hen I wake up in the morning at my home in Austin, Texas, I turn on the lights, and thereby provide a few cents to the city government’s electric company. I flush the toilet, owing a few more to Austin’s sewer service. When I pour myself a glass of water, the city water department gets a piece. After I get dressed and step outside, I watch the city take my trash, my recycling, and my compost—each pickup costs a few dollars. Sometimes, I discover a $25 ticket for parking my car in the wrong spot. Then I swallow my anger and drive down the MoPac highway, where I pay a toll to the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority. I park in a garage downtown owned by the Austin Transportation Department, pay them a few bucks, and walk to my office. If I need to take a trip out of town, I pay $1.25 for a Capital Metro District bus to the city-owned Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, where, along with the price of my plane ticket, I pay a $5.60 fee for the benefit of being patted down by a TSA agent, a Passenger Facility Charge, and a small part in any rents the city charges restaurants and retailers. Only when I’m in the air does the drain to the government stop.
In one typical morning, I handed over money to several government bodies. But I didn’t pay any taxes—only fees, charges, and fines. These are the future of government in the United States.
The idea that government operates just by taxing and spending money is anachronistic. A growing share of its revenue comes from charges that the government imposes in exchange for its services or as a penalty for breaking its rules. In 1950, about 1 percent of Americans’ income went to charges from state and local governments. Today, that number is 4 percent. Include federal fees and charges, themselves the fastest-growing part of federal revenue, and that number rises to over 5.5 percent. Though largely hidden from the public, fees and charges account for most of the growth in government over the past 70 years and have become the top source of revenue for state and local governments.
Author(s): Judge Glock
Publication Date: Spring 2022
Publication Site: City Journal