Poway News Chieftain: Stopping the text tax scheme

By State Sen. Brian Jones

Just before Christmas, the California Public Utilities Commission (PUC), which regulates cell phone services among other utilities, introduced a plan to impose a tax on text messages. Such a tax would be the first of its kind in the nation. When it leaked out to the public, to say there was a negative response from the public would be putting it lightly.

The plan was to be voted on at the PUC’s Jan. 10 meeting, but before that could happen, the Federal Communications Commission stepped in and said texts were not telecommunications but “information services,” similar to emails. The effect of the ruling was to establish that text messages are not under the purview of the PUC but that of the federal Telecommunications Act, which limits state jurisdiction over information services.

Why was the PUC so determined to tax our text messages? Because as text messaging has become integral to modern communications, the PUC sees it as a lucrative source of revenue to subsidize the ever-increasing array of new and expanding social programs the Democrats want to give away. It’s a classic “redistribution” of resources.

However, it’s already too expensive to live in this state. The middle class and the working poor get squeezed more and more every day. We pay ever-escalating taxes for food, schools, utilities, gas, streetlights, water and so many more essentials of day-to-day life. Our paychecks are taxed, our homes are taxed, our cars are taxed; even our trash is taxed. Slapping a tax on text messages is just one more nail in the coffin of affordability in this state.

To put a final kibosh on the text tax scheme I have co-authored a bill with Assemblyman Kevin Kiley (R-Rocklin). Assembly Bill 162 would bar the PUC from collecting any revenue for any universal service fund on any communications service classified as an information service by the FCC. It also would bar the PUC from going through the backdoor and imposing a tax on any text service by calling it a “utility reimbursement fee.”

AB 162 is a way to put a stop to the text tax scheme. It’s a small bill in scope that takes an important stand – that of keeping California from becoming even more unaffordable.

If enough pressure is brought to bear on majority Democrats and AB 162 is passed, it will send the message that government needs to live within its means, just like the rest of us.

AB 162 is eligible to be heard in committees and I welcome your thoughts on this bill.

This op-ed was originally published in the Poway News Chieftain on March 6, 2019: