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Politics

Getting Beyond Labels

Sometimes it all boils down to labels. &

In high school it was all about having the correct little symbol embroidered on the shirt. Twenty-six years later, it's all about slapping the correct words on your policies. The relevance and symbolism remains the same, with the meanings of our leaders as transparent and obvious as my friend's grandmother who knew how to stitch a certain little pony. &

"No new taxes," as Steven wrote here yesterday - that's the promise of presidential candidate John McCain. As the Union-Tribune reported on Feb. 18, that's also the policy of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's administration. His fee proposals are detailed in Michael Gardner's article there.

But where "taxes" won't work, re-label the money grab as "fees" and hold your head high.

Even San Diego's Pacific Beach parking board is interested in the label, or at least the revenue associated with the label. &

While one could go on for volumes trying to distinguish the difference between taxes and fees, I hauled out Black's Law Dictionary to try and make some sense of it. The definitions of the two words ran to more than three pages of tiny little dictionary type, and the closest I could get to a generalized distinction is that fees are imposed on users of privileges, where taxes are imposed equally on all.

I suppose that works if you believe that access to government is a privilege. Government these days is all about the fees, whether it's for access to the civil court system ($320 to file an unlimited civil case in San Diego), or international travel ($100 for a passport), or parking at a California state park ($4-14, depending on the park). &

But regardless of the labels, it's still government taking cash to provide a service. & I wonder if anyone running for election during this cycle will go beyond a "no new taxes" pledge and actually promise to freeze the cost of government, regardless of that label gets slapped on the source of the money. &

- -Citizen Voices blogger Chuck Hartley is an attorney who lives in Escondido.