Mountain View Voice

News - October 15, 2010

Measure T broadens the city's phone tax

by Daniel DeBolt

On Nov. 2, the city's voters will decide whether to extend the city's phone tax to broadband phone calls as well as to international and interstate phone calls.

Mountain View's 40-year-old "telephone users tax," as it's called, currently brings in $1.9 million a year to help fund core city services, such as fire, police and the library. But city officials say it has declined by $50,000 over the last year as broadband phone service becomes more popular.

City officials say phone tax revenue is in jeopardy of further decreases if the tax is not updated to include broadband. It could also bring in several hundred thousand dollars in new revenue, a consultant told the council in May.

City officials say that Measure T will not raise the city's phone tax rate of 3 percent. While the ballot statement only mentions including new phone technology, the tax would also be extended to interstate and international calls. That may have an almost undetectable effect on the average resident, who may be taxed an additional 2 cents for a typical 15-minute international phone call, the city reports. Cell phones users may see no increase on their bills because of the way their bills are taxed, city officials said.

Only businesses that heavily use broadband phone services may see a significant increase in their utility bill, which was shown to be hundreds of dollars a month in one case. But those who have their own broadband networks, such as Google, would not.

The city stresses that the tax "excludes Internet access, e-mail services and digital downloads."

A group of current and former council members and residents have been campaigning for Measure T, which needs approval from a simple majority of Mountain View residents to pass. The group reports $5,000 in campaign contributions split by Regis Homes and Minton's Lumber, both business that have plans to build large housing projects in Mountain View.

A survey of local voters found 68 percent in favor of the measure and that most would rather have new revenue go to youth and teen programs than police and fire services.

E-mail Daniel DeBolt at ddebolt@mv-voice.com

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