It's been said that when the government creates a fee or a tax that it's here to stay. That might not be the case for the largely unknown "police and fire protection fee."
The 75-cent fee, which was created in the 2009 state budget, appears on all of our phones bills.
In August, FOX 11 On Special Assignment highlighted the fee and how it brings in tens of million of dollars a year.
But the money does not go directly to police and fire protection. It goes into the state's general fund, which is basically the big pot of money used to pay for government services.
From that pot of money, the state sends some money back to local governments to pay for things like police and fire protection, roads and parks.
"It was just basically used to backfill the budget," said State Rep. Andre Jacque, R-De Pere. He calls the fee an "unfair tax."
Jacque was already aware of the fee when he saw our story. But he says after it aired, he received several calls from concerned taxpayers about it.
"I really appreciated the fact that you ran a story because otherwise it wasn't something that we were hearing about," Jacque said.
Now, he's doing something about it. Jacque is circulating a bill in Madison to get rid of the police and fire protection fee.
"The government tried to slip something by on its taxpayers back in 2009. I wasn't part of the budget then but certainly I want to be part of the solution in terms of making sure that we are being more transparent and doing the budget in a better way," Jacque said.
"I'm pleased that somebody is finally taking notice," said Sgt. Gene Meyer from the Clintonville Police Department. Meyer is the one who initially contacted FOX 11 On Special Assignment about the fee.
"I think everybody should take a look at all of their information and read your bills from top to bottom to find out where those dollars are going," Meyer said.
But Two Rivers City Manager Greg Buckley is a bit apprehensive about the fee going away. He wants to make sure the shared revenue program doesn't get cut.
"There's certainly a very good argument for getting rid of the fee," Buckley said. "By the same token, I'd be very concerned about seeing local governments again short-changed as a result of an exercise in honesty by the Legislature."
Jacque says the state has the money to fund the shared revenue program without a mislabeled fee on phone bills.
"Luckily, we have a surplus so we have the ability to basically assess our priorities and ensure that that money will still be there. This isn't anything to decrease the funding that goes to shared revenue," Jacque said. "That is the shell game, to pretend that the money from this telecommunications tax was actually targeted toward shared revenue or any other program. It was just basically an additional cash piñata that was dumped into the state's general fund."
FOX 11 On Special Assignment will keep following the story and let you know if and when that 75-cent fee will be off your phone bill.
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