OLYMPIA — To fee or not to fee, that was the question Monday in the House of Representatives.
Democratic lawmakers did, in the end, pass legislation enabling increases in roughly 180 fees now levied by a slew of state agencies.
More fee hikes are likely to be tucked into the operating budget due out by Wednesday, though a few departments won’t be able to raise charges until next year because lawmakers don’t want to deal with it this session.
When all the increases are added up, an estimated $85 million in additional revenue will be netted from people paying for such things as gambling licenses, cattle inspections and undergraduate tuition at the University of Washington.
“This is a basic bill, basic to the operation of state government,” said Rep. Helen Sommers, D-Seattle, architect of the House budget and sponsor of the fee bill, HB 3381, that passed 55-39. It now goes to the Senate for consideration.
Monday’s discussion is a direct result of Initiative 960 pushed by Tim Eyman of Mukilteo and passed by voters last November.
The measure removed the authority of state agencies to increase their own fees and placed the decision-making power into the hands of the Legislature. Eyman may have hoped that each fee increase would be tackled separately but the initiative allows bundling them together as the Democratic majority did.
That didn’t keep Republicans from criticizing the legislative maneuver as one that broke with the spirit of the initiative that is to increase the transparency of government budgeting.
“We are doing the opposite of transparency,” said Rep. Jaime Herrera, R-Ridgefield. “We’re not saying we’re against these fees. Our constituents haven’t had a chance to weigh in on them.”
Rep. Gary Alexander, R-Olympia, said the number of affected fees changed with each version of legislation, reaching a high of 401 and down to the 180 divided into nine groups.
With so many changes, it’s hard to keep track of what fees are going up or staying the same, he said.
Rep. Liz Loomis, D-Snohomish, was one of a handful of Democrats to vote against the bill.
“I’m just concerned that we’re entering into a recession. People are paying more for gasoline and groceries and basics and at a time like this they can ill afford to pay any kind of fee increase on top of that,” she said.
Reporter Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623 or email@example.com.
Read it online
To read more about the fee increases or read House Bill 3381, go to www.leg.wa.gov.