This morning, I nearly spit out my coffee after reading an article in the Macon (GA) Telegraph concerning the inability of the State of GA to audit prepaid cell companies operating in Georgia to account for 911 fees.
About two and a half years ago, the GA Legislature passed laws requiring that companies offering prepaid cellular service in Georgia pay $1.50 per prepaid customer per month in 911 fees that the traditional cell phone consumers already pay as part of their contracts.
I understand from the Macon article, written by Travis Fain – firstname.lastname@example.org, and visible here http://www.macon.com/local/story/905004.html, that the DCA (GA Dept of Community Affairs) is powerless to enforce these regulations. Furthermore, any kind of audit of these records is unfunded. This creates a hollow law, with no teeth, and makes the state look foolish, once again.
Fain quotes Clint Mueller, the legislative director of the Association of County Commissioners of Georgia (ACCG), who says, ““There’s a lot of corporations that they’re (DCA) not collecting from. We don’t know how much (money) is getting left on the table.”
Says Fain, “The DCA was given power to collect the 911 fees, which were supposed to go into a pot that local 911 operations could tap for grants. That hasn’t happened, and instead the state has used the money to help fund its normal budget, which funds all sorts of state functions, such as public education and the Georgia State Patrol.”
GA Rep. John Lunsford, who sponsored the origianl bill and whom I know to be a reasonable legislator, says “The process is flawed. I think we need better accounting and we need to put some teeth in the laws. What I’d like to actually see is criminal penalties for failure to pay.” I’m with you Rep. Lunsford, but why didn’t we think of this in 2007?
“This is real money that actually belongs to the local taxpayers.” Lunsford said. He’s right in so many ways.
How much real money? Nobody knows. The DCS has collected $15.5 Million since 2007 from companies who HAVE been paying their share. What is unknown is the number of companies, representing an unknown number of consumers, who are not paying their share.
So, we have multiple problems here. First, we have cell phone companies who may not be obeying the law and may not be paying the required toll to support 911 services in Georgia. Second, we have no way to know the impact of these underpayments because the state cannot afford to conduct the audits. Third, we have created laws with no teeth. Fourth, we have a state agency who has little or no control over laws and regulations they are charged with enforcing. Fifth, we have a state budget process that is using collected funds, designated for a pool from which 911 Emergency Service agencies can tap for grant money, that the state is using to fund the General Operating Budget. Finally, we have no plan to fix this.
Where have we seen this before? See my previous blog articles: “Protesting a 12-day Shutdown of State Gov Agency” http://wp.me/pxvZf-E and “Why I’m Not a Fan of Sales Tax Holidays” http://wp.me/pxvZf-h. So you northerners won’t think this is a southern problem, here’s where I rcently dinged Illinois’ stupid sales tax law changes http://wp.me/pxvZf-m.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.