Last week, working with a small group of bipartisan legislators, I successfully amended the annual fee bill. I’ve since been told that can be tough to do.
The fee bill is an annual event for the Administration and the Legislature. Every year, up to one third of all fees the Vermont assesses for a host of different licenses and inspections are reviewed.
This year’s proposal was to increase fees by over 2.8 million. The biggest percentage increases were on small restaurants which were looking at increases in the 70% range. When the majority vote counter came checking on my vote for the fee bill, I said heck no, my folks would have my head. Later on as I was recanting the conversation with Rep. Oliver Olsen (I) of Londonderry he encouraged me to think about how I might be able to do something more then just vote no on a bill that seemed certain to pass even without my vote.
The Tax Foundation, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank that collects data and publishes research studies on tax policies at the federal and state levels. further explains: “A tax has the primary purpose of raising revenue,” said Joseph Henchman, Tax Foundation Vice President of Legal Projects. “By contrast, a fee recoups the cost of providing a service from a beneficiary.”
Wile speaking with several members of the Ways and Means Committee, one of them explained that they too had been concerned about the increases on these small businesses and had inquired what the increased fee revenue was to be used for. This particular fee was to pay for Health Inspectors. It seems that in past years, the fee assessed did not cover the cost of having Health Inspectors, and the general fund has made up the difference. This year there is a 112 million dollar budget deficit, and all of the “beneficiaries” of the service provided by the fee were slated to see hefty increases to cover the gap.
Working with Legislative Council, I proposed a reduction in the fees, and with the assistance of Rep. Jim Condon (D) from Colchester and Rep. Patty Komline (R) of Dorset, drafted an amendment that reduced the proposed fee increases on small restaurants by 100K. The Ways and Means Committee agreed to the amendment and the House passed it. I’m glad to have been able to work with others to do something for small businesses other then just vote no. It’s fair to say I never thought the first time I’d be speaking on the floor of the House would be to ask to amend the fee bill – on Friday the 13th.
There is a lot of work to do. Town Meeting is coming up, and I look forward to talking with, and hearing from voters, on how we can best go about that work.
Please feel free to reach out to me on any issue, including this one, via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on the weekends by phone at 348-7131.