Ballot to include cell phone tax for 911 service

Saturday, June 15, 2002

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Missouri voters will be deciding on two tax increases this August.

Besides a much publicized transportation tax, the ballot also will include a tax of up to 50 cents monthly on wireless phones.

The cell phone tax will be known as Proposition A and would be used to fund a statewide 911 emergency system for mobile callers.

A similar tax proposal was rejected by voters in 1999. At the time, the tax was estimated to raise about $5 million annually.

There is no cost estimate included on the August ballot.

The cell phone tax proposal was authorized under a 1998 law passed partly to make state statutes conform with an order from the Federal Communications Commission requiring wireless phone providers to have a 911 number.

In April 1999, voters defeated the cell phone tax by 57 percent. But the original legislation included language allowing a governor to resubmit the issue to voters at any time.

Gov. Bob Holden had weighed whether to place the proposal on the ballot this August or next April.

"The county officials strongly encouraged us to go ahead and put it on the August ballot," said Holden spokeswoman Chris Kelly.

Holden's office turned in the ballot paperwork to Secretary of State Matt Blunt's office on May 22, said Blunt spokesman Spence Jackson.

But Blunt's office never publicized the ballot certification -- as it did with the transportation tax -- because it was told that Holden's office would handle that, Jackson said.

Kelly said she did not know why there was no publicity about the cell phone tax appearing on the August ballot.

"Once it gets closer to the vote, we'll start promoting it more," she said. "This is a very important service, especially (because) of what happened on 9-11," when the terrorist attacks occurred, she said.

The 911 emergency number currently is available only to some wireless customers, primarily in urban areas.

Many rural areas lack the equipment to handle 911 calls from wireless phones.

As a result, such calls may be routed to the nearest place capable of receiving them, which could be many miles away.

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