Thursday, September 3, 2015

Editorial: What extra fees are you willing to pay, and for what?

Editorial: What extra fees are you willing to pay, and for what?

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Link: What extra fees are you willing to pay, and for what? [Daily News]

WOULD YOU PAY $5 more a week to have your trash picked up?

You may have to. The idea of a trash pickup fee is being floated as a way to generate up to $100 million a year to fill the big hole in the city's budget.

In fact, faced with a crisis, city leaders are flirting heavily with the idea of imposing more fees; there has been talk of imposing a $35 fee on those arrested, raising the fee for ambulance service, and charging fees for pools to keep them open.

In some circumstances, fees may be a good idea, but we hope the mayor studies this carefully before diving into the fee-for-service pool.

Most municipalities have grappled with the fee-for-service issue, especially when the economic going gets rough. Fees can be quick fixes for budget holes. But most taxpayers realize that fees and taxes are essentially the same thing. And aren’t our taxes already enough to get the services we need?

The city of Washington DC prepares an annual review of tax burdens around the country. Philadelphia constantly lands on the top of the heap for the highest burden. Major taxes for a hypothetical family of three in this city is about $4200 for a family making $25,000 a year, $8600 at $50,000 income, and $11,000 for those making $75,000.

So what should we be getting for that money? That’s the key question, though difficult to answer. Most of us agree that we pay taxes in part to receive direct services, as well as services that we may never use, but are necessary for the common good. Many don't use social or public health services, and many don't have children in the public schools. Yet we still support those items. It would be dangerous to consider that government is nothing but a shopping mall of services, where we get to pick and choose only what we ourselves absolutely need.

That’s why the city should come up with rational criteria for services that might justify fees. Services essential to the greater good is arguably one of the jobs of government. And trash pickup could be considered one of those. Without trash collection, we’d have a big public health problem. (And what would the city do if some people didn't pay their fees? Would that trash not get picked up?)

Other cases, like the pools, where the choice is charge a fee or close, might be more clear cut.
The public conversation around the city over the budget (such as the citizen workshop tonight) provides a great venue for exploring this idea. So is the budget website www.ourmoneyphilly.com, where you can weigh in on this issue.
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Every year, city government spends slightly more than $4 billion. Where does all that money come from? More importantly, where does it go? Are we getting the most bang for our tax buck? “It's Our Money” is a joint project between Philadelphia Daily News and WHYY, funded by the William Penn Foundation, designed to answer these questions.

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