Electricians, accountants, locksmiths and funeral directors – more than 33,000 people and 11,000 businesses in all – face higher licensing fees under changes proposed by the state Division of Consumer Affairs.

The changes across the affected professions would cost license holders roughly $2.8 million in additional costs. Individually, it’s an extra $45 to $100 for licenses that are good for two or three years.

That’s a relatively small amount, and the fees involved haven’t been changed in 13 to 26 years. But for the accountants’ board, though not the others involved, there’s a twist.

In Gov. Chris Christie’s second term as governor, he balanced the state budget in part by repeatedly tapping money from the surpluses of some of the professional licensing boards. That included almost $1.5 million from the State Board of Accountancy – which would now be in line for a bit over $1 million in additional money from the proposed fee hikes.

Ralph Albert Thomas, chief executive officer and executive director of the New Jersey Society of Certified Public Accountants, said the fee proposal was a surprise, in part because of the fines paid into the fund generated by an audit of continuing professional education credits.

“Significant revenues came in, and we wondered, ‘Where did those revenues go?’ Come to find out that some of that was swept into the general fund,” Thomas said. “What I think has happened (is that) boards that had surpluses, some of those revenues were swept."

Now, he said, the boards were analyzed to determine which were potentially underfunded. "As they reviewed, then boom," Thomas said. "... You need to increase licensing fees.”

Fees would increase 50 percent for accountants, electricians and locksmiths and 40 percent for morticians. Costs for some business licenses would double.

“We still have one of the lowest fees for accountants in the country, but a 50 percent increase, you ask the question, as accountants, why did this happen?” Thomas said. “Why the increase?”

The state’s 2018 budget counts on another $7 million in transfers from the balances of various professional boards with the specific sources to be determined later.

With that, the state will have shifted nearly $100 million from those boards over four years to balance the state budget – $50 million in 2015, $35.5 million in 2016 and $7 million in both 2017 and 2018.

The State Board of Medical Examiners has been tapped for $38.8 million so far, and the State Board of Nursing for $22.3 million. Twenty-two other boards have been raided for $100,000 to $3.2 million.

The state says the fees need to be increased to cover costs such as salaries for staff, payments to board members for attending meetings and reimbursing over divisions of state government for things such as legal services and database management.

The state is taking comments on the proposed fee hikes through Oct. 6.

Thomas said the timetable might mean the higher fees won’t be reflected on the three-year license renewal notices for CPAs, expected to be issued in November.

New Jersey: Decoded cuts through the cruft and gets to what matters in New Jersey news and politics. Follow on Facebook and Twitter.

Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5 and the editor of New Jersey: Decoded. Follow @NJDecoded on Twitter and Facebook. Contact him at michael.symons@townsquaremedia.com

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