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Latest Taxpayer's Tab: Ending EPA Research?
Posted By: Michael Tasselmyer - 05/05/14

Taxpayer's Tab Update

Did you know the EPA spent over $773 million on environmental research last year?

The agency may be known for its regulations and enforcement, but it also spends a lot of time conducting experiments on how to improve air quality, reduce pollution, and mitigate climate change. In this week's edition of The Taxpayer's Tab, NTUF featured one particular bill from Congressman Matt Salmon (R-AZ) that would put a stop to those activities altogether. Rep. Salmon introduced H.R. 4482 as part of his "Shrink Our Spending" initiative, a series of bills that would end government programs that his office claims are duplicative or inefficient. If enacted, Rep. Salmon's bill would end funding for the EPA's scientific research & development programs, reducing spending by about $766 million.

We also highlighted some other environmentally-focused legislation in this week's edition of The Tab:

  • Most Expensive: Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD) and Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) introduced H.R. 3449/S. 1677 in their respective Chambers. The Innovative Stormwater Infrastructure Act would fund research related to reducing the effects of stormwater runoff, which both lawmakers say is a major source of pollution and causes significant environmental damage. The Act would cost taxpayers $350 million per year, a total of $1.4 billion over four years.
  • Wildcard: Recently, the EPA proposed new regulations for wood-burning stoves and furnaces with stricter air pollutant restrictions for manufacturers. Burning wood is a critical means of producing heat for millions of rural families, so Congressman Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-MO) introduced H.R. 4407 to stop the potentially costly regulations from taking effect.

For more on these bills and to see what NTUF's been up to lately (and where our research is showing up), check out the latest edition of The Tab online.

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“Ex-Im Bank is Corporate Welfare Program that should be Ended Immediately”
Posted By: Douglas Kellogg - 05/05/14

eximpic

This afternoon, NTU's Nan Swift joined many of our 30 partners in the effort to prevent the reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank (Ex-Im) on Capitol Hill for an impressive show of solidarity.

Speakers from 11 different organizations spoke, highlighting the need to put an end to the Ex-Im Bank and urging action now.

Ex-Im took a beating from all angles, absorbing critiques of its opaque bookkeeping - which obscures its true costs to taxpayers - incestuous relationships with companies that benefit from its loans, the damage it causes to less politically-connected U.S. companies, and more.

NTU Federal Affairs Manager Nan Swift called Ex-Im “an anachronistic corporate welfare program that should be ended immediately," and added: “The federal government shouldn’t be propping up direct competitors for U.S. products using taxpayer-backed credit.”

Nan also hammered Ex-Im for the hypocritical situation that has the bank supporting foreign Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) production in territories to which U.S. gas companies may be prohibited from exporting:

“Robust competition and free trade dictate that competitors to U.S. natural gas will and should develop their own energy resources. But the federal government shouldn’t be propping up direct competitors for U.S. products using taxpayer-backed credit - Not when our own producers are not allowed to compete on that playing field.”

Check out all of NTU's work to bring light to this dark financial entity HERE.

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On Capitol Hill, April 30, 2014: DATA Act passes, Appropriations, Min. Wage is Back
Posted By: Douglas Kellogg - 04/30/14

Congress has returned from a two-week recess and is back to spending (or hopefully saving) your tax dollars. Intrepid NTU Federal Affairs Manager Nan Swift has the inside scoop on what exactly they are up to...

This week, the appropriations process has started, the Senate looks at Minimum Wage - and the DATA Act heads to the President's desk.

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Presidential Choppers Get an Upgrade
Posted By: Michael Tasselmyer - 04/29/14

You've probably seen plenty of photographs of Marine One, the President's specially outfitted Naval helicopter, taking off from the South Lawn of the White House and soaring over D.C. to wherever the Chief Executive's destination may be that day. But did you know that there are 19 of those choppers, and even after $3.2 billion worth of investment, they're still in need of upgrades?

That's the story being published by The Washington Post, which reports that the Navy is close to awarding a contract to upgrade the President's fleet of choppers (some of which are more than 40 years old). The job never got done last time because costs quickly escalated beyond what the government was willing to pay, forcing the Pentagon to cancel its purchasing plans in 2009 just after President Obama took office.

The program has only just begun, but already some defense specialists have some concerns:

"There appears to be only one bid on the project - led by the company that lost out last time - and some fear that the lack of competition could again lead to escalating costs. Another red flag: The Defense Department granted the Navy a waiver saying that bidders don't have to build prototypes, which can help to reduce cost and risks. ... While declining to provide a cost for the program, [the Navy] said it would be "significantly less" than the $13 billion price tag it reached before the previous contract was canceled. The first helicopters could be available by the end of 2020 "if everything goes ideally," [they] said."

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently defended the Navy's decision to not require a prototype, stating in a report that the costs to provide them would exceed any savings they might generate. Navy officials say they have done "due diligence" to ensure that the project is completed on time and within budget, with a focus on existing and proven technology. However, some lawmakers and defense watchdogs are worried that once the project begins, there would be nothing stopping the winning bidder from scaling up the scope of the construction plans beyond an initially proposed budget. As John Pike of GlobalSecurity.org put it to The Post, "[the contractor] will sell you as much helicopter as you're willing to pay for. And nothing is too good for the president."

The Navy is expected to announce the winning bidder within a few weeks, although officials would not comment on how many applications it had received for the project. It remains to be seen whether the Pentagon can learn from its past mistakes and keep the new process as open and transparent as it claims it will.

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When Pensions & Demographics Collide
Posted By: Michael Tasselmyer - 04/28/14

This month in The Economist, an analysis of China's state-run pension system shows why long-term trends matter just as much as -- if not more than -- short-term availability of funding for retirement benefits.

Chinese officials in the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security reported a 3.1 trillion yuan ($500 billion) surplus in the nation's pension funds at the end of 2013. However, that rosy outlook could change soon as China's population continues to age and the proportion of working-age citizens falls. China's retirement age is still 53 years, a level set about six decades ago when the average life expectancy was only 45 (it's not nearly 75); and while 9 percent of the population is over the age of 65 now, that number is projected to jump dramatically to 24 percent by 2050. That means pension deficits will likely appear by 2030 and could total 90% of GDP by 2050.

The looming crisis has Chinese officials considering an adjustment to the national retirement age; polls show 70 percent of the population would oppose that decision, but it's long overdue if China expects to keep the promises it's made to workers.

The graphic below, courtesy of The Economist, illustrates the problem:

chinese pensions

The fiscal impact of demographic shifts is being felt here in America, too: as the population ages and fewer workers are contributing to health and retirement costs, entitlement spending is making up a larger proportion of the federal debt. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) estimates that by 2029, more than 11,000 baby boomers will reach the retirement age every day, and nearly 20 percent of the population will be 65 years or older. GAO describes the growth in health and retirement spending as "unsustainable" and projects that it will "limit the federal government's flexibility to address future challenges.

When it comes to retirement benefits, demographic shifts could soon force governments to act on reform whether they want to or not.

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Article V Convention Process, Scott Rogers of the BBA Task Force - Speaking of Taxpayers, April 25
Posted By: Douglas Kellogg - 04/28/14

Subscribe to NTU's podcast via iTunes!

Pete explains why IRS "Free File" is a terrible deal for taxpayers; and Scott Rogers, Executive Director of the Balanced Budget Amendment Task Force joins us to talk about the Article V movement, its tremendous momentum, and how the process works. Plus, the Outrage of the Week!

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Latest Taxpayer's Tab: Defunding the NLRB
Posted By: Michael Tasselmyer - 04/27/14

Taxpayer's Tab Update

Student athletes on Northwestern University's football team recently voted on whether or not to unionize, an unprecedented move that could have far-reaching effects in the world of college athletics and how major schools' programs are financed. The decision that set the legal process in motion was made in February, after a Chicago branch of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled in the players' favor and affirmed that the student athletescould be considered university employees.

In this week's edition of The Taxpayer's Tab, NTUF examined the role of the NLRB and a bill that proposes to strip away its federal funding. That bill -- H.R. 4379, introduced by Congressman Matt Salmon (R-AZ) -- would save $264 million, the total amount that the Office of Management and Budget says the NLRB will spend this year.

Also featured in this week's Tab:

  • Most Expensive: H.R. 4384/S. 2115, the America HEALS Act, would create a mandatory funding stream for various biomedical research programs, guaranteeing 5 percent growth in those areas every year. The bill was introduced by Congresswoman Anna Eshoo (D-CA) and Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) and would cost about $11.5 billion per year on average over the next five years.
  • Wildcard: Congressman Reid Ribble (R-WI) introduced the Long-Term SCORE Act, which would create a new department within the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) dedicated exclusively to producing long-term cost estimates beyond the current 10-year standard. H.R. 4444 would require an additional $5 million per year.

Check out The Tab online for more on these bills and NTUF's other recent work.

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New Orleans Mayor Pushing Tax Hike Measures
Posted By: Lee Schalk - 04/24/14

New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu is calling for three major tax hikes on his city’s residents, and the measures could end up on the November ballot if approved by the Legislature and signed by Governor Jindal.

A recent court ruling requires the Big Easy to address the underfunded firefighters’ pension fund. In response, New Orleans officials have pieced together the following proposals:

  • House Bill 1083: a 1.75 percent increase in hotel taxes meant to raise an additional $15 million per year.
  • House Bill 111: a 1 mill property tax hike on New Orleans residents that could result in an additional $5.6 million in revenue annually.
  • House Bill 1210: a 75 cents per pack cigarette tax increase in New Orleans with a projected revenue increase of $18 million a year.

If passed by the Legislature, signed by Jindal, and approved by taxpayers, the result would be an estimated new tax burden of $38.6 million on the citizens of New Orleans. Of course, each of these measures would receive the “negative” rating in NTU’s Ballot Guide, since they would negatively impact taxpayers. 

Whenever elected leaders toss around revenue estimates, taxpayers should be wary. Take cigarette tax hikes, for example.  According to a 2013 tobacco tax study by NTU’s research arm, revenue projections were met in only 29 of 101 cases where cigarette/tobacco taxes were increased between 2001 and 2011, meaning that 70 percent of the time, revenue estimates were missed. It’d be relatively easy for New Orleans residents and visitors to avoid the increase by buying their cigarettes elsewhere. As we’ve seen in other high-tax jurisdictions, it’s also possible that a new black market for cigarettes would find its way to Bourbon Street.

Once estimated revenues fail to materialize, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what often happens next—more tax hikes! NTU Foundation’s study found that between fiscal years 2001 and 2011, 66 out of 96 tobacco tax increases were followed by additional tax hikes. This means that New Orleans could face even higher taxes (not necessarily on tobacco) if House Bill 1210 comes to fruition.

In order to address the city’s pension woes, Mayor Landrieu should look to limit spending and tighten the city budget before attempting to pile on new tax hikes. If these measures do make it to the November ballot, taxpayers will have a chance to reject the increases and demand that their Mayor run the city in a more fiscally responsible manner.

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"A Taxing Trend", & Tax Day Aftermath - Speaking of Taxpayers, April 18
Posted By: Douglas Kellogg - 04/22/14

Subscribe to NTU's podcast "Speaking of Taxpayers" via iTunes!

Pete & Doug examine NTU's study of tax complexity, "A Taxing Trend", which found a $224 billion cost due to 6.1 billion hours lost in complying with the tax code; as well as IRS online monitoring, and what to look for next year. Plus, the Outrage of the Week!

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President Obama Heads To Asia
Posted By: Michael Tasselmyer - 04/22/14

Today, President Obama will depart on his third international trip of the year, as he heads to Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, and the Philippines after making a public statement in Oso, Washington. The trip was originally scheduled to take place last fall, but the government shutdown in October prompted the White House to cancel.

The President will be away from D.C. until Tuesday, April 29, a total of 8 days spent traveling in and around the Southeast Asia region marked by several meetings with high-ranking foreign officials. According to the White House, the trip "will underscore a continued focus on the Asia-Pacific region and committment to his vision of rebalancing to the world's largest emerging region." The flight will take him from D.C. to Oso, then to Tokyo, Seoul, Kuala Lumpur, and finally, Manila. He'll head back to D.C. after that.

As our readers may know, NTUF keeps an ongoing log of Presidents' travel patterns, which we periodically update in order to provide taxpayers with a transparent accounting of how often the President travels abroad. Foreign travel is a necessary (albeit expensive) part of the job, yet there is a lack of readily available information for anyone who may be interested in how and when the President flies abroad. NTUF's study of these trends is offered in an attempt to fill in some of these gaps. We use information reported by the State Department combined with media and independent reports.

By our count, the President's 8-day trip to Asia will bring his cumulative totals to:

  • Days abroad: 133
  • Trips taken: 34
  • Countries visited: 73

In 2014, the President has spent 14 days traveling to and from 10 countries on 3 separate trips.

Last month, we issued an update on President Obama's travels through his first five years in office, which showed he has spent more time abroad than other modern Presidents. Additionally, the cost per flight hour for Air Force One -- basically, what it takes to operate and maintain the President's primary means of air travel -- has risen to over $228,000 per hour, up from about $180,000 in previous years. Assuming about 38 hours of flying time during the flights to and from the cities mentioned above (and a cruising speed of 575 mph), that means the flight costs alone on this latest trip could add up to over $8.6 million.

Presidential travel necessarily entails substantial planning, logistical support, security provisions -- and, therefore, presents significant costs for taxpayers. NTUF's 2013 update delves into many of these issues and what we do (and do not) know about them.

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