Utah lawmakers left tax reform on the table this session, but that didn’t stop members from tacking on a number of other smaller fee hikes.
The Legislature passed one bill this session that scrapped mandatory vehicle safety inspections, which lawmakers painted as costly and ineffective.
Less trumpeted was a provision that increases car registration fees by $1, proceeds of which would go to the Utah Highway Patrol.
Another bill aimed at upgrading outdated 911 and emergency radio equipment statewide levies a $6.72 annual fee on close to 3 million cellphone and landlines.
Billy Hesterman is vice president of the Utah Taxpayers Association, which opposes these types of price hikes.
“These are the small things that taxpayers maybe go, ‘It’s only $1 or $6, I can handle that,’" he says. "But at the same time, it adds up to be real money, at the end of the day, when you divide it out amongst all Utahns that it hits.”
Fees are typically charged to users of a specific service — think toll roads charging drivers to recoup the cost of maintaining the highway they’re on. While taxes are collected to fund general government services.
When lawmakers can’t find money in the general fund to pay for programs, fees are sometimes seen as a convenient, more politically palatable way to carve out additional revenue.
“Certainly as taxpayers, we want our elected officials to dig through these budgets and see where you can make cuts and free up some dollars so we don’t have to issue fees and don’t have to go down these creative ways to find funding,” says Hesterman.
Sometimes a tax is just a tax, though. Another bill that passed creates a new tax on hotel rooms and other short-term lodging that will rake in nearly $5 million for the state’s outdoor recreation infrastructure grants.
But before any of these go into effect, they’ll first require Gov. Herbert’s signature. The governor’s office says he plans to start signing legislation this week.