Increase a tax to fund unrelated programs? Not a good idea.

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.

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2 comments

  1. If you took the time to look into the issue, you can see it is directly related to the funding.

    I personally wrote that bill as a method to fund the Line of Duty fund outside of the General fund. I feel it is a better and fairer method to refund/provide funds to the localities and the families of dead/fallen in the “line of duty” public safety members. Given your comments, let me explain why I choose this method.

    The alarm protection system companies benefit from the use of the local police, fire and ambulance services for free. Your clients pay you for a monthly service that every taxpayer funds for ALL citizens thru local taxes. Your clients then receive a “personal service” when their alarm activates. An alarm goes off and you call 911 and the emergency response police, fire and EMS respond for you. The regular taxpayer without an alarm system, has to stand in line (relative term) while your clients needs are met first. That “personal additional service” costs your clients a monthly fee, yet you return nothing to the localities in return for their public safety funding. In Virginia Beach as an example, the citizens fund approximately 130 million a year for public safety. You get yours for free and return zero on that investment. Not a bad deal for you and you clients.
    IMO: You could hire a private response force or security staffing to respond to your business and clients but instead you use the taxpayer funded forces. But that would cut your profit. Why should every taxpayer fund your alarm service while you keep 100% of the profit? So why should your business receive a free work force while the taxpayers fund them? It simply does seem right to me that your alarm business has thousands of first responders assisting you, yet you do not have to pay a responder payroll, worker’s comp or equipment and insurance for those thousands of responders. You get it free and you keep 100% of the monthly service fees. That is why I ask the union to push this bill. You can blame a union for this but it is your own abuse of the local emergency responders that you should blame.

    FYI: I have an alarm system in every home I own and I pay the monthly fee. I am a recipient of the special service of my alarm company while the regular taxpaying citizen gets a lesser degree of emergency response. I don’t believe it is too much to ask you to return funds based on your abuse of the local police, fire and ambulance departments and the taxpayers.

  2. This is a very interesting topic because it is about funding a benevolent fund as opposed to a program or department on any level of gov’t. I’m really thankful this fund exists, as the wife of a Police Officer it is comforting to know these funds are available if the worst occurs. I’m not a fan of sneaky mechanisms for funding though, and I like everything to be above board to be voted on fairly.

    How is the “line of duty fund” funded now? Is it short on funds and is requiring another revenue source?

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