Times are tough in the North Pole: carbon emission penalties from Santa's coal powered furnaces, global warming protests at his reindeer farm, government takeovers of the Candy Cane Bank, and massive layoffs at Elf, Inc. It's hard to make a profit when you're in the business of giving gifts for free (after all, Santa isn't the Internet). Accordingly, Santa will deliver fewer presents this year. He may adjourn Christmas early and reconvene in a Special Christmas this summer. Also note a two cookie fee increase per gift with deliveries in excess of 45 pounds requiring an additional glass of milk.

Times are also tough in Mississippi. Last week, the Joint Legislative Budget Committee (JLBC), under the Chairmanship of Lieutenant Governor Phil Bryant (R-Brandon) and made up of bipartisan senators and House Democrats, produced a budget proposal including budget cuts, some additional fee increases and a tax amnesty program to encourage payment of delinquent taxes without fines or penalties.

Any tax amnesty should require the publication of those taking advantage of the program. The public should know who failed to pay their taxes during times when we're cutting the state budget, and who enjoyed a competitive advantage when the rest of us dutifully paid our taxes.

Also last week, the House Republican Conference released a letter to House Speaker Billy McCoy (D-Rienzi) (who refused to appoint Republicans to the JLBC) expressing their budget principles: promote job creation, maintain the rainy day fund over three years, use recurring revenue for recurring expenditures, secure special funds from spending raids, reduce government and oppose tax increases.

The letter from all 49 members of the House Republican Conference said, " As a general policy, we will also oppose attempts to increase fees ('hidden taxes') on our citizens. We should not try to prop up our state budget by making taxpayers cough up more of their hard-earned dollars; instead, state government should learn to live within its means."

Fee increases reduce the incentive to make larger cuts in government. But budget writers argue for increases because they claim functions cost more than associated fees. House Appropriations Committee Chairman Johnny Stringer (D-Montrose) said, "If you use state government, I think you ought to pay for it." Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Alan Nunnelee (R-Tupelo) said, "It's not fair to ask the other taxpayers of Mississippi to subsidize a service that is only of value to the user."

Sounds like a good deal to me. Going forward, I only want to pay for state government services I use. And when I don't use state government, I should not have to pay for it. Furthermore, those agencies and services that charge fees to users should charge them according to costs, and they don't need general fund appropriations from our tax dollars. So as fees goes up, taxes should go down.

I won't hold my breath. Government wants to charge a fee for a cake, and tax it, too.

For example, the car title fee is currently $4; the Tax Commission says it costs $7 to process the title; the JLBC proposes raising the fee to $16. What is the purpose of a car title anyway? Essentially, the Tax Commission uses the title to collect vehicle taxes. It is a tax to help the government tax us. And now the government claims the tax to help the government tax us does not pay for itself, so it must increase taxes. Why not create a car title stamp that must be purchased to affix to every car title. Thus, the stamp would pay for the cost of the car title that is used to tax owners accordingly.

Maybe I'm being absurd. Certainly government would not create an unnecessary fee just to create revenue.

Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann suggests legislation requiring limited liability companies refile with his office annually with a $25 fee. The filing would be done online and not increase staff or resource costs. Instead he suggests those funds be used for county election costs, while budget writers want the revenue for the general fund.

So for the additional annual regulation and increased accounting and legal costs, thousands of Mississippi small businesses will enjoy an unnecessary fee simply to create additional revenue for the state. We need smaller government not bigger government. Which brings me to my favorite proposal for cutting the budget.

Senator Walter Michel (R-Jackson) prefiled legislation to reduce the size of the Mississippi legislature from 122 representatives to 90, and from 52 senators to 40, saving the state $2 million annually. With redistricting coming up, now is a perfect time for this proposal which would still comply with "one man, one vote" principles.

I understand times are tough on Santa, so rather than asking for more this year, I'm asking for less: less government, less regulation, less taxes, less fees. I'll even try not to make cuts in the milk and cookies.

Brian Perry is a partner in a public affairs firm. Reach him at reasonablyright@brianperry.ms.