Dig into the fine print of Dayton's budget and you'll find fee increases

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Gov. Dayton stands to address the media.
Gov. Mark Dayton stands before taking the podium to take questions from the press on Tuesday.
Evan Frost | MPR News file

Expect to hear a lot in coming months about Gov. Mark Dayton's plan to increase school spending by 2 percent a year and to offset family costs for pre-kindergarten programs.

Same goes for his proposal to expand MinnesotaCare and his request for $60 million in new broadband development grants.

But other parts of his budget have a more direct line to your pocketbook — and they might not get as much attention.

The often overshadowed items are critical in everything from fighting crime to monitoring public health threats, said Minnesota Management and Budget Commissioner Myron Frans.

"Each part of this budget plays an important role in ensuring that we deliver services to Minnesotans," Frans said.

But those services cost money.

Under Dayton's recommendations, it would cost people a buck more to renew a driver's license. The extra money would go toward operating a new registration system for licenses and motor vehicle titles.

The state's drinking water protection program would receive more money to guard against contaminants and provide emergency response when problems are detected. To do that, the connection fee on 1.26 million households, institutions and businesses would rise in January. It amounts to 22 cents more per month for each household.

Tattoo parlors and piercing studios would be inspected with more regularity. But the cost of body art licenses will double, or in some cases triple. Other occupational licenses would also go up to cover the higher costs of criminal background checks.

License fees could go down for electricians, plumbers and other contractors, a $2.6 million annual cost break overall.

Some of the widest-reaching fee increases would fall on outdoors enthusiasts. The Department of Natural Resources is seeking $40 million in extra fees on ATVs, boats, snowmobiles, ski trail passes, state park entrance and more.

Anglers would pay $25 for their annual resident license, a $3 increase.

"If you're buying emerald shiners in Baudette, that is about a quarter of a scoop of minnows," said DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr

Deer hunters would be asked to pony up $4 more, or $34 in all for a resident license.

"One of the challenges with fees is it is always a tough ask at the Capitol," said Landwehr. "Nobody wants to raise fees. Nobody wants to raise taxes and yet that is the source of income for these programs."

Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, who chairs the Senate committee that oversees natural resources finances, is reviewing the fee recommendations. At first blush, he thinks they're reasonable.

But he's waiting to hear whether the public and his colleagues see it that way, and noting that hunting and fishing fees are dedicated to increasing habitat.

"We have just have a tremendous resource and we have to take care of it," Ingebrigtsen said. "We have to enforce the laws and part of the dollars go toward that."

Not everyone would pay more to hunt or fish. More disabled military veterans would qualify for free licenses.

Now, anyone with a 100 percent service-connected disability gets a license for free. Dayton recommends dropping the threshold to 50 percent, making 16,000 more veterans eligible.

But the added fees for most people are a "pay now or pay later" choice, said Rep. Rick Hansen, DFL-South St. Paul, because it could cost more to rescue parks and habitat if they're neglected.

But he said supporters of the higher fees must show that people are getting their money's worth.

"If they just go into the machine and people don't see a result, like the staffing, the improvement in the facilities, the improvements in the hunting and fishing experience," he said, "then I think Minnesotans become skeptical."

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