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Jerry Davich: Taxing ‘universal’ debate over phone service fee

Jerry Davich.

Jerry Davich.

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Updated: April 8, 2013 7:20AM



Have you read my column on the woman who fell on a patch of ice in downtown Hobart and failed to get reimbursement from the city for her pain, suffering and medical bills?

How about my column on the former U.S. Steel worker who filed a lawsuit against the company requesting reimbursement from a wrongful termination of insurance benefits?

Or the column on the 6-year-old Jasper County boy with a rare disease who’s in dire need of a kidney transplant?

No, you didn’t miss those columns. They were never published. Not even written, at least not yet. So many potential columns that I work on — reporting, researching, making phone calls, etc. — never see the light of day in the newspaper. Why? Various reasons.

There is either not enough information, insights or facts. Or not enough reasons to write the column. Or my gut tells me to simply stay away from it.

I tell you this because I routinely receive a dozen or so column ideas each week from readers. Plus, there are countless more ideas prompted by my own curiosity, hunches or issues in the news. I obviously can’t pursue all of them, but many of them I check into to see where they might go.

So if you’re one of those readers who has contacted me with a column idea, this may help explain why it hasn’t become a published column, at least not yet. But don’t let this scare you off from suggesting new ideas, items or issues to me. I’m always looking, which my next blurb illustrates.

Gambling problems wanted

For an upcoming column, I’m looking for region residents who’ve been involved with Gamblers Anonymous locally. I’m told it’s not easy for Northwest Indiana gamblers to get the help they need, and I’m in need of first-hand experiences.

And yes, your confidentiality will be respected if requested.

A taxing debate

My column on the free government-backed “Obama cell phone” program dialed up a lot of feedback, mostly from readers upset with this line, below (in italics).

“The now controversial program, funded by Universal Service Fund fees on telephone bills (not exactly taxpayer dollars), provides eligible consumers with free cell phones and discounted monthly service.”

A few readers disagreed with my assertion.

Richard K. wrote: “Do you think I don’t pay taxes? Then I have to pay for these free phones every month when I pay my phone bill.”

Roy T. wrote: “Under the Supreme Court decision in the Affordable Care case: The government’s constitutional authority to impose fees and penalties is in the taxing clause. Therefore any federal required fee or penalty is a tax.”

Hmmmmm ... I found these replies interesting so for additional insight I contacted the Federal Communications Commission, which operates the Lifeline program.

FCC spokesman Mark Wigfield agreed with me that the Universal Service Fund fees on telephone bills are “not exactly taxpayer dollars.”

“Not really,” he told me Tuesday. “It’s an assessment on long-distance revenues that is imposed under the authority of the FCC, not the IRS. Carriers can pass along that assessment to consumers in the form of a universal service fee.”

For anyone who still disagrees, I say contact the FCC.

Then, of course, I heard from readers who were angry at me for writing about this issue in a “clearly biased attempt to cover Obama’s butt,” as one Hammond man put it.

Or as Bill M. wrote: “Keeping people busy with articles like this plays directly into your efforts to back Obama. Why not a series of stories about the violent flash mobs attacking innocent people? Why not going after him on selling guns to the drug cartels? Why not blast away at his totally unacceptable handling of Benghazi?”

Clearly, you are on to my cleverly disguised agenda to defend the president’s every move, including my column on a government program that began long before he arrived. Brilliant.

Come to ‘Pure Region’

We’ve all heard those “Pure Michigan” marketing ads on the radio, right? The nostalgic commercials to bolster the state of Michigan’s tourism campaign is accompanied by soft music and a script read s-l-o-w-l-y by actor Tim Allen.

Well, what if Northwest Indiana had such a radio commercial, produced in similar style? It might sound something like this.

“Come to Northwest Indiana ... the region ... pure region,” the narrator would say slowly. “Come to a place considered the red-haired stepchild of the Midwest — shunned by both Chicago and the rest of Indiana.

“A place without big-city skyscrapers, but a smokestack skyline belching toxins into the air around the clock. A place that greets visitors with billboards for strip joints, liquor stores and smoke shops.”

“A place where you have to lock up your doors, and sometimes even your dreams.

“Come to Northwest Indiana ... the region ... pure region. Your trip begins at PollutionPit.org.”

In fact, there is such a radio ad, created by yours truly. It can be heard this week on my Casual Fridays radio show, sometime between noon and 1 p.m. (and again at 11 p.m.) on 89.1-FM, streaming at www.thelakeshorefm.com. Let me know what you think.

Christopher Kennedy Lawford

On March 16, a Saturday evening, I will emcee a dinner event fundraiser with keynote speaker Christopher Kennedy Lawford, the New York Times best-selling author and addiction recovery expert who currently works with the White House Office on Drug Control Policy.

The event will be held at Valparaiso University’s Harre Union, with proceeds benefiting Frontline Foundations Inc., a substance abuse treatment provider in Porter County exclusively for young adults ages 18 to 28.

I’ve heard Lawford, the nephew of John F. Kennedy, speak in NWI once before and his message about addiction and recovery is truly inspirational. And humorous, as you might guess.

Tickets are $40 (or $35 per person for a table of eight) and can be purchased at http://in1accord.eventbrite.com/#

For more info, call Frontline at 728-1638.

Find more of Jerry’s writings on Facebook, Twitter, Linked-In, and jerrydavich.wordpress.com.



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