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"It was a splendid population - for all the slow, sleepy, sluggish-brained sloths stayed at home - you never find that sort of people among pioneers - you cannot build pioneers out of that sort of material. It was that population that gave to California a name for getting up astounding enterprises and rushing them through with a magnificent dash and daring and a recklessness of cost or consequences, which she bears unto this day - and when she projects a new surprise the grave world smiles as usual and says, "Well, that is California all over."

- - - - Mark Twain (Roughing It)

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

An 18% tax on wireless bills in California

Taxes, taxes and more taxes
And government says there is never enough money 

(Los Angeles Times)  -  The good news: Thanks to increased competition, wireless companies' rates have dropped nearly 7% since 2008.

The bad news: Average federal, state and local taxes and fees for California customers reached a record 18%, meaning that the government's slice of your wireless bill is now at least twice as high as the state sales tax imposed on most other goods and services.

Those eye-opening stats come courtesy of the nonpartisan Tax Foundation, which said in a report last week that wireless customers nationwide are paying about $5.8 billion annually in state and local taxes and fees — on top of an additional $5 billion in federal wireless surcharges.

"It's surprising how high the taxes on smartphones are," said Joseph Henchman, the Tax Foundation's vice president for state projects. "They're easy to miss because it's 40 cents here and 60 cents there, but they really add up."

For consumers, one troubling element is that these so-called utility user taxes aren't intended to support a municipal service, such as sewer cleaning or garbage collection. They're a tax on a service provided by private companies, which charge their own usage fees.

"At some point, we're talking about a revenue grab," Henchman told me.

The city of Los Angeles alone charges a 9% wireless tax, one of the highest in California. That's before the state and the feds cut themselves in for a piece of the action.

Even though smartphones have become necessities and a crucial component of the digital economy, they're still taxed in large part as a luxury item. Blame that on the Spanish-American War.

According to the Tax Foundation, California wireless users pay an average rate of 11.6% in state and local taxes, plus an additional 6.5% for the federal Universal Service Fund, which is intended to extend telecom services to every home.

California's 18% in combined wireless taxes is sharply higher than the state's 7.5% sales tax and twice L.A.'s 9% sales tax. This raises the question about whether wireless users are being taxed fairly on a proportional basis.

Palo Alto, home to Facebook, has a 4.75% wireless tax, or about half what L.A. charges. In Mountain View, home to Google, the wireless tax is 3%. In Cupertino, home to Apple, it's 2.4%.

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