Carrie Lukas

What invention most improved women's lives during the past century? The birth control pill for granting women greater control over child bearing, and modern, electric clothes and dish washers for freeing them from time-consuming housework likely spring to mind.

Here's another candidate to consider: the creation of the internet and wireless technologies. Certainly, everyone has benefited from the dawning of the information age, but women have been uniquely touched as these technologies make it easier for women to perform critical tasks—from generating income to getting an education—while at home.

That makes it all the more important that policymakers at all levels of government stop viewing wireless technologies as a cash cow for closing budget deficits. A recent report by economist Scott Mackey shows that the combined federal, state, and local taxes on wireless services have grown from 14.1 percent in 2006 to 16.3 percent today. Those numbers mask incredible variations at the state and local levels. Nebraska imposes the nation's highest wireless taxes of 18.6 percent, bring the total combine state and local tax to an eye-popping 23.7 percent. New York and Washington aren't far behind.

These wireless tax rates far exceed sales taxes imposed on other goods. In fact, the 16.3 percent average tax on wireless is twice the average retail sales tax rate. This fact—that wireless technologies, like tobacco and alcohol, are singled out for extra taxes—may surprise many Americans. Those who believe government shouldn't micromanage people's lives may object to “sin taxes,” like those levied on beer and cigarettes, but at least we can understand the logic behind them. Drinking and smoking tend to lead to bad behaviors and outcomes (what economists refer to as “negative externalities”) that create costs for society, and that's why government tries to discourage the use of those products.

What's the logic behind extra taxes on wireless goods?

The thinking may once have been that wireless services are a luxury, so that a tax on wireless was a way to soak the rich. Perhaps that made some sense years back when only the wealthy used cell phones or had internet service at home. Today, however, Americans at all income levels use wireless technology, and, in fact, a growing number of Americans depend exclusively on cell phones, while forgoing a land-line.


Carrie Lukas

Carrie Lukas is the Managing Director at the Independent Women’s Voice and author of The Politically Incorrect Guide to Women, Sex, and Feminism.