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Jewish World Review May 20, 1999 /5 Sivan, 5759

Mona Charen

Mona Charen
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Econophone

Say no to the Gore tax

(JWR) ---- (http://www.jewishworldreview.com)
AL GORE HAS ALWAYS more richly deserved to be a joke than has poor Dan Quayle. And now, at last, he appears to be embracing his destiny. When not hoeing tobacco, whipping his mule team up steep hillsides and inventing the Internet, our indefatigable veep conceived the brilliant idea of hiring former Rep. Tony Coehlo as his campaign chairman. This is like Mike Tyson hiring Marv Albert to buff his image.

Coehlo, famous for strong-arming big Democratic donors while serving as majority whip, resigned from Congress under a cloud in 1989, after failing to disclose a shady loan. Mr. No-Controlling-Legal-Authority might have thought of that. As for Coehlo's political instincts, well, when Coehlo was serving as a campaign adviser to the House Democrats in October 1994, he was asked, "How does it look out there?"

(The polls were terrible for Democrats at that point, and sure enough, a month later, Republicans swept into the majority for the first time in 40 years.)

"Great," Coehlo replied, "the Contract With America was the stupidest thing the Republicans could have done." Now, Gore will have the benefit of that political acumen.

But while most Americans know that the vice president thinks the internal combustion engine is the greatest threat to the world today, and while many may be offended by his cynical use of his sister's tragic death for political mileage, most voters probably do not know that he is responsible for raising their taxes by $1 billion, or $10 per household.

You constitutional sticklers out there may not like the idea of a tax passed by a federal agency instead of originating in the House of Representatives. But that is exactly what is about to happen if the Federal Communications Commission votes, as expected, 4-1 to add an annual hidden tax of $10 per customer to your phone bill. That is in addition to the hidden $10 we are already paying.

You campaign-finance and good-government types might want to consider that this tax amounts to a straight payoff to loyal Democratic constituencies.

The tax was announced amid fanfare, The Wall Street Journal reports, at a National Education Association meeting "by Gore loyalist (FCC Chairman) William Kennard ... where he stood beside Gore loyalist and NEA President Bob Chase."

Can a federal agency simply vote to impose a tax? Commissioner Harold Furchtgott-Roth thinks it's illegal, but his is a lonely voice. He argues that while the 1996 Telecommunications Act gives the agency authority to establish programs for telecommunications services to schools and libraries, 70 percent to 80 percent of the funds that have already been raised have gone to equipment, which is not covered by the law.

What is the purpose of the tax? It's to wire every school in America to the Internet, of course. It won't exactly ratify Gore's boast that he invented the Internet, but he hopes it will give him the chance to say he wired America's schools. But, ahem, the administration's own Department of Education just issued a report saying that 80 percent of America's schools are already hooked up to the Internet.

Why is this a federal concern at all? Leave aside for the moment the notion that funding for education ought to be a local matter (that battle hasn't been completely lost yet), and ask yourself: How much does it cost to get wired to the Internet anyway? Once you own a computer, you have to fork over 59 cents for a telephone wire and then toddle over to the local Price Club to pick up some jack extenders. OK, maybe you'll need extra phone lines into the school. Should the federal government be taxing our phone bills to the tune of $2.25 billion per year -- as envisioned by the FCC -- for that?

Besides, many of our schools are failing to teach children the basics of reading, writing and mathematics. Those skills have been taught for centuries without access to the Internet, and Internet access is unlikely to improve instruction. In capable hands, it may be a useful research tool, but in the hands of lazy or incompetent teachers, it's easy to imagine its abuse.

The FCC was cowed by a public outcry when it attempted this last year. Perhaps history will repeat itself.


JWR contributor Mona Charen reads all of her mail. Let her know what you think by clicking here.


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©1999, Creators Syndicate