That’s the buzzword coming from the fourth floor of the State Capitol these days, which is where Gov. John Bel Edwards and his staff work.
While there was some thought about a cuts-only special session next month, the Edwards Administration is heeding calls from lawmakers for revenue-raising options and part of that strategy will include fees.
The governor is expected to call a 10-day special session beginning on Feb. 13 and he alone will be able to set the agenda.
That’s important in terms of what kind of bills lawmakers can file. If the subject matter is not on Edwards’ agenda, the legislation cannot be introduced.
While fees represent a quick way the state can get cash during the final months of the fiscal year that ends on June 30, Edwards is taking a very nuanced approach to their potential role in the special session.
He plans to include fee increases and the creation of new fees on his agenda, but the governor will not personally make any such proposals.
Individuals and businesses pay fees for permits. Farmers and commercial fishermen pay fees that get channeled back into their industries. Practically every department and agency in the state relies on fees for operations.
From a political perspective, fees may serve as an easier pill for conservative lawmakers to swallow, as opposed to taxes, which the governor has indicated are unlikely to be featured prominently in his special session agenda.
Just how far lawmakers can go with fees while facing a $304 million deficit remains to be seen.
The Department of Health and the Department of Environmental Quality both pushed for massive fee packages in the 2016 regular session. There were also proposed new fees or fee increases for state courts, the Office of Motor Vehicles, cemeteries, fishing guides, drones, pipeline operators, clemency investigators, architects and more than a dozen other categories.
The governor, however, appears to be more interested in spending reductions and a key fund transfer. In particular, Edwards has proposed using $119 million from the state’s special savings account, known as the Rainy Day Fund, to help erase part of the deficit.