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Lobbyist Money Help  

Possible cellular phone tax increase

January 25, 1999
By: Jennifer Lutz
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - With Gov. Mel Carnahan proposing a variety of tax cuts in recent weeks, cellular phone users may get stuck with a tax increase.

Voters will decide on the April 4 ballot whether cellular phone customers will be charged an additional 50 cents per month to enhance 911 emergency centers. If approved, the money will be used to quicken emergency response time.

"This would be a real time saver for getting to an accident," said Steve Veile, coordinator of the Missourians for Safety on the Road campaign.

Wireless phone carriers, public safety organizations and Missouri National Emergency Number Association provide funding for Missourians for Safety on the Road.

"Half of the proposed money would go to wireless companies, while the public safety would receive the other half," said Lt. Bill Harlan, Communication director for St. Louis County police department, and vice chairman of Missourians for Safety on the Road.

"We want cellular phone users to have the same 911 abilities as they have in their homes," Harlan said.

If the proposal passes, additional equipment would be purchased to direct cellular 911 calls to the nearest emergency operator.

"We have received 911 calls from as far away as Cape Girardeau," said Chuck Mastalski, Columbia Interim 911 Administrator. "Those problems were more frequent when cellular phones were first used."

Sen. Wayne Goode, D-St. Louis County, placed the referendum on the ballot.

"We began with zero cellular calls and now have over 700 calls a day," Harlan said. "We have to increase the staffing to handle the calls, which requires more money."

Opponents of the proposition question the need for the monthly increase.

"I'm not comfortable approving the fee until we hear from the study group assigned to find out if there is a need for this," said Rep. Chuck Graham, D-Columbia. "The fee could be passed before we know what the money will be used for."

Cellular users would not be the only ones to benefit from the enhanced emergency response time, although they would be providing all of the funding.

"Cellular phone users shouldn't be required to make 911 available to all," said William Fish, Capital Cellular sales associate. "They shouldn't be fully responsible, the general public should help pay as well."

Harlan disagrees saying cellular phone users don't have to pay for 911 calls now, even though people from their homes must pay additional amounts.

"This isn't a punishment, it is just equalling out the scales," said Harlan.

Voters will have the final decision about whether to cellular phone users should pay for quicker emergency times.