HARRISBURG – With time running down and lawmakers looking to reauthorize Pennsylvania’s 911 Law before it expires in January 2024, the Senate Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee, chaired by Sen. Doug Mastriano (R-33), held a hearing Monday to consider changes to the law, including Gov. Josh Shapiro’s proposal to increase the 911 fee by nearly 20%.
“There are a lot of serious and legitimate concerns about the governor’s cell phone fee increase,” Mastriano said. “We have a lot of residents who live on fixed incomes and already suffer under a huge tax burden here in Pennsylvania.”
The current 911 fee is $1.65 per month. Shapiro in his first budget address proposed increasing the rate to $1.97 per month. Shapiro’s proposal calls for an annual automatic increase in the fee so it would rise with the rate of inflation.
Pennsylvania already has the most expensive 911 fee in the nation.
The Commonwealth collects $325 million annually through the existing fee, according to testifier Jake Lestock, director of state legislative affairs with the Cellular Telephone Industries Association (CTIA). That is nearly $100 million more than any other state.
The $1.65-per-month fee in Pennsylvania is much higher than the 25-cents-per-month fee charged in Ohio, 30-cent fee in California, 40 cents charged in Florida or 50 cents charged in Texas. New York state, through a combination of state and local fees, still only charges residents $1.50 per month.
“We need to look at what other states are doing and learn how they are funding their 911 systems,” Mastriano said. “Taking more money away from Pennsylvania taxpayers should not be the automatic, knee-jerk government reaction to every problem.”
Multiple testifiers noted the additional revenue is supposed to help fund the transition to Next Generation 911 (NG911) service.
Lestock with CTIA noted the last increase in the fee was supposed to fund the buildout of NG911 service. The 2015 law increased the fee rate by 65% – from $1 to $1.65 – to pay for the NG911 upgrade. He urged lawmakers to look into what happened to the $750 million in new revenue generated since 2016 from the last 911 fee increase.
Many testifiers accurately pointed to the necessity of 911 services and the key role played by first responders in their communities.
“Pennsylvania is blessed to have a talented and dedicated group of workers and volunteers who answer the call every time a resident needs help,” Mastriano said. “We want to make sure the men and women in our 911 dispatch centers and the first responders who arrive on scene have the support they need to do their jobs.”
Other testifiers at Monday’s hearing included: Jeff Boyle, executive deputy secretary, Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency (PEMA); Greg Kline, deputy director for 911, PEMA; Snyder County Commissioner Joe Kantz, incoming second vice president of the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania (CCAP); Dauphin County Commissioner Mike Pries, co-chair of the CCAP Emergency Management and Veterans Affairs Policy Committee; John Geib, president, Keystone Chapter of the National Emergency Numbers Association; Eugene Good, incoming president, Keystone Chapter of the National Emergency Numbers Association; Michael McGrady, Legislative Affairs Committee chairman, Keystone Chapter of the National Emergency Numbers Association; Steve Samara, president, Pennsylvania Telephone Association; Steve Fickes, deputy executive director of the Pennsylvania Legislative Budget and Finance Committee (LBFC); and Matthew Thomas, analyst, LBFC.
Media contact: Josh Herman