Will no tax increases in Texas just mean highers fees, charges?




Posted on January 14, 2011 at 7:33 PM

Updated Friday, Jan 14 at 9:47 PM

DALLAS - The first budget bills will be filed next week in the Texas Legislature, and Republican leaders say they'll close the $15 to $27 billion gap with cuts and no new taxes.

But, if history repeats, the cuts will be too deep or painful in some areas and Texans will be paying billions more in higher fees and charges.

Top Republicans say they'll balance the state budget with no new taxes, but that doesn't mean any new revenue.

“The question becomes, 'How do you define tax increase? Does that mean there will be no fees or assessments?'” said Dallas Democratic State Senator Royce West, during a taping of "Inside Texas Politics.

Facing a $10 billion gap in 2003, the Republican-controlled Legislature balanced that budget as Gov. Rick Perry recalled Tuesday speaking to senators.

“And as we did back in '03, we'll balance the budget this time too, setting priorities, making tough decisions and not raising taxes," Perry said.

But, what Perry didn't mention is how lawmakers in 2003 deregulated college tuition that shot up 72 percent since then, according to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, and slapped on $2.7 billion in new and higher fees centering on health care and vehicle regulations.

According to the Texas Comptroller’s office, among some of the bigger fee hikes were up to $1,000 more per teacher in health insurance premiums that raised $711 million.

Also, there were the $30 traffic ticket fee forecasted to bring in $271 million and a $20 fee on motor vehicle transfers budgeted to raise $200 million.

So, drivers shouldn't be surprised some lawmakers talk now of raising the vehicle registration fee up $50 more.

Democrats, like West, question if raising the fee on such a basic necessity for the vast majority of Texans owning a car is really just a de facto tax increase.

“I think voters need to look at, and Texans need to look at as well, whether or not there is going to be transparency," he said.

Before lawmakers decide what to raise, they may need to agree what it is.

West is the featured guest Sunday at 9 a.m. on WFAA’s "Inside Texas Politics" on channel 8.