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Phone tax will fund 911 system

House OKs 25 cents per month to help state, counties upgrade

OLYMPIA – Washington residents are likely to pay an extra 25 cents a month next year for every phone line they have, whether it’s a land line, a cell phone or an Internet-connected system.

The House of Representatives passed an increase in phone taxes Friday to pay for enhanced 911 equipment for state and local agencies, following action taken Thursday by the Senate.

Enhanced 911 allows a dispatcher to see the caller’s number and location when a call comes in. The state already allows local systems to charge a 50 cent fee for every land line and cell phone to help pay for the enhanced system, and the state charges 20 cents. The proposal raises local fees to 70 cents and the state fee to 25 cents.

House Republicans denounced the bill as another tax, even if it was for a good cause.

“Here we go again,” said Rep. Ed Orcutt, R-Kalama. “At some point you get to the point that breaks the camel’s back. This bill may not be the actual straw, but at what point do you get to it? It is a hardship on people who are struggling.”

Democrats countered that it was really a user fee, going up a quarter a month or $3 a year, to help with an explosion in technology, particularly in cell phones and computer-based Voice Over Internet Protocol systems that currently do not pay the tax. Identifying and locating cell phones requires new equipment.

“It’s about technology neutrality,” said Rep. Jeff Morris, D-Anacortes. “The 911 system has to work for the wireless phone as well as the land line.”

The bill now goes to Gov. Chris Gregoire. If she signs it, the taxes go into effect Jan. 1, 2011.