City may beef up phone tax

International calls would be included if voters approve

A survey of local voters shows that a majority would support a November ballot measure to place an additional tax on phone calls in Mountain View.

It is estimated that the city could raise several hundred thousand dollars in new revenue by expanding the telephone user's tax to interstate and international phone calls. As the city faces a $4 million deficit this year, the City Council appeared to support the proposed ballot measure in an April 27 study session. A city-hired consultant said 68 percent of local voters supported the ballot measure in a recent survey.

"Adding these calls does not appear to be of overriding concern to voters when compared to the benefit to the community ... that the UUT (utility user's tax) revenue helps fund," a city staff report concludes.

The staff proposes "modernizing" the telephone user's tax portion of the UUT to include new technologies such as voice over internet protocol phone services. The city's general fund already receives $1.9 million a year from a 3 percent tax on intrastate phone calls that originate in Mountain View, according to a staff report. But the city has not been as aggressive as other cities in pursuing taxes from all forms of phone use.

The survey asked questions of voters to reveal why they might support the tax. Over 70 percent strongly disagreed with the notion that the city could not be trusted to manage additional tax revenue.

"Voters believe the city is going a good job of providing quality services," said consultant Larry Tramutola.

Those surveyed also prioritized new taxes for youth and teen services over emergency services like police and fire.


Like this comment
Posted by Schmendrick
a resident of Old Mountain View
on May 10, 2010 at 1:11 pm

Two-thirds of those polled support the proposed phone tax? Clearly the TEA party has some grassroots work to do in Mountain View. People here sure love their taxes.

Like this comment
Posted by USA
a resident of Old Mountain View
on May 10, 2010 at 1:44 pm

USA is a registered user.


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Posted by Seer
a resident of Cuesta Park
on May 10, 2010 at 3:00 pm

I get it: our government makes commitments (including ones to us) based on expected tax revenue, which in turn is based on prior tax revenue. In a recession, that goes down, and government has to trim expenses where possible and raise new taxes to make up any remaining difference. However, taxes should be related to the services they pay for. For example, people with property benefit from schools, which property taxes pay for. However, how does my use of the phone rely on benefits that the city of Mountain View provides? It seems like taxation without compensation.

The real culprit is Prop13. By reducing revenues below those necessary to maintain minimal services, it ensured that we'd be nickel and dimed to death with supplemental taxes just to fund the things that Prop 13 defunded.

This is where I part ways with the TEA Party folks. I don't think they have studied what the appropriate amount of taxation really is to guarantee the services they want. They throw their weight around behind lowering taxes more and more, yet in fact with Prop 13 many businesses and homeowners are essentially getting many tax-funded services at an inappropriate discount. I have a neighbor across the street who pays 1/4 the taxes I do and gets the same services. Does the TEA Party want to lower her taxes too? Which of the services would they be willing to give up? What would Mountain View be like with no roads, water, sewer, garbage, parks, fire and police protection, etc?

Skype won't let you bypass this tax - they'll just be required to report their revenue to the City for taxation, and they do charge revenue for business and residential-type phone calls to land lines. However, there are other alternatives that would bypass the tax, since the City can't know every avenue for getting VOIP service. In any event, taxing something that costs less every year seems a bit brain-damaged.

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Posted by Call Me Crazy
a resident of Old Mountain View
on May 10, 2010 at 5:48 pm

Are taxes the only way for the city to fund services? How about exploring other ideas?how about trying to fund schools in many different ways? That way when one part of the economy changes any negative impact is lessened.

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Posted by USA
a resident of Old Mountain View
on May 10, 2010 at 6:02 pm

USA is a registered user.

"It seems like taxation without compensation." That's pretty much sums up the core value of the DNC platform. Taxation is done via the paths of least resistance for "raising revenue" for use where ever.

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Posted by USA
a resident of Old Mountain View
on May 10, 2010 at 6:09 pm

USA is a registered user.

The real culprit is is not Prop 13 nor is it the 2/3 majority needed to raise taxes. The real culprit is an out of control government that spends on what it sees like a child in a candy store. Prop 13 and the 2/3 majority rule were put in place to curtail the spending. You can argue that those rules are ham-fisted or simply not working, but at least acknowledge why they came into being.

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Posted by blargh
a resident of Shoreline West
on May 10, 2010 at 11:49 pm

4G and high-speed frequency WiFi is coming within a couple-few years. These developments plus skype or other VoIP apps means that we are not going to pay this tax.

Like this comment
Posted by Observer
a resident of Old Mountain View
on May 11, 2010 at 8:09 am

So then only the poor and non-tech savvy (increasingly one in the same) will pay this tax if you are correct.

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Posted by Mike
a resident of Blossom Valley
on May 11, 2010 at 2:14 pm

Actually, VOIP is already covered under the UUT.

Like this comment
Posted by Mike Laursen
a resident of Monta Loma
on May 11, 2010 at 2:56 pm

How is this UUT tax collected? Is it really per-phone call or is it just a surcharge on monthly phone service? Because I'm wondering how any tax collection agency would be able to track VOIP calls to charge per-call.

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Posted by the299crew
a resident of Old Mountain View
on May 11, 2010 at 3:36 pm

Based on the article, it sounds like 68 percent of the voters would rather keep their heads where the sun never shines and not tell the MV government to just pull back a bit on all of the stuff they'd like to give away if money were no object. Just cut spending.

Like this comment
Posted by localmom
a resident of Cuesta Park
on May 11, 2010 at 7:17 pm

Just a "point of fact" for everyone reading the comments: Mountain View city taxes do NOT pay for schools. Those are funded entirely from property taxes, although only a PORTION of property taxes go to schools and the rest are divided up into many pies and sent off to Sacto or kept locally.
I too oppose the phone tax. The city overpays its firefighters and police; the unions have lock-step raises and guaranteed pensions that many of you would beg for in the private sector. It's as if the recession never happened in Union-happy-land. This has nothing to do w/the schools. Not a dime goes to them. The city needs to re-negotiate union contracts, as well as reassess what it pays its OWN employees (also union) and contractors, and so on. CUT SPENDING.

Like this comment
Posted by MIke Laursen
a resident of Monta Loma
on May 12, 2010 at 10:37 am

Tried to answer my own question about how they would be able to tax VOIP, but the explanations I could find were thin. As far as I can puzzle out, they would try to get companies like Skype to track the calls and apply the charges, but perhaps only for paying customers. Sounds like anybody who uses Skype for free would not be taxed.

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Posted by Dave
a resident of Waverly Park
on May 12, 2010 at 6:36 pm

Tax, Tax, Tax, Tax. It seems that ls always the answer to shortfalls. But increasing the tax burden on most MV residents will only further curtail their discretionary spending which in turn will further reduce the cities tax revenues. Eventually the cycle will have to be broken. I agree that the better answer is to cut spending now rather than later when cuts will be forced.

Like this comment
Posted by JimR
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Sep 25, 2010 at 12:09 pm

In my opinion I believe Daniel Debolts article was very bias. The article begins indicating how the majority would support this measure in November. He goes on informing readers that the city council appears to support the proposed ballot measure in an April 27 study session. What does this mean? Either they support it or they do not. The article indicates the city-hired a consultant which claims 68 percent of local voters supported the ballot measure in a recent survey. What survey? Why is the city spending money they do not have to hire a consultant? It seems evident those running our city government is out of touch with the people they represent. If our city council members were to read the comments left by voters in the Views comment section they would quickly see it's more like 70%+ of the people who commented are not in favor of this ballot issue. When will they realize the time has come to manage within their budget. The good days in the valley are over for some time to come. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to review the comments on this board and wonder who represents the citizens of Mountain View. This is what we should keep in mind when we go to the poles..............

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