Proposal for Two Separate “Police and Fire Protection” Fees on Every Phone Line

[Madison, Wisc…] There could be two separate fees seemingly for 911 services on phone bills in Wisconsin if lawmakers pass a bill in its present form.

Every phone line in the state already pays a 75-cent “Police and Fire Protection Fee” each month, but it doesn’t necessarily go to those emergency services. Instead, it goes straight into the general fund where it can be spent on anything.

On Wednesday, the Legislative Council approved forwarding a bill that keeps the 75-cent “Police and Fire Protection Fee” and also creates a 40-cent “charge for funding state 911 systems plus police and fire protection fee.”

The bulk of the 75-cent “Police and Fire Protection Fee” would still go into the general fund. However, anything exceeding an average of the revenue brought in by the fee over the previous two years would go towards emergency services.

The 40-cent “charge for funding state 911 systems plus police and fire protection fee” would replace a fee counties are allowed to charge landlines for 911 services (although few actually charge that much). The new charge would apply to all technologies that can use 911.

The idea for this bill came from the Special Committee on 911 Communications, chaired by Senator Bob Jauch (D-Popular) and Rep. Joan Ballweg (R-Markesan). That committee recently published a memo addressing the “Police and Fire Protection Fee”.

That memo contains seemingly conflicting recommendations. On one hand, it opposes two separate 911 fees:

The Special Committee supports the imposition of a uniform statewide 911 user fee on all communications users. However, the Special Committee does not support the continued imposition of a police and fire protection fee aimed at collecting general revenue for the state and a separate statewide 911 user fee. On the other hand, committee members did not feel comfortable taking away that source of revenue from the general fund.

The committee then recommended the two separate fees.

The committee considered recommending legislation that would eliminate or repurpose the police and fire protection fee. However, we felt that it would be inappropriate for this committee, with its limited study scope, to recommend fiscal policy that would leave a gap in revenue sources for the state’s general fund.

To avoid this problem, the committee proposed that only the revenue generated from the police and fire protection fee that is in addition to the average amount generated over the last two fiscal years be used for 911 support. The committee also recommended the revision of other existing funding sources to form the primary fiscal support for its recommendations.

Prior to Wednesday’s Legislative Council meeting, Rep. John Nygren, Finance Co-Chair, told the MacIver News Service, “As a member of Joint Legislative Council I would be remiss if I did not give their proposals some consideration.”

The tax brought in $46 million in 2010, $53 million in 2011, and $54 million in 2011, according to the Department of Revenue. According to the Legislative Reference Bureau it brought in $51,897,000 in 2010−11 and $56,281,000 in 2011−12.