High cell phone bill? Washington state partly to blame

OLYMPIA -- Receiving that monthly cell phone bill is a cringe-worthy experience, especially as many of us pay more than $70 a month on data and voice packages.

But it's not just the phone companies that are jacking up the prices -- it's also Washington state.

State residents pay the second highest state and local wireless tax in the country, according to a recent report by the Tax Foundation, a self-described non-partisan organization providing analysis on federal and state tax policy.

According to the study, Washington residents pay a total of 18.62 percent in local and state sales tax on wireless consumption, totaling to 24.44 percent once federal taxes are applied. Only Nebraska residents pay a higher tax rate, at 24.49 percent.

Oregon residents, by contrast, pay 7.67 percent in taxes on their cell phone bill. Washington's tax rate of nearly 25 percent is much higher than the national average of 17.18 percent.

Each state and locality can decide what rate to tax phone usage. According to the Tax Foundation, this excessive, sometimes sneaky tax affects the nearly 330 million cell phone subscribers in the U.S. Taxes are levied in "a relatively hidden way," the foundation said, with states often hiding the taxes in the bill under the blanket title of "fee."

"Utah uses what they call a wireless 'fee' to fund its poison control centers, but the levy is really a tax because the government service benefits the general public regardless of cell phone ownership or usage," the study said.

The high tax is also hard on wireless companies, the Tax Foundation said, because they are in charge of collecting the taxes, and are held legally accountable if any mistakes are made.