- The Washington Times - Friday, November 29, 2002

A little-noticed tax has been slipped into the November phone bills of Prince George's County residents.

The 8 percent tax, retroactive to June, is being used to help defray the cost of public schools.

The Prince George's County Council approved the telecommunications tax for commercial, residential and industrial users as part of a restructuring plan to increase funding by $1 billion for the 137,000-student school system, where test scores remain the state's second-worst behind those of Baltimore city.

Telephone-service providers are required to collect the 8 percent tax, while cellular-phone companies collect a 5 percent tax on customers in the county.

The fee comes on top of the 911-emergency use fee, a federal excise tax, a federal and state subscriber line charge, a local number portability charge, a relay-services charge and universal service fund charge that are on most phone bills, according to the Federal Communications Commission.

Karen Campbell, a council spokeswoman, said the county expects to raise $20 million to $33 million from the 800,000 residents using telephones this year for operating expenses at public schools.

It is not a new concept, Ms. Campbell said. Anne Arundel County and Baltimore County each has an 8 percent tax on local phone service, while Baltimore city has a 12 percent tax and Montgomery County adds on 9 cents per phone line each month.

Chris Wilson, spokeswoman at the Maryland Public Service Commission, which regulates public utilities, hasn't received any complaints from county residents about the tax.

"It's a little surprising that no one has complained, but I imagine many people just haven't noticed the tax on their bill," she said. "It has been an effective way of raising funds for schools so far without further punishing people's property taxes."

Sandra Arnette, spokeswoman for local phone carrier Verizon, said the company has received few complaints about the new charge. Verizon sent a notice to customers in October explaining the charge.

"The majority of our Prince George's customers seem to have taken it in stride," Mrs. Arnette said.

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