Ohio Republicans won control of state government last November by, among other things, offering a "no new taxes" pledge. Such a promise was at least irresponsible, given the state's fiscal condition. And now it appears that user fees may not be included in the definition of taxes.
According to news reports, Gov. John Kasich's administration is studying a proposal to increase vehicle title fees from $15 to $25. Proceeds from the fee increase would help fund the state highway patrol. In exchange, the transportation budget would eliminate the hugely unpopular $20 fee that now is charged drivers who are late to renew their licenses.
The highway patrol needs sustained long-term funding. Its options were limited when lawmakers rejected earlier suggestions to redirect state gasoline-tax revenue to the patrol or to raise the gas tax.
The Ohio Department of Public Safety, which includes the highway patrol, says raising the vehicle title fee would generate $31.5 million a year. That would put a dent in the $56 million the department stands to lose from disappearing federal stimulus funding and the phase-out of patrol funding by the gas tax.
To provide a consistent funding stream for the 1,472-person highway patrol, higher fees to supplement lower tax revenue may be unavoidable. But Republicans, who hammered Democrats for enacting previous fee hikes, should drop the pretense that they can make up for budget shortfalls without some sort of revenue increase, whether taxes or fees.
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