March 25, 2016

VT House Debates Government Fees

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The House hears budget amendments

The House hears budget amendments

Montpelier, Mar. 23–Vermont lawmakers have been haggling over next year’s budget all week. Bills reviewed during Wednesday’s House floor session included H. 872, the annual “Fee Bill.”

Licensing fees for agricultural processors such as maple sugaring and ice cream production will increase next year under the Fee Bill. Fees for fertilizer, pesticide, and seed production, as well as livestock sales, also increase. Most increases range from $15-50 per year.

One facet of the bill that drew particular contention was the use of fees collected from banks for the state general fund. The state plans to collect $2.1 million from the four or five largest banks in the state. Some of the money will be used for fraud prevention and financial regulation.

Traditionally, a fee differs from a tax because it cannot exceed the costs of providing related services. The agricultural fee increases, for example, will be used for increased health and safety inspections of food processing facilities.

This new fee represents a “mingling of what is considered a tax or a fee,” said Rep. William Canfield. “Because of this,” he continued, “I cannot support the bill.”

Even though this is a non-traditional fee, “Fees are not taxes. We are legislators, and we are paid to know the difference,” said Rep. Carolyn Whitney Branagan, the bill’s sponsor. She noted that fees collected from alcohol sales already provide money to the general fund.

The house agreed to a third reading by a 98-46 margin. The bill was read again and passed on Thursday.

The House Appropriations Committee reduced Vermont’s overall budgetary needs by $1.3 million last week, which allows lawmakers to ease up on both tax and fee increases.

 

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