Is a fee different than a tax? Technically, yes. But for many Republicans, they are one in the same.
In fact, in recent years GOP lawmakers have made many an eloquent speech about how Democrats tack on a "fee"... which can often be approved on a simple majority vote... rather than assess a new "tax", which requires a two-thirds vote (and, therefore, GOP votes).
Now, fast forward to today... where Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger traveled to Sacramento's Nimbus Dam on the American River to promote his new water safety and flood protection package. The $35 billion proposal is part of the omnibus $222 billion public works agenda laid out last night in his State of the State speech.
To help pay for the water protection elements, Schwarzenegger is proposing $5 billion in new water user fees (the administration is technically calling it a "water resources investment" fund). The fee would amount to $3 a month for every residential water user in the state, and $10 a month for every industrial water user.
But why isn't that a tax, asked a reporter today? And isn't Schwarzenegger opposed to taxes? Here's the governor's answer:
"You know, a lot of times, you know, fees are fees and taxes are taxes. And that's why they're called fees. And that's why they're called taxes."
It remains to be seen what the governor's Republican colleagues in the Legislature will make of that distinction.