There’s a hearing going on as I write on a Louisiana bill (HB 569) that would create a new tax on the Internet bills of consumers, despite the fact that there’s a federal moratorium prohibiting it.
We just heard Attorney General James D. “Buddy” Caldwell say that this isn’t a “tax”, it’s a “fee.” Louisiana is taking an interesting approach – HB 569 would impose a tax of 15 cents per month on ISP subscribers that would go to preventing and prosecuting Internet-based crimes against children. AG Caldwell claims that it is merely a “usage fee” — the price we pay for using the Internet.
But the Internet Tax Freedom Act explicitly sought to prevent the imposition of a tax that simply used different terminology. The Act defines a tax as:
(i) any charge imposed by any governmental entity for the purpose of generating revenues for governmental purposes, and is not a fee imposed for a specific privilege, service, or benefit conferred; or
(ii) the imposition on a seller of an obligation to collect and to remit to a governmental entity any sales or use tax imposed on a buyer by a governmental entity.
Under this definition, a charge on Internet access is not like a fee imposed for recording a mortgage, for example. When you pay a recording fee, you pay for the costs you impose on the government for handling your transaction. If you were to pay a “usage fee” for law enforcement to deal with online safety, you’re paying for general services, something that law enforcement/government should be doing anyway to protect the public.
States are cash-strapped right now. Louisiana is pursuing a worthy goal of trying to provide more resources for law enforcement for Internet safety. Taxing the Internet is just the wrong way to do it.
If Louisiana’s law enforcement/criminal justice system needs more resources to pursue and control criminals, the state shouldn’t hesitate to re-allocate its revenue or even raise the taxes that already fund those efforts. It’s absurd to tax ONLY Internet users when child predators do nearly all their evil in the physical world of school playgrounds and hotel rooms. Under the logic of the bill’s proponents, we should also be adding to the hotel tax, or to the cell phone tax since conversations occur on cell phones.
UPDATE: The bill was deferredby committee vote. This usually means that the bill is dead for the session.