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CLT Update
Friday, July 23, 1999

The Patriot Ledger

Quincy, MA
Thursday, July 22, 1999

E-911 deficit may be added to your bill
By Gary Susswein

Patriot Ledger State House Bureau

BOSTON -- Massachusetts residents may soon be paying an extra $2 a year on their phone bills to fund the deficit on the state's enhanced-911 telephone system.

Leading lawmakers say a fee would reduce the $20 million deficit and generate more money than the surcharges on directory assistance calls, which currently pay for E-911.

"We could build it into the monthly phone bill," said Sen. Michael Morrissey, D-Quincy, chairman of the Senate's Government Regulations Committee. "We're trying to work out some alternatives, get it settled."

Morrissey said a surcharge of 17 cents a month would likely be enough to pay for E-911. He and other legislative leaders hope to develop a bill in the coming weeks to fund the system that could include the fee.

The House chairman of the committee, Rep. Daniel Bosley, D-North Adams, has said he would support a surcharge.

But a leading anti-tax activist is denouncing the plan. Barbara Anderson, director of Citizens for Limited Taxation and Government, said public safety and police calls are basic governmental services that should be funded through taxes, not extra fees.

"This is the most outrageous idea I've ever heard and I've heard a lot of utrageous ideas," Anderson said.

"This is the service we're paying for (through taxes) -- the ability to call the cops. If you don't have that ability, there's no point in having policemen," Anderson said. She said Gov. Paul Cellucci, who took a no-new-taxes pledge, should veto the proposal.

Cellucci has yet to weigh in on the matter.

"We've got to look at the actual proposal but the governor is wary of any fee that imposes a further burden on families," said Cellucci spokesman Jose Juves. "Traditionally, the administration has tried to reduce costs to families."

Enhanced 911 was installed throughout the state during the 1990s. It allows all residents to access police or firefighters by dialing 911 and gives public safety officials the caller's address on a computer screen.

To fund the system, Bell Atlantic currently charges customers 34 cents for each directory assistance call exceeding 10 per month. But fewer than 8 percent of customers use directory assistance often enough to pay the 34-cent fee, and the deficit is $20 million.

Bell Atlantic now wants to give customers only three free directory assistance calls each month. But Morrissey said that would just prompt more people to use the white pages or search for numbers on the Internet instead of calling directory assistance.

And he said he doesn't believe directory assistance and E-911 should be linked.

"Aside from having two 1's in their names and being connected to the telephone, 411 and E-911 have no connection," he said.

The Evening News
Salem, MA
July 13, 1999

To summon help,
please deposit more of your hard-earned money
By Barbara Anderson

Here's a new one for you. The chairmen of the Legislature's Government Regulations Committee want to tax us to call the cops!

Senator Mike Morrissey (D-Quincy) and Rep. Dan Bosley (D-North Adams) are preparing a bill that will add at least $2.00 a year to Massachusetts phone bills to pay the cost of the Enhanced 911 service that we use to call the police, fire department, and ambulance when we are scared, on fire, or having a heart attack.

It seems that the geniuses who decided to fund E-911 with a charge on more than ten 411 calls a month didn't realize that once directory assistance wasn't always free, lots of people would exert themselves to flip through their Rolodex, phone book, or phone CD for that eleventh number.

So, the anticipated revenues are not flowing in, and the question becomes: how do we get the money to pay for E-911?

Let's look at the big picture here. As part of the extraordinarily high Massachusetts per capita tax burden, we are still paying the temporary sales tax and the temporary tolls from the middle of this century, and the temporary income tax hike from 1989.

This year, both branches of the Legislature have voted to halt the promised phase-out of the capital gains tax and are preparing to override Governor Cellucci's veto of this tax increase.

Something that calls itself the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation is advocating an increase in Registry fees, even though the Registry already raises lots more than it needs to service its customers.

But this is not enough. There must be some way that the Legislature can vacuum the last bit of change from the taxpayers' pocket. Are there no other taxes they can call a fee? No other promises they can break?

How about the basic pledge of protection that is the main reason we have government in the first place?

Most of us, even libertarians, believe that the primary purpose of government is public safety. Protection from the bad guys, I have on good authority, was the reason our ancestors invented government four thousand years ago. More recently, fire protection became a government program, and many communities have attached ambulances to either the police or fire department.

Now stay with me on this. We are paying property taxes for local police and fire service and state taxes for the state police. When the moment comes that we need a policeman, fireman, or ambulance, it does us little good to yell "help" at the top of our lungs unless they happen to be passing right by.

This is not a criticism of our men in uniform; we cannot expect them to be everywhere at once.

Therefore, it is part of the great Public Safety Plan that we can pick up the phone and call them, or shout "help" in the hope that someone will hear and phone the police, fire department or ambulance for us.

But Senator Morrissey and Rep. Bosley want us to pay more for the privilege of using the phone in an emergency to reach the people we are paying to protect us! We don't buy a cable service without having a television set; what good is it to have public safety if you can't reach it?

Yes, it's only $2.00 a year. But that's on top of the billions Massachusetts taxpayers already pay, and it's to fund something that should be covered in existing budgets for a service that is useless without it.

Help, police! The legislative thieves are vacuuming our pockets again. But don't call E-911; this is not an emergency, just business as usual on Beacon Hill.

Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation.  Her syndicated columns appear in the Salem Evening News, the Lowell Sun, the Tinytown Gazette and MediaNews Group newspapers around the state.

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