Is Statute Directing a Filing Fees to Go to State General Revenues An Unconstitutional Tax ?
In LeCroy v. Hanlon, 713 S.W.2d 335 (Tex. 1986), the Texas Supreme Court held that a statute, which directed a portion of filing fees to go to state general revenues, was an unconstitutional tax on the right of access.
Because a portion of the filing fees was allocated to Texas' general revenue fund, the Texas court concluded that "the money goes to other statewide programs besides the judiciary." 713 S.W.2d at 341.
The Texas Supreme Court reasoned as follows:
The $ 11 million in general revenues raised from the fee flows out of the treasury at random.
Since the judiciary accounts for only approximately 1/2 of 1% of state funding, 99.5% of the revenue generated from the fee must go to other programs besides the judiciary. Id. at 341 n.9.
However, as the dissent in LeCroy pointed out, this logic is quite flawed:
The court holds that "filing fees that go to state general revenues--in other words, taxes on the right to litigate that pay for other programs besides the judiciary--are unreasonable impositions on the state constitutional right of access to the courts."
The court thus implies that if the $ 50 increase went into a special fund for the benefit of the courts, the act would be constitutional.
As the state observes, however, a special fund is no more than an accounting device.
Since dollars are fungible and more money will be spent on the court system than will be taken in under Section 32, it is absurd to conclude money collected from fees "will pay for other programs besides the judiciary."
The state's annual share of the filing fee is expected to be approximately $ 11,000,000 while the State's annual cost will be over $ 52,000,000. See Art. of May 27, 1985, ch. 980, art. IV, 1985 Tex. Sess. Law Serv. 7284 (Vernon).
As long as the State pays more in financing the judiciary than the courts receive in user fees, the court's logic is flawed.
This court need not presume that any portion of the fee increase goes to support general welfare programs unrelated to the court system.
If any presumption is to be made, it should be in favor of the validity of the statute. Id. at 345-46 (Gonzalez, J., dissenting).