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Good luck, Corvallis

Oregon editors say

A city tax on cell phones? What's next ' wheels or window-gazing?

The (Albany) Democrat-Herald

Corvallis is considering a cell phone tax, according to a report in the Gazette-Times. Good luck.

Albany considered a cell phone tax in 2004. But the City Council dropped the idea in the face of general public dismay, and it has not come up again since.

Like every other enterprise, local governments in Oregon are under pressure to come up with revenue to pay for their many expenses. Franchise taxes used to be, and often still are, the second-most important revenue source after property taxes. But the rationale for franchise taxes on phone calls is disappearing.

The franchise tax is considered a fee for using the public right of way to string wires. But telecommunications is going wireless. If and when that transition becomes complete, the justification for any tax on telephone service will be gone.

Companies traditionally pass on at least a portion of their franchise taxes by billing the customers. But why should telephone users pay a local tax?

— Cities might as well look to other things as a source for taxation.

How about wheels? Cities could tax every fourth wheel on a vehicle. This might encourage the development of three-wheeled automobiles, and it would delight people who already move around on two wheels.

If they are going to attempt to tax people talking on the phone, they might, with the same justification, tax people for looking out the window. The only difference is that methods exist for billing utility customers. A window tax would require the filing of annual returns stating the number of windows and their size, so that the tax could be assessed.

All this, of course, is nonsense. Cities are no more going to tax wheels or windows than they are going to tax the air we breathe. But that's just the point. They have no more justification for taxing cell phone users than they would for those other potential sources of revenue.

There is, in short, no rational connection between wireless communication and city services. So no matter how much cities may need additional money, the case for a cell phone tax is a case they cannot make.