Sen. Lamar Alexander is not voting to raise taxes. He is not trying to increase the cost of Internet access, nor is he advocating a new tax on e-mail.
Instead, Alexander is trying to protect states from excessive control by the federal government. Yet the conservative, states-rights position the senator has taken on Internet access taxes has been turned on its ear by his critics, many of whom are Republicans.
Congress placed a moratorium on Internet access taxes in 1998. The few states, including Tennessee, that had taxed Internet access before the moratorium were allowed to keep their tax. The moratorium officially ended last week.
Now the House has passed legislation co-sponsored by Rep. Marsha Blackburn that would make the moratorium permanent and would eliminate all exemptions. In the Senate, Alexander opposes a permanent moratorium. He points out that Congress shouldn't micromanage the financial affairs of cities and states. And he points out that the few states that are exempt from the moratorium would lose between $80 million and $120 million in revenue if their exemptions end. That loss of revenue would force the states to increase taxes elsewhere.
Up until last week, Alexander was one of several senators who had placed a hold on the moratorium legislation, but he agreed to lift his hold on the bill last week in exchange for a Senate debate on the issue this week.
No one wants to pay more taxes. No doubt, Tennesseans, who are already paying tax on Internet access, would love to pay less for Internet connections.
But the question in the Senate isn't whether the Internet taxes should go up or down, or whether they should exist at all. The question is whether the federal government should tell states what they can and cannot tax. Alexander says it should not, and he is right. Tennesseans who want to eliminate Internet access taxes should contact Gov. Phil Bredesen and members of the General Assembly.
Tennesseans elected Lamar Alexander to the Senate because they believed he would exercise his own good judgment and act in the best interest of Tennessee. On this bill, he is.