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Gov Brown proposes a tax increase on phone lines to overhaul the 911 emergency system

Calling 911 from a smart phone
Calling 911 from a smart phone
Kativ/Getty Images/Vetta

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California Gov. Jerry Brown has introduced a plan that would impose a flat fee on all phone lines capable of contacting 911. The move is meant to generate money that would be used to upgrade the 911 emergency services system as well as fund the current system.

The Brown administration wants to eliminate an existing tax on in-state communication devices in exchange for a higher tax that is estimated to start at a monthly rate of 34 cents per line. The plan is expected to generate $175.4 million in its first year, which is more than double the revenues that come from the current tax.

Upgrades would include an analog to digital conversion of the California Public Safety Microwave Network, which is the primary microwave communications network used to support first responder voice and radio communication in California. Under the proposed digital system, called Next Gen 911, dispatchers would be able to accept calls, texts and videos. The system would offer more paths for calls to reach 911 operators if cables are damaged by fires or earthquakes, an issue that has proven critical to public safety. Still, some lawmakers are hesitant to support a proposal that involves a tax increase. Meanwhile, opponents question why the state won’t use funds from its budget to pay for the upgrade.

The Brown administration says that a fee on lines would provide a more reliable source to fund the system than the budget. The governor’s proposal would require the support of two-thirds of the members of the state Legislature in order for it to pass.

We reached out to Governor Brown’s office and received this statement:

"This bill is about saving lives. Enacting this legislation now is critical to sustaining and modernizing our 911 system which Californians expect to work without fail during emergencies."


Michael McLaughlin, legislative director for the California Fire Chiefs Association; fire chief at Cosumnes Community Service District Fire Department in Elk Grove

Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association