California Taxmen: Coming for Your Texts

There is nothing in California that can’t be taxed. Income. Gas. Sin. Carbon. And now, if tax-hungry members of the legislature have their way, your text messages are next on the list of items that will cost you some extra dough.

Elected officials in the Golden State long ago proved that there is no problem they won’t attempt to throw a tax at. Soda making your kids obese? Tax it.

A tax that inexplicably puts a higher price on a hot Subway footlong but not a cold one – bet your bottom dollar California is home to such a mind-numbing policy.

Looking for a state where you pay extra for not driving an electric vehicle? Welcome to sunny CA!

How about a 33-cent fruit tax each time you want to grab a banana from a vending machine? You got it!

And now, for you sadists who relish the idea of handing over more of your paycheck to Uncle Karl, California has just the proposal for you. What would you say if I told you that you could have the good fortune of having your text messages taxed!

The official document carries the title ‘Decision determining text messaging service revenue should be subject to public purpose program surcharges and user fees’, and boy, is it a doozy.

The document cites the federal Communications Act of 1934 and 1996 Telecommunications Act, which collectively ‘established the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and charged it with regulating telecommunications carriers and managing the implementation of universal service.

‘The 1996 Telecommunications Act amended the Act, requiring the FCC to establish support mechanisms to ensure that schools, libraries, health care providers and low-income, rural, insular, or residents in high-cost areas receive access to affordable telecommunications services’

The State of California Public Utilities Commission are now interpreting these Acts to mean that, because the mechanisms of telecommunications were established under federal law and are subject to surcharges, the messaged you send while accessing those mechanism – text messages – are also subject to surcharges, aka taxes.

“Shout out to the administrations of FDR and Bush the first, helping to line our pockets since 1934 (and 1996), respectively!” – anonymous California Public Utilities Commission member.

This is definitely what FDR and George H.W. had in mind when they passed the original Act and its 1996 amendment. There’s just no way that the California Public Utilities Commission would be taxing your texting unless it was completely, 100% done in the spirit and letter of the law. This is the only way that these Acts can be interpreted, and to state otherwise is blasphemy.

And, since the act is so clearly reasonable and fair, why enact it only in a forward-looking manner? It’s only just that the public – who has been mooching off of public telecommunications infrastructure with impunity for years – pay retroactive taxes, too.

‘Wireless carriers who have not reported and remitted surcharges on text messaging within the last five years shall identify the amount of intrastate surcharges owed on text messaging services and propose a payment plan in their advice letter filings.’

In all seriousness, the idea of being taxed on something so frivolous is concerning. The notion that such a tax could be levied retroactively to cover a period of five years is frightening, and begs a number of questions.

How much is a per-text surcharge going to be? For the sake of argument, let’s say it’s two cents per text.

Consider that the average 18 to 24-year-old American adult sent 128 text messages per day between 2012 and 2015. That amounts to 46,720 text messages per year. Multiply by .02….that’s $934 in retroactive surcharges, and that’s only the average texter.

Imagine how pleased the lovely citizens of Calitaxya are going to be when they get a bill, completely out of the blue, for $934 in charges they never agreed to in the first place. That’s not exactly the Christmas present that they were anticipating, but it might be the one they receive.

Bummer dude…

At this point, though, if the taxed are voluntary residents of California – even after the soda tax, and the gas tax, and the vehicle tax – it’s difficult to harbor much sympathy for them.

But the precedent, if it indeed becomes precedent, could present a serious obstacle to the communications of the younger generations.

Such a tax really is going to put a wrench in the communications of a generation who has come to really on the written mobile message as their preferred mode of communication. The kids were once saying ‘text me’ in response to friends inquiring about information at an inconvenient time or a later date. Now, they have a fitting, synonymous phrase, courtesy of the benevolent California government:

“Tax me”

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