Tag Archives: taxes

Norquist Clarified

20 Dec

It’s not every day the teabagging wing of the Republican Party decides to overrule an 89-10 bipartisan Senate compromise over the payroll tax holiday.

It would appear, therefore, that the Grover Norquist pledge never to raise taxes to which GOPers have beholden themselves is voidable in the event (a) that the tax hike disproportionately affects middle-class wage-earners; and/or (b) the President isn’t a Caucasian.  I’m glad that the 112th Congress was able to clear that up for us.

You see, under the Republican supply-side sect of trickle-down theory, only tax cuts on the wealthy are acceptable. The middle class, working class, and poor looters must be made to pay more.

The New Category of New York Taxpayer

7 Dec

Courtesy of Marquil at EmpireWire.com

Congressional Republicans Poised to Raise Middle Class Taxes

30 Nov

We know the drill – our sovereign debt is about to be downgraded because (a) the Congress couldn’t get it together to pass a budget that includes both a reduction in public spending and a repeal of the Bush/Obama tax cuts for the richest earners, so they punted to a so-called “Supercommittee” to do it; and (b) predictably, the Supercommittee was unable to reach an agreement because a tax hike for the wealthy was out of the question for almost all Republicans, and some Democrats.

So, now with our malaise economy of high unemployment, uncertainty, and a crisis of demand in the market, the federal government refuses to increase revenues by asking the wealthy to pay more, and is instead seeking contraction of the government’s involvement in the economy. To say this is backwards would be an understatement.

Many fingers have been pointed in recent weeks at Republicans’ obeisance to a pledge most of them signed with Grover Norquist’s “Americans for Tax Reform“. As ATR describes it,

…candidates and incumbents solemnly bind themselves to oppose any and all tax increases. While ATR has the role of promoting and monitoring the Pledge, the Taxpayer Protection Pledge is actually made to a candidate’s constituents, who are entitled to know where candidates stand before sending them to the capitol. Since the Pledge is a prerequisite for many voters, it is considered binding as long as an individual holds the office for which he or she signed the Pledge.

Yet, the Republicans have pledged themselves into a corner.

Part of the Obama stimulus package included a payroll tax holiday for wage-earners. Social Security payroll taxes are paid equally by the employee and his employer at 6.2%. The tax holiday reduced the employee’s share to 4.2%, and the Social Security trust fund took no hit whatsoever.  A vote to extend the tax holiday is scheduled for later this week, and all indications are that Congressional Republicans are going to vote against it.

For a $50,000 earner, [the tax holiday] meant paying $1,000 a year less in payroll taxes. It was agreed in that law that the holiday would cost the Social Security Trust Fund nothing—the depleted revenue would be replaced out of the general treasury. So the holiday adds to the general deficit but does not affect the trust fund.

This is part of the Republican jobs and economic program, which basically amounts to “prevent anything Obama might do to help the economy, so one of our party’s questionable fringe candidates wins the White House in 2012.”  All it’s missing is a catchy acronym.

And if the no-tax-hike-pledge-taking Republicans vote against a renewal of the payroll tax holiday, thus effectively raising taxes on wage-earners. The party that supported President Bush’s gimmicky $300 rebate checks now recommends a plan that may plunge us deeper in an economic hole, all in the hopes that Obama would get the blame.

Two economists at the Economic Policy Institute say ending the holiday would reduce GDP by $128 billion and cost 972,000 jobs in 2012. The EPI is a liberal outfit, but Mark Zandi of Moody’s, who advised John McCain in 2008, agrees that raising the payroll tax back to where it was could cause another recession.

And besides those macroeconomic concerns, there is the simple question of money in people’s pockets as they try to tough out the economy. A thousand dollars to a $50,000 earner, or $1,500 to a $75,000 earner, isn’t nothing.

The Democrats? They want to further lower the earner’s share to a full half – 3.1%, and they also want the reduction to apply to employers at the same 50% rate, in the hopes that more money in the pockets of consumers will spur economic activity, and that more money in the employers’ coffers might spur further hiring.  For $255 billion, you target the real job creators directly. How will they pay for that?

… with a 3.5 percent surtax on dollars earned over $1 million per year. In other words, if someone earns $1.3 million a year, she will pay the extra 3.5 percent only on the last $300,000 in earnings; that is, an extra $10,500 a year (bear in mind that this person takes home, after taxes, around $30,000 every two weeks). So it certainly raises the taxes of the very wealthiest. But it gives more money back to middle-class people, and it stimulates the economy, perhaps to the tune of 50,000 jobs a month, maybe even more.

The Republicans would have supported something like this if it was their idea, but now it’s the Democrats’ plan and must be blocked reflexively. Interestingly, they’re likely to grudgingly demand a continuation of the status quo, in which case they’re asking that the deficit be further enlarged.

Decisions, decisions.

What should President Obama do? Take it to the people.

Obama should give an Oval Office speech Wednesday night and say: “If you are an employee and make less than $1 million, or if you are an employer of any size, I am trying to give you a tax cut. If you are an employee who makes more than $1 million a year, you should write and thank your Republican senator, because the Republicans are blocking me and helping you.”

The proof couldn’t be more stark. The national Republican Party isn’t the party of low taxes. It’s the party of the superwealthy and the social warriors.

The Real Looters

28 Nov

From a New York Times profile of how multibillionaire heir and man-of-leisure Ronald Lauder avoid paying taxes on his income.

The tax burden on the nation’s superelite has steadily declined in recent decades, according to a sliver of data released annually by the I.R.S. The effective federal income tax rate for the 400 wealthiest taxpayers, representing the top 0.000258 percent, fell from about 30 percent in 1995 to 18 percent in 2008, the most recent data available.

And the economy tanked.

“There’s real truth to the idea that the tax code for the 1 percent is different from the tax code for the 99 percent,” said Victor Fleischer, a law professor at the University of Colorado. “Any taxpayer lucky enough to have appreciated property is usually put to a choice: cash out and pay some tax, or hold the property and risk the vagaries of the market. Only the truly rich can use derivatives to get the best of both worlds — lots of cash and very little risk.”

The story praises Lauder for making charitable donations of money and art to certain causes, the philanthropic way to tax avoidance. However,

“It’s admirable when people back their charitable impulses up with donations,” said Scott Klinger, tax policy director of the group Business for Shared Prosperity. “But the tax code shouldn’t allow the wealthy the kind of loopholes that let them, essentially, force other taxpayers to underwrite donations to their pet causes.”

So when you joke and mock the Occupy protesters for being a bunch of unwashed nouveau hippies with no point or direction, consider for a moment that the system is now rigged in favor of the very rich – especially those who make money from money.  When you look at the taxes withheld from your paycheck each week, or fill out your 1040 on TurboTax, remember that you pay a larger share of your income to the IRS than the superwealthy.

Obligatory Legalization of Marijuana Post on 4/20

20 Apr

Happy 4/20!  For you nerds out there who don’t know what today is, click through for the Wikipedia entry on the term which is maintained by the team from High Times magazine.

4204:20 or 4/20 (pronounced four-twenty) refers to consumption of cannabis and, by extension, a way to identify oneself with cannabis subculture. The notable day for these is April 20.

Since today is the national holiday for weed smokers everywhere, it seems natural to have an adult conversation about the legalization of marijuana and the positive effects such a decision would have on the local and regional economy.

Now, I’m not a regular consumer of marijuana, it’s just not my thing.  But I’m cool with people who do.  I also see the obvious economic benefits of legalization, especially in New York State.  Governor Andrew Cuomo projects that New York State will face a $2 Billion deficit in fiscal year 2012-2013.  This deficit remains after draconian cuts in the 2011-2012 budget lowered the projected deficit by $13 Billion.

The choice for Cuomo and the NY State Legislature is simple, either hike taxes on what revenue sources are left (us) or cut spending to the bone.  Since this is New York, cutting the budget beyond the 2012 cuts is not a realistic option.  How about a third option?  Why not write some legislation which would result in new taxable entities and products?

Step 1.  Legalize marijuana.

Step 2.  ???

Step 3.  Profit!

Leading financial minds and economists such as Milton Friedman, Nobel winner George Akerlof, George Soros, and Howard Margolis put out a study detailing the economic impact of legalization. They estimate that if just the same people who use marijuana now continued to use it once it was legal, the legalization would generate/save $12BN annually on a national level.  The study does not even account for the anticipated increased uses of medical marijuana, the industrial adoption of commercial grade hemp or the likely increase in recreational pot smokers/users if it were legal.  If you factor in those things, it pushes the numbers tenfold higher. Basically, it is a $120BN, annually renewable resource waiting to be tapped.

Of course, these estimates are based upon national economic figures, usage rates and such; but tremendous economic value could be derived from being the one state to legalize marijuana.

The study by Friedman notes that New York spends an estimated $564 Million annually in total marijuana prohibition costs (enforcement, judicial, incarceration), one of the highest rates in the nation.  The study also estimates that New York State would be one of the largest economic beneficiaries of a legalization plan, generating an additional $65 Million annually through the imposition of a low marijuana consumption tax.

Assuming that many of the prohibition costs are “legacy” costs in that the apparatus, personnel and capital expenditures related to enforcement can not be written off in one year, we’re looking at a 5-7 year draw down of prohibition costs while consumption tax revenue pours in.

$2.5 Billion in lower total costs for New York State over a five year period while generating $325 Million in revenue?  Sign me up.

I could write more, but I don’t want to sound like some high school debate club contestant detailing the economic benefits of hemp as a replacement for paper, plastics whilst marveling at the incredible tensile strength of hemp rope.

However, we are at a critical juncture in our collective history.  A time in which we need to be re-evaluating our consumerist culture, our massive reliance on credit and other issues too numerous to mention.  One of those issues is whether or not the continued prohibition of marijuana in this day and age makes sense. It has become a hot issue because many states are facing significant revenue crises and legalization is a way to raise new tax revenue and reduce the cost of arresting, prosecuting and housing marijuana criminals.

So, the discussion we need to have in this country is about the public health costs, taxation, changes in drug enforcement funding, changes in employment law, legalization or decriminalization and a multitude of different factors related to this change in public policy.

Let’s get over our ideological xenophobia and stereotypes and have a real discussion about the issue.

Those Numbers are People

25 Mar

Here’s all I have to say about the census figures.

I am aware of two recent political races where a very young man made a run for a very big race.

They are smart guys who had good ideas, new ideas, bright ideas. Matt Bova, who just this week moved to California, ran in 2004 against George Maziarz for state senate, and ran to become the mayor of North Tonawanda when he was just 18 – a senior in high school.  He’s a hard worker and a bright mind. Regrettably, in 2006 he became embroiled in illegalities related to gathering petitions for Jack Davis’ “Save Jobs Party”, and left politics forever. But his departure is western New York’s loss. After all, he’s a bright young guy who lived in the city, paid taxes, and held a very good job indeed. He left earlier this week.

Max Tresmond ran against Jack Quinn III for state assembly in 2006 when he was just 18. Another bright kid, ran an almost impossible race as a Democrat in Hamburg against the son of a very popular former Congressman. He’s bright, ambitious, and brought new ideas and blood to local politics.  He recently moved away from the area, as well.

They both have very bright futures. Just not here in western New York.

Not everybody moves because of taxes.

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Sanity Restored

1 Nov

I watched a good deal of the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear on Saturday, and was struck by the sheer size of the crowd – it rivaled, if not eclipsed – recent teabagging fiestas that have been held on the mall to protest … what, exactly?

A poll recently revealed

that by a two-to-one margin, likely voters in the Nov. 2 midterm elections think taxes have gone up, the economy has shrunk, and the billions lent to banks as part of the Troubled Asset Relief Program won’t be recovered.

The reality is…

The Obama administration has cut taxes — largely for the middle class — by $240 billion since taking office on Jan. 20, 2009. A program aimed at families earning less than $150,000 that was contained in the stimulus package lowered the burden for 95 percent of working Americans by $116 billion, or about $400 per year for individuals and $800 for married couples. Other measures include breaks for college education, moderate- income families and the unemployed and incentives to promote renewable energy.

The meme that Obama is nothing but a tax-raiser is as false as the notion that he’s a soshulist moozlim sleeper agent.

Almost all of the TARP bailout money has been repaid.  The government will take a hit on AIG and the automotive bailouts, and the mortgage bailouts, but had those all been allowed to fail, it would have been an epic economic catastrophe along the lines of a great depression, or worse.

So, we can – and should – debate how we go forward to further grow and strengthen the economy, and how to help lower the unemployment rate.  But the rhetoric – much of it false and manufactured – needs to be tamped down.  Saturday’s event may have been a bit plodding, but it’s hard to play to a crowd of 250,000-ish people.  But it was a great reminder that many, many more of us are just normal people who think normal things about politics than are followers of cable news network pseudo-evangelists of hatred and falsehoods.

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The Intersection of Taxation and Competent Government

20 May

The image above reflects the two top stories this morning on WGRZ.com. More disappointingly, it reflects two epic failures at the hands of the county government. In the first, the Department of Social Services went out to investigate a literal house of horrors, but only conducted interviews with the perpetrators outside the home, believing them to not be allowed inside unless consent was given. That’s not true, and as a result of the lackadaisical “investigation”, the true nature of Laura Cummings’ living conditions was never revealed. Until she had been killed by her mother and brother, that is.

The second story? It has almost become an annual tradition for the state Commission of Correction to remind Sheriff Tim Howard that he is an utter and absolute failure at managing and operating the county jail system.

The Ralph “Bucky” Philips escape led to a months-long manhunt and two dead State Troopers. Incarcerated alleged rapist Rasheed Milton was mistakenly released, and Milton almost immediately raped another innocent woman. Now we have yet another embarrassment – an inmate labeled an escape risk, Brian Collins, escaped from his cell after disabling the lock (no one checked or noticed), grabbed an unattended two-way radio, used a phone to get deputies to open up the door to his block (they never checked his identity), and ultimately made his way onto the roof of the holding center where he pranced around for some time. In all, Mr. Collins was unaccounted-for for several hours.

The state investigated, and the report gives new meaning to the term “scathing”. It lays the blame for Collins’ escape firmly on Sheriff Howard for failing to properly train and manage his staff. Calling the escape the result of “gross negligence and incompetence”, the state commission added that the escape,

was a direct consequence of the failure of the Erie County Sheriff and his senior managers to implement and follow fundamental correctional and custody practices in accordance with New York State rules and regulations

Howard and his patronage hires are doing what they always do when reminded of their incompetence. They deflect and whine. Howard shunts the blame to individual deputies – firing them and reprimanding them, completely missing the point of the report and of basic leadership. Nothing changes policy-wise; just fire the underlings and carry on. Then they whine about “vicious political attacks”.

The problem here is that their whining might be persuasive if this was the first such event. But this is (at minimum) the third. You don’t have three epic escape failures resulting in death and rape and get to chalk it up to politics.

It’s come time for Sheriff Tim Howard to resign. And it’s time for Chris Collins to do the right thing and join the call for him to go. The time to set up citizens’ commissions to oversee that which is already overseen has come and gone. This has become a pattern, and it’s unacceptable and unsustainable.

Because note the two stories above freshly reveal that county government doesn’t merely exist to sleepwalk its way through a day where the chief concern is lower taxes. That’s where the Collins Administration has focused all of its efforts – on the middle class suburbanites who don’t interact much with DSS or the jails. Collins banks on these people not much caring whether the jails are secure or DSS prevents the murder of young girls in rural hellhouses. They worry about their taxes, so Collins makes sure to remind his only constituents that he, too, cares about their taxes. (Note: The Erie County property tax rate is among the lowest in the state. We also pay sales tax, various fees, and school taxes, however).

So it would be phenomenal if the focus in the county administration would shift a few centimeters from being only taxpayer-centric to also including a bit of consistency and competence. Yes, my taxes are too high, but for the time being I’m still paying them. My expectation in doing so is that my tax money will be used intelligently and competently. Six Sigma seems to be in practice almost as useless as CitiStat.

Oftentimes, doing it right is more important than doing it cheaply.

Tax Day Ruminations

16 Apr

Taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society.” – Oliver Wendell Holmes

Yesterday was April 15th, tax day.  I filed my tax forms in February, but I got to thinking about the final page of my tax return which showed that I paid an effective tax rate of 6.31% on my income, dividends and capital gains to the federal government and New York State.

This doesn’t account for payroll tax, sales tax (eligible for deduction), or property tax (some of which was deducted) that I also paid throughout the year.  However, I paid 11% less in total tax dollars this year than I did in 2008 or 2007.  I guess I’m one of the 95% of Americans who got a tax cut this year…

I think the money I pay provides a fair return in services.  You might not agree and you’re entitled to your opinion.

It also got me to thinking about this report, which shows that the money I paid far outstripped what Exxon Mobil paid to the federal government.  Now, I’m doing pretty well for myself, but I certainly don’t generate $35,000,000,000 in profit, either.

How much did Exxon Mobil pay in United States taxes last year?  Zero.  Zilch.  Zip.  Nada.

How could that be, you ask?  After all, their balance sheets show a substantial tax burden in the United States.  It’s complicated, but they carefully manipulate the amount owed through complex transfer pricing agreements, international subsidiaries, deferrals, foreign holding companies, shell financial agencies in low tax countries and other vagaries and intricacies of the corporate tax code.

Once you get to the bottom line, their balance sheet shows a zero net tax liability in the United States.  You paid more in usage taxes for the privilege of buying their product at the pump than they paid in federal taxes.

In fact, between 1998-2005, two out of every three United States corporations paid no federal income taxes.

Where does all of that lead us?

To a point where fundamental tax code reform needs to be put on the table and debated seriously.  Candidate Obama pledged to close these offshore loopholes in order to reduce the tax burden which is annually shifted on to the American taxpayer.  President Obama has yet to take meaningful steps to enact that legislation.  Primarily because it’s not politically expedient right now and the right wing would collectively throw a conniption fit and start with the “going galt” nonsense if it was even put on the table.

If the legislation to close overseas loopholes is enacted and the tax code simplified, we can begin rational discussions about lowering the marginal tax rates on American corporations.  First, we broaden the base and then we reform the regulations, it’s not complicated if discussed by rational parties.

The statutory rate for American corporations is 35%, which no company actually pays.  In fact, when compared to other industrialized nations, we collect less in corporate tax as a percentage of overall GDP than the sizable majority of industrialized nations.  Closing the offshore loopholes will broaden the tax base.

Once that is complete, we begin rational discussion about lowering the marginal rate for corporation, perhaps to an level equivalent to Canada, 19%.  Close loopholes, simplify the code, reduce the rate for corporations.

At the very least, can we at least all get behind the idea that maybe, just maybe…Exxon should pay more in taxes to the United States government than Chris Smith in Buffalo?

The Paradox of Austin

7 Apr

I made the mistake of flying into Austin, Texas the day before the South By South West (SXSW, or just South By, for those in the know) festival kicked off. On a normal day, the plane into Austin has two or three guitars stashed in an overhead bin. This day, every available nook and cranny was filled with instruments. The airport breezeway, baggage claim, and rental car pick up were similarly stuffed, with limp haired musicians and their tools of the trade. As I made my way north on I-35, ever so slowly in the regular bumper-to-bumper traffic, I was quietly thankful that I was leaving the self-imposed and never ending congestion of the “best” (read: progressive, fastest growing, most tolerant, Floridian if you will) city in Texas.

In Buffalo’s quest to regain its greatness, I have come to the conclusion that reputation and brand are more important than reality. Young, beautiful, well-educated people with disposable income follow reputation more than cold, statistical, monetary reality, despite the pleas of libertarians to the contrary. This does not mean such individuals do not make sound economic decisions; rather, I point to the nuance of this choice, that life is about more than taxes, and everyone decides for themselves what they are seeking from a hometown. Some (like corporations with a bottom line profit motive) do want the lowest taxes. Some want good weather. Some want family and history. Some want argument and the opportunity to make their community better. And if you want to live in a hip fun town but still be in Texas, you move to Austin.

Hopefully when you move to Austin, you find what you are looking for . . . because I never fully do on my visits. Is there a better example of reputation not meeting reality? I would say Austin’s national brand is a mix of music, youthful enthusiasm, progressive urban planning and politics, good jobs, and fun, mixed in a sauce of Texas sunshine and free-wheeling libertarian low taxes.

This reputation attracts thousands of people a year, making Austin the fastest growing metro in Texas, and (as a direct result of that fact) the best place for young adults to start a business in the country. But how does that reputation match with reality on the ground? Consider a few facts and comparisons:

– Austin’s fun music orientated reputation is based upon a PBS teevee show, a two week music festival, and six blocks of bars on Sixth Street. Six blocks. Hell, our bar district around Chippewa is almost six blocks if you are willing to walk up Franklin. Thursday in the Square and Rock the Harbor are not SX, and Chippewa is not Sixth Street. But that isn’t much infrastructure on Austin’s part for a national reputation. Imagine if we had a competent CVB that marketed Buffalo as the Festival Capital of America: the two previously mentioned events, plus the second largest Taste event in country, Allentown, Elmwood Arts, Chicken Wing Fest, Powder Keg, Dyngus Day, Citybration, a variety of ethnic festivals, just to get started.  

– Austin is a motorist’s dream, and a nightmare of progressive urban planning. Is there a sidewalk in all of Texas? Even I can tell the horrors of Texas planning: major highways all require a maze of one-way frontage roads, taking 6 line highways and turning them into 12 lane behemoths. Imagine Route 5 and Fuhrmann Boulevard, and extrapolate it to the 90, 190, 290 and 33. Obviously bad planning does not impede all growth.

These highways dominate the city along its spine, north to south. In the towns of Round Rock and Georgetown, sprawltopian suburbs that stretch Austin to nearly 50 miles long, there are obviously codes that state all commercial buildings must be clad in stone, like this beauty named “Old Town Square”:

No, that is not a Mexican-American War era barracks converted into chic loft apartments. Its a new build office park full of dentist offices and realty firms. You have to see it on Google maps to get the full effect of its position on I-35:

Faux stone, but real money – Austin in a nutshell. This treatment seeks to impersonate the actual old stone buildings from the nineteen century that still linger on Main Street in small central Texas towns. Note: Austin, Round Rock, and Georgetown are not these towns. I know architectural standards are seen nationally as an important tool to building pleasing urban areas. But merely covering a Walmart on a 12 lane highway with fake rock veneer doesn’t do much for me.

Austin is trying to get better, and just opened (while I was there) its first passenger light rail on the main cargo line that runs through town. Verdict and ridership from the first weekend? More bikers used the service than expected (39 – more than expected!) and 2900, on average, used the trains each day of the first week. Buffalo’s much maligned, and much shorter system, handles 23,000 passengers a day. If Buffalo leads anywhere on light rail coverage, new or not, there is a problem.

– Let’s once and for all debunk the myth of low tax states having blooming non-governmental industry, or an economy based more on the private sector. Buffalo is often criticized for having such a large proportion of its jobs be government ones. Fair enough. But is this what’s holding us back? Shouldn’t Austin, the poster child for fast private growth, beat our pants off? Hate to break the news but Austin’s economy is based on government jobs.

Austin has 22 entities that employ 2000 people or more. Of those 22, nine are government agencies (local, state, federal and school districts), two are non-profit health care conglomerates, three are higher education (Eds & Meds), and only eight are private companies.

How does Buffalo do? Checking the last Book of Lists, we have 27 entities that employ 2000 or more. Of those 27, six are government agencies, eight are healthcare, one is higher ed, and twelve are private companies. Looks about the same. Austin’s big private employers? Dell, IBM and AT&T. Buffalo’s? HSBC, M&T Bank, supermarkets, Moog and Dresser-Rand. They focus on technology, we focus on banking and manufacturing. But the percentage of the employment based on government largesse is strikingly similar. Total government spending, as a percentage of the economy, was 36% in 2006, and has grown since. If 40% of Buffalo’s economy isn’t government, that just means we don’t have our fair share. 

– To address taxes, I have to return to the highways. Rus Thompson would have an apoplectic fit if he had to drive on Austin’s highway system, and the BRO arm-chair planning crew may have a collective heart attack to see the Skyway-sized interchanges every couple miles. The man-made edifices that dominate the skyline by far belong to the ten lane highway interchanges, that rise ten or twenty stories, in the suburbs and downtown. Driving them can be disorientating (if you look down) as it feels like you are on a roller coaster. “They dream big here,” noted a friend of mine in the car. How to pay for all these many miles of brand new concrete? Tolls:

Since free I-35 is a parking lot at all hours of day and night (the high cost of free roads), driving the toll roads becomes a necessity at some point, especially going east-west. And not cheap tolls either – $0.75 every mile or two, and more if you get lost and have to loop around a couple times like me (you can go I35 North from TX 45, but not South? WTF?). Add in the 8.25% sales tax rate, and it starts to look annoyingly familiar.

– Our very own USRT guys would be proud of me – I was exploring the toll roads because I was headed to the Cedar Park Center to see the AHL Texas Stars play the San Antonio Rampage. The quality of the sports fan is a biased factor I use in judging a city. And here is perhaps where I found Austin’s greatest paradox of all: real hockey, in a real arena, with real hockey fans, in a fake suburb in central Texas.

The arena is in Cedar Park, in the equivalent (geographically and land use wise) of Hamburg’s Erie County Fairgrounds. The Texas Stars, obviously the farm team of Dallas, is in its first year as member of the now 29 team AHL. I wore my retro Sabres shirt to the game, just so everyone knew that I knew that Brett Hull’s foot was obviously in the crease. Interspersed in the crowd of Dallas and Texas jerseys were a smattering of Fliers and Rangers fans – perhaps the transplants explain my pleasant surprise later. I was expecting bad hockey, a bad atmosphere, and bad fans, like I used to get with the Las Vegas Wranglers of the ECHL, who play at the Orleans Casino. Instead, I got a full house (announced crowd of over 6000), $2 beer and $1 hot dog night, a real scoreboard, and real fans who were loud. Sure, corner glass tickets were still available a couple days out. And yes, the guy behind me (acting as the “real” hockey fan) was explaining to his buddy how icing the puck is a great way to get rest to your players if they have been on the ice a while (if I have to explain that rule to you, never mind). But when the Stars scored in OT to win 4-3, the entire arena (your humble author included) stood straight up and screamed. You could almost forget you were in Texas.