NJ hasn’t been using phone bill money to update 911 systems; will you force it to?
TRENTON — Lawmakers want to let voters decide whether to dedicate money to update New Jersey's 911 systems.
If a proposed ballot measure is approved in the Legislature and then by voters, all of the money raised from a 90-cent fee on New Jersey phone lines would be dedicated for upgrades to 911 and emergency services.
The measure is in response to an NJ.com analysis that found that only 15 percent of the $1.37 billion raised since 2004 had gone to those upgrades. And even less went to a NextGen 911 upgrade.
The NextGen update would allow callers to communicate via text message, photo and video.
Democratic Assemblywoman Annette Quijano said that the bill she is sponsoring is meant to start the conversation. Committee hearings on the ballot measure have not been scheduled yet.
"I want to bring all the professionals to the table and hear how the money has been spent and what are the needs for the 911 system," Quijano said. "No one takes anything serious until you introduce a bill. And it's in my committee, so I can make changes there beforehand or after the committee from the information we garner."
The 911 System and Emergency Response Trust Fund was created by Democratic Gov. Jim McGreevey and lawmakers in 2004 and sold as a way to revamp the state's aging 911 system, including issues in locating calls from cellphones.
While it has brought in an average of $124 million a year since, contributions to update 911 systems were cut in half under Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine in 2009. More money then began being spent in other areas, including the state police operating budget.
Democratic Assemblyman Wayne DeAngelo said he doesn't foresee any obstacles to getting the ballot question approved and thinks voters will eventually support it.
"Over the past decade we've taken a billion and a half dollars away from what it was dedicated for," DeAngelo said. "We're robbing Peter to pay Paul. We're trying to stop that."
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