The war tax on your phone bill?

THE WAR TAX ON YOUR PHONE BILL?….Take a look at your phone bill sometime and you’ll notice that the telecoms charge something called a “federal excise tax.” Of course, a phone bill is filled with a series of modest fees for one thing or another, so most of us just pay the bill and never give these line items a second thought.

But some opponents of the war in Iraq have taken a closer look at that excise tax — and have decided to stop paying it.

Peace activist Bill Sulzman in Colorado Springs protests the war in Iraq by refusing to pay the federal excise tax of about 50 cents on his monthly phone bill.

Sulzman also recruits others who are against US military involvement in Iraq to stop paying the tax, which was first adopted in 1898 to pay for the Spanish-American War.

The tax raises about $5 billion a year, which activists say goes to fund war efforts. The Internal Revenue Service won’t confirm that the money goes exclusively to the military but instead says it goes for general fund expenditures, including military spending.

Apparently, this isn’t an entirely new phenomenon. The Denver Post explained that some opponents of the Vietnam War also withheld the phone tax as an act of civil disobedience.

As it happens, the telecoms aren’t thrilled with the tax and don’t appreciate being pulled into the tax-collection business in the first place. In fact, according to the article, Qwest, Verizon, Cingular, and AT&T all said they’ll “adjust” customers’ bills to remove the excise tax if customers request it. (The catch, of course, is that the phone companies are also required to alert the IRS with a list of those who don’t want to pay it.)

As a rule, I’m not fond of tax resistance, even when I agree with the cause. Once people can pick and choose which taxes are consistent with their ideology, and they start ignoring the “bad” ones, it’s a pretty dangerous road.

But am I the only one who didn’t know that this war-inspired tax existed?

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.