Chicagoans already pay the highest wireless taxes in the country. The city just raised the phone tax, and now the city says another phone tax increase on Chicago residents is on the table, Fran Spielman reports in the Sun Times (“Emanuel to present backup plan to save two pensions,” May 11, 2016).

SEND LETTERS TO: letters@suntimes.com. Please include your neighborhood or hometown and a phone number for verification purposes.

The average Chicago wireless consumer with a single line plan pays nearly 28 percent of their bill in taxes and fees, according to wireless industry research. For a family with a four-line family share plan, the tax burden is even higher — 35 percent of the bill in taxes and fees. For Chicago families with a four-line family plan, that adds up to $425 per year.

It should be noted that the city just raised the Chicago 911 phone tax by 56 percent in 2014. Now, Chicagoans pay $3.90 per month on every phone line, wired and wireless phones. Contrast that with the 911 phone taxes in other large cities. In New York the rate is $1.50. In Houston, $0.50. In Los Angeles, the rate is $0.38.

Unfortunately, these taxes and fees are most burdensome on low-income families, who must pay a larger share of their incomes in wireless taxes than the wealthy. If phone taxes in Chicago continue to increase, it could jeopardize the ability of low-income consumers to afford phone service and, potentially, deny them economic and security benefits. Making matters worse, many low-income families use their phones as their primary access to the Internet. An increase in these taxes and fees could even further exacerbate the digital divide.

If the city should move to raise the Chicago phone tax again, the first step will be for the Illinois General Assembly to authorize yet another increase. In tough times, everyone can expect to pay their fair share. But Chicago phone customers are already paying the highest wireless taxes in the country. We encourage the city to choose some other means, not another phone tax increase, to help balance its budget.

Randy Nehrt, president,
Illinois Telecommunications Association

Leading to trouble

“Don’t back down from anybody,” may be good advice to a new prison inmate, but it leads to trouble if a parent tells it to a child. It did when a 13-year-old girl was allegedly encouraged by her mother to “defend” herself with a knife, and the tragic result was the destruction of two young lives. It was another instance of a chip-on-the-shoulder lesson leading to more violence in a community that already has too much of it.

Hosea L. Martin, Bronzeville

Sign this bill, gov

The Illinois Senate and the House did the right thing last week by unanimously passing SB 2038, a bill that will provide a small amount of emergency cash to Human Service providers who desperately need it to keep their doors open and services running. Although this bill is stop gap and woefully inadequate, the governor should do the right thing by signing it quickly.

The larger issue, of course, is that racing from fire to fire is no way to run state government. Passing SB 2038 just postpones catastrophic consequences. It is not a sustainable and comprehensive solution to Illinois’ budget crisis.

In the last few weeks, a bipartisan group of legislators have come together to do just that – find a sustainable and comprehensive solution. The specifics of this balanced budget framework have not been publically revealed; but we do know that it’s the work of many smart leaders from both sides of the aisle acting in good faith. It is a consensus framework and the first real outline of a budget in a long time.

The governor and legislative leaders must now do their part and provide an open and fair debate about the particulars of this framework. It would be irresponsible for anyone to use SB 2038 as an excuse for stifling debate on more comprehensive solutions such as the framework.

Make no mistake. Human service providers desperately need the relief provided by SB 2038. These providers are fulfilling their contracts with the State to provide home care to people with disabilities, community care to frail older adults, after school and youth development programs, supports for victims of domestic violence, supportive housing and homelessness prevention services, and on and on. These providers have been paying for staff, rent, supplies, and insurance by borrowing money and depleting their reserves. Everything and everyone is exhausted.

But we must see SB 2038 for what it is: an emergency measure that pays only 45 cents on the dollar as reimbursement for signed contracts. Is it better than nothing? Of course. But it shouldn’t be used as a talking point for legislators when their constituents call worried about shrinking human services. SB 2038 is needed but it’s hardly anything to brag about.

We encourage the leaders in Springfield to aim higher and shed light on the budget framework that this group of brave legislators have built consensus around. Let’s have that long overdue debate about state priorities that should have started 18 months ago.

Judith Gethner, executive director,
Illinois Partners for Human Service