Sunday, December 4th, 2016

Taxing the phone right out of your hands

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Steve Eggleston catches local politicians trying to sneak through another tax. From the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and two local law enforcement officials want telephone users to help pay for police, firefighters and paramedics through their phone bills.

Barrett, Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm and Police Chief Edward Flynn are asking Gov. Jim Doyle and the Legislature to give municipalities control over the 911 telephone surcharge that is supposed to expire Nov. 30. They’re hoping to add that provision to the budget-repair bill now under consideration.

But the lawmaker who sponsored the original surcharge blasted the proposal as a stealth tax increase. State Rep. Phil Montgomery (R-Ashwaubenon) vowed “to do everything in my legislative powers to ensure that does not happen in this budget-repair bill.”

The surcharge on cellular telephone users was created in 2005 to cover the costs of technology to pinpoint the locations of cell phones during calls to the 911 emergency number. Montgomery said that technology has saved at least 15 lives statewide.

The fee started at 83 cents a month, rose to 92 cents in 2006 and then dropped this year to 43 cents.

But before the fee expires, Barrett wants lawmakers to authorize municipal governments to retain the surcharge and expand it to cover all telephones, including land lines provided by both telephone and cable companies. Milwaukee would be able to boost its charge to a maximum of $1 a month in 2009 and $1.50 a month in future years.

Revenue from the surcharge would help fund the emergency services that respond to 911 calls, a technique that city officials say is also used in Chicago, Baltimore, San Francisco and other major cities. At 50 cents a month, the surcharge would generate more than $2 million a year for Milwaukee, rising to $5.2 million for a $1 charge and $7.8 million for a $1.50 charge.

That’s right. They want to take an existing one-time fee and expand it into a permanent tax on phones and then spend the money on something tax dollars currently pays for rather than for what the original fee was intended.

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