In-depth report: Utah residents pay more in ‘fees’ to local, state governments

Posted at 10:08 PM, Nov 11, 2013
and last updated 2013-11-12 18:10:10-05

SALT LAKE CITY -- Utah residents pay far more money to the state government than the numbers that show up on paystubs, mortgage statements or store receipts.

31 percent more.

That's the proportion of "own source" money that comes into the state government from what the U.S. census calls "charges" and everyone else calls fees.

When state and local revenues are lumped together, Utahns pay 29 percent of government budgets in the form of fees.

"Own source" money is all money in state and local government budgets that does not come from the federal government, and most states get more than 70 percent of their total "own source" revenue from various types of taxes.

Fox 13 looked at the 2011 numbers from the U.S. Census Bureau. That's the most recent year available. Utah gets 31 percent of its budget from fees. The rest comes from various sources including interest on accounts and property sales.

That 31 percent figure far outpaces all of the surrounding states. Colorado's and Wyoming's fees make up 22 percent of their state "own source" revenue. Nevada is next at 20 percent. New Mexico Idaho and Arizona all come in between 10 and 20 percent.

The Utah Foundation looked at similar numbers in 2010.

"If you're just looking at taxes, Utah was 38th highest in the country, but if you look at all of the taxes and fees it's 20th," said Utah Foundation President Steve Kroes.

The Utah Taxpayers association puts together a tax burden report every year. They put Utah's burden even higher in their latest report, saying Utah has the eighth highest burden when state and local taxes and fees are taken into account. They suggest any new fee should be met with an equivalent tax reduction.

"You can use these fees for specific purposes, and then if you don't go back to the general fund and reduce that you've got all this money you can put towards whatever you want to fund," said Chase Everton, research associate with the Utah Taxpayers Association.

The numbers are different because the Utah foundation distinguishes between mandatory and non-mandatory fees. They consider certain fees to carry the same burden as a tax because they are hard to avoid, like car registration or textbook rental in public schools.

The Utah Foundation also suggests such fees aren't so burdensome when considered in conjunction with the state's demand for money, especially for education. They say Utah has a 1.7 percent higher than average tax burden with a 20 percent higher than average need in education.

Neither group says fees are exorbitant in Utah. Instead the possible problem is transparency, or the lack thereof.

Fees don't have to go through stringent Truth in Taxation rules that are a part of Utah tax law.

"[Fees] are less transparent because they don't have to go through as much of a process as taxes have to go through," Everton said.

Neither the Utah Foundation nor the Utah Taxpayers Association has taken on the gargantuan tax of looking comprehensively at fees. When city, county and school budgets are taken into account, there are literally thousands.

If you'd like to see the results of their research, you can find it here: