Massachusetts lawmakers are moving to impose as much as $50 million in new annual fees, considering a surcharge on car rentals as well as some transactions involving mortgages and deeds.
Legislators argue the new money is needed for police training, county government, parks and open spaces, affordable housing, and historic preservation.
But should those proposals be sent to Governor Charlie Baker, he indicated he may veto them.
“The governor does not generally support raising fees,” said Baker spokesman Brendan Moss in response to a question about the proposals. “The administration will carefully review final legislation that reaches his desk.”
Last week, the state Senate and House of Representatives passed separate bills that included a new $2 fee for each car rental transaction in the state. The revenue would support municipal police training.
The Senate, but not the House, also passed tens of million of dollars in fee increases at registries of deeds that would hike underlying fees — for example, the cost of recording a mortgage would rise from $150 to $160 — as well as increase a surcharge on most transactions from $20 to $50.
Key parts of the fee hikes have the backing of municipal officials, police officials, and a bipartisan group of legislators.
But low-tax advocates, who note that tax revenue has been coming into state coffers at a steady clip, are strongly opposed.
“More is never enough,” said Chip Ford, executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. “I don’t care how much they take in, they want more, more, always more! It’s just a ceaseless drive to take more from the taxpayer — by any means necessary.”
The car rental surcharge has nearly universal support in the Legislature, passing in the House, 149-4, and in the Senate as a budget amendment, 37-0, with the backing of every Republican. Those margins would easily override a Baker veto.
Speaker Robert A. DeLeo, a Winthrop Democrat, said, “The House heard from police chiefs and recognizes the need for additional funds for municipal police training.”
That new rental car fee would add up to $8 million or more each year, and would be deposited in a fund for municipal police training for recruits as well as veteran officers. It would create a steady stream of revenue that law enforcement officials and advocates say is sorely needed.
Senator Julian Cyr, a Democrat who sponsored the Senate budget amendment that includes the fee, said, “The scope of law enforcement has expanded, if you look at the response to the opioid epidemic. . . . We’re asking them to do more and more, so having a stable, predictable training fund that’s not connected to the year-to-year up and down is key.”
Chelsea Police Chief Brian Kyes echoed that view and said, “The fee is nominal and it relieves taxpayers from the burden of paying for this training.”
The surcharge wouldn’t apply to ride-hailing companies such as Uber and Lyft, nor on rental periods of less than 12 hours that are charged on an hourly basis.
But the top US car rental company group, which represents 98 percent of the industry, is decrying the effort.
The American Car Rental Association said in a statement that it “wholeheartedly supports law enforcement and enhanced training.”
However, the group said, “At least 50 percent of those who rent cars in Massachusetts are local residents and companies. So this additional tax seems misplaced and unfair since there are other far more equitable ways for responsible lawmakers to fund such important programs.”
For rentals in Boston, there is already a surcharge of $10 per transaction that goes to the construction and financing of convention centers in the state, alongside additional costs.
The other slew of proposed fee increases that could become law apply to actions people take at the registry of deeds, such as recording a mortgage or a deed. They were included in the Senate-passed state budget but not in the budget passed by the House. That means they may or may not be included in the final budget that is sent to the governor.
(Neither budget includes broad-based tax increases, but voters may have an opportunity to impose a new income surtax on high earners at the ballot box this fall.)
One set of fee hikes would apply to transactions at a registry. Among them: The fee for recording a mortgage would rise from $150 to $160; the fee for recording a deed would rise from $100 to $110; and the fee for recording a declaration of trust would rise from $200 to $210.
In the several counties where county government still exists and runs the registries, it appears much of the new money would be retained by the county government. Everywhere else — such as in Middlesex County — the state’s general fund would likely get most of the extra cash.
The other increase in registry of deeds charges would be to a surcharge on most transactions — in addition to the underlying fees — to $50 from $20, and to $25 from $10 for recording a municipal lien certificate.
That increase would support the Community Preservation Act, a state law that plows local and state money into open space preservation, playgrounds, athletic fields, affordable housing, and historic preservation.
Voters in about half of the cities and towns in Massachusetts have chosen to increase their property taxes and put that money into community preservation projects.
The new registry fees would supplement the revenue generated by local property taxes. In the early 2000s, the state was able to match the local funds accrued under the Community Preservation Act at 100 percent. But due to inflation and the big uptick in the number of communities joining, that’s now down to a match of just 11 percent.
“There’s a bit of a crisis in funding for the CPA program,” said Stuart Saginor, executive director of the Community Preservation Coalition, a nonprofit. “We certainly don’t want to go backwards.”
He said the surcharge for registry fees has never been increased since the CPA was signed into law in 2000. The act, Saginor said, has “contributed tremendously to Commonwealth’s quality of life,” supporting vast tracts of preserved open space, tens of thousands of affordable housing units, and myriad historic preservation and outdoor recreation projects.
Fiscal watchdogs urged caution.
Doug Howgate of the business-backed Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation said the group estimates the total new annual revenue from the car rental fee and community preservation surcharge alone would be in the range of $35 million to $50 million.
“That’s a lot of money,” he said. “Any time you are generating multiple tens of millions in new revenue, you need to make sure people are comfortable with how it’s being spent and how it’s being tracked over time.”Joshua Miller can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.