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Blurred Lines: Official and Political Travel
Posted By: Michael Tasselmyer - 06/16/14

President Obama was in California this past weekend to speak at UC Irvine's commencement ceremony, and while he was in the Golden State, he made time to stop by a fundraising event in Laguna Beach as well. We know that the cost to fly Air Force One from D.C. to Los Angeles is about $2.3 million, but what we don't know is how much of the bill taxpayers will have to cover.

Online publication Zocalo Public Square features a post I contributed concerning that topic. While travel for official and unofficial purposes has long been a perk of holding office, Presidents have a uniquely influential impact when it comes to political fundraising -- and taxpayers deserve to have more information about what those trips could cost them.

Under the current rules, the cost to fly the President to official functions is covered by the U.S. government; groups hosting "unofficial" political events must reimburse the government for the President's transit. However, it can be difficult to determine how much of the trip's total cost taxpayers are responsible for, especially when the White House schedules both official and unofficial events during the same trip. As mentioned in the piece:

"...the rules are so vague that not even researchers who study them full-time can describe them. In a 2012 report, the Congressional Research Service stated that it's 'unclear how the White House designates travel that is not directly related to a governmental or political function.' ... This makes it easy for schedulers to add a sprinkling of 'official' business to any trip, and it opens the door for any party to game the system. Ultimately, this is to the detriment of every American's bank account as well as an electoral process that's becoming increasingly expensive and time-consuming."

Check out the full post on Zocalo Public Square.

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NYC Mayor Finding Skeptics in the Business Sector; DC Debates New Budget Proposal that Sparked “Yoga Tax” Talk- The Late Edition, June 16 2014
Posted By: Jihun Han - 06/16/14

Today's Taxpayer News!

Despite New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s recent tax proposal, some businesses are still concerned about the Mayor’s overall agenda that includes an effort to increase the minimum wage. The Wall Street Journal has more!

The Washington D.C. Council is proposing a new budget that would expand the sales tax to a number of things including gym memberships. Some are soundly against the proposal, although the so-called “yoga” tax is just one aspect of a package that would cut the city’s income tax rates. Proponents believe this income tax will be more than enough to offset the added sales tax.

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Latest Taxpayer's Tab: Refinancing Student Loans
Posted By: Michael Tasselmyer - 06/15/14

Taxpayer's Tab Update

Last week, the Senate considered a proposal from Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) -- backed by the Obama Administration -- that would have given the government authority to refinance student loans at lower fixed rates, including some loans issued by private lenders. The Congressional Budget Office estimated that had the Bank on Students Emergency Loan Refinancing Act been passed, it would have allowed the government to assume $60 billion in new private loans, and refinance an additional $460 billion of existing federal direct student loans, at a net cost of about $16.9 billion per year. The legislation also included a new $72 billion tax on those earning over $1 million per year in order to finance the provisions.

The actual cost of that program could have panned out very differently in reality though, mainly because of government accounting methods that make some loan programs appear drastically cheaper than they would be according to other methodologies. How much of a difference can that accounting make? Find out in the latest issue of The Taxpayer's Tab.

Also featured this week:

  • Healthcare Fraud: NTUF examined the growing complexity of the U.S. healthcare system, which makes it susceptible to fraud. Bogus payments are estimated to cost taxpayers as much as $272 billion.
  • Most Friended: Senator Kay Hagan (D-NC) introduced the Bipartisan Sportsmen's Act of 2014, which is an omnibus bill that includes several titles to reauthorize and extend various hunting, fishing, and conservation programs.
  • Wildcard: Congressman Raul Ruiz's (D-CA) Renewable Jobs Act would authorize $10 million per year to fund a pilot program dedicated to providing on-the-job training for positions in the renewable energy industry.

For more on these issues and the research NTUF is compiling on them, check out the latest edition of The Taxpayer's Tab.

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Profiles in Liberty: Sam Jordan
Posted By: Dan Barrett - 06/14/14

For a week, summer interns have been working hard in the NTUF research and communications departments to bring the latest information to Americans. The Profiles in Liberty series will show the faces behind the work that makes it to NTUF’s Taxpayer’s Tab e-newsletter, the Government Bytes blog, and the comprehensive BillTally reports. First up is communications intern Sam Jordan!

NTUF Communications Intern Sam JordanSam has been writing for Government Bytes, creating graphics, and researching current events.  She grew up in Salina, Kansas, and currently attends George Mason University, where she is majoring in Economics with a minor in Russian and Eurasian Studies.  At GMU, she is heavily involved in the Forensics Team (a competitive speech team), lending her communications and leadership skills as an executive board member and tournament director.

What has been your favorite part of living and working in the DC area?

SJ: I feel very connected and involved in current events working and living in the D.C. area. I have most enjoyed the opportunity to network with people my age who also have a strong conviction to pursue careers in the liberty movement.

Who are your personal heroes?

SJ: My parents. My dad is the best leader I know and first introduced me to the liberty movement. My mother, a Blackhawk helicopter pilot, showed me through her own actions that I could become anything I wanted to be if I worked hard.

How did you become interested in politics?

SJ: I read Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand and became passionate about individual liberty.

What projects have you been working on while at NTUF so far?

SJ: In the brief time that I have spent at NTUF, I have already composed two blog posts. The first, “The Curious Case of Whistleblower Kevin Downing,” reported on the retaliation whistleblower Kevin Downing experienced from the Department of Labor after he discovered wasteful governmental spending. The second post, “Olympic-Size Spending”, reports on the possible impact to all taxpayers if Washington, D.C. hosts the Olympic Games in 2024.  Additionally, I have been working to create graphics which will be used to help communicate the Foundation’s research.   

What have you learned that has most interested you while working for NTUF so far?

SJ: I find it interesting how bipartisan some issues are. Both sides of the aisle have well-developed ideas to reform the tax system and the federal budget process. The difficulty is in aligning those different reforms into a plan most can agree on.

Why did you choose to work at NTUF?

SJ: I chose to work at NTUF because I am very interested in having a career in the liberty movement. National Taxpayers Union Foundation is committed to educating citizens about how tax policies and spending programs affect their future.  By working for NTUF, not only will I learn more about the tax code, but I will also gain the relevant experience necessary for applying my degree in Economics to real life.

Stay tuned to Government Bytes to see more of Sam’s work!

Interested in learning about the other interns working for the Foundation this summer?  Want to help the NTUF interns?  Check out this post.

Thanks to Catherine Fitzhugh for developing the Profiles in Liberty series and interviewing our interns.

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An End to IRS Taxpayer Abuse? 9 Most Insane Ex-Im Bank Loans! - Speaking of Taxpayers, June 13
Posted By: Douglas Kellogg - 06/13/14

Subscribe to NTU's podcast via iTunes!

The IRS has instituted a "Taxpayer Bill of Rights", so, should we pop the corks? We review our latest Buzzfeed piece which highlights some wild taxpayer-backed loans abroad. Plus, Lee Schalk has a state roundup, including tax threats and minimum wage fails. Plus, the Outrage of the Week!

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Minimum Wage Hike Spells Trouble for Seattle Workers and Businesses
Posted By: Melodie Bowler - 06/12/14

Last week, members of the Seattle City Council voted unanimously to raise the minimum wage in The Emerald City to $15 per hour, from the already-highest-in-the-nation state rate of $9.32 per hour. The new rate will be phased in over a seven year period starting on April 1, 2015, based on the size of each business (smaller businesses will be on a longer phase-in time table). Additionally, businesses will be permitted to pay lower training wages to teenagers.

Unfortunately, the Seattle City Council ignored the fact that minimum wage hikes typically fail to raise overall wage levels and can reduce overall employment by making unskilled and young workers more expensive to hire. Furthermore, businesses are likely to pass on the cost of a minimum wage increase to their customers.

We can already see repercussions from a similar minimum wage increase in neighboring SeaTac, where the minimum wage soared to $15 on January 1, 2014, after squeaking by on the November ballot. One parking lot in SeaTac added a “living wage surcharge” of 99 cents per day to the price of parking to cover the increased cost of labor. The nearby Clarion Hotel closed its full-service restaurant abruptly, causing the loss of fifteen jobs. A hotel cleaning lady explained that her benefits were slashed, including 401K, health insurance, paid vacation, free food, and free parking.

Restaurateurs in Seattle have already begun to speak up. Jeremy Hardy, owner of Coastal Kitchen and Mioposto, suggested that the minimum wage increase is bad news for the Seattle economy, stating, “We are going to adjust using all of the tools at our disposal; pricing, reducing menu offerings, look at operating hours, reducing labor where we can and certainly not opening another business in our beloved Seattle.” Not only will entrepreneurs pause or perhaps not even consider opening new businesses in Seattle, but one restaurant owner believes customers will start spending less as well. Salaried workers unaffected by the wage increase will see local prices rise without increases in their own compensation. Angela Stowell, CFO and owner of Ethan Stowell restaurants, worries “that our guests will start spending less and going out less as they adjust to higher prices and their own wage compression.” To make matters worse, Brendan McGill, owner of Hitchcock and Hitchcock Deli, points out, “The public sentiment is shifting to ‘why tip? They already make $15 an hour.’ …I wouldn't expect service to improve around town.”

The intended purpose of the minimum wage increase is to improve the lives of low-wage, unskilled workers. Yet for some workers in SeaTac, we have already seen that the opposite is true. As Seattle’s wage hike begins next year, concerned taxpayers throughout the country will be watching closely. Hopefully, city and state officials considering a similar wage increase will take note and avoid making the same mistake.

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House Republicans Scramble for Leadership Posts
Posted By: Brandon Arnold - 06/12/14

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s (R-VA) primary loss on Tuesday has turned the Washington political landscape upside-down. Soon after his surprising defeat, Cantor announced that he will step down from his role as the 2nd highest ranking member of the House in late July. The election to fill his leadership post will take place on June 19 and the race is already in full swing.

As of now, it appears from media reports that the top contenders for Majority Leader are current Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (R-TX). Rumors suggest that Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID) or Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) could also enter the race – especially if Sessions decides to back out.

While there are many factors that will help determine the outcome of this contest, one key element is the candidates’ fiscal policy credentials.  To that end, NTU’s annual Rating of Congress sheds a great deal of light on how consistently lawmakers have supported lower taxes and limited government. That’s because NTU’s scorecard incorporates every single vote that affects taxes, spending, and debt.

NTU generally does not make endorsements in Congressional leadership contests. However, given the reputation of our rating, we have received inquiries on how the potential candidates performed.

Here are the results:

Candidate 2012 Score 2012 Grade 2012 Rank Lifetime Average Score*
McCarthy 72% B- 144 79%
Sessions 81% B+ 69 74%
Labrador 90% A 5 90%
Jordan 87% A 19 88%

*Lifetime average score is the arithmetic mean of each year’s score. Please note that grading criteria changes from year to year.

If McCarthy wins, he will vacate the position of Majority Whip, which is the 3rd ranking leadership spot in the House. Currently vying for that role are Republican Study Committee Chairman Steve Scalise (R-LA), Rep. Pete Roskam (R-IL), who is currently the chief deputy whip, and Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R-IN).  

As with the Majority Leader race, more candidates could enter the picture at any time, but here’s how the current candidates stack up on NTU’s scorecard:

Candidate 2012 Score 2012 Grade 2012 Rank Lifetime Average Score*
Scalise 82% B+ 57 84%
Roskam 69% C+ 170 78%
Stutzman 86% A 24 87%

*Lifetime average score is the arithmetic mean of each year’s score. Please note that grading criteria changes from year to year.

For more information on NTU’s rankings, please click here. Our 2013 rankings will be released early this summer.

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Japan to Leave US in the Dust on Corporate Income Tax; Energy Taxes Again?- The Late Edition, June 12 2014
Posted By: Jihun Han - 06/12/14

Today's Taxpayer News!

In the Washington Times today, NTU’s Executive Vice President Pete Sepp argued that a “tax extenders” deal in Congress should not come with a tax increase on the energy industry. Read here!

Japan has made progress on cutting its corporate income tax rate, though it can still be as high as 36 percent in some circumstances. Not for long though, as they are set to clarify plans that would see the rate cut to under 30 percent, and perhaps to 25 percent, in the coming years. Reuters has the story! 

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Olympic-Size Spending
Posted By: Samantha Jordan - 06/11/14

Residents of Washington D.C. could be seeing Olympic sized increases to their taxes. Amongst six cities including Boston, Dallas, Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco, Washington D.C. is under consideration to host the 2024 Olympic games. 

Wednesday morning’s Washington Post stated under the United States Olympic Committee’s (USOC) requirements, the chosen city would have to provide 45,000 hotel rooms, housing in the Olympic village to fit 16,500 athletes, work space for 15,000 journalists, an “extensive public-transport system,” a work force of 200,000 and should expect an operations budget of $3 billion.  However, Bob Sweeny, who is leading the DC 2024 Olympic Initiative, estimates the total costs at $4-6 Billion.

The Olympic Committee has become notorious for underestimating Olympic budgets. A study conducted by the University of Oxford examines cost overruns in the Olympic Games by studying both the summer and winter Olympics between 1960 and 2012. The project discovered that The Games overran their budget in every case without exception, averaging an overrun in nominal terms of 324 percent.

If you’ve done the math, by following the trend presented in the study the 2024 Olympic games could cost Washington D.C. between $12.96 and $19.44 Billion. But even this estimate seems suspiciously low when looking at the recent Sochi Olympics, which cost around $51 Billion.

Advocates of the DC 2024 Olympic Initiative explain their plan will eliminate cost by integrating existing facilities and locating the Olympic Stadium and village in a region that needs redevelopment as is. But with the rising cost of extravagant stadiums, this plan doesn’t seem reassuring.

National Taxpayers Union’s own study, “Stadiums and Subsidies: Home Run for Wealthy Team Owners, Strike-out for Taxpayers,” explains megaprojects funded by the public, such as Olympic Stadium, are an inefficient investment of taxpayer dollars.  The study illustrates trends in taxpayer subsidies and rising construction costs, concluding taxpayer tabs and stadium construction costs have direct relationships. As the taxpayer tab increases, so does the total stadium construction cost.

Olympic games showcase cities, bring in tourists and supposedly promote general infrastructure development. But D.C. is already host to frequent political events attracting the public eye and tourists alike. Unless taxpayers voice their concerns to the USOC, D.C. could soon be home to the 2024 Olympics and the financial bane that comes with them.

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Relief for Veterans Waiting on VA? THUD! & More - On Capitol Hill, June 11
Posted By: Douglas Kellogg - 06/11/14

On Capitol Hill is back, because Congress is back, and not a week goes by where your tax dollars aren't on the line.

This week: An attempt to help vets waiting on the VA, a tax & spend student loan proposal from Sen. Elizabeth Warren, THUD, & more!

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