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States eye fee increases as tax alternative

NARRAGANSETT, Rhode Island (AP) ― Twenty dollars for a parking place wasn’t going to ruin Ellen Majka’s day at the beach. But she was still taken aback when she arrived at Rhode Island’s popular Scarborough state beach and learned that parking fees had nearly doubled.

“It seems a little steep to me,” said Majka, of Westfield, Massachusetts. “Add in the price of gas and it starts to add up. But I didn’t come two hours to turn back over $20.”

As states and municipalities continue to grapple with the recession’s fallout, few turned to big, noticeable tax hikes this year. Instead, they’re slashing spending and turning to more modest, narrowly crafted increases in fees and fines ― nickel-and-diming their way to a balanced budget.

Louisiana and South Dakota raised state park fees, while California increased vehicle registration costs and Wisconsin started charging more to retake the state driving exam. Georgia raised fees on day care licenses, fireworks permits and traveling circuses. Oregon raised fees on medical marijuana, while Rhode Island imposed taxes on over-the-counter drugs, sightseeing tours and smartphone applications.

Fines are going up in many places too. Tennessee lawmakers increased traffic fines. Wyoming raised fines for trucks exceeding weight limits. New York City increased fines for taxi drivers caught talking on a cellphone while driving.

In Maryland, fee increases were common solutions this year as lawmakers struggled to balance the books without across-the-board tax increases.

Not even newborns went unaffected, as birth certificate fees doubled from $12. The fee for a vanity license plate doubled from $25. A surcharge on filing land records will double from $20.

Kim Malle, who lives on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, isn’t only unhappy about the recently approved fees; she’s also concerned about rising tolls that are under consideration.
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