FEES, fines helping finance government

Sunday, June 3rd 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ College students and criminals will help finance state government this year, thanks to bills approved during the recently completed legislative session.

The Legislature approved nearly $82 million in fee and fine increases during the 2001 session. Most of the increases fall to college students in Oklahoma.

One new bill gave the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education the authority to raise tuition.

Under the legislation, state regents have the authority to increase tuition for Oklahoma residents up to 7 percent per year for the next five years. Tuition for nonresident students can be raised 9 percent per year for the next five years.

Last week, the regents raised tuition to the maximum allowed by the new law. The action is estimated to raise $15.4 million for higher education.

Another newly approved bill allows a $5 fine to be assessed against people convicted of crimes carrying at least a fine of $10. The new fee is estimated to produce close to $3 million, which will go to the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation to keep its lab equipment up to date and hire more personnel.

A group of economists found a few years ago that fees would be a significant way the Legislature would cope with the difficulty of raising taxes. The economists were studying the impact of State Question 640, which was approved by voters in 1992 and made it virtually impossible for the Legislature to raise a state tax without a vote of the people.

``As the cost of doing business increases, we do need to be able to take care of that cost,'' said state Sen. Kelly Haney, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. ``Most often, the fees are applied to people who use the services instead of the general population.''

Under a new fine approved this year by the Legislature, people making restitution for writing bogus checks will pay an additional $25 for district attorneys. It is estimated the fine will generate $3 million per year.

Law libraries across Oklahoma will share $500,000 per year from a $3 increase in a fee paid on some traffic and drunken-driving convictions. A $1 fee authorized on requests for information on prior workers' compensation claims will generate about $120,000 per year for the state workers' compensation court.

In addition, Oklahoma's 77 county clerks will share $450,000 per year from a percentage of an administrative processing charge on criminal, civil and traffic cases. Also, the state Wildlife Commission will earn about $125,000 per year from a new $5 fee levied on a person filing an application for a controlled hunt.