Louisiana Uses Children As Decoys For Internet Tax

Published June 17, 2009

It is disheartening to see the Louisiana House nearly unanimously approve a tax on Internet access with the specious claim it is necessary to protect “the children.”

House Bill 569, which passed the House in late May by a vote of 81 to 9 and was moved to the Senate the week of June 8, would impose a 15 cent tax on the monthly bill of every Louisianan who pays for Internet access. The tax, supporters say, would raise $2.4 million for state Attorney General Buddy Caldwell’s “Internet Crimes Investigation Fund.” The money is needed, according to Caldwell, to investigate cases of child pornography, other online sex crimes, and Internet fraud.

“I don’t think that 15 cents per month is too much to ask for our children’s protection,” said state Rep. Simone Champagne (D-Jeanerette).

Preventing the exploitation of children is certainly a worthy goal, but Caldwell should find room in his current $18 million budget to fight that scourge. After all, not every crime warrants its own exclusive funding mechanism, at least not in a responsible budget. It’s not too much to ask legislators and administrators to fulfill their duties without using “the children” as a shield behind which to hide when raising taxes.

Legislators also should make sure to ask how effective and practical state law enforcement efforts at fighting child pornography can be. Most perpetrators traffic in images that cross state lines over the Internet, which puts the cases under federal jurisdiction.

The law also is likely to be struck down after an inevitable legal challenge, one that will cost the state money to defend against. The federal Internet Tax Freedom Act, renewed for seven years in 2007, put a moratorium on taxing Internet access for the worthy purpose of facilitating affordable personal Web access. Supporters of HB 569 can call it a “fee” all they want, but by any legal definition, it is clearly a tax.

That the proposed tax is only 15 cents on each monthly bill should be little comfort to Louisianans, who would no doubt soon watch their state legislators justify increasing the tax to fund all sorts of other projects.

State Rep. Austin Badon, a Democrat from New Orleans, rightly asked during the debate: “Today it’s Internet access. Tomorrow, what’s it going to be, a subscription to DirecTV?” Actually, additional taxes on satellite services already have been imposed in several states, with others lining up behind them.

James Lakely is a research fellow on information technology issues for the Heartland Institute, and managing editor of InfoTech & Telecommunications News. He can be reached at [email protected]