from the Fleece-'em,-Danno dept
Your U.S.A. cellular phone bill, since the early 1990s, has had a fee levied on it by governments for E911 services. The fee differed from state to state, and was ostensibly to fund the upgrade of 911 call centers. The public safety call centers were to be readied to receive location information from cell phones, and to use that information to instruct emergency crews. The cellular carriers were required to collect this tax for the government, but were also separately required to design, create, and deploy the (much more expensive) systems that can determine where the caller is. The government basically required the carriers to fund a public safety system (which you may or may not agree with). One thing with which none of us could agree was that the E911 taxes on our phone bills were promptly squandered by governments, for years, on just about everything except 911 call center upgrades. Money was mis-spent on ballpoint pens, conference attendance, dry cleaning, and boots.
Most of that is history; much of the US is now ugraded. (Please don't rely on E911, as it only works when you have a good cell signal, battery power, and a few other things. Don't use it as a crutch or as a "safety device"!) So what do you think will happen to those monthly taxes that were collected for so many years? Time to cancel them, right? Not so fast, says the State of Hawaii, which gets 66 cents of E911 fees from every monthly bill. This article in the Honolulu Advertiser shows how various government agencies are trying to get their hands on the "windfall." A few examples of this include: the Honolulu PD wants a new dispatch system for $20m, the Board that manages the fund wants their mandate extended to spend on other tech like VoIP location, the State hired a new Executive Director of the E911 fund for $294,421/yr, the legislature is taking $16M from the fund to help balance the budget, and some are trying to build new cell towers with the money. The article predicts future raids on the funds, and given what we've seen nationwide, we would agree.
What is it about this country that we can't just call a tax a tax. We seem to have an addiction to tucking and hiding fees into a wide range of services, where over time the fees have little to do with the services. Dear government: If you're going to tax me, please just do it up front, talk to me honestly, and say it's a tax. I want to feel you reaching into my pocket, instead of having you just skim the till behind my back.