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Pa. House Approves Increasing 911 Phone Bill Fee To $1.65

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Pennsylvanians may soon be paying a larger monthly fee on their phone bills following state House passage on Monday of a measure designed to help counties fund their 911 emergency communications centers.

The House voted 134-59 to increase to $1.65 a month a fee that currently ranges from $1 to $1.50. The legislation would still have to pass the Senate and get the governor's support.

The county commissioners' association has sought a doubling in the fee, to $2.

Supporters said counties are struggling with operational and technology costs.

"This is public safety, this is lives on the line," said Rep. Dom Costa, D-Allegheny, a former police officer.

But critics argued the money was not needed, and that current state revenues should be sufficient to pay the cost.

"What is enough for emergency services? What is enough for any government services?" said Rep. Carl Metzgar, R-Somerset. "Our job is to draw the line, and I respectfully request that we draw it far lower."

The vote did not break along party lines — both the Democratic and Republican caucuses were divided.

"We're about the 10th highest in the country in terms of all taxes," said Rep. Brad Roae, R-Crawford. "Fees and taxes are really the same thing. If the government says you have to pay it, it's a tax."

Rep. Jordan Harris, D-Philadelphia, said his city fields a large number of 911 calls so it should have a greater say in how the revenue is split up.

"In one day we get more calls than many counties get in a whole month," Harris said.

If a new version of the 25-year-old 911 Public Safety Emergency Telephone Act is not enacted by the end of June, the wireless portion of the fee will expire, creating a financial crisis.

The 911 surcharge on phone bills brought in $173 million of the $192 million in allowable cost for the dispatch centers a decade ago, but by last year that gap had grown to $188 million in revenue for $292 million in cost. By one estimate, the bill that passed the House on Monday will generate $326 million annually.

A Senate Republican spokeswoman has said her members were optimistic they will be able to pass something before the end of June.

(© Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)


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