In West Virginia’s upcoming legislative session, Governor Jim Justice (R) has made a pledge to introduce legislation to reform how the state spends revenue from 9-1-1 fees. Under current state law, West Virginia is not required to send every dollar back to localities where it would be spent on the maintenance and improvement of local emergency response services. As a result, the state government has the ability to misdirect the money toward unrelated items in the budget. Should Governor Justice follow through on his promise, it would mark a positive development for residents of the Mountain State who are concerned about adequate funding for their emergency services.
Governor Justice made this commitment in a recent letter to Commissioner Michael O’Rielly of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). From his November 28th letter, the Governor wrote: “It is my intent to introduce legislation during the Legislature’s 2019 Regular Session, which begins in January, that will bring West Virginia’s use of E-911 fees into compliance with FCC requirements. My proposal will ensure that 100% of the state’s E-911 fee revenue will be directed to local Public Service Answering Points.”
An FCC report from December of 2017 reveals West Virginia diverted seven percent of collected 9-1-1 fees into other parts of the budget. That amounts to nearly four million fewer dollars that could be used for emergency preparedness. The highest priority of all governments is to ensure public safety, but fee diversions continue to erode public safety.
That same FCC report notes that four other states also divert this revenue. For instance, New Jersey diverted 89 percent of its 9-1-1 fees to the state General Fund in Fiscal Year 16, totalling more than $108 million. Meanwhile, Rhode Island routed 60 percent of its $14 million in E911 collections to the General Fund.
9-1-1 fee diversion is a serious issue for taxpayers and consumers, and we commend Governor Justice for doing his part to help put an end to this scheme. NTU looks forward to reviewing this important legislation once legislators come back to Charleston for their 2019 legislative session.