Fees climb in Texas, tens of millions diverted from original purpose to balance state budget

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State Rep. Richard Peña Raymond so objects to the deceit cloaking the collection of taxpayers’ money through fees, he introduced an amendment  to the state Constitution in 2011 that would have forced the Legislature to refer to every fee as a tax.

Now we know why his fellow legislators declined to offer their support.

Money collected through dedicated fees and surcharges is reaching $5 billion in Texas, while tens of millions of those dollars are diverted to purposes other than their original intent, often simply to help balance the state budget, a story by the Austin American-Statesman says.

After four years of collecting fees on those convicted of a crime into something called the Fugitive Apprehension Fund the state comptroller decided "the purpose for which the funds were collected is moot" and moved $135 million into the general fund, the story says.

The Legislature in 2003 tacked a $30 surcharge on every traffic ticket issued in the state, ostensibly for road building, amended the law and made off with $66 million for the general government budget.

In the past session the Legislature diverted $20 million in fees from criminal defendants to fatten the state employee pension fund.

Not content collecting $18 million a year in fees for the Auto Theft Prevention Fund, the Legislature in the past session doubled the fee. Half of the money is used for auto theft investigations, the other half for general government expenses.

Court administrators estimate that $1 of every three raised through court-mandated fees in Texas is spent outside the court system, rehabilitating patients with head injuries, funding child obesity research and paying the salaries of game wardens.

Please permit the Democratic representative from Laredo a long and derisive cackle.

Contact Mark Lisheron at 512-299-2318 or mark@texaswatchdog.org or on Twitter at @marktxwatchdog.

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Photo by flickr user 401K, used via a Creative Commons license.