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Schools, libraries need funds more than we do

Feb. 15, 2001

Texas Sen. David Sibley (R-Waco) has proposed a bill before the Legislature that would eliminate local and state sales taxes on telephone fees in Texas. These sales taxes, however, fund important programs -- discounts for schools, libraries and rural health providers; advanced technology equipment to public schools, hospitals and libraries; more affordable telephone service to high-cost rural customers; and assistance programs for the hearing impaired and low-income customers. These programs serve positive purposes and should not have their funding cut.

The bill calls for the elimination of taxes applied to the Federal Universal Service Charge, the Texas Universal Service Charge, the Telecom- munications Infrastructure Fund Assessment, the Public Utility Gross Receipts Tax and the Telecommunications Municipal Franchise Fees. Sibley's reasoning for the proposed tax cuts is that they are taxes on top of taxes.

In a Feb. 6 press conference, Sibley said, 'While eliminating these sales tax payments will cut revenue to both the state of Texas and to municipalities, I don't believe we can justify this double-taxing of the public.'

The editorial board disagrees. We believe it is wrong to take away much-needed funding from school, library and healthcare programs. Texas ranks in the middle or near the bottom in several categories of school and library funding when compared to other states, according to a June 2000 report by the U.S. Department of Education. A 1999 U.S. Bureau of Census study reveals that Texas ranks last in the percentage of persons without health insurance; and a May 2000 National Education Association report shows Texas ranks fifth in the total cost it will take to modernize its schools.

The fiscal needs of Texas' schools, libraries and health care programs cannot be over-emphasized. Texas legislators should be working to free up more funding for social programs, not trying to cut the funding from them.

It is difficult for many people to argue against tax cuts. But the one Sibley has proposed would only reduce the average consumer's telephone bill by between $1 and $5 per month while taking away $96.6 million in funding to vital school, library and health care programs.

Slightly less than $100 million is far too high a price for society to pay in order to simply to have a slightly smaller telephone bill. Taxes are a fact of life. We pay them in exchange for the services government provides. And, especially in Texas, those services need more funding, not less.