Press Talk: How’s that user-fee concept working for ya?

By Lou Brancaccio, Columbian Editor



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Most of us believe in the user-fee concept where, rather than taxing everyone, someone who uses a service pays for it.

At least that’s what our unscientific poll results showed this week. You can see the results below.

But as individuals, we’re pretty fickle. We’re for it until we have to personally pay for it.

Then we’re against it.

No shame here; it’s just the way the human brain functions.

For it or against it, we’d all pretty much agree our government is continuing its march on taxing us all to help pay for stuff we never use.

It’s a fact.

So it is interesting that our poll shows that most of us don’t like this idea. Well, except for …

o o o

It appears that no matter how a conversation begins in this community — “Hey, it looks like good weather today” — it will likely end with — “Yeah, right, but who the heck wants to pay tolls to get across the I-5 bridge.”

So a conversation about user fees will automatically turn into a conversation about bridge tolling, even though bridge tolling was never mentioned.

Yep. Such is life.

For example, one of the first to comment on our poll question on our website was Vancouver resident Marty Downs. Marty was with the majority of our poll voters in liking the idea of user fees. Well, except for …

“Just not for interstate bridges :-)”

You see, bridge tolls are a pretty good example of a user fee. If you use it, you pay for it. If you don’t use it, you don’t pay for it.

For example, let’s say you hate Portland. You never go there. Bunch of ’60s hippie types that never grew up or cut their hair. They’re more interested in saving the whales than saving a buck for retirement.

But under the “everyone should pay for it with taxes” concept, you — my friend — get to pay for that bridge to Portland even though you won’t use it!

Now on the other end of this debate, you have folks who say, “I use the dang bridge every day!!! It’s going to cost me a ton of money!!! And I already pay gas taxes for roads. Brother, can you spare a dime to help a guy out?”

Pretty quickly, some folks will find an exception to user fees. Especially when that user fee comes out of their pocket!

Truth is, there are plenty of examples where the majority of folks would say the user-fee concept doesn’t work.

If your house burns down, you probably like the idea that after the fire department puts it out, you don’t get a bill. Everyone pays for those salaries and shiny trucks and water hoses.

What does it all mean?

Well, as is often the case, the devil is in the details. As a community, we all should be responsible for some things. But as individuals, we should recognize what we should do and pay for ourselves.

Overall, has the government gone too far in having everyone pay for most everything, even if most of us don’t use something?

It’s a fair question with good arguments on both sides. And personally, I can see the good and the bad in user fees.

As the November election approaches, it’s probably a good idea to consider this stuff.

And by the way, nothing wrong with saving those whales. Or Portland.

Lou Brancaccio is The Columbian’s editor. Reach him at 360-735-4505, or