Republican House Speaker T.W. Shannon says user fees have gone up by about $100 million since 2007, and he wanted to ban most fee increases this past legislative session.
But in the end, it was more of a technicality than worry over how to fund the government that killed House Bill 1914.
Shannon’s bill passed the House and Senate, but was never sent to Gov. Mary Fallin to be signed into law. So, the fees agencies charge for their services can continue to go up … and they are.
StateImpact followed the effort to end most fee increases, and found many supporters, but also detractors, like Oklahoma County judge James Croy, who questioned the wisdom of cutting off another source of revenue for the state.
“If we can’t fund government, government will cease to exist,” Croy says.
Croy sees fees as necessary, but is disturbed by how much they’ve gone up just in the criminal justice system, which would not have been impacted by the fee ban. Others, like Oklahoma City attorney Jerry Fent, hate fees as much as taxes.
“I think the legislator think if they vote for a tax increase, even a small one, and go back and try to get re-elected, they’re going to throw that right back in their face,” Fent says. “So they’ve seen this fee deal, and there are a bunch of them out there that are excessive fees.”
Rep. Jason Murphey, R-Edmond, co-authored the fee ban:
“One of the ones I was really sorry to see go through was a nearly $10 million increase to the Department of Public Safety, mostly for about a 50 percent increase on the base fee charged for driver’s licenses.”
StateImpact found nine fee increases in the DPS bill alone:
- The cost of the standard “class D” license most Oklahoma drivers are issued increased from $21.50 to $33.50
- Class A, B, and C commercial licenses all increased by $10.
- The fee rates for seniors license-seekers went up, too. A class D license that was $11.25 will now cost $21.25 for 62 year olds.
- Their 63- and 64-year-old counterparts will also see a $10 driver’s license fee hike.
- Identification cards that once cost $10 will now be $20, and so will replacement driver’s licenses.
There were other, smaller increases as well, including the fee for a dentistry license. Still, Murphey says fee increases are slowing to a trickle, even with the failure of the three-year moratorium:
“Historically, certain agencies could raise fees by administrative rule, and if the legislature did not take action to disapprove that change then the fee would go into effect,” Murphey tells StateImpact. “One of the big reforms from a couple of years back was the reversal of that process so that an agency that attempts to raise fees has to receive approval from the legislature.”
Murphey says a potential moratorium became problematic this session, even though the idea is very popular. After passing the driver’s license fee hike, it would’ve been odd to turn around and immediately ban it. But he’ll likely make another attempt at a ban next session.
“My hope is that will be the last big fee increase we see for a very long time,” Murphey says.
The agency wants to use the expected $8 million windfall to reduce wait times by hiring more employees.