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Kulongoski's Onerous, Odious Fee Increase 

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There's something for nearly every Oregonian to not like about Gov. Ted Kulongoski's proposed budget for the next biennium. Faced with sagging tax revenues, Kulongoski wants to raise state fees on a whole passel of people and activities.

Hunting licenses and fishing licenses will cost a lot more. Nurses and psychologists will pay more for their professional registration. Campers who stay in state parks will see their nightly fees nearly double. The cost of a death certificate will almost triple.

Even falconers will see the cost of their licenses (yes, you need a license to hunt with a bird in Oregon) jump by 125%.

The most onerous and odious of the increases Kulongoski is proposing, though, is raising the fee to register a motor vehicle. It's now $54 for two years; Kulongoski wants to triple it to $162.

Looking at our neighboring states, registration fees there are bargains compared to what Kulongoski proposes. Washington dings you for $43.75 a year, or $87.50 every two years. California has a more complicated setup: You pay 0.65% of your vehicle's value, which would work out to $65 a year on a $10,000 car. (Faced with a budget crisis far worse than Oregon's, California is thinking about raising the fee to 1% or - Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's idea - slapping on a flat $12 surcharge.)

And it needs to be remembered that Oregon's average household income is significantly lower than those of our neighboring states. Scraping $162 together would be a challenge for low-income and even many middle-income households in these tough times. For a two-car family, registration would cost $324 every two years - nearly a full week's pay for somebody working at the Oregon minimum wage of $8.40 an hour.

That's the onerous part of Kulongoski's idea. The odious part is that increasing the vehicle registration fee would amount to a regressive "flat tax." Everybody from the lawyer with a $150,000 Mercedes to the construction laborer with a battered 14-year-old pickup would pay the same. It just ain't right.

Kulongoski says he wants to raise registration fees to pay for improving the state's highways, roads and bridges. They definitely need work, and there'd be the added benefit of creating jobs and putting money in the pockets of consumers. But there's got to be a better way to do it than slamming everybody in the state with a hefty fee increase.

How about considering something like the California system, in which affluent drivers - who, presumably, are the ones with the expensive cars - would pay more than the folks who drive around in old beaters?

Alternatively - or in addition - why not talk about raising the state gas tax? In addition to being somewhat more progressive (people with big, expensive gas guzzlers would pay more) that approach would help encourage conservation.

We hope Kulongoski will reconsider his plan and join us in giving it THE BOOT in favor of some other option. If the ones we've suggested won't work, maybe he could squeeze those falconers a little harder.

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