Last November Americans for Tax Reform announced that John Kasich had signed its Taxpayer Protection Pledge. According to ATR, politicians signing the pledge agree to “oppose and vote against/veto any efforts to increase taxes.”

So when Kasich introduced his transportation budget that included a 66% increase in the auto title fee, questions immediately surfaced about whether or not Kasich broke his pledge.

Today’s Plain Dealer article by Patrick O’Donnell floats the question again but doesn’t quite answer it for you. Let me help clear it up for you…

Kasich absolutely broke his pledge.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying I disagree with the increase. Governor Strickland increased a number of state fees in order to help balance the budget without actually raising taxes. And when he did the Republicans quickly and forcefully attacked him for “raising taxes”.

But Ted never took anti-tax pledge.

Kasich did.

Kasich already had his people prepped and read to defend the “fee increase” when the question came up:

“Fees and taxes are very different things, and fee changes — both up and down — should reflect the underlying services’ costs,” said Kasich spokesman Rob Nichols. “We have always said that people who benefit from a service should pay for that service instead of having it subsidized by other taxpayers.”

While this sounds like a good defense from Nichols, it’s really just a load of crap. Car title services were already fully funded with the existing fee. And the new fee has nothing to do with that service. The new fee goes directly to the general purpose Highway Patrol fund, not to pay for licensing services. According to the bill:

(4) The registrar shall pay ten dollars of the amount received under division (A)(2) of this section, for titles issued on or after October 1, 2011, into the state treasury to the credit of the state highway safety fund created by section 4501.06 of the Revised Code.

Nichols statements are clearly intended to present the increased fee as a “user fee” in order to show that Kasich didn’t break his pledge. And if the new fee was actually going to fund licensing then he’d have a point because ATR’s definition of a user free requires requires that the money go to fund the service for which the fee is being levied:

“To qualify as a fee, a charge must fund a specific service, with no excess going into a general fund.”

But as I just pointed out, the money doesn’t go to licensing. It goes to the Patrol’s general purpose fund. Which is exactly where the ATR says the money CAN’T go.

Kasich broke his pledge. Simple as that.