Paying more for state services

April 16, 1992

Starting this summer, people who need permits from the state will pay more for them. Professionals holding licenses from the state will be charged bigger fees. And anyone who owns a motor vehicle will be assessed an extra $8 per year to help underwrite the state's emergency medical system.

These recommendations of the Commission on Efficiency and Economy in Government were adopted by the legislature during its extended session. As set out by the panel of business and academic leaders, the goal is to make government activities self-supporting -- where feasible.

For instance, individuals applying for a handgun permit previously paid $25 -- a mere 13 percent of the actual expense to the state. But now gun applicants will pay $75, or 39 percent of costs; renewal applicants will pay $50, or 62 percent of the real cost. Permit fees for special police commissions, machine gun registration, security guards and fingerprints will also come closer to matching the expenses involved.

In the health area, professional licensing boards must become financially self-supporting, which means fee increases. It also means that the users of these boards' services will bear the full burden of underwriting the operating expenses. That's how it should be.

The biggest change, though, will come from the new $8 charge on vehicle registration fees. Since more than 80 percent of all Medevac flights are directly related to automobile accidents, it makes sense to have car drivers help pick up the costs for this program. At the moment, there is no charge for these expensive -- and often life-saving -- medical flights. The new fee, expected to raise $26 million, is relatively small yet it will ensure that the state can maintain its emergency medical system even in difficult economic times.

Overall, the efficiency panel achieved some striking results. It spearheaded the effort for a mandatory helmet law for motorcyclists to reduce state medical costs. It won the argument to eliminate state funding for the resident trooper program that gives Carroll County a big discount on its law-enforcement expenses. It succeeded in getting the state some control over the appointment of local social services directors, who control $700 million in state and federal aid. And it gained approval of a bill making the drinking-driver monitoring program more self-supporting.

That's quite a record for a group, headed by former C&P chief J. Henry Butta, that had to scramble to get its first batch of recommendations ready for the 1992 legislative session. Even more encouraging is the assurance that the panel will be issuing more reports on how to save taxpayer dollars. The next one is due in a few weeks. It should make for exciting reading.

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