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Lobbyist Money Help  

New 911 system would increase taxes

December 03, 1998
By: Najeeb Hasan
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Cell phone users in Missouri would pay an extra 50 cents tax per month under a plan for a statewide wireless 911 emergency system slated for Missouri's April ballot.

The enhanced 911 system, which would employ hi-tech search engines like global positioning, offers a cure for complications that occur when Missourians dial the current 911 system from wireless telephones.

Often, these calls can either be received by public service answering points located several counties from the emergency or can go unanswered, said an AT&T official.

If approved by voters, cellular phone owners would pay the extra tax to finance the multi-million dollar scheme. Users of traditional phones would not face extra charges.

The ballot proposal was approved during the legislative session earlier this year, leaving the governor's office to decide when the plan would be presented to the voters. The governor's office says the proposal will be placed on April's municipal ballot.

So far, there has been no serious opposition to the idea -- even from politicians normally hostile to boosting taxes to finance new government programs.

"This user fee is not what I consider a tax increase," said House Republican Leader Delbert Scott, R-Lowry City. "It's a self-imposed fee to provide service for people using cellular phones - user fees would have no problems. This is not what I consider a Republican verses Democrat issue."

But not every Republican lawmaker agrees.

"It sounds like a tax increase," said Sen. Peter Kinder, R-Cape Girardeau. "So I'm opposed to it."

Steve Weber, state director and attorney for AT&T, predicted wireless phone users would be willing to barter a slice of their income for the expedited emergency response the new 911 system would provide.

"We hope the bill will be on the April ballot and that means we've got some public to educate," Weber said. "One of the principal reasons for owning a cellular phone is security and safety. This bill would give them more for their money."

Weber said the revamped emergency system will conform to what he defined as the ideal wireless 911 system.

Under Weber's definition, sophisticated location techniques would pinpoint the location of a 911 caller to within a federal standard of 125 meters. However, federal law makes the federal requirements contingent upon adoption of an adequate funding mechanism - which, in Missouri's case, would be the 50 cent per month cellular phone fee.

Without effective wireless emergency service, Weber advises cellular phone users dial *55 instead of 911 to report emergencies. Dialing *55 connects the caller directly to highway patrol, ensuring the effort will get through, Weber said.

The 911 ballot proposal was part of a broader bill signed last summer by Gov. Mel Carnahan.

"The citizens have a right to say yes or no," said the bill's sponsor, Sen Joe Maxwell, D-Mexico. "It's not something that I would want to mandate."