By Johnny Kampis | Missouri Watchdog
ST. LOUIS – From doubling the fees that motor vehicle offices can charge to raising cigarette taxes more than a quarter per pack, several bills now in the Missouri Legislature soon could separate residents from more of their cash.
More than a dozen bills proposed in the House and Senate would increase fees in some capacity, such as the legislation from Sen. Joseph Keavney, D-St. Louis, that would quintuple seatbelt fines.
Keavney’s proposal is one of the few in the Missouri General Assembly from Democrats. Most of the bills that would increase costs are sponsored by Republicans, normally the party for smaller government.
Show-Me Institute policy analyst David Stokes said he’s not generally opposed to increased fees because, for one, fees are more transparent than taxes and, for another, he understands that fees have to be raised over time to cover additional costs.
“With a fee you pay a certain price and get a government service,” he told Missouri Watchdog. “Taxpayers can see where their money is going.”
Stokes is not a fan of legislation like Keavney’s that try to guide residents’ behaviors.
“That’s just an excuse to raise money and tell people how to live,” he said.
One of the most notable fee-boosting bills is a trade off. Senate Bill 31 from Sen. John Lamping, R-Ladue, would not only increase state taxes on smokes by 26-cents per pack but would also increase the state’s sales and use tax by half a percentage point. But the legislation also establishes a flat state income tax of 4 percent, lowering rates for most residents of Missouri.
All three of Lamping’s measures would be implemented next January if passed by the Legislature.
Lamping’s staff did not return a call for comment on that legislation Monday.
Critics say that bill could cause taxes to increase for minimum wage workers. Lamping said last month the bill would “reward Missouri’s most productive citizens” while shifting the tax burden from income to consumption.
Another bill would force residents to fork over $10 each time they fail the written portion of the driver’s license test and retake it. This legislation from Rep. Chuck Gatschenberger, R-Lake St. Louis, directs the money to the state road fund.
Marshfield Republican Rep. Lyndall Fraker’s House Bill 71 would allow motor vehicle fee offices to charge double to collect for certain services, including title applications, address changes and lien notices.
House Bill 324 from Rep. Keith Frederick would allow health care providers to charge more for retrieving medical records – from $21.36 plus 50-cents per copied page to $22.01 and 52-cents per page. That bill does cap total costs to consumers at $100.
Rep. Stanley Cox, R-Sedalia, wants to raise more money to help indigent veterans pay for legal costs in civil matters so he created a bill that allows municipalities to assess an additional surcharge up to $7 per traffic violation. A judge could waive the extra fee if he determines the defendant is unable to pay the cost.
This extra money would go toward legal representation for indigent veterans in issues pertaining to housing, public benefits, family law, domestic violence and health. Cities would have the option to use up to half the proceeds to pay legal fees for non-veterans.
Cox told Watchdog he was approached by Legal Aid of Western Missouri to craft the bill. That non-profit group provides legal care for many people who cannot afford it.
“Cities can choose whether or not to approve the fee,” Cox said.
Among other proposals:
- House Bill 323 from Rep. Kevin Elmer, R-Nixa, would allow circuit courts to charge a $15 surcharge in civil actions. A related bill from Rep. Jeanie Lauer, R-Blue Springs, proposes a $2 extra surcharge on civil cases to be used to fund domestic violence shelters. Senate Bill 44 from Sen. Bob Dixon, R-Springfield, allows circuit courts that reimburse the state for the salaries of family court commissioners to impose a $20 surcharge (up from $15) on related cases.
- House Bill 176 by Rep. Sandy Crawford, R-Buffalo, would let vendors of small loans charge a fee of 10 percent of the principal amount loaned. The current maximum is 5 percent.
- House Bill 204 would permit clerks of circuit courts to collect a surcharge of up to $10 in cases in which a garnishment is granted. This legislation from Rep. Bill Reiboldt, R-Neosho, directs clerks to use the extra money to improve case processing and record preservation.