'Stealth taxes' are getting out of control
Have you looked carefully at your utility and garbage bills lately? Expect to be surprised, confused and even irritated when you do. You will find that the actual service rendered is far from representing your total bill.
In fact, you will find numerous fees and special charges. Most of these are imposed by governmental units or are the result of government mandates. Here are some examples:
Gas Affordability Program Charge– "surcharge to recover the costs of offering a low-income customer co-pay program designed to reduce natural gas service disconnections" (Xcel Energy).
Resource Adjustment for Electric– "surcharge to recover the cost of mandated conservation programs designated to encourage customers to use energy efficiently" (Xcel Energy).
Resource Adjustment for Gas– "surcharge to recover the cost of mandated conservation programs designed to encourage customers to user energy efficiently and to recover the costs associated with the Reliability Administrator / Sustainable Building Guidelines as defined by Minnesota state legislation" (Xcel Energy).
Clean Air Rider– (Rochester Public Utilities Electric).
Fire Hydrant Facilities Charge– (RPU Water).
State Mandated Water Charge– (RPU Water).
Waste Water Customer Charge– (RPU Waste Water).
Storm Water Utility Fee– (RPU Storm Water).
Storm Water Customer Charge– (RPU Storm Water).
Fuel/Environmental Fees– (Garbage).
Recycling Surcharge– (Garbage).
Solid Waste Management Tax– (Garbage).
Rochester plans to add a fee to pay for street lights. Minnesota added large fees to parking tickets to take the place of general fund expenditures. Our water costs are making a large jump because of state mandates.
We are surrounded by an ever-growing list of fees, surcharges and mandates that supplant our tax system. Public officials avoid criticism about state and local taxes (income, sales and property) by instead funding the steady growth of government spending by adding these fees. Typically, these fees are not included in any analysis of local and state tax burdens. They have truly become "stealth" tax increases.
True, user fees are generally understood and accepted. We expect to pay for the electricity, water, gas and other direct services we receive. We pay for our car and fishing license. We may complain about how much a commodity or service costs, but we can accept payment of fairly allocated costs for specific user-centered expenses. But, the new era of fees are not "user fees". They are simply taxes of another form.
This is not an indictment of the collectors of the fees – they are simply doing what is required of them. They might try better in some cases to make their charges more clear, but that is a separate issue. Also, these concerns are not directed at the validity of the use of these fees collected. That is another subject in itself. No, this column is a criticism of the system used to collect money used to provide services where non-user fees are used to replace regular taxes.
Transparency is a common theme professed by politicians today. In the world of truth in advertising, there would be none of the stealth taxes (fees) described in this column. General government services would be paid for by taxes and both income and expenses would be readily available to the public.
We would have a full accounting of the taxes and the cost of government.
Take a few minutes to review your utility and garbage bills. Learn about the planned street light fee. Watch for other examples of non-user fees being used instead of tax increases. Let your voice be heard calling for true transparency in government. Perhaps we can stop or reverse this trend of "stealth taxes."