Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Thursday, October 05, 2006

"Bill would take bite from budget"

More government tyranny reported in today's Moscow-Pullman Daily News:
Pullman mayor: City frustrated with communications legislation

In the halls of big government, no one can hear you scream.

The city of Pullman has been struggling with state and federal legislation slowly chipping away at its sovereignty and, more importantly, its coffers.

“These things are dictated by the feds, and now you have to do it, but there’s no money to do it, and there’s penalties if you don’t do it,” Mayor Glenn Johnson said. “We are frustrated and trying to do the best job we can to communicate to the public there are some things we just don’t have control over any more.”

The latest in a series of government mandates that may affect the city’s budget involves a piece of telecommunications legislation working its way through Congress.

The bill would eliminate local government control over cable television franchises by shifting the power to the state or federal governments. It also would affect local governments’ ability to levy taxes on certain kinds of telecommunications, such as cable television and cellular telephones.

A similar version may appear in the Washington Legislature in the 2007 session, said City Supervisor John Sherman.

A week ago, the city heard a presentation from the Washington Department of Ecology on new stormwater runoff standards under the federal Clean Water Act that could cost the city and taxpayers millions of dollars.

The city was told it has no choice but to comply with both the federal standards, and the even-more rigid state standards. The City Council asked for an explanation why Pullman, with its unique geology and soil conditions, couldn’t be exempted. No explanation was given.

“That part is frustrating, especially when they don’t give you answers,” Johnson said.

While the stormwater regulations will add to the city’s expenditures, the telecommunications bill could take a bite out of city revenues in excess of half a million dollars annually.

The city brings in about $140,000 per year from its franchise contract with Time Warner Cable, said Finance Director Troy Woo.

About another $378,000 comes from a utility tax on telecommunications that includes telephones, long distance calls and cellular telephones, Woo said.

The city does not get any taxes or franchise fees from satellite television providers such as Dish Network, Johnson said. That’s one of the reasons big telecommunications companies are lobbying for the bill — they think it’s unfair cable providers pay but satellite providers don’t, he said.

Sherman is concerned about another potential effect of the bill. Cable providers may no longer have to carry government access channels the city uses to broadcast City Council meetings and to provide information to residents.

“Since we don’t have a local TV station, that’s a real service to the public to get information out,” Sherman said. “We are more vulnerable here because we’re not close to a metropolitan area.”

The best the city can do is talk to its representatives in the Legislature and Congress and try to have a voice in the process. Those representatives have been willing to listen, Johnson said, but often they’re fighting a losing battle against the juggernaut of government bureaucracy.

“We have tried everything we can to get our point across, but sometimes it doesn’t work,” Johnson said.
Let's hear it for big government!!

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