The 9-1-1 and emergency response systems play a key role in public health and safety. These services are funded through fees added on to telephone bills, which are then placed into a fund that is supposed to be used only to maintain and improve these systems. In some states, however, these funds are being used for other purposes or even moved into the general budget.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recently issued a report examining how states were maintaining their 9-1-1 funds and if they were using the funds for purposes unrelated to emergency response. The report, which covers state management of the funds during 2011, found seven states and territories used 9-1-1 money for other purposes during that year.
A common method states use to help balance budgets are fund sweeps, under which states divert unspent money from dedicated funds into their general funds. In 2011, five states—Arizona, Illinois, Maine, New York, and Rhode Island—reported to the FCC they moved 9-1-1 fees and charges from their dedicated fund to their state’s general fund. Georgia also reported it used 9-1-1 funds for non-9-1-1 purposes, but it did not provide details on how the funds were used. Guam used 9-1-1 money for other purposes related to public safety. The District of Columbia and Louisiana did not respond to the FCC study in 2011.
Raiding 9-1-1 funds, vehicle taxes, or any dedicated revenues for reasons other than their intended purpose is bad public policy. Public safety groups have criticized states for using 9-1-1 funds for other purposes. The National Emergency Number Association, National Association of State 911 Administrators, and 9-1-1 Industry Alliance called these sweeps “less than honest” and stated the diversion of funds places the nation’s 9-1-1 systems at risk while breaking “the trust established with the public.”
In addition to the public safety problems these fund raids create, taxpayers also should be concerned about how their tax dollars are being managed. When states are allowed to raid dedicated funds and divert those taxes from their stated purpose, these dedicated revenues become de facto slush funds and additional phone taxes will likely be tacked onto phone users’ bills. If a dedicated 9-1-1 fund builds up “extra” revenue, lawmakers should reduce the tax to a more reasonable level and not raid the fund for other expenditures.
The following articles discuss 9-1-1 funds, how they are funded, and the problems created by fund sweeps.
Report to Congress on State Collection and Distribution of 911 and Enhanced 911 Fees and Charges
This Report to Congress from the Federal Communications Commission examines states’ collection and distribution of 9-1-1 and Enhanced 9-1-1 fees and charges. The report documents how states maintained their 9-1-1 funds and whether they used the money for purposes unrelated to emergency response. The most recent report, which covers state management of the funds during 2011, found seven states and territories diverted 9-1-1 money during that year, the same as in 2010.
States Continue 911 Fund Raids
Writing for the Heartlander digital magazine, Bruce Edward Walker examines how states seeking to cover budget shortfalls are increasingly raiding funds raised from fees paid by cell phone customers for maintenance of and enhancements to state 9-1-1 services.
Ten Principles of State Fiscal Policy
The Heartland Institute provides policymakers and civic and business leaders a highly condensed, easy-to-read guide to state fiscal policy principles. The principles range from “Above all else: Keep taxes low” to “Protect state employees from politics.”
States Plunder 911 Funding
Steven Titch of The Heartland Institute and Reason Foundation discusses how states are diverting funds intended to maintain and modernize 9-1-1 emergency calling systems for other uses. Given the tax burden imposed on consumers, it’s more than reasonable to demand the fees fund the programs they were created for, Titch argues.
Funding Universal 9-1-1 Emergency Services in a Transforming Telecommunications Environment: A Review of Current Policies And Implications for the Future
Benjamin Terry Williams, John DuBard, and Steven S. McDowell examine how the transforming telecommunications environment has impacted 9-1-1 user fee policies. The authors indicate how states are currently assessing 9-1-1 user fees, and they project implications for the future. Their findings are based on a state-by-state sampling of 9-1-1 user fees and surcharges and related case study evidence.
Health of the U.S. 9-1-1 System
In a study sponsored by the 9-1-1 Industry Alliance, three researchers examine the current state of technology, funding, and governance of the nationwide 9-1-1 system and make several recommendations for ensuring the future health of emergency communications.
Policy Statement of the National Emergency Number Association (NENA), National Association of State 9-1-1 Administrators (NASNA) and 9-1-1 Industry Alliance (9IA) Opposing State Raiding of 9-1-1 Funds
The National Emergency Number Association, National Association of State 9-1-1 Administrators, and 9-1-1 Industry Alliance voice their opposition to states’ raiding of 9-1-1 funds. The groups outline several undesirable consequences such raids produce.
The Future of 9-1-1: New Technologies and the Need for Reform
Discussing the transition to a next-generation 9-1-1 network, Phil Weiser, Dale N. Hatfield, and Brad Bernthal argue for changes from the policies currently in place.
Nothing in this Research & Commentary is intended to influence the passage of legislation, and it does not necessarily represent the views of The Heartland Institute. For further information on this and other topics, visit The Heartlander’s Tech News Web site at http://news.heartland.org/tech, The Heartland Institute’s Web site at www.heartland.org, and PolicyBot, Heartland’s free online research database, at www.policybot.org.
If you have any questions about this issue or The Heartland Institute, contact Heartland Institute Senior Policy Analyst Matthew Glans at 312/377-4000 or [email protected].