Street Light User Fee

Streetlight User Fee

District of Columbia Mayor Adrian Fenty has proposed imposing a street light “user fee” on residents and businesses in Washington DC. Funds raised would help defray costs of street light maintenance and operation, and would be collected through surcharges on electric utility bills. If enacted, the measure would cost average DC households about $51 a year.

The rationale for a “user fee” is that it isn’t a tax imposed on everyone; a user fee is only paid by those using a specific service, and is proportional to the rate of use. Mayor Fenty’s measure, however,  does not exempt blind Washingtonians from this “user fee,” and they are not consumers of street light services.

Fenty (D), who promised during his campaign that he would not raise taxes, has referred to the changes as “fees increases.” Asked last week why they should not be considered tax increases, Fenty replied: “Because I don’t define it as one.”

 Council members have questioned Fenty’s semantics.

“In terms of the particular fees, a little straight talk is appropriate. It’s a kind of tax,” said Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3). “We’re increasing costs on people in a variety of ways.”
–”Fenty Proposes New Taxes, Fees,” David Nakamura, Washington Post

Is the choice between the terms “tax” and “user fee” a distinction without a difference? No. Calling something a tax a “tax” has the virtue of honesty; calling a charge a “user fee” when it is really a tax is specious, pure casuistry or sophistry — in other words, it is politics as usual.

Calling a tax a “user fee” is simply an attempt by politicians to avoid responsibility for implementing necessary tax increases and –  in this case  — pin the blame on the electric company.  This sham was invented under Republican patron saint Ronald Reagan, and should have been buried with him. Is Democrat Fenty about to change parties?

As Council Member Cheh observed, such a user fee would increase resident costs “in a variety of ways.”  The Mayor’s bill does not compensate PEPCO for collecting this tax “fee,” and the process is not without cost, which would probably be passed on to consumers through higher electric rates.

 

Further reading:

Fiscal Year 2010 Budget Support Act of 2009 Title VI. Public Works, Subtitle H. Street Light Operation and Maintenance Fee  (go to pages 115 – 117).

 “D.C. Mayor Proposes Streetlight Tax, Other Taxes; Calls Them ‘Fees,’” Joseph Henchman, Tax Policy Blog

 “Big city taxes: Who pays what,” Julianne Pepitone, CNN Money

 

Image by Mike Licht. Download a copy here (and St. Ronnie GOP Holy Card here). Creative Commons license; credit Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com

Comments are welcome if they are on-topic, substantive, concise, and not obscene. Comments may be edited for clarity and length.

 

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4 Responses to “Street Light User Fee”

  1. Would blind Washingtonians have to pay the proposed Street Light User Fee? - Political Humor Says:

    [...] District of Columbia Mayor Adrian Fenty has proposed imposing a street light “user fee” on residents and businesses in Washington DC. Funds raised would help defray costs of street light maintenance and operation, and would be collected through surcharges on electric utility bills. If enacted, the measure would cost average DC households about $51 a year. [...]

  2. nil Says:

    I would pay 50 bucks a year to have the streetlights around my house turned _off_; it would probably be cheaper than the industrial strength window shades I would need to block the light from my bedroom window.

  3. Mike Licht Says:

    nil wrote: I would pay 50 bucks a year to have the streetlights around my house turned
    off

    Been there.

    At one time you could call DDOT and have a directional shade installed if a streetlight glared in your window. It was either free or at a one-time charge (within your $50 limit). Call 311 (Mayor’s Citywide Call Center), your council members’s constituent services liaison, or try your luck online.

  4. Mike Licht Says:

    UPDATE: “Streetlight Fee No More,” Mike DeBonis, City Desk, WCP.

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