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NTU’s Nan Swift Talks Abuse of Emergency Overseas Ops Funding; Tech Updates - Speaking of Taxpayers, May 16
Posted By: Douglas Kellogg - 05/16/14

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NTU Federal Affairs Manager Nan Swift stops by to talk about efforts to stop the inappropriate use of OCO (Overseas Contingency Operations) which avoids proper budgeting and "Tax Extenders." Also, FCC moves forward on net neutrality, MFA draws heat in Georgia, and the Outrage of the Week has Congress flying high on your dime.

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(VIDEO) Sequester-pocalypse Fear Mongering vs. Reality
Posted By: Douglas Kellogg - 05/15/14

Congratulations! If you're watching this video, you're one of the 312 million Americans who narrowly survived the "Sequester-pocalypse"!

Watch President Obama and others prophecy about the chaos the moderate "sequester" spending reductions would supposedly cause. In reality, taxpayers saved $85 billion and only one federal employee was laid off. Oops!

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Not a Fan of $1 Million Bus Stop? How about $672K?
Posted By: Dan Barrett - 05/14/14

ARLnow.com, a local news site for Arlington, Virginia, updated residents on the costs of new bus stops proposed along Columbia Pike, a major artery running right up to the Pentagon. As opposed to the $1 million prototype bus stop that I wrote about last year, Arlington County officials released an updated design with a new cost per stop: between $362,000 and $672,000. The three newly termed “transit centers” look similar to the “Super Stop” design but are shorter in height, have wider canopies, and have side windscreens. Each stop will have a different cost, according to its size:

  • Single-Sized: $362,000
  • Standard: $469,000
  • Extended: $672,000

The county provided a breakdown in costs for construction and site design and project management, with the latter representing approximately 23 percent of the total cost for the small- and medium-sized stations.

This all might be an improvement but taxpayers who answered a poll on the site say it’s still too high a cost:

Arlington, VA Bus Stop Poll Results

Area residents questioned why existing bus stop designs (the classic three-sided, glass enclosures) are being replaced for a more expensive, unproven design (especially since the new design still does not protect those waiting from the elements. Others voiced concerns over the still-high costs. One commenter wrote that a standard stop costs $30,000 and some can cost as much as $58,000 across the border in Maryland. The question I ask Arlington Board members is, are the artsy designs of the stops worth spending millions of local taxpayer dollars instead of putting those funds towards other concerns or taxpayer relief?

On a county-level, the cost of the overall effort went from $20.9 million to $12.4 million, a 40 percent decrease. Yet, those savings may be swept away as the Washington Post just reported that the Columbia Pike streetcar – a major reason the county cites for updating the bus stops -- will cost $358 million, or $100 million more than the county’s previous projection. On top of all of this, taxpayers across the country need to keep any eye on this issue because 48 percent ($140.5 million) of Arlington County’s share of the expenses are expected to come from the federal government. The issue comes down to whether Arlington officials are doing what’s best for residents or just building pretty things that will ultimately go underused.

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New Report, Familiar Conclusions
Posted By: Michael Tasselmyer - 05/13/14

"A fundamental imbalance..."

"...continuous growth in debt..."

"[U]nsustainable."

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) uses all of these phrases to describe its most recent long-term budgetary projections, underscoring a less-than-ideal outlook for federal debt and deficits. GAO ran two simulations in its latest report: a "Baseline Extended" forecast, which uses the Congressional Budget Office's (CBO) legislative assumptions, and an "Alternative Scenario" that assumes revenue and discretionary spending will grow at rates closer to historical averages. Either way, GAO predicts spending will rapidly outpace revenues in the coming years:

GAO Budget Outlook

GAO Budget Outlook

As the graphs above show, net interest and mandatory spending programs will continue to grow as a percentage of GDP under both models, even in the "Extended Baseline" scenario which assumes tax extenders will not be renewed and discretionary spending caps will be upheld. The report also mentions looming demographic shifts that will continue to affect the nature of federal spending for years to come: by 2029, nearly 11,000 baby boomers will reach the retirement age of 65 every single day, which means much higher spending on retirement and health benefits.

The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget has some helpful context on the GAO's assumptions, and how their projections compare to others.

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Latest Taxpayer's Tab: A Legislative Triple Crown
Posted By: Michael Tasselmyer - 05/11/14

Taxpayer's Tab Update

Last week's Kentucky Derby drew a near-record crowd of 164,000 and was seen by another 15.3 million viewers on TV, and some sources estimate that Churchill Downs pulled in as much as $100 million in revenue throughout the course of the week.

The horse racing and breeding industry is a major economic boost for many states; accordingly, it's drawn its share of attention from legislators and regulators in Washington, D.C over the years. Ahead of the next two legs of the Triple Crown, NTUF took a look in the latest edition of The Taxpayer's Tab at some of the issues the industry faces and how Congress has proposed to deal with them.

Featured in this week's issue are bills from Congressman Andy Barr (R-KY) that would modify how horse sales affect owners' tax liabilities, which has also been discussed as part of the "tax extender" legislation that Congress has revisited frequently over the years. NTUF also looked into bills that address animal rights groups' concerns about how humanely commercial horses are treated, including the ways in which they're transported across the country and trained for competitions and exhibitions. There are also new versions of old proposals that seek to regulate the types of helmets riders must wear, and the extent to which the federal government is responsible for protecting wild horse populations.

More detail on all the equine legislation Congress is considering is available in The Taxpayer's Tab.

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There’s No Good Reason for Congress to Impede Cable Merger
Posted By: Brandon Arnold - 05/09/14

Yesterday, the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Regulatory Reform, Commercial, and Antitrust Law held a hearing on the proposed merger of Comcast and Time Warner Cable (TWC), during which Comcast Executive Vice President David Cohen was peppered with a number of tough questions from lawmakers. That should come as no surprise – this is a significant transaction that will affect tens of millions of consumers.

While lawmakers are right to carefully scrutinize the deal, they should resist the urge to more actively involve the federal government unless there is clear and specific reason to believe that laws are being broken or that the merger would result in excessive market consolidation. Neither appears to be the case here.

That’s why NTU joined a coalition of free market organizations to author a letter to Senators Chuck Grassley and Mike Lee – both key members of the Senate Judiciary Committee – to urge them to support the consolidation.

The letter makes a number of strong arguments about the importance of free markets and the vast potential benefits for consumers, but the key takeaway for policymakers should be that the merger will not limit consumer choices in any way.

As it states: “Because Comcast and TWC do not operate in the same markets (and therefore, consumers will face no loss whatsoever of competitive choice in television and video, broadband Internet, and telephone choices) there is no apparent substantive antitrust concern here. The transaction will simply swap one cable company for another in some markets – something which is competitively neutral on its face.” (emphasis mine)

Again, this is a $45 billion deal that will affect tens of millions of cable and Internet users, so it certainly makes sense for Congress to focus attention on it. But at the same time, lawmakers should avoid engaging in political grandstanding or, even worse, intervening in a transaction that will benefit consumers.

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Sequester’s Impact: One Job Lost, $85 Billion Saved
Posted By: Brandon Arnold - 05/09/14

Remember all of the doomsday predictions about last year’s compulsory spending cuts better known as the sequester? Many claimed this “draconian” measure would lead to economic catastrophe, as thousands upon thousands of federal employees would be fired and the government’s operations would come to a screeching halt. In fact, one study by Goldman Sachs predicted “declines in federal employment by around 100k over the next few quarters.” 

In contrast, NTU argued repeatedly that these concerns were overblown and that the bloated federal government could find plenty of ways to absorb the sequester’s modest trims.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) has just released a study that sheds light on the actual impact of sequestration, which cut 2013 expenditures by $85 billion.

The total number of federal job losses that occurred: one.

Yes, you read that correctly. The report states that the U.S. Parole Commission “implemented a reduction in force of one employee to achieve partial savings required by sequestration in fiscal year 2013.” According to GAO, that was the only layoff attributable to the sequester. That means Goldman Sachs’ prediction of 100,000 layoffs missed by a mere 99,999.

That’s not to say that the sequester had no effect on the government. To be sure, furloughs occurred and certain activities were delayed or otherwise hindered. But the fact remains that the federal budget is rife with wasteful, duplicative, and unnecessary spending. There is ample room to pare back federal expenditures and force the executive branch to prioritize its functions. Indeed, that’s exactly what GAO found in its study: “congressional and agency actions mitigated some potential effects by shifting funds to higher priorities while deferring or reducing funding for lower priorities.”

GAO’s study once again demonstrates that the federal government remains far too bloated. While targeted cuts to unnecessary or duplicative programs are generally the best approach to fiscal restraint, in the absence of such leadership across-the-board reductions like the sequester can also work. These findings should give momentum to the advocates of a leaner federal budget and embarrass those who predicted the sequester would cause an economic collapse.

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Jim Pettit Talks New Data on Taxpayers Fleeing High Taxes; State Update; Did Sequester Doomsday Happen? - Speaking of Taxpayers, May 9
Posted By: Douglas Kellogg - 05/09/14

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How many jobs did "sequester" actually cost the federal government? Ex-Im Bank is in NTU's crosshairs. Jim Pettit discusses his recent Human Events piece analyzing IRS data on taxpayer migration - Florida is the big winner, New York is the big loser. State Affairs Manager Lee Schalk gives us the lowdown on the states. Plus, the Outrage of the Week!

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Government Reports: A Look At The Numbers
Posted By: Michael Tasselmyer - 05/07/14

This Congress is expecting to receive 4,291 reports from various government agencies. But a new feature in The Washington Post shows that lawmakers will actually read very few of them, if they are even written at all.

The story in The Post traces the long history of U.S. government reports, from the Mint’s annual update that began in 1792 to the 2000 law that required a briefing on the latest developments in dog and cat fur trading. Even in 1928, when there were only 303 reports to keep track of, legislators complained about the volume of reports they were sent every year.

Fast-forward a few decades and thousands of reporting requirements later, and many lawmakers and government employees have stopped reading and writing the reports altogether. Their inability to keep track of – let alone read and devote appropriate attention to – the reports is an instance of transparency and accountability gone awry, in that while many of the reports were intended to offer additional layers of oversight to government programs, they've become so numerous and overwhelming that the full benefits can simply become lost in the shuffle. One former staffer recounted to The Post how some of the thicker reports were literally used as doorstops, unread and disregarded.

The reporting carries a significant cost, both in man-hours and dollars. Although nobody can say for sure how much money is spent producing the reports each year, the last estimate made in 1993 projects it's somewhere in the neighborhood of $163 million. Combined with the fact that some of the reports are so narrowly focused (the Social Security Administration's report on printing operations) or outdated (The Post identified two required briefings on the long-since-dissolved Soviet Union), many in Washington are calling for an end to some of the more irrelevant or wasteful ones. In 2012, The White House compiled a list of 269 reports it wanted to eliminate; the House passed a bill recently that nixed 79 of them.

Although transparency and accountability are noble goals, the story in The Post shows that when it comes to government reporting requirements, there is a fine line between oversight and distraction.

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The First Missouri Income Tax Cut in Nearly 100 Years
Posted By: Lee Schalk - 05/07/14

For the first time in almost a century, Missourians will see their income tax reduced.

It’s not every day that a state legislature defies its governor in the name of pro-growth income tax reductions. But that’s exactly what happened in the Show Me State this week thanks to votes of 109-46 in the House and 23-8 in the Senate to override a veto by Governor Jay Nixon.

Last year, in a similar scenario, lawmakers were unable to buck Nixon’s rejection of income tax cuts. This time around, Republican lawmakers and a single Democrat stuck together to make income tax relief a reality.

With SB 509 in place, income taxes for hardworking Missourians will be lowered by $620 million annually, starting in 2017, and small business owners will benefit from a 25 percent tax cut. Additionally, taxpayers making less than $20,000 annually will receive an extra $500 personal exemption.

By gradually lowering the top income tax rate to 5.5 percent, lawmakers have created a more competitive tax climate amongst neighboring states such as Kansas and Oklahoma, where top marginal rates are 4.9 and 5.25 percent, respectively.

SB 509 is not on par with North Carolina’s tax reform; however, the bill represents a step in the right direction that will allow taxpayers to keep more of their hard-earned money to spend, save, or invest. And by lightening the tax load on small businesses, entrepreneurs will have additional resources to create jobs and expand operations. This historic tax cut package is truly a victory for the people of Missouri.

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