During the legislative dickering over the state budget in 2010, Del. Bob Marshall, alone among his colleagues, questioned the practice of embedding fee and other tax hikes directly into the budget language, as opposed to subjecting each proposed hike to debate and a vote. His questions and concerns were met with stony silence, and as a result, a budget that contained no tax increases managed to pass. Just pay no attention to the fee increases, higher liquor prices (plus more ABC stores) and other sleights of hand used to balance the books.
It’s obvious from a bill he prefiled this month that the whole experience still rankles Marshall. He proposes that rather than using words like “fee” or “toll,” lawmakers instead be required to use the simpler, more blunt, word: “tax.” His bill carves out several generous exemptions to the label, so there’s little worry that the entrance fee you pay to a state park will be called a tax, or that your hunting license fee will become a “hunting tax.” Specific benefits provided to specific users don’t fall under Marshall’s proposal.
Would it change much? Not likely. The larger question of embedding hikes directly in the budget bill goes unaddressed here. But a smaller purpose might be achieved: removing the temptation for doublespeak.
Norman Leahy blogs at Bearing Drift. The Local Blog Network is a group of bloggers from around the D.C. region who have agreed to make regular contributions to All Opinions Are Local.