The next time lawmakers promise that a tax is only temporary, remember the
federal excise tax.
Thursday, U.S. Treasury Secretary John Snow announced that the IRS would issue refunds of
excise taxes on long-distance service for the past three years.
Short on cash to finance the Spanish-American War in 1898, Congress targeted
the then new technology of telephony for some quick battle funds. It was
only temporary, Congress insisted.
The war ended at a cost of $6 billion, but the excise tax lived on to
become a staple of telephone taxes, which is currently a 3 percent charge on
all local and long-distance services.
Since the enactment of the excise tax, Americans have shelled out $300
billion for the program.
Enough is enough, Snow said.
“Today is a good day for American taxpayers; it marks the beginning of the
end of an outdated, antiquated tax that has survived a century beyond its
original purpose and by now should have been ancient history,” Snow said in
In addition, Snow said Congress should eliminate the excise tax on local
phone services, which is a notion, in an election year, likely to win passage.
“It’s time to ‘disconnect’ this tax and put it on the permanent ‘do not
call’ list,” Snow said.
Refunds will be a part of 2006 tax returns filed in 2007, and Snow said the
IRS is working on a simplified method for individuals to use.
“President Ronald Reagan often said, ‘the nearest thing to eternal life we
will ever see on this earth is a government program.’ Certainly, nearly 108
years after the end of the Spanish-American War, we have tested the upper
limits of these words,” Sen. John Sununu (R-N.H.), said in a statement.
Sen. George Allen (R-Va.), who is sponsoring legislation to prohibit the
extension of excise taxes to Internet connections and co-sponsoring a bill
to eliminate the excise tax entirely, also praised Snow’s action.
“I am glad to see that the Department of Treasury will no longer continue to
burden the American tax payers with this outdated, unnecessary strain on
their wallets,” he said in a statement. “I will continue to support the
termination of the federal excise tax on all communications services.”
According to Allen, he decided to pursue the legislation when the
Congressional Joint Committee on Taxation inquired in January last
year as to whether the excise tax should be applied to all Internet
communications, including e-mail, VoIP, Internet video conferencing and
other data traffic.