Get, get, get down: 911 revenue’s no joke in your town
August 18, 2010
If you take a close look at your mobile or landline phone monthly bill (which you should—right, Nate?), you’ll note a list of "Government Fees and Taxes" somewhere on the statement. This should include a tithe typically labeled "9-1-1 emergency services," which presumably subsidizes just that—the agencies that answer the phone and connect to first responders when you call 911 for help.
But does the money really go there? A new survey by the Federal Communications Commission indicates that in 2009 over a dozen states did not or may not have spent these funds on 911 or "E911" services, which zone in on caller locations.
Arizona transferred over $8 million of the money to the state’s general fund.
Georgia collected $8,537,319 in prepaid 911 fees. "None of these funds were allocated for 911 or E911 use," the report says. Instead, they too sat in the state treasuries’ general fund.
Nebraska used $273,889.35 for "administrative expenses," which apparently is authorized by state law. Then, "in December 2009, the Nebraska Legislature transferred approximately $3.4 million in interest to address state budget shortfalls."
New York squirreled $10 million from its Local Wireless Account into its general fund.
Rhode Island took "approximately" $13,373,068 of its E911 money, plopped it in the general fund, and used it "for purposes other than E911 operation."
Last but not least comes the great state of Wisconsin:
"911 Fund collected approximately $25,000,000 in excess of the actual requests for funds submitted by the 911 grant applicants. A small portion of that collection was applied to the salary expense the Commission incurred to administer the program. The funds collected in excess of the wireless E911 program obligations were transferred to the state’s general purpose revenue account on June 30, 2009."
Other general fund siphoners include California, Delaware, Hawaii ($16 million straight to the fund), Illinois ($30.5 million between 2003 and 2010 to the same location), Oregon, and Washington state. These transfers are often legal under state law, and they often occur when the fund collects more money than it needs (and so don’t necessarily deprive the 911 service of cash). But rather than ratcheting the fees back down in these cases, states often use them as a way to boost general revenues.
The over 15% club
The good news is that most states spend their 911 fees on what they’re supposed to—dispatchers and networking equipment. And although California and Virginia transferred some of this money to areas that technically weren’t part of their 911 systems, they basically went to emergency services.
(Virginia moved some funding into Sheriff’s dispatch; California spent some of the cash on Computer Aided Dispatch software and its CAL FIRE system.)
But this is no chump change question. Texas collected $203 million in 911-related funds in 2009 alone. Some of these "it’s not just for 911" states collect amazing amounts of cash from phone service, and they’re way up there on CTIA – The Wireless Association’s list of states that tax your wireless phone bill by more than 15 percent, including:
- Washington (23.38%)
- Nebraska (23.18%)
- New York (20.84%)
- Rhode Island (19.41%)
- Illinois (19.14%)
- Arizona (15.56%)
Some states, it should be noted, didn’t even bother to provide the FCC with data on the amount of money they collected for 911. These included Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, Oklahoma, and Wyoming.
This post has been written by Matthew Lasar on August 18, 2010 3:20 PM couresy of arstechnica.com.