State’s 911 Tax Hike a Non-Emergency

Pennsylvania Consumers love their smartphones and the associated applications that deliver better access to health care, delightful entertainment, informative news and communications with our family and our friends.  Perhaps most revered are the work-related applications that improve productivity and well-being.  The future is bright – the growing sophistication of applications will further tighten consumers’ reliance on cellular services.

Mobile wireless has become an essential family tool for coordinating our children’s departure and arrival and for checking on their safety.  It allows us to keep tabs on the welfare of parents and neighbors, and in times of crisis, traditional mobile 911 services let us ask for medical, fire department, or law enforcement help when we need it.  We have developed a strong respect for 911 services.  They are stable and an important component in public safety.  But, if you want consumers to have cell phones and have access to its many applications, as well as 911 services, we need to keep services affordable.

Now some Pennsylvania legislators have proposed a bill (PA 911) that would levy a whopping 65% consumer tax increase on mobile 911 services. It’s not like mobile 911 services are being developed from scratch, they have been around for a while. There is no technical, system maintenance or budget problem that can justify such large hikes being proposed by the legislature.

If this bill passes, the new tax burden would be noticeable to most middle class individuals and families in the state.  In addition, the poorest in the state would be paying these taxes too.  Likewise, many millennials rely on their smartphone for most of the communications essentials in their lives.  The reliance on smartphone communications is even stronger for Black and Latino youth, who rely more on some apps.

The proposed 65% increase in fees makes no sense.  Pennsylvania’s 911 system is already a high cost service when compared with other states – including bigger and more populous states.  That suggests the need for some soul-searching focused on higher efficiency, not higher spending.

Cell phones are becoming the only phone service for many American’s and cellular broadband may be the only Internet access for many consumers.  The benefits of these technologies and applications are immense.

Pennsylvania already taxes cell phone consumers around 20% or about three times higher than the State’s sales tax.  Consumers don’t need higher cell phone taxes.  In short, policymakers should not tax what they should encourage.

Alan Daley writes for The American Consumer Institute Center for Citizen Research, a nonprofit educational and research organization.  For more information about the Institute, visit www.theamericanconsumer.org.

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