Tag Archives: taxation

Occupy the Senate

17 Apr

Had the Occupy movement not captured headlines, and had its messages not engendered sympathy from a middle class that has been systematically harmed by the axis of money and politics, then it’s possible that the Buffett Rule – a change to the tax code that would ensure that millionaires whose income comes largely from investments pay taxes on that money at a rate similar to that earned on other income, like business profits or regular wages. It’s named after Warren Buffett, the billionaire whose income comes largely from his myriad investments, who lamented that his secretary pays a higher tax rate than he. 

Last night, the Senate took up this change to the law, and it never made it to a vote. A single Democrat voted to block it, and a single Republican voted to bring it to the floor.  The Republicans filibustered, and the Democrats didn’t have the 60 votes needed to pass this legislation. (It’s high time to abolish the Senate filibuster, because the Constitution has been systematically circumvented – by both sides – to require that every legislation receive a supermajority for passage. This is unconscionable.) Without the threat of filibuster, the Buffett Rule would have passed the Senate 51 – 45. 

The bill would impose a minimum 30% effective federal tax rate on those with adjusted gross incomes above $1 million, although it phases in for those making between $1 million and $2 million.

Taxpayers subject to the Buffett Rule would still get a break for charitable deductions and could count both the income and payroll taxes they paid when calculating what they would owe

There’s nothing about that plan that should make Republicans reject it. Frankly, it makes sure that the wealthiest Americans don’t avoid paying taxes through an impossibly large, byzantine system that is specifically geared to lend loopholes to those who can afford them. 

The Buffett rule isn’t even controversial

It’s supported by 72% of Americans; of those, 53% of Republicans back it, and 70% of independents do, too. Unfortunately, it’s supported by only 2% of Senate Republicans; it’s only controversial among those whom the 1% have paid to oppose it. 

Americans don’t think the rich should get special breaks that regular folks don’t get, yet the Republicans in congress have made class warfare – by the rich against everybody else – a platform plank, and they’re shouting “socialist” at anyone who points it out. Problem is, it’s not working, and they’ve just selected someone who directly benefits from the failure of the Buffett Rule to be their nominee. 

This should be fun. 

Chris Lee's Views: Pablum

1 Jul

After much ribbing about the non-existent and/or empty “views” section of his website, Republican candidate for Congress in the 26th district has finally gotten around to having some.

I am running for Congress to bring real change to Washington, D.C., restore accountability, get people to stop the partisan bickering and start solving the problems families are facing. This is what Western New Yorkers are demanding, and it is what they deserve.

By working together we can make these things happen, and we can get Washington working again for Western New York.

If we do that then we can help create jobs at home, lower taxes for hard working families, develop a real energy policy, and ensure access to affordable healthcare for all Western New Yorkers.

Washington working for Western New York. That’s a great idea. Um, what’s his predecessor been doing along those lines for the past 10 years? It’s all platitudes cribbed from some primer on how to run as a Republican but sounding like a Democrat. Republicans don’t give a shit about “affordable healthcare”. They’re far more concerned with taxation of the wealthiest 1%, not “hard working families”.

The most important thing for our families is having jobs not just for us, but for our children. Right now Western New York is facing the challenge of entering a 21st century economy and not having enough jobs for our children. Fortunately, Western New York is well equipped to face these challenges. We have a world-class workforce, excellent educational institutions and a work ethic second to none. What needs to happen is the government, in Washington and Albany, needs to get out of the way and let businesses do what they do best – create jobs. When I am elected, I will fight everyday for policies that increase the incentives for businesses to take risks, be entrepreneurial and ultimately create jobs.

How is Washington in the way, and would he do to get it out of said way? Taxes and spending, evidently – no surprise, coming from a Republican candidate. The problem is that the Republican party has put the Democrats to shame in terms of the growth of government and government spending at the federal level since George W. Bush came to office. Why are we to believe that Lee would not help perpetuate that state of affairs? Bush has grown government, kept taxes low to help the budget deficit balloon, engaged in nation-building adventures in the middle east and then shortchanged them when it got difficult.

Definitely Washington is broken. Definitely Albany is broken. What can Lee as a congressman do to fix Albany? Again – platitudes that sound phenomenal but have no meat to them.

Lee also says we need a “comprehensive energy policy”:

– Lessen our dependence on foreign oil by increasing American made energy through exploration;
– Promote new, clean, reliable sources of energy;
– Encourage conservation, and;
– Increase investment in research funding for alternative energy.

Respectively, how, what, how, and what? The call from McCain and Bush has been for drilling everywhere. Respectfully, that’s like putting a Band-Aid on an amputation site. Nice sentiment, but it would take literally years – if not a decade – before any such drilling would have any effect on the market. Furthermore, conservation is now in full effect, given the cost of fuel. Price is up, demand is way down. So, if all this is run by the market, why does lower demand equal ever-higher prices?

Again – demand for gasoline has been dropping, yet the price continues to rise. The idea that this is just market forces at work doesn’t fly. In 2008, it is high time that we develop and reach a consensus on a fuel for personal conveyances to replace petroleum. We’re using technology that’s over 100 years old.

Lee also believes that health care is an issue. The buzzword is “market-based”. Anything the Republicans recommend will be characterized as “market-based”, while they will criticize the Democrats’ plans as being “socialized medicine”. Meanwhile, all of the plans being suggested are market-based. No one is proposing socialized medicine.

While Mr. Lee complains that WNY is not getting its fair share of federal dollars, he also argues:

I will fight for a more transparent and fair system that will ensure real earmark reform. Any dollar being spent by the federal government should be done so in the light of day not behind closed doors. I want to change the way Washington does business by ensuring that we have an open system that holds our leaders accountable. Just like a CEO would want, Western New Yorkers deserve to know exactly how their money is being spent – that can only happen with a more transparent and accountable Washington.

How? What sort of transparency is he proposing? And which is it? More fair share, or fewer earmarks?

In other news, Chris Lee held a fundraiser last night. It was a swanky affair at the Marriott on Millersport. All of the Republican glitterati were in attendance, and Tom Reynolds introduced Lee to the crowd. Illuzzi was there enjoying the free food, making subtle threats, and writes:

I had the pleasure of attending what was truly an “All-Star” fundraising event last night kicking off NY 26 Congressional Candidate Chris Lee’s fundraising efforts.

Congressman Tom Reynolds declared the event to have set a new record for a first time candidate’s congressional fundraising event. Over 300 people in attendance!!! Early estimates are over $175,000 raised at the event.

That averages out to over $580 per person.

Lee is an unemployed child of wealth who inherited part of the sell-out of his father’s business. He’s pledged to spend $1 million of his own money on the race. Will he, like Chris Collins, forego his federal salary if elected? I recall Jack Davis making that pledge 2 years ago. Why should taxpayers cut a six-figure check with benefits and pension for a millionaire heir?

Property Tax Cap for New York

18 Jun

Via Capitol Confidential, comes this video of a news conference that Governor David Paterson held yesterday with Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi and various taxpayer activists.

The Suozzi Commission recently concluded that, among other things, a property/school tax cap is necessary to help ease New Yorkers’ local tax burden, which is significantly higher than the national average. Although opposed vehemently by exactly whom you’d expect, the vast majority of New Yorkers support it. Suozzi reminded Paterson of that fact in a humorous fashion as the two of them essentially declared political war on opponents.

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Money Savings

13 Jun

I know we don’t have car-sharing programs like ZipCar in Buffalo, but thought that this story out of Philadelphia was rather innovative and forward-thinking:

The city of Philadelphia has found a new way to cut expenses by eliminating vehicles from its city fleet. However, many city employees still need to get around sometimes. They’ve decided adopt the car-sharing model and they put out a request for bids. It’s been announced that ZipCar has been awarded a new contract to provide car-sharing services for municipal employees. Philadelphia has already eliminated 330 vehicles from its fleet over the last 4 years and this new deal will expand on that. The ZipCar contract starts on July 1 for a year and may be extended for another three years. ZipCar is offering hybrid vehicles in Philadelphia from $6/hour.

Like the article suggests, car-sharing services enables carless city dwellers to become members of the service and reserve cars for occasional use (grocery store, IKEA runs, etc.). They pay per hour and gas, insurance, and dedicated parking are all included (quite handy in cities where off-street parking costs as much as a private school education and on-street parking is scarce). 150 free kilometers is included for each rental, plus an additional $0.25/km over that.

For a municipality, it beats operating and insuring its own fleet.

Over the course of the contract, city employees will have access to Zipcar’s diverse fleet selection, including hybrids, standard sedans, and small SUVs, ensuring access to the most appropriate car for their task. Recent studies by Zipcar indicate that each Zipcar takes 15 vehicles off the road and Zipcar members report that they drive an average of 4,000 miles per year less than when they owned a car. Members also report saving an average of $435 per month compared to the average cost of owning and operating a vehicle in an urban setting.

(Photo from Flickr Member M.V. Jantzen)

Suozzi Commission Report on Property Tax Cap

3 Jun

From Politics on the Hudson:

[T]he state Commission on Property Tax Reform, headed by Nassau County executive Thomas Suozzi, is recommending a school property-tax cap of 4 percent annual growth, tying property taxes to incomes (called a circuit breaker) and relieving schools of state and local mandates.

“There are only three options to address the ever increasing cost burden of the New York State education system: 1) decrease expenses (or at least decrease the rate of growth), 2) increase state aid, or 3) increase property taxes,” the report reads.

“These options involve hard choices, but this Commission concludes that, regardless of any other factors, it must be a priority to limit property tax increases above a capped amount.”

The entire – yet preliminary – report is here (.pdf).

It’s 112 pages long, so no I haven’t read the whole thing yet. But this stood out within the first few pages:

High property taxes have the most negative impact on low and moderate income working families, seniors on fixed incomes, and small business owners, who must shoulder this burden regardless of their ability to pay. Whether your concern is decreasing education costs, or increasing education spending, or addressing inequities in school funding, or improving programs, virtually all agree the answer cannot be to continue to increase property taxes at the current rate. The rate of increase in property taxes over recent years is unsustainable, and simply unfair to those who cannot afford to pay.

and

Expenses are high. New York schools outside of New York City spend more per student than any state in the nation – an estimated $18,768 in 2008-20091. New York’s per student spending is more than 50 percent above the national average. New York is a proud state with a progressive history and a social compact devoted to improving the quality of life for all New Yorkers. Generations of New York’s leaders, committed to maintaining its status as a national model of social responsibility, have adopted laws and regulations that require local school districts and local governments to provide certain functions in certain ways. The unintended consequence is government that is very expensive. The thorny challenge is to help school districts and other local
governments reduce these expenses, while remaining faithful to our social compact.

State aid as a percentage of total cost is below the national average. It must be noted that New York State spends a great deal on public education, well above the national average. In fact, the State has dramatically increased spending over the past several years and intends to do even more over the next several years, which the Commission applauds. However, the State’s contribution represents, as a percentage of the total cost, only 43 percent, which is below the national average of 47 percent.

In addition to the property tax cap on the rate of growth and the “STAR Circuit Breaker”, which ties STAR property tax relief to one’s ability to pay, the commission suggests changing state mandates that help drive up the cost of education throughout the state, including salaries, pension, and health care costs.

Take a look at the report and report your thoughts in comments. This might be one of the most significant reform efforts in the state in decades. Is it enough? Is it a good start? Will it help?

Good? That it’s being considered at all, and some solutions are being proposed. Bad? I don’t really know. I’m mostly concerned that it’s a Spongebob Band-Aid being placed over a gaping wound.

Countywide Property Assessments: WIN

5 Apr

Following a theme, Erie County has too many entities conducting real estate assessments. The county Comptroller released a report on the topic last week, stating:

…in Erie County’s 30 local assessing units, there are 39 chief assessing officials and 130 budgeted positions working in assessing roles at a cost to local taxpayers of $6.5 million annually (not including fringe benefits). Using various data, the Comptroller’s report determined that a potential County expense for countywide assessment utilizing an outside vendor could be as little as $3.1 million, with significant annual, recurring and one-time savings and state aid inducements available to local governments and to Erie County. Depending on the number of employees retained in a countywide assessment unit, potential annual savings to local taxpayers could be as high as $3.9 million, not including State aid and incentives.

The savings to taxpayers of $3.9 million in this region is massive. Implement this forthwith.

A Cure for What Ails Us

28 Mar

Esmonde writes about Governor Paterson’s recent trip to Buffalo. It’s interesting that Paterson now quips about being on the “we need cuts” side of the budget process after so many years of being on the “over my dead body” side, and concludes:

“We are going to have to truncate some of our support [for Buffalo],” Paterson said. “[The mayor] and I talked about some revenue-raisers for Buffalo . . . to decrease the necessity of the state [aid].”

It means another kneecapping to a hurting region. It means more pain for the chronically afflicted.

Although this particular horse has been dead for many years, it could use one more smack with a two-by-four:

The best revenue-raiser would be to halt the unfunded mandates, lower taxes and fees everywhere, and make the region far more economically attractive than it is now.

See? How simple is that.

*Buffalopundit and WNYMedia do not condone the beating of horses, dead or alive.

An Inflammatory Comparison; A Call for Action

28 Feb

Quick – name a place that’s endured 50 years of stagnation and decline; a place from which people flee on a daily basis; a place where the economy is in shambles, and people are ridiculously cynical.

If you guessed Cuba, you’d be right.

I am loath to compare Western New York to an overbaked Leninist-Stalinist basket case, but in many ways it’s apt. So you’ll forgive me this plunge into a sort of reductio ad Stalinum, but reading through this particular article about the younger generation’s frustration with the indignities of everyday Cuban life, I was struck by the many comparisons to WNY.

Now, of course, we don’t have a brutal self-important dictator, nor do we have a completely planned economy, and we do allow freedom of speech, assembly, religion, press, and other basic human rights that Stalinists loath. Naturally, the analogy is, therefore, fatally flawed.

But, consider this quote:

“Our defining characteristic is cynicism. But that’s a double-edged sword. It protects you from crushing disappointment, but it paralyzes you from doing anything.”

Cynicism is rampant throughout Western New York, and I readily admit that I have become one of the cynics. Frankly, people are too busy working to create the kind of mass movement needed to really change anything here in WNY or in Albany. In Cuba, they have time. They also have gulags.

While the children of Buffalo, Cheektowaga, and Wheatfield chase jobs and a better existence in places like Charlotte, Orlando, Phoenix, Boston, and New York, the children of Cuba flee, as well:

…millions of young Cubans want the regime to cut the rhetoric and make tangible improvements in their lives. Many have given up hope: from October 2005 through September 2007, an estimated 77,000 Cubans fled to the United States, the biggest exodus since the Mariel boatlift of 1980, when 125,000 Cubans escaped to Florida in six months. “Young people are very fed up with the situation,” says Julia Núñez Pacheco, the wife of jailed independent journalist Adolfo Fernández Sainz. “Many are escaping, either by hurling themselves into the sea on a raft or arranging a marriage of convenience with foreigners.”

(Lack of hope + lack of opportunity + opportunity elsewhere + frustration)(political stasis + baby steps + out of touch leaders and legislatures) = exodus.

Except in Buffalo, you need only fill up a U-Haul. In Cuba, you need to find a boat and leave secretly, risking your life.

Oh, we’ve tried to change. We’ve (perhaps misguidedly) supported politicians, with our fingers firmly crossed, who promised fundamental change which would help lift upstate and western New York out of a decades-long doldrums. But consider this quote:

Raúl Castro has only himself to blame for their undisguised impatience. Within weeks of stepping in for his bedridden older brother, he urged Cubans to blow the whistle on government corruption and to find new solutions for the country’s many problems. Cuba’s young could hardly have agreed more: sweeping changes were overdue. And what happened next? Nothing.

Sounds painfully familiar.

The answer? I don’t think it lies with more government “job creation” programs, nor does it lie with the opposite end of the spectrum, with some sort of unyielding extreme libertarian ideological theorizing. It lies with victories big and small. It starts with people impressing upon their political leaders that they expect and demand fundamental change. While I often mock the SimCity-style “planning” that many espouse when it comes to Buffalo’s physical development, SimCity frankly teaches one some very basic lessons. There is a threshold at which taxation and regulation create decline. When your light industrial zones start to crumble, and property values plummet in your dense residential districts, you have to take some drastic measures. Ultimately, your city grows when you find a decent mix of taxation and spending, neither of which can be too extreme.

Yet after half a century, we still haven’t learned the lessons that a silly computer game can teach.

This region stumbles along on handouts and hope, living like it’s still 1958. Efforts to reduce the size of government, or to create regional government run headlong into political fiefdoms, and other forms of turf-protection. Yes, we’re all for it in the abstract, so long as it doesn’t affect ______ in any meaningful way.

Perhaps it’s time to take a page from the Senecas’ playbook. We don’t have to block the Thruway and burn tires on it, but we upstate New York holdout taxpayers really ought to consider some sort of mass movement to wake up New York governments and entities that hold us back economically.

The Unshackle Upstate effort is all well and good, but it’s a top-down approach supported by business entities like the Buffalo Niagara Partnership, which is very good at lecturing people about good governance, while happily collecting IDA and Empire Zone welfare handouts.

In Cuba,

No one took to the streets last week to test the limits of the regime’s forbearance. “You’re starting to see more and more examples of dissidence, but they are still not very organized or united,” says prominent human-rights activist Laura Pollán, 60, whose husband has been jailed since 2003. Still, change is coming…

Is change coming? Is anyone hearing the vast, silent majority of upstate citizens who love their homes and their hometowns, but are frustrated with continuing, rapid decline of this post-industrial region?

I’ve toyed with the idea of a million-taxpayer march on Albany before, but I’ve been too preoccupied with life to do anything about it. Imagine thousands of people (maybe a million is over-reaching) traveling to Albany to demand that Albany enact a five or ten-point action plan to help guide upstate out of its economic doldrums and lay the foundation for growth.

What would you include on that list? Would you go?