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December 7, 2009


A tax by any other name

First it was the bottle bill. Nickel deposits would eliminate the tossed-out containers that litter our roadways. Oh, and the state would keep a good part of any money left over from unreturned bottles and cans.

Then it was mortgage fees on home purchases, and hikes in the fees to renew driver’s licenses and car registrations.

More recently, it was mandated license-plate replacements and big jumps in the cost to renew hunting and fishing licenses. There’s even a mandated new fee on consumers’ utility bills that the state requires energy companies to collect, making them indentured tax collectors of a sort.

All are creative strategies by state lawmakers to cover the cost of New York’s ever-increasing spending.

But those of us who shell out more and more of our stagnant paychecks to cover these skyrocketing costs are smart enough to see through, say, the promise of a greener future for the environment. And we know the definition of “fee,” “deposit” and “surcharge.” Each one is just another tax.

While some state legislators went to battle against the most recent masked tax hike — new, vintage-looking license plates — it took petitions and a maelstrom of public discontent from constituents to goad them. And while Gov. David Paterson has “backed away” from the idea of requiring us all to shell out for new plates, the measure has not yet been formally shelved.

It seems the only time state lawmakers are willing to call a tax a tax is when it’s levied on cigarettes — which are now increasingly unpopular, likely due in part to the confiscatory tax levy the state requires.

Legislators are loathe to use the T-word otherwise, relying instead of fees, tolls, deposits and surcharges  — unless, of course, they’re making reference to fees, tolls, deposits and surcharges supported by the opposite party.

Lawmakers would do well to remember, a tax by any other name is still a tax. And there are far, far too many of them in New York.


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