Christie defends plans to hike fees by $26 million
Gov. Chris Christie said targeted fees are better than broad-based tax hikes in paying for government, defending increases planned for next year’s budget or already approved that exceed $26 million.
The Department of Law and Public Safety budget counts on more than $20 million from increasing or expanding fees on motor vehicle fines, cell phones and fingerprinting for background checks.
And the Department of Health budget anticipates $6 million in new revenue from increasing the fee charged by the state’s newborn screening laboratory from $90 per test to $150. That fee is charged to hospitals, then shifted to insurers – though hospitals say those reimbursement rates are already set.
Asked on Thursday night’s installment of “Ask the Governor” on New Jersey 101.5 whether that’s the kind of thing for which Christie lambasted his predecessors, Christie said he’s done it more rarely.
“Past governors were doing it every year. We haven’t done fee increases in quite some time, and the ones that we’re talking about, it’s been a decade or more since those fees have been increased,” said Christie.
“There’s a cost that goes along with paying government. Which would you rather have me do, raise taxes on everyone to pay for those services or to have the people who utilize those services pay more when they haven’t paid more in 10 years in some instances?” he said.
New Jersey screens newborns for 63 disorders. The fee increase was proposed by the Health Department last summer and took effect this month. It’s the first increase in that fee since 2008. Proceeds will be used to buy new lab and computer equipment and expand follow-up services.
Though Christie defended by the Department of Law and Public Safety fee increases in part by saying “we don’t skim that money off to spend it on something else,” the revenues in most of those cases are being redirected.
The $3.7 million expected from adding another $1 to a $2 surcharge on motor vehicle fines would help pay for New Jersey’s DNA forensics labs, which have a higher workload due to criminal-justice reforms that changed bail and speedy-trial rules. The existing fee likewise goes to the DNA labs, not the Motor Vehicle Commission.
The $13 million expected from adding a 90-cent monthly fee to prepaid cell phones that already levied on landline and cellular phones is intended for upgrades of the 911 emergency response system, but the bulk of the $122 million that fee already generates offsets expenses such as the State Police budget. NJ.com reported that the additional revenue is intended for 911 upgrades.
The $3.643 million in extra revenue expected from hiking the fingerprinting fee for noncriminal background checks from $30 to $45 would stay with the Division of State Police.
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