Millions In Increased Fees, Penalties Levied By Lawmakers

BATON ROUGE (AP) — Car buyers, motorists seeking a copy of their driving records, florists, oyster fishermen and pawnbrokers across the state will pay higher fees to help balance Louisiana's annual budget.

         While the focus of the Legislature's recent financial debate was largely on taxes, lawmakers with little fanfare or attention also voted to raise at least $104 million annually from changes to licensing and application fees, permitting charges, rental rates, late fees and penalty fines.

         Most of the money raised was poured into the budget to help stop cuts to public colleges and health services in the fiscal year that begins July 1. Other dollars will stay with the agencies that oversee the individual programs subject to the higher fees and penalties, to help offset reductions to their general state financing.

         Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration hasn't shown any resistance to the fee hikes passed in the just-ended legislative session. The Republican governor has supported fee increases if agencies say they only cover the cost of providing the service for which a fee is charged.

         Lawmakers echoed similar sentiments as they approved the bills, saying many of the state's fees haven't been increased in decades.

         "We have historically provided services to the people of this state for much less than what it costs to do them. Now, we're in a budget crunch," said Sen. Danny Martiny, R-Kenner, during Senate debate on one of the largest fee hikes.

         Of the dollars generated, about $60 million annually will come from a $50 fee increase on car buyers and sellers. Another $22 million a year is estimated to come from raising the price tag for getting an official state driving record from $6 to $16.

         The car-buying fee drew the most debate.

         The fee hike, tucked into a bill by Rep. Sherman Mack, R-Livingston, will increase from $18.50 to $68.50 the title fee paid when a person buys a new or used car and the salvage title fee when a wrecked vehicle is deemed a total loss and either disassembled or sold. It also will bump from $15 to $65 the permit to sell that allows a towing company or repair facility to sell vehicles abandoned by their owners.

         The changes take effect July 1.

         Supporters said the increase will keep the state and other taxpayers from bankrolling the processing of those vehicle title registrations and transfers.

         "We are not charging the true cost of things. We're subsidizing on the backs of other people," said Sen. Conrad Appel, R-Metairie.

         Bill opponent Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, D-New Orleans, objected to filling budget gaps "on the backs of the poor people of the state."

         "We have raided funds and reserves from all these different agencies and then we come back and tax them, and we're doing it on the backs of people and we think they're not paying attention," Peterson said.

         Other bills backed by the House and Senate will increase the state licensing fees for florists and nurseries and allow the state seed commission to double its seed dealer licensing fees.

         In the Office of Financial Institutions, renewal fees will increase for money transmitters; application and licensing fees for businesses that want to make consumer loans or mortgage loans will cost more; and pawnbrokers will have to pay higher annual license renewal fees.

         Rental rates paid to the Wildlife and Fisheries Commission for oyster leases on state property will cost $3 per acre starting in 2016, up from $2 currently. The state will charge increased pipeline, application and regulatory fees for oil and gas drilling activity.

         Penalties and late fees that can be charged across certain agencies also were boosted higher, with millions expected for the Department of Revenue from such cost hikes, along with increased charges for searching and copying certain tax records.

         – by AP Reporter Melinda Deslatte 



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