Image: US currency © Steve Allen, Brand X, Corbis

Raising taxes raises taxpayer ire, which is why strapped governments are turning to fees to raise money. In their enthusiasm, though, governments are blurring the line between taxes and fees.

Taxes are generally broad-based levies that don't necessarily provide an individual benefit. (Let's hope you never need the firefighters paid for by your taxes, for example.)

Fees, on the other hand, typically have been more targeted and are usually levied on someone enjoying some type of benefit. If you want to experience the great outdoors, for example, you might have to pay a park entrance fee.

Once upon a time, those fees might have been earmarked to pay for rangers, restroom maintenance and other amenities. But governments have discovered they can slap fees just about everywhere and use the money just about anywhere.

There are even fees to pay fees. Many agencies now take credit card payments, but often people have to pay a 2% to 3% processing fee to use plastic.

Liz Weston

Liz Weston

Here are some others, culled in part from the National Conference of State Legislatures' database of state measures to close recent budget gaps.

Fees on fun

Recreation is a great way to relieve the stress of a bad economy. But leisure activities are also juicy targets for lawmakers bent on raising revenue.

Several states have raised fees for hunting and fishing licenses, boat permits, camping and access to parks. Here's just a sample:

  • Rhode Island has boosted daily parking fees at state beaches from $7 to $15 for residents and from $14 to $25 for nonresidents.
  • Connecticut has doubled the entrance fee at state parks (at many parks, it's now $9 on weekends for residents and $15 for nonresidents) and the fee for an inland-fishing license (it's now $40). The saltwater-fishing license, which used to be free, now costs $30.
  • Idaho has raised fees on out-of-state hunters and anglers. A nonresident combination hunting and fishing license costs $235, up from $198, while a nonresident elk tag costs $415, up from $371. Idaho has created a fee for recreational boaters, ranging from $5 to $20, to pay for boat-washing stations designed to stop the spread of invasive mussels.
  • New Hampshire also has added a fee: an annual boating license that costs $15 per person, or $150 for party boats.
  • In Oregon, boats longer than 10 feet now require a $5 annual permit. Day-use fees at state parks have been increased from $3 to $5.
  • Virginia has raised the cost of more than 40 types of hunting, fishing and trapping licenses. Basic hunting and fishing licenses have risen $5 apiece to $23, while permits for nonresidents have leapt as much as $50. For nonresidents, hunting licenses now cost $110 (or $550 for a lifetime pass).

How to cope: Don't skip required permits or licenses; the fines are usually far higher if you're caught. You may qualify for discounts if you're disabled and/or a senior. Also, some states offer lifetime licenses and permits, which can be a good deal if you plan to remain a resident for more than a few years.