Monday, March 8, 2010

New York State...the land of taxes, fees and squandering of taxpayer dollars!

Today's editorial in the Observer Dispatch, Surcharge on cell phones wrong for 911 makes a good point...we really don't need another tax, but cell phones users are not really paying the $1.20 monthly surcharge to New York state in support of 911 operations.

In a July 14, 2009 article, Surcharge for public safety goes elsewhere, the Buffalo News reported:
The surcharge — raised in 2002 to $1.20 per month — has generated about $600 million over 15 years, but just $84 million has gone to the municipalities that operate 911 centers, the State 911 Coordinators Association found.
The Buffalo News story continues:
Last year, the surcharge generated $175 million, and $9.8 million went to the state’s 62 counties, officials said.

The comptroller’s office could not provide a county-by-county breakdown of the surcharge revenue sent to, or back from, the state.
According to a January 15, 2009 article on Syracuse.com, A Tale of An Abused Tax:
The state imposed the fee to raise enough money to upgrade 911 technology so dispatchers can find you when you call from your cell phone and can't talk. ...Every county in New York now has that technology, but the state continues to tax cell customers $1.20 per month.

The fee may have started as a well-meaning temporary tax. But in typical New York state government style, the fee continues to pump into a 911 fund that is raided, borrowed against, increased and perpetuated after its job is done.

So what is the $1.20 surcharge used for?

According to the Buffalo News:
The state also borrowed $100 million to create a second pool of money for county 911 services, but the state uses surcharge fees to pay off the bond.

Surcharge money also goes to the general fund and to the State Police, the Department of Correctional Services and other agencies. The National Guard, for example, paid for hotel rooms, dry cleaning and meals at Denny’s and other restaurants, the comptroller’s office found.
According to the Syracuse.com article:

But only six cents end up at a 911 center.

Instead, the state spends the money on itself: overtime, fringe benefits, travel, vehicles, new boots, clip-on ties, sun block, spray paint, groceries, dry cleaning and other daily expenses for agencies ranging from the state police to the departments of corrections and parks, state records show.

Here are some ways the state has spent your $1.20-a-month since 2002, according to state comptroller's office records.

Millions of dollars covered salaries at various state agencies. About $24 million went for overtime at agencies including the departments of corrections and parks.

About $225,000 bought clothing and footwear. Nearly $20,000 paid for laundry and dry cleaning services.

This year, expenses included two $153 hard hats and four pairs of $78 snowshoes for the Office for Technology. The State Police spent $18,600 on pants, shirts, jackets and tie bars.

Two agencies - technology and agriculture - spent almost $60,000 from cell phone customers last year to pay their own cell phone bills.

Over the years, the fee has also covered $15,500 on interest and late payments to businesses ranging from pizza places to the major law firm working on the statewide wireless network, records show.


To top it off, a January 24, 2010 Post Star [Glens Falls, NY] article, Officials upset with state’s hold on 911 tax money, says:

The federal government has fined New York $40 million a year for not turning the money over to the counties, but the state feels that paying the $40 million is worthwhile in light of the revenue it gets annually by keeping the surcharges, LaFlure said.

"Maybe it's time for a class action lawsuit," LaFlure said.
The Post Star reported in the article that Governor Paterson has responded to the issue in his proposed 2010 budget:
The counties should see some more of the money in the 2010-2011 budget under a proposal by Gov. David Paterson last week.

Jessica Bassett, a spokeswoman for the state Division of Budget, said the budget proposal would give $50 million of the money to the counties in 2010-2011, and that would grow to $75 million in subsequent years.

"This was meant to address some of the issues raised by the counties," she said.
Today's editorial in the OD said:
There are likely other good ideas out there to be discovered. County Executive Anthony Picente, working with Mayor David Roefaro and Town Supervisor Patrick Tyksinski, needs to find them, no matter how many cell phone calls it takes.
The counties getting more of the $1.20 surcharge from the state might be one source of the money supposedly needed to consolidate all 911 Dispatch Centers in Oneida County. The question is, will this increased money to counties stay in once the 2010 budget is passed or will most of the $1.20 still be used to close state budget gaps? RoAnn? Joe?

Truth is, unless elected officials start to diligently work at cutting the fat out of government budgets, the 30-cent surcharge on wireless phones will eventually become reality in Oneida County whether New Hartford & Utica consolidate with the County 911 or not because more and more people are giving up landlines in favor of cell phones. Herkimer County, along with other counties, has already imposed a 30-cent surcharge on wireless phones:
§ 308-a. Establishment of wireless surcharges for the county of Herkimer.
One last note, a bill sponsored by Assemblyman David Koon, Fairport, NY, proposes that:
a fee of 3% be affixed to sales of prepaid wireless communications services [phone cards] and; requires that retailers shall collect the aforementioned surcharge and remit this surcharge to the commissioner on a quarterly basis.

And...

it looks like Senator Valesky has proposed a bill that will:
Increase the wireless surcharge for Madison county to one dollar per device and authorizes the county to adopt landline surcharges.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I just received my relocation package from Charlotte and will be receiving more info for other areas in the Carolinas. It may be time to sell the farm and get out of Dodge.

Over and over I keep asking myself, what the hell am I doing here?