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04/21/2009

Legislative panel backs surcharge for 911 upgrade

By: Patrick Marley And Steven Walters , Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Madison - People would see a surcharge of up to 75 cents on their monthly phone bills to pay for upgrading 911 services under a state budget provision adopted Tuesday by the Legislature's Joint Finance Committee.

The 9-6 vote made it likely that the full Legislature will go along when it passes the budget this summer, and the fee could begin in October.

The committee also voted to extend state pensions to teachers aides and school clerical employees who work as few as 440 hours a year, even though officials have not received an actuarial study of what the changes would cost.

Democrats who control the Legislature pushed through both votes.

The surcharge would apply to cell phones, land lines and any other device that can connect to 911 - in all, 6.9 million wireless lines and land lines.

"I think it's much further than any of us wanted to go," Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) said.

The fee would raise $61 million a year, $59 million of which would go toward one 911 center in each county. It would pay for 911 training, equipment and computer-assisted responses to emergency calls.

"I think this is very important to public safety," said Sen. Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee).

County supervisors would decide which center would get the help in counties with more than one center.

A past surcharge on wireless phones, which ranged from 43 cents to 92 cents per line to help upgrade and maintain 911 centers, expired in July. The committee voted to use a $20.3 million surplus in that account as part of aid payments to local governments. Otherwise, cell phone owners would receive a one-time credit on their bill of $5 on average.

Although representatives of the City of Milwaukee, other large cities and police and firefighter unions had said they wanted a per-line fee of $1 or $1.50 to help pay for local emergency services, no Finance Committee member offered that proposal Tuesday.

The committee adopted the fee, with Sen. John Lehman (D-Racine) and Rep. Cory Mason (D-Racine) joining all four Republicans in voting against the proposal.

Source: http://www.jsonline.com/news/statepolitics/43387192.html


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