House committee seeks new tax on cellphones to support 911 call centers

Wednesday, November 9, 2011 | 9:17 p.m. CST; updated 11:19 p.m. CST, Wednesday, November 9, 2011

JEFFERSON CITY — A House committee is revisiting a cellphone tax to remedy diminishing funds for 911 call centers in Missouri. The call centers are supported by an existing tax on landlines; the measure would also impose a tax on cellphones. 

This is the third time the legislature has attempted to implement this tax. Both previous attempts were rejected by Missouri voters.

The committee is drafting a bill to implement the tax for January's upcoming legislative session. The committee chairman, Chuck Gatschenberger, R-Lake St. Louis, said he has a meeting with the speaker of the house Thursday and has requested a meeting with the governor.

"It's got to pass," Gatschenberger said. "The main issue is, it's got to pass."

Due to the decline in the number of people using landlines, 911 call centers have been dealing with a significant drop in the amount of funding they receive from the state. Gatschenberger said the purpose of the meeting was to find a solution, but many committee members questioned the cost of a statewide upgrade to the 911 system.

"The surcharge should be more thought of as like a flow-through instead of a new tax because it's really not a new tax," committee member Billy Pat Wright, R-Dexter, said. "Because you're already paying it on the landline and when you drop it (the landline), there goes the money."

Wright and others at the meeting said Missouri is the only state that hasn't updated its 911 system to match new wireless technology.

"If we had the hindsight and we could look back and realize where we were going to evolve over 20 years, we probably would have written the statute differently and defined a telephone as any device that could communicate with a 911 center," Callaway County Commissioner Doc Kritzer said. "But instead we used the word telephone."

In failing to include new technologies in the original statute, Missouri was too slow to incorporate wireless phones into their 911 service. If the legislation passes, the landline tax would remain as well as the new tax on cellphones.

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