Unfair Phone Tax Opposed by North Alabama Patriots Tea Party, Community Action Association of Alabama, and Five National Groups

July 22, 2014

Governor Robert J. Bentley
State Capitol
600 Dexter Avenue
Montgomery, AL, 36130
Dear Governor Bentley:

We, the undersigned national and state-based organizations represent Alabama citizens who oppose unfair taxation. We also speak for Alabama’s seniors, veterans, people with disabilities, and low-income residents. Today, we have taken the extraordinary step of joining together to urge you to direct Alabama’s 911 Board to repeal its unfair and prohibitively expensive Emergency 911 (E-911) tax on participants in the federal Lifeline program.[1]

Alabama’s E-911 Board has gone where no other state has seen fit to go before: It has for no valid public policy reason imposed a punitive phone tax targeting the poorest of its poor residents who receive wireless Lifeline telephone service at no cost.[2] This move should be overruled by your office as soon as possible.

It is even more troubling that Alabama’s poorest residents are required to pay one of the highest, if not thehighest E-911 tax in the country.[3] Attorneys General in other states including South Carolina[4], Tennessee[5], and Rhode Island[6], have provided sound legal reasoning for why Lifeline participants in those states should be exempted from paying E-911 taxes. We believe that Lifeline customers who receive support, landline or wireless at no cost, should not be required to pay E-911 fees.

On August 1, 2014, the monthly E-911 tax imposed all telephone subscribers in Alabama – including participants in the federal Lifeline program– will increase from the current $1.60 to $1.75 per month. Members of the unelected and unaccountable state 911 Board[7] imposed this tax hike on Alabama citizens, at a rate that is far above typical E-911 taxes in comparable states. Indeed, the $1.75 monthly charge amounts to an exorbitant 19% percent tax on all Lifeline participants– residents in the state who are least able to afford such an outrageously high fee. Imposing the $1.75 E-911 tax on Lifeline subscribers tangibly reduces the full federal rate of $9.25 in Lifeline benefits that program participants are entitled to. The impact of the 19% E-911 tax on low-income Alabama Lifeline households is even more egregious for those participants who decide to purchase additional minutes and are subsequentlycharged a tax twice. Think about what this means in practical terms: A low-income person who used a Lifeline wireless phone to get or keep a job – possibly even to migrate off social services – is now being actively discouraged by the state of Alabama from doing so.

While we fully support the critical work of Alabama’s emergency first responders, funding for such services should not come on the backs of its neediest residents. Our diverse coalition of state and national organizations stands united in opposition to Alabama’s excessive and unfair E-911 tax on no cost Lifeline participants, and strongly advocate that no other state follow in the footsteps of such misguided policy. We urge you and leaders in Alabama’s state legislature to direct members of Alabama’s 911 Board to exempt Lifeline participants from one of the nation’s highest E-911 taxes. Doing so will protect Alabama households from this excessive taxation and its unjust burden on the state’s poorest residents.

Respectfully,

Alliance for Generational Equity
Consumer Action Partnership of Alabama
Community Action Partnership
Consumer Action
National Consumers League
The National Grange
North Alabama Patriots Tea Party

 [1] Created in 1985 by the Federal Communications Commission, the Lifeline program initially provided discounted landline service to qualifying low-income individuals. The program was extended to include wireless telecommunications services in 2005. Today, qualifying low-income Lifeline participants may choose to receive free monthly wireless telephone service. Additional information on Lifeline program available at: http://www.fcc.gov/lifeline

[2] See: http://al911board.com/rules/lifeline-service-collection-9-1-1-service-charge

[3] E-911 Fees vary by state and jurisdiction. Alabama’s current rate of $1.60, and August 1, 2014 rate of $1.75 surpasses that for any State wireless E-911 fee. For a full list of E-911 fees by state as of January 1, 2014, see: http://www.nena.org/?page=911RateByState

[4] State of South Carolina, Office of the Attorney General, letter to State Rep. Leon Joe Howard, October 10, 2011.

Available at: http://2hsvz0l74ah31vgcm16peuy12tz.wpengine.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/howard-l-j-os-9334-10-10-11-E911-fees1.pdf

[5] State of Tennessee, Office of the Attorney General, Opinion No. 09-87, “Allocation of Emergency Communications Fund; “Safelink” Program, May 18, 2009. Available at:http://www.tn.gov/attorneygeneral/op/2009/op/op87.pdf

[6] State of Rhode Island, Department of the Attorney General, letter to House Speaker Gordon D. Fox, October 12, 2012. Available at:https://docs.google.com/file/d/0BxeciyBfSNSATVh3dnNzbktJNEZrQUlLRlhIeFBvWTRjSkcw/edit

[7] See: http://al911board.com/article/9-1-1-Rate-Change-effective-August-1-2014

Governor Urged to Overrule One of the Highest Wireless E-911 Phone Tax in U.S.; Conservative and Consumer Groups Unite to Warn of Danger of “Unaccountable” State Board’s Actions.

MONTGOMERY, AL. – July 22, 2014 – A diverse group of seven in-state and national organizations – including the Community Action Association of Alabama and the North Alabama Patriots Tea Party – today urged Governor Robert Bentley to overrule the “unelected and unaccountable” Alabama 911 Board’s imposition of what appears to be among the worst phone taxes of its kind in the nation. A major concern: For the first time, the increased E-911 phone tax targets the poorest of Alabama’s poor participating in the federal wireless Lifeline program.

The two Alabama groups were joined by the Alliance for Generational Equity, Consumer Action, Community Action Partnership, National Consumers League, and The National Grange. The joint letter is available online at http://bit.ly/ALphonetax.

Set to go into effect on August 1, 2014, the Alabama 911 Board hiked the monthly E-911 tax imposed on telephone subscribers in Alabama from the current $1.60 to $1.75 per month — one of the highest wireless E-911 taxes of any state. For the first time, the state’s E-911 charge will be extended to federal ‘no-charge’ Lifeline Wireless program participants, amounting to an exorbitant 19 percent tax on the very Alabama residents who, by definition, are least able to afford it. In less than a year, the Alabama 911 Board, which is appointed by Governor Bentley, has increased the E-911 tax by an astounding 150 percent. By comparison, Florida Governor Rick Scott just signed into law a reduction in the E-911 tax rate from $.50 to $.40 per month.

In the letter, the groups write: “We … oppose unfair taxation [and also] speak for Alabama’s seniors, veterans, people with disabilities, and low-income residents. Today, we have taken the extraordinary step of joining together to urge you to direct Alabama’s 911 Board to repeal its unfair and prohibitively expensive Emergency 911 (E-911) tax on participants in the federal ‘no-charge” wireless Lifeline program. Alabama’s E-911 Board has gone where no other state has seen fit to go before: It has for no valid public policy reason imposed a punitive phone tax targeting the poorest of its poor residents who receive wireless Lifeline telephone service at no cost. This move should be overruled by your office as soon as possible … Think about what this means in practical terms: A low-income person who used a Lifeline wireless phone to get or keep a job – possibly even to migrate off social services – is now being actively discouraged by the state of Alabama from doing so.”

Other highlights of the letter include the following:

“It is even more troubling that Alabama’s poorest residents are required to pay one of the highest wireless E-911 taxes in the country. We believe that Lifeline customers who receive support, landline or wireless at no cost, should not be required to pay E-911 fees.”

“While we fully support the critical work of Alabama’s emergency first responders, funding for such services should not come on the backs of its neediest residents. Our diverse coalition of state and national organizations stands united in opposition to Alabama’s excessive and unfair E-911 tax on no cost Lifeline participants, and strongly advocate that no other state follow in the footsteps of such misguided policy. We urge you and leaders in Alabama’s state legislature to direct members of Alabama’s 911 Board not to impose the nation’s highest wireless E-911 tax on federal wireless Lifeline benefits. This will protect Alabama households from excessive taxation and remove an unjust burden on the state’s poorest residents.”

MEDIA CONTACTS: Will Harwood, (703) 276-3255 or wharwood@hastingsgroup.com.