8/20/2012 2:15 PM ET|
Governments getting more fee-happy
To save on park entrance and camping fees, check for discount offers at the state parks' websites. Some state parks have affiliated foundations that offer entrance passes and discounted camping fees as membership benefits. The California State Parks Foundation, for example, offers seven day-use passes in exchange for an annual $25 membership fee.
Fees on criminals
Only felons actually lose their right to vote, but lawmakers in many states clearly aren't worried about generating a backlash from the criminal element by imposing new fees on convicts. Here are a few:
- Virginia has introduced a $10 fee on anyone convicted of Internet crimes against children. Chillingly, the state expects to collect $2 million from this fee in fiscal 2011.
- Idaho has increased court fees so that those convicted of infractions pay $10 more, those convicted of misdemeanors pay $50 more and felons pay an additional $100.
- Arizona has increased probation surcharges from $10 to $20, while one-time fees for those requiring intensive probation have risen from $50 to $75.
- Louisiana has instituted a $65 one-time fee for probation and parole processing.
- Texas now has a $34 fee for those placed on community supervision.
How to cope: Sorry, no advice to offer here, other than "Don't do the crime if you can't do the time -- and can't pay the fee."
Fees on cellphones
Wireless carriers have long been notorious for pretending that the fees they charge are actually taxes. In a case of life imitating artifice, governments are now larding your cellphone bills with taxes disguised as fees.
A study by the Tax Foundation found that typical U.S. wireless consumers pay government-ordered taxes and fees that total 16.3% of their bills. State and local charges alone average 11.2% of typical bills. The tax rate exceeds 20% in Illinois, Florida, Nebraska, New York and Washington state.
Here are just a few examples:
- Baltimore imposes a $4-per-line monthly tax on wireless users, while nearby Montgomery County, Md., collects $3.50 per line.
- Louisiana has imposed a 2% "911" fee on prepaid wireless phones since 2010.
- New York state recently enacted a $1.25-a-month "public safety communications surcharge" for every cellphone.
- In Nebraska and Kansas, Universal Service Fund charges -- which amount to less than 1% in other states -- exceed 4%.
How to cope: Government fees and taxes are based on the user's place of "primary use" -- which is typically determined by the address where the bill is sent. You may get a break if you are willing to lie about where you live and arrange for electronic billing (as this Forbes writer did). States' cell tax rates range from 23.7% in Nebraska to 6.9% in Oregon.
Fees at courthouses
Expect any brush with the courts to cost you more these days, even if you're just recording a document, getting a copy of a birth certificate or selling a home. And if imposing higher fees wasn't enough, some state governments have added surcharges to those fees for good measure.
Some examples of pesky court fees:
- Hitting the "delete" button now costs more: Rhode Island has instituted a $100 charge in 2010 for court orders that grant the expunging of records.
- Utah has raised fees for filing court petitions, which generated an estimated $9.3 million this year.
- Washington state and Oregon have imposed surcharges on court fees, and Washington has increased its document-recording surcharge. Washington will reap more than $14 million a year from the new fees and surcharges, while Oregon will take in an additional $19 million a year.
- North Carolina has boosted a variety of court fees, and its revenue, by $51 million a year.
- Virginia has raised its deed-recording fee by $10, generating an additional $9 million in the state's just-ended fiscal year.
How to cope: If you have a low income and have to do business with the court system, ask if there's a program that waives or lowers fees in hardship situations.
Fees on cars
State legislatures have been raising gas taxes to bridge their budget gaps, but they've really gone to town on raising car and driver fees. Several states have boosted costs for registration, permits and license plates.
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