Bearing Drift has a terrific guest post up by Duront Walton, Executive Director of the Virginia Telecommunications Industry Association. Mr. Walton addresses an ongoing attempt to keep a Tim Kaine-proposed tax hike on phone services in Virginia (an increase in the tax collected for 911 call center funding, specifically) to funnel funds into a non-related program.
This is a union bill that firefighters have pushed each year to increase state contributions to the “line of duty fund.” The fund, in and of itself, is a very worthy project that makes payments to the families of first responders who are killed or injured in the line of duty. But those covered under the Line of Duty statute include everyone from game wardens to state hazmat teams to the Virginia Marine Resources Commission. All of these are noble and important offices, but there is hardly a connection between their job and a 911 communications infrastructure.
No one takes issue with the merits of the fund. Senator Fred Quayle (R-Chesapeake) has introduced a bill that adds this tax onto home security systems each of the past four years. It’s failed every year because the General Assembly didn’t feel there was enough of a nexus between security systems and the fund to link the tax. Quayle refused to carry the bill again for a 5th year. As a tip of the hat to his union buddies, Governor Kaine included the tax in his budget, placed it on all Virginians who have a home or cell phone, and then promptly left town.
The House of Delegates stripped the language out of their proposed budget and killed several bills that proposed to implement this through a change in statute. The Virginia Senate, on the other hand, left it in their budget.
Read the whole, as they say. It’s illuminating and it’s important. It addresses a specific issue but touches on a wider concept: transparency and accountability in our government operations. Taxes, most of all, should be quite up-front about what they are collecting funds for. This is how government expands and creeps into areas no one ever thought it should. As Mr. Walton says, there’s nothing wrong with the fund in question and it addresses a noble purpose. But if it’s something we Virginians think our government should be doing, then let’s do so in the open, not as some back-door parasitic event. I applaud the House removing this from the budget and I hope the Senate can step up to the same commitment to honesty.