HONOLULU (AP) — Monthly cell phone bills in Hawaii will continue to charge a 66-cent fee to cover the cost of 911 emergency location technology, even though the system has been paid for, because lawmakers are using the additional money to help balance the state budget.
Republican Gov. Linda Lingle and the board that oversees the cell phone fund had asked the Democrat-controlled Legislature to reduce the fee that generates about $670,000 per month.
The Legislature rejected the requests, and instead is moving $16 million from the fund, leaving it with about $9 million. Meanwhile, the tax created in 2004 remains in place.
House Finance Committee Chairman Marcus Oshiro, D-Wahiawa-Poamoho, said the transferred money still serves a public purpose.
“It goes to the benefit of the general public, so the money is not lost or squandered somewhere,” he said. “It goes to pay for services like hospitals or schools or parks.”
Sen. Sam Slom, R-Diamond Head-Hawaii Kai, said if the fee is no longer needed, it should stop.
“The objective (of the fee) has been nearly totally realized,” Slom said. “They should take out whatever money to make sure everything gets done and then refund the rest to the wireless payers.”
The original purpose of the fee has been largely fulfilled, said State Comptroller Russ Saito, a member of the Wireless Enhanced 911 Board.
Saito said emergency location technology is available statewide, but excess money could be used to make cell phone services available in so-called “dead” areas where coverage is spotty, such as valleys, rural areas and inside buildings.
“It’s just that there’s not 100 percent geographical coverage,” he said. “In certain areas of the state, people don’t get wireless service so they can’t call 911. Part of what the board would like to do is extend service into those areas.”
Saito said maintenance and expansion of the wireless caller locator service could occur even with a fee reduction.
“As a Cabinet officer looking at what was being taken in versus what was being spent … my recommendation was to reduce the fee,” he said. “We could still cover our costs. We could still cover some of the expansions that we wanted.”
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