By Josh Peterson | Watchdog.org
CHICAGO — Rahm Emanuel is trying to make an offer city residents can’t refuse. The mayor wants to hike monthly taxes on cell phone users.
As the Illinois General Assembly approaches the end of its legislative session May 31, Emanuel reportedly sent lobbyists to the state capital to push to move that would raise a monthly tax on city cell phone users from $2.50 to almost $4.
The tax in question, the 911 fee, is set to expire July 1. The city took a major revenue hit after a so-called $2 per month employer “head tax” on businesses with more than 50 employees expired Dec. 31.
While 911 fees are supposed to go to pay for the city’s 911 dispatch, the money can end up paying for other things on the city’s wish list.
Rob Shrum, director of political advocacy for MyWireless.org, a wireless industry advocacy group, blasted the city’s past use of the fund.
Shrum notes on his organization’s blog the city’s the last 911 fee hike in 2008 doubled its cell phone users’ $1.25 911 fee “as a way to fund security improvements to help the city secure an Olympic bid.”
“Six years later, the Olympic bid was unsuccessful, but the city’s wireless consumers continue to pay $2.50 a month, the second highest city 911 fee in the country,” said Shrum.
“This is on top of the combined 14 percent state and city excise tax on wireless service. These taxes and fees make Chicago one of the ‘top-10’ cities for high wireless taxes and fees on consumers,” said Shrum.
The city’s 911 fee was first placed on city residents in 1990 by then-Mayor Richard Daley.
A recent Neilsen survey found, as of November 2013, Chicago’s 71 percent smartphone penetration rate placed it in the top-10 markets in the nation for the phones.
The tax hike would undoubtedly hit the city’s minorities, young people and low-income residents who rely on their mobile devices to access the Internet.
A 2011 survey measuring broadband adoption in Chicago found 50 percent of the city’s demographic who only access the Internet on their mobile device are between the ages of 18 and 29; 34 percent make less than $20,000 a year and 59 percent are women.
Contact Josh Peterson at [email protected]. Follow Josh on Twitter at @jdpeterson