Mitt Romney has been bragging recently that he closed a budget gap of $3 billion while serving as the governor as Massachusetts without having to raise taxes. Even though he continues to bring up this fact, he does not discuss how he did so too often. The Republican candidate for president and democratic lawmakers in the state closed the budget by raising hundreds of millions of dollars for the state by raising fees. Fees were increased on almost everything from real estate transactions to gun licenses to marriage licenses.
“It was a grab bag of fee increases across the board to close the budget deficit,” Michael Widmer, the president of Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, said.
Romney has stated a couple of times that the increase of fees during his time as governor of Massachusetts cannot be seen as tax increases because they were fees for specific services offered. “He never favored, never advocated for and never signed a tax increase into law,” Romney campaign spokeswoman Andrea Saul said.
Romney discussed his success tackling the budget in Massachusetts back in June by saying:
“The expectation was that we’d have to raise taxes. But I refused. I ordered, instead, a complete review of all state spending, made tough choices and balanced the budget without raising taxes.”
During Romney’s first two years in office, he and the Democratic-run Legislature raised $350 million both years. Romney claims that the increases led to $240 million in fiscal year 2004. The figures have been estimated much higher by the National Conference of State Legislatures, which claims Massachusetts issues over $501.5 million in fee increases in 2003. The second place state came in at $367 million and it was New York, which had a much larger budget at the time than Massachusetts.
The study said that marriage licenses increased from $4 to $50, deed-recording fees increased from $25 to $100, driving permits increased from $15 to $30 and recording fees for mortgages increased from $36 to $158. The Legislature threw out two other fee proposals by Romney that included a $10 fee for a state certificate of blindness and a $15 fee for a photo ID card.
Romney wanted to raise the fee for firearms registration to $75 from $25 but it was declared a tax increase by the Gun Owners’ Action League.
“Anytime we have to pay a fee for a civil right, it’s a tax increase as far as we are concerned,” said Jim Wallace, the league’s executive director.
The fee was increased to $100 by the Legislature but the validity of the licenses was extended to six years from four years.
In its 2006 fiscal report card on governors, the Cato Institute said the following about Romney:
“Romney will likely also be eager to push the message that he was a governor who stood by a no-new-taxes pledge. That’s mostly a myth. His first budget included no general tax increases but did include a $500 million increase in various fees.”