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Hawaii legislators use $16 million from emergency 911 fund to balance the budget

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August 24, 2010

HONOLULU, Hawaii: According to a report from the FCC, in 2009 the Hawaii Legislature approved using $16 million from the state's emergency 911 fund in order to help balance the state budget. Hawaii was one of 10 states which used 911 funds for such purposes, up from five in 2008. The fund, known as the Wireless Enhanced 911 Fund, was set up to maintain and improve the 911 system. It is comprised of fees levied on cell phone customers.

State Sen. Donna Mercado Kim, chairwoman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, pointed out that the fund was flush with cash, therefore making it vulnerable during a budget crisis. She stated, "If the fund is for 911 and they have excess balances, perhaps they (cell phone companies) are charging too much. The intent was to make themselves self-sufficient. But if there is over and above the actual money needed, what happens to that money?"[1]

However, Jim Schuler, a spokesman for CITA the Wireless Association, said that it was state legislators who set the surcharges that cell phone companies can charge their customers, stating, "The reason we get so exercised about it is that our customers are levied a fee for 911, and they think they're helping to pay for that. What Hawaii did was use it for other purposes. If there is an excess, that's usually a red flag for a legislature to raid the fund." He explained that such funds are vital for emergency responders to keep up with ever changing cell phone technology.

Gov. Linda Lingle initially proposed using $9 million from the 911 fund to balance the budget, and was met with fierce opposition from many opponents, including the Honolulu and Maui police departments, and the Kauai Fire Department. In the end, however, the legislature nearly doubled this request by approving the use of $16 million.

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