in higher taxes and canceled tax breaks account for nearly half of the country's total new taxes, so far. California alone has proposed $7.5 billion in new and higher taxes.

Businesses in many states say they're being unfairly targeted, and warn the result will be a weaker economy.

MaryKaye Cashman already laid off 300 employees since falling gold prices damaged her heavy-equipment dealership in Nevada and California, with its dependence on mining. But new business taxes Nevada lawmakers are considering would hit her bottom line again.

"It's not a question of me laying off employees, it's a question of me not hiring additional employees," said the chief executive of Cashman Equipment.

Meanwhile, some people see nothing wrong with paying more.

Steeper fees for fishing licenses? "I think it's fair," said Prague, Okla., angler Aaron Fridrich. "The way I look at it, you're going to get back a lot more than what you pay for."

Weaker-than-expected revenues left states overall facing an estimated $80 billion deficit in the fiscal year that begins in July. Every state except Vermont is required to balance its budget, so the money gaps must be resolved -- either through a stronger economy, higher taxes and fees, cuts or borrowing.

In Montana, compromises between conservative and moderate Republicans left the state with a considerably higher cigarette tax and tens of millions of dollars in cuts.

"This is just like those rough years in a family's life, when you just have to pull in your belt," said Montana Gov. Judy Martz, a Republican. "It leaves out some. You can't just be there for everyone. It hurts."

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A glance at the tax and fee changes in place or proposed in each state:


Republican Gov. Bob Riley won legislative approval for the state's largest tax increase -- on cigarettes; car sales and leases; property and income, among others. Now voters must agree. "We are this close to putting a package together that can move this state forward for generations," Riley said last week.


Car registrations, business licenses, tires -- all will cost more, as state turned to fees to raise revenue. Much more money, however, was tapped by sending to the state budget oil revenue that used to go directly to Alaska's citizens.


University students will pay the state an estimated $82.1 million in higher tuition and fees, while lawmakers hope to give manufacturers a break on corporate income taxes. They also raised taxes on health plans that provide Medicaid services -- but promise to reimburse them later from federal money.


Marriage -- $13 more for the license. Birth certificates -- $4 more. Cigarettes -- 25 cents more a pack. Income taxes go up, and so does tuition at state-run colleges.


Negotiations -- and tension -- continue over soaring deficits and proposals for sweeping cuts and tax increases. "You want to rumble? I'm from the streets, let's rumble," Democratic Assembly Speaker Herb Wesson said, challenging Republicans as joint House-Senate discussions began.


Taxes were off the table. But fees go up for dozens of licenses, permits and penalties. That means higher costs for nurses' licenses, well permits and criminal court fees; also those who get public assistance or state social services will pay more.


An earlier budget agreement this year raised taxes on everyone's income, cigarettes and some sales. Continuing budget problems have left legislators and GOP Gov. John Rowland at odds, and the session has gone into overtime.


Democratic Gov. Ruth Ann Minner proposed a combination of higher business taxes and fees, along with higher taxes on cigarettes and casino revenue, to solve state's deficit.


Raised $160 million in fees, but no taxes. "I don't consider an increase in fees to be a tax increase," said GOP state Rep. Joe Negron. "There are many services provided by the government where it's appropriate for users to contribute to their cost -- from tuition to drivers licenses to people in agriculture paying for an autopsy on a dead cow."


Cigarette taxes went up, while lawmakers arranged a $132-million one-time windfall by increasing the speed with which the state gets workers' income taxes.


Each worker would pay $10 a month toward a state-run long-term care insurance program, though GOP Gov. Linda Lingle has indicated she may veto the measure.


Temporary taxes were the solution championed by GOP Gov. Dirk Kempthorne, who won passage of tax increases on sales and cigarettes. Both are to expire in 2005.


Higher taxes on riverboat casinos, on interstate trucking and on natural gas helped state cover its budget shortfall. Higher fees were passed on boat licenses, speeding tickets, personalized license plates and businesses' annual reports. The governor has yet to sign the budget.


Offenders on parole or probation must pay a $75 application fee to transfer out of state. Methadone clinics must charge nonresident addicts $20 for treatment. Most transactions with the Motor Vehicle Department will continue to cost an extra 50 cents, as a temporary increase was extended.


No new taxes or fees. Lawmakers are relying on aggressive collection of Internet sales taxes to pay for economic development package, and would let voters decide on a future income tax cut. Governor has not yet signed measures.


Drivers will pay $6 more for their licenses and an extra $2 for license photos. And automobile title fees will go up $2. The state is also diverting $160 million from the highway fund to help pay for the rest of government services.


State agencies were raided to pay for general government, including $100 million taken from an environmental fund used to clean up old gas storage tanks, and $56 million from the state's "high risk" insurance pool.


Taxes can't be raised this year, and fee increases proposed so far would raise cost for fingerprinting and a number of professional licenses. "No one should be disillusioned. This budget, if it's passed, will buy us a year and a half, maybe two years," said Democratic state Rep. Jerry Luke LeBlanc.


Lawmakers earlier this year raised $2.5 million from higher fees, but are still debating an overhaul of the tax code to ease property taxes.


Property taxes went up by $48 on a $100,000 home to cover a bond fund raided to balance the state budget. GOP Gov. Robert Ehrlich vowed to put the money back next year and reverse the increase.


Among GOP Gov. Mitt Romney's proposals are a $50 fee for a tuberculosis test. Another would have charged $100 to determine if someone is mentally retarded and eligible for state services, though that measure was dropped in the legislature. Another would raise the cost to register firearms by $50.


Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm proposed raising tax on diesel gas, with the money to go for road repairs. She also wants to raise $125 million from fee increases, including higher court fees, drivers licenses and agricultural fees.


School children will no longer be able to visit the Minnesota Zoo for free on school trips, instead, they will be charged $3 a head. Camping in public parks, car license plates and the phone bill charge for 911 services all will go up.


No new taxes or fees were approved.


Democratic Gov. Bob Holden and the Republican-controlled legislature are in special session trying to craft a budget. Holden is pushing for tax increases of over $700 million, while the legislature wants to rely mostly on cuts to solve the budget crisis.


Taxes went up on cigarettes and other tobacco products, accommodations like motel and hotel rooms, and car and other vehicle rentals. Also increased were costs for tuition, court fees, drivers licenses and traffic tickets.


So-called temporary tax increases passed last year were made permanent on sales, income and cigarettes. Also raised taxes on beer, wine and liquor and expanded the sales tax to some goods and services that weren't taxed before, like property repair and pet grooming.


The legislature and GOP Gov. Kenny Guinn were deadlocked over Guinn's tax plan. Public school programs for elementary and high school students may be curtailed if no agreement is reached.


Proposed budget would renew surcharge on telecommunications services, raise court fees and hike tax on nursing homes, which would in turn draw more federal Medicaid money for the state budget.


Casinos, hotels and motels, and smokers would all pay more under Democratic Gov. James E. McGreevey's budget plan, which has drawn fierce opposition from the Atlantic City casinos. "For the Atlantic City casino industry, which is enjoying a record-breaking year, to not be part of the solution is absurd," the governor said.


Raised cigarette and delayed a scheduled cut in gas taxes, while lowering business taxes and expanding business credits. Expanded income taxes by including more part-time state residents, while lowering income taxes on the wealthiest and on capital gains.


The state expects to raise $2 billion next year from higher sales taxes, and higher income taxes on the wealthiest New Yorkers. Increases are supposed to expire in two or three years. Lawmakers also closed tax loopholes on corporations.


Temporary tax hikes that were supposed to expire in July would keep on collecting, under proposals from Democratic Gov. Mike Easley. Lawmakers are also considering a wide array of fees on health services.


Snowmobiles, cars and trucks all will cost more to register, as will a fee levied to maintain the state's snowmobile trails. Tuition will go up at state-run colleges from 6 percent to 22 percent.


GOP Gov. Bob Taft wants to extend the state sales tax to services not currently taxed, such as tickets to movies and sporting events, dry cleaning, parking and real estate commissions. But the Legislature wants to raise the sales tax by one cent on the dollar for two years.


Besides raising fees on traffic violations, marriage licenses and divorce filings, the legislature also cut some state agency budgets and gave them approval to raise fees to cover the lost money. Car license tags will also cost $2 more, with the money to pay for the Highway Patrol.


Would double the cost to register a car, and increase the gas tax by 1 cent a gallon, with the money to go for road and bridge repairs, and to fund the state police. Discussions ongoing; any gas tax increase must be approved by voters.


Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell wants to raise income taxes to bring in an extra $2.2 billion, while cutting local property taxes by $1.5 billion and having the state pick up a greater share of school spending. He also would raise taxes on cell phone calls and on beer, and make reckless drivers pay a new fee.


GOP Gov. Don Carcieri wants to increase the state's tax on profits from video lottery. He also wants an already approved cigarette tax to take effect immediately, and to raise tuition.


The formerly free Governor's School for the Arts will now charge students up to $3,000 a year. Traffic violators will pay surcharges on their tickets. Prison inmates will pay $2 co-pays on their medication.


Cigarettes will cost 20 cents more a pack, while cell phone companies and other wireless services will be see a 4 percent tax on their gross receipts.


Closed a loophole on banks that will raise $10 million. Some tax revenue the state used to share with local governments will be kept in state coffers; state also raided the highway fund -- fueled by gas taxes -- to pay for general government services.


The legislature "deregulated" tuition at state-run schools, letting universities set their own rates. It expected the state would save $558 million on school costs, but how much of that might be covered by students paying higher tuition will depend on decisions each school makes.


Some 350,000 cable television and satellite television viewers will pay a new tax for the service. It's expected to bring the state at least $10 million a year.


The legislature approved a one-cent-on-the-dollar increase in sales taxes to help offset property taxes. It also increased taxes on telecommunication services. The governor has yet to sign the final budget.


The state raised more than $8 million without raising taxes, by hiking, among other things, costs for state parks, drivers licenses, court filings and fees paid by drug offenders.


Democratic Gov. Gary Locke, supported more by Republican legislators than fellow Democrats, won support for his no-new-taxes budget, which has "plenty of pain to go around," the governor said. Lawmakers did pass a 5-cent-a-gallon increase in the gas tax to pay for road improvements.


Liquor distributors and cigarette smokers will pay more. Lawmakers continued a weekend sales tax holiday to help with back-to-school purchases.


Students in the state university system are expected to see tuition go up over the next two years after the legislature agreed to Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle's plan to cut $250 million. Undergraduates at the state's flagship school, for instance, would pay $700 more next year, and $700 more the following year.


One of the few states with a surplus instead of a shortfall, lawmakers still increased cigarette taxes by 48 cents a pack. They also raised several hunting and fishing license fees to help pay for operations at the Game and Fish Department.

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The figures in this project were supplied by Associated Press reporters covering each state legislature, and then compiled to give a national picture of how states are using taxes to help cope with their budget problems and fund government programs.

For states where budget work is finished, the numbers include taxes and fees passed during this legislative session and approved by governors. The increases either take effect in the new fiscal year, which in most states begins in July, or already are in effect.

In states where legislatures are still debating their budgets, the AP started with figures that came either from the governor's proposal or a legislative budget-writing committee. The AP then excluded some of those proposals from its analysis because both sides have rejected them.

Still, what's finally agreed on in those states may be different from what each side proposed.

In each state, lawmakers and governors have the power to revisit their budgets later this year and revise their taxes and fees.

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Think it's easy to draft a state budget and get it passed?

Think again.

The Associated Press has launched an interactive online budget game that puts players in the governor's chair in a fictional state. The game gives players a pile of cash, but puts them $30 million in the hole to reflect the financial difficulties that many states are facing.

Players must balance the budget, so painful decisions must be made: Raise taxes? Cut spending? How and where?

Players then submit the budget to a cranky group of legislators who vote on the proposal. The legislators have different agendas, so players must seek out allies and balance their approach to try to win votes. In some cases, legislators demand spending increases or reject higher taxes, despite the financial hardship.

Mock news stories give clues to what the legislators like and dislike about the player's budget.

It takes 15 votes in the Senate and 15 votes in the House to pass a budget. Players have 10 tries to pass a budget, and they must pass two budgets to win the game -- and win re-election.

Be warned: Elections could change the makeup of the legislature. The budget strategy that worked once may fail with the next group of lawmakers.

Be prepared for tough times and tough choices.


In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, any copyrighted work in this message is distributed under fair use without profit or payment for non-profit research and educational purposes only. [Ref.]

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