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Published April 19, 2013, 03:17 PM

Fee increases strewn throughout Minnesota budget bills

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Hundreds of millions of dollars in fee increases are strewn throughout the budget bills starting to pass at the Minnesota Capitol, from $3 extra for a driver's license to higher charges for water usage.

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Hundreds of millions of dollars in fee increases are strewn throughout the budget bills starting to pass at the Minnesota Capitol, from $3 extra for a driver's license to higher charges for water usage.

Minnesota Public Radio reports that there are about $300 million in new fees, surcharges and one-time money in House and Senate budget bills. That's in addition to the $2.5 billion in taxes proposed by Democrats in control of the Legislature.

With those tax increases in mind, Rep. Mary Liz Holberg, R-Lakeville, said the fee hikes aren't necessary to fix the state's $627 million budget deficit.

"It's breathtaking in its scope and amount," Holberg said.

Some of the revenue from those increases will pay for programs generally covered by tax revenues. But other fee hikes will target a specific area. The water fee increases — part of the environmental budget that passed in the House Thursday evening — pay to monitor and protect groundwater resources. An increase in attorney fees would help the public defender budget.

Rep. Lyndon Carlson, DFL-Crystal, defended that increase and others as a way to protect the state's programs.

"We're trying to get the ship of state uprighted, and yes, that includes taxes and benefits," Carlson said.

New fees and hikes are not a new budgeting tool. Former Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty used them in his first term to skirt around raising taxes but still raise revenues.

Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton proposed $45 million in new fees in his budget.

"I've told the leaders that the same rule applies to them that applies to me: No games, no gimmicks and no manipulations," Dayton said.

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