The ultimate “user fee” in Oklahoma has risen exponentially over the years. Every increase has drawn complaints, but people keep paying.
We're referring to the tolls that drivers pay to use turnpikes. Those who don't drive on toll roads don't pay tolls, which not only fund the cost of construction but maintenance and Highway Patrol coverage.
Fees are becoming the financing method of choice in Oklahoma, just as turnpikes were the highway improvement method of choice for many years. The Oklahoman's Randy Ellis reports that the state's take from fees, licenses and permits in fiscal 2012 reached nearly $600 million, up 48 percent from the previous year.
Turnpike tolls are not included in these figures. But like tolls, the fees cover activities that are optional and sometimes help an agency reduce its appropriations from the general fund. Nevertheless, they're as unpopular as turnpike tolls.
The people themselves must share some blame for escalating fees because legislators are hindered in their ability to raise taxes. This resulted from passage of a constitutional amendment erecting barriers to tax increases. But gains from income tax cuts have without doubt been offset by losses from paying fees.