“No new taxes,” but fees and restrictions may apply

Shiver me timbers -- Newsom's blasted fees for discharging a cannon are a rising!

The agenda for the June 29 Board of Supervisors meeting reads like the fine print of a credit card statement, with fees piled upon more fees.  Mayor Gavin Newsom is proposing a slew of increases to sums that must be forked over for a wide array of city services or permits as a way to bridge a gaping budget gap. With major cuts to critical services in the face of a dramatic revenue shortfall, it's not surprising that the city is tightening its squeeze to make up for some of the damage.

Some of the proposals make a certain amount of sense. There are higher fees proposed for an underground parking lot at Golden Gate Park, which could potentially help dissuade motorists and promote more environmentally friendly transportation options. There are higher fees for tow truck operators, which most anyone who’s ever involuntarily had their car towed could get behind. And the fee for discharging a cannon may go up from $400 to $636. While we’re pretty sure that last one is more likely to irk people who attend military ceremonies, we nonetheless take delight in imagining a rambunctious crew of pirates spilling into the board chambers to oppose it.

But this roster of Newsom’s new hidden fees begs an important question: Why is a mayor so adamantly against raising taxes bent on vacuuming more money out of the pockets of small business owners with higher fees? After all, many of these proposed increases will squeeze struggling, Mom-and-Pop businesses just a little tighter. City permits for auto wreckers, billiard parlors, junk dealers, and massage establishments may go up significantly. The fee for taking an EMT course may get higher. Permits for selling food on the street, driving a pedicab, dealing in second-hand auto parts, or operating a shooting gallery could also increase. Even the annual permit fee for street artists (several of whom we wrote about in our Streets Issue) is getting more expensive.
The list of fee hikes is on the agenda for Tuesday’s meeting, and was referred to the full board by the Budget & Finance Subcommittee. Supervisors recently proposed a number of new revenue generating measures including a nickel-per-drink tax on alcoholic beverages, an increase to the hotel tax, and a restructuring of the business payroll tax.

"There are no new taxes in this budget," Newsom declared during a June 1 announcement in which he unveiled his 2010-2011 budget. "I know some folks just prefer tax increases. I don't."

But why reject taxes outright and then quietly propose a bunch of fees that will place a higher burden on the individuals they impact?

“No new taxes” may sound like music to the ears of a public awash in financial woes, but Newsom’s hidden fees are not unlike taxes. Under this philosophy, it’s not desirable to ask everyone to pitch in an extra nickel the next time they buy a cocktail, but there’s no problem with asking the bar to fork over hundreds more annually for a health inspection. That doesn’t seem to be as simple as a campaign-ready “no new taxes” slogan, but then again, there’s a reason credit card companies bury their hidden fees in the fine print.