That’s because every month when we pay our telephone bills, we are paying a 3% federal excise tax on the local service, most of which goes to the military.
If you are looking for a strong, positive way to protest increasingly militaristic U.S. policies and actions, consider refusing to pay this monthly tax.
The federal excise tax itemized on our telephone bills has been associated with war throughout most of its long history.
It was first imposed on toll calls in 1898, during the Spanish-American war era, but removed in 1902. Imposed as a “temporary” tax by the War Tax Revenue Act of 1914, this tax has been used to help raise extra dollars for World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, as well as for weapons of every conceivable kind.
In 1990, the telephone tax became permanent and was set at 3%. At that time the legislation stated that the revenue raised would be used to fund child care, but the simple fact is that all of this money goes into the General Fund, just as it always has. The majority of the money in the General Fund, including the telephone excise tax, will continue to help finance a global policy based on military might, weapons of mass destruction, and the expansion of militarism into outer space.
The money raised by the telephone excise tax goes into the general federal budget. Approximately one-half of expenditures from this budget are used to pay for past and present military expenses as well as military plans for the future.
While the federal tax on your local monthly telephone bill is relatively small, this tax raised nearly $89 billion from 1966 to 2001, and about $6 billion per year since. As more and more people refuse to pay this tax to protest government spending policies, we will be sending Washington an increasingly strong message that cannot be ignored, a message backed by action.
Our refusal to pay the phone tax — an act of civil disobedience — is relatively risk free because the amounts are small. Now and then the IRS may send collection letters for these resisted taxes. At times of widespread resistance (e.g., during the 1960s “Hang up on War” campaign) the IRS used various enforcement procedures on a few individuals, however such collection efforts cost the federal government hundreds of dollars per person. The most likely consequence of becoming a telephone war tax resister is a feeling of satisfaction.
The federal excise tax is itemized on each telephone bill. Sometimes a federal tax itemization appears in more than one place on a bill. (Prepaid phone cards include the tax in their cost, so it is impossible to refuse the tax on cards.) To refuse this tax, simply deduct it from your total bill each month and pay the balance. A printed card, copies of which are available from NWTRCC, or a personal note should be included with the payment, explaining your reasons for refusing to pay the federal excise tax. Many people also send letters to their congresspersons and other public officials indicating the action they have taken.
Generally, your phone company cannot legally disconnect your phone service for nonpayment of the tax. IRS regulations (Code of Federal Regulations, §49.4291-1, title 26; 1996) clearly state that the phone company is supposed to collect the tax, but has no power to enforce collection. Their role is only to report the resister to the IRS. In the past the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ruled that AT&T (holding a long distance monopoly at the time) could not cut off phone service to federal tax resisters.
However, because there are so many new companies, some may not yet be fully aware of their responsibilities, and you may need to explain that the company should credit your bill each month and report the refused amount to the IRS. If the amount is adding up over a number of months, be sure to call the company and ask for it to be credited (ask for a supervisor if the first person you speak with is not helpful). Resisters have had mixed results with cell phone companies; please contact NWTRCC with your experiences.
Some companies have established special billing accommodations for war tax resisters and will provide you with a form (others may send you forms for “tax exempt” status, which are inappropriate in the case of war tax resistance).
Contact NWTRCC if you need help or if your company is threatening to cut off your phone service.
We can see the cost of increasing military spending in the world around us: hunger, inadequate housing, health care, public transportation, deteriorating urban areas, environmental problems, and more. Many of us have also seen the cost of our country’s militarism to the people in other countries: death and destruction.
Our resisted telephone taxes, although small, can begin repairing the damage done here and around the world. These taxes can be redirected to help meet human needs in this country or elsewhere. When we refuse to give the tax to the government, we put the money to positive social use rather than keeping it ourselves. The choice of positive uses for these refused dollars is boundless.
Although the individual amounts are small, the combined total from thousands of us is indeed a significant amount when it is used to work for peace and justice and meet human needs. By redirecting these taxes, we are able to make a positive statement about our priorities. You may choose to pool your resisted taxes with others in a war tax resistance “alternative fund.” Contact NWTRCC for a list of such funds, which usually make grants and donations to peace, human rights, service, and aid organizations around April 15.
Single copies of this brochure are free with a self-addressed stamped envelope, or $12/100. See Resource list.