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The I.R.S. Proposes One Rule to Silence Us All
Posted By: Douglas Kellogg - 02/20/14

“IRS Reg-134417-13” – it is hard to conceptualize how something tracked by this innocuous looking and thoroughly bureaucratic series of numbers could silence thousands, if not millions, of American voices. But that is the effect bureaucracy has, isn’t it? It turns drastic government overreach into mundane, procedural, and overly worded actions. This proposed rule would cripple the ability of non-profit groups to exercise speech.

It wasn’t enough to unfairly go after Tea Party groups that were applying for non-profit status. The investigation into exactly what went on in that case is still ongoing, but now the IRS has the hubris to pursue existing groups, Tea Party and otherwise – hey, just in case anybody got through!

The list of those affected expands far and wide. Not only are massive numbers of conservative, free-market, and similar organizations opposed (like National Taxpayers Union, Heritage Action, etc.), the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is concerned with the danger of the proposed rule change. Even groups that are involved in simple voter registration drives would be affected.

NTU now has a petition up so you can lend your voice to that chorus of opposition, click HERE.

If the IRS’s targeting of applicants for tax-exempt status was a smart bomb that gave the impression (perhaps correctly) of some political motive behind it, this proposed rule change would look a lot like the carpet bombing equivalent… Sure, there seems to be a general area they are focusing on, but the damage would spread far and wide.

One thing the rule would specifically do is put an organization’s non-profit status at risk should they make any public comment that simply references a candidate (or even just a party in some circumstances) for any office 30 days out of a primary election, or 60 days out of a general election.

The terms the I.R.S. would be looking for as violations have potential to be interpreted very broadly, leaving a lot of power in the hands of the judge – in this case the I.R.S.

A wild potential example could be: if a group has a position on a tax issue on their site permanently, say abolishing a sales tax, and urges citizens to contact public officials in support of doing so. Now, a candidate for such and such is running and has this issue in his platform. If it’s 61 days before Election Day, everything’s fine, if it’s day 59, that could potentially mean the end of that group’s non-profit status.

Because the issue itself can be viewed as characterizing the candidate, and a website is “public communication”, the new I.R.S. rule could very well be taken this far. There could be even more surprising potential applications for this rule, a very unpleasant thought.

Why is this even a concern for the I.R.S., when the Federal Election Commission polices these things, is a very good question brought up by Center for Competitive Politics.

Whatever motivations are behind these power plays may remain shrouded, but their free speech-crushing results and absence of logic should be enough for the growing, bipartisan, opposition to stand on.

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CBO Reports Raising Minimum Wage Would Kill Jobs
Posted By: Nan Swift - 02/19/14

Following through on his State of the Union promise to move ahead with or without Congress, President Obama signed an executive order last week raising the minimum wage for federal contractors from $7.25/hour to $10.10, the same increased rate that Senator Reid (D-NV) keeps threatening to bring up for a vote on the Senate floor

It’s really too bad that the President didn’t wait for the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) to do some number crunching before acting, because contrary to Sen. Reid’s boast that hiking the minimum wage would create “85,000 new jobs,” a CBO report unveiled yesterday confirms minimum wage skeptics worst fears:

Once fully implemented in the second half of 2016, the $10.10 option would reduce total employment by about 500,000 workers, or 0.3 percent, CBO projects (see the table below). As with any such estimates, however, the actual losses could be smaller or larger; in CBO’s assessment, there is about a two-thirds chance that the effect would be in the range between a very slight reduction in employment and a reduction in employment of 1.0 million workers. 

In layman’s terms, implementing a $10.10/hour minimum wage would risk losing half a million jobs. The fact that the CBO tempers their estimate with the caveat that it could range from just a few lost jobs up to 1 million jobs should hardly be comforting. Either way the result is the same: hiking the minimum wage is a jobs killer.

Higher unemployment is the last thing our struggling economy needs – doing anything that risks more lost jobs is tantamount to economic malpractice. Rather than relentlessly pursuing policies that flirt with disaster, Senator Reid and the rest of Congress should be focused on reforms that save and create jobs such as repealing the death tax, lowering the corporate tax rate, rolling back burdensome regulations, and even the big one: repealing ObamaCare, which the CBO estimated earlier this month could cut 2.5 million jobs from the economy.

Given the current state of affairs on Capitol Hill, it’s unlikely the House and Senate could successfully implement the above reforms. Still taxpayers can hope that Senator Reid heeds the latest warnings from CBO.

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Latest Taxpayer's Tab: 400 Pages, Billions of Dollars
Posted By: Michael Tasselmyer - 02/16/14

Tab Insert

Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) recently introduced legislation that would make quite a few changes to the current veterans' benefits system -- 400 pages' worth, in fact. It's been said that if the bill's enacted, it won't add to the deficit; but does that really mean taxpayers are off the hook? In the latest edition of The Taxpayer's Tab, NTUF analyzed some of the proposals in the latest omnibus veterans' benefits legislation and why financing it by capping future spending may still require additional spending after all.

S. 1982, also known as the Comprehensive Veterans Health and Benefits and Military Pay Restoration Act of 2014, includes over 100 different provisions dealing with everything from military scholarship eligibility to fertility treatment benifits for injured veterans. The sweeping legislation is set to increase direct spending by a net $5.5 billion over the next ten years, according to the Congressional Budget Office's (CBO) estimates; 43 percent of the costs would be realized by 2019, compared to 36 percent of the savings.

Most of the bill's offsets are attributed to a provision that caps future spending for Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO). However, the bill caps spending above the White House's own projections of what it expects to spend on those operations, and as CBO notes, "reductions relative to the baseline might simply reflect policy decisions that have already been made and that would be realized even without such funding constraints." This means that on paper, the bill is fully financed, but in reality, those "savings" may never actually be realized -- putting the costs on future taxpayers.

For more on the bill's proposals, be sure to check out the latest edition of the Tab online.

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The Debt Ceiling Deal & Bad Budgeting w/ GenOpp’s Evan Feinberg - Speaking of Taxpayers, February 14
Posted By: Douglas Kellogg - 02/14/14

Subscribe to NTU's podcast via iTunes!

Happy Valentine's Day! Evan Feinberg from Generation Opportunity joins this episode to talk about the debt ceiling and how "kick the can down the road" budgeting affects young Americans. Plus the Outrage of the Week!

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Fresh Ideas to Save Local Tax Dollars
Posted By: Lee Schalk - 02/14/14

Washington, D.C. isn’t the only place where our hard-earned dollars are wasted. With the increasing number of towns and cities turning to bankruptcy and many more struggling to stay afloat, it’s important that taxpayers work to get local debt and spending under control.

Four years ago, Nonpartisan Action for a Better Redding (NABR)—a local taxpayer group in Redding, Connecticut—set out to reduce the town budget.  The group began by conducting an audit of local expenditures and making recommendations to local leaders on how and where to save local tax dollars. According to Lewis Andrews, who heads NABR:

The target was achieved, at least on paper, by suggesting the adoption of such policies as having high school students take one of their five classes every semester online, pooling services with neighboring towns, using qualified volunteers to audit employment and benefits records, and hiring low-cost graduate students from local colleges as teacher aides – all implemented through the unforced attrition of current personnel.

While local politicians and interest groups in Redding were hesitant to act on the recommendations, the silver lining was that NABR uncovered little-known, cost-saving measures that had been implemented in localities across the U.S. Today, these practices can be found at SmartTowns.org, which was recently praised by NTU President Duane Parde:

Activists looking to rein in local government waste and spending should look no further than SmartTowns for creative solutions to keep local budgets out of the red. The best part? These aren’t simply ideas—they’re tried-and-true policies that have already helped save tax dollars throughout the country.

Has your town found unique ways to save local tax dollars? Do you have creative ideas of your own? Email the SmartTowns team by clicking HERE.

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Team Taxpayer Takes ISFLC
Posted By: Michael Tasselmyer - 02/14/14

Fill in the blank: "Give me liberty, or give me ________."

That's one of the questions that hundreds of students from across the country and around the world will have to answer for NTU and Foundation staff at this weekend's International Students For Liberty Conference in Washington, D.C., as we try to guage what issues are most important to the next generation of taxpayers.

Taking inspiration from the popular card game Cards Against Humanity, our staff created several policy-themed spinoffs for our own version: Cards Against Liberty. By encouraging attendees to be creative on a range of topics (both light-hearted and more serious), we'll engage students on the issues that matter to them -- and hopefully have some fun in the process.

CAL

Keep up with what's going on at the conference by following us on Twitter (@NTUF) and Instagram (@TeamTaxpayer).

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Conversation Hearts Might Bring Mixed Feelings for Taxpayers this Valentine’s Day
Posted By: Douglas Kellogg - 02/14/14

hearts

It’s Valentine’s Day! Love is in the air, but taxpayers may not be feeling it after a year of reckless spending policies and more big government. Yet, as we pass around the “conversation hearts” this year, some of the fuzzy feelings they express might remind taxpayers of a few positives, though others could spark different emotions…

You Rock!

A number of states have cut taxes, or are looking to do so! Sure the federal government has broken taxpayers’ hearts this year, but states like North Carolina have cut taxes, and others like Wisconsin, Nebraska, and even New York are seeking tax reform.

Hug Me

Hold on to your free Internet and dynamic e-commerce tonight. Big retailers and uncompetitive, high-tax, states are trying to tear this love apart – but don’t give up, it’s worth fighting for!

Be Mine

The Balanced Budget Amendment (BBA) movement has continued to make progress through the states, as now Ohio’s recent passage of an Article V referendum makes 20 states who are on board with a convention to pass a BBA. Since the federal government is apparently not interested, taxpayers’ will have to walk a different road to reach this fiscal soul mate.

Miss You

The list of things taxpayers might be longing for could potentially go on for eternity. Some of the most notable lost loves could be lower federal tax rates (on income, and payroll taxes), a more stable dollar and lower Consumer Price Index, non-government controlled healthcare and not being forced by the government to buy something, and jobs.

UR Cool or UR Hot

Depending on where you live, energy might be warming you up or keeping you cool, either way the growth of domestic energy production has been a good thing for taxpayers. So far, punitive taxes sought by the President and others have not stopped this party – however, this electric partner could be powered down if Congress flips the wrong switch.

Taxpayers may have loved and lost, but hope is still alive for the hopeless romantics who won’t give up on a brighter fiscal future!

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NTU Study on Water, Sewer Bidding Leaves Critics All Wet
Posted By: Pete Sepp - 02/11/14

After nearly 45 years on the job protecting taxpayers, NTU has encountered several eternal truths in politics, one of which is: if you rile up entrenched interests enough to lash out against you, you’re likely succeeding. So it is with an article in a recent edition of the journal published by the prestigious American Water Works Association (a group representing professionals of many disciplines in the water and wastewater sector).

It all began with a four-paragraph mention in AWWA’s September 2013 journal (subscription-based) outlining the main findings of NTU’s report, Reforming Our Nation’s Approach to the Infrastructure Crisis. There we recommended a more transparent, accountable, and fiscally responsible system of management for the nation’s water and sewer systems, which included more life-cycle cost analysis and competitive bidding in selection of piping materials.

Apparently that article yanked one chain too many, so to speak. The November 2013 journal contained a “Perspective” from AWWA’s Kenneth Mercer that claimed a “review” of NTU’s report “confirmed” the “concerned responses from some Journal readers who claimed it presented an incomplete picture in advocating for one pipe material over another.” The article actually makes many points with which NTU would agree; yet, its implication of bias was something we had to answer.

But before we could do that, we needed another answer – whether AWWA’s journal would print our response – and it was a polite “no.” Fortunately, Government Bytes is willing to provide a forum instead. Here in its entirety is the text of our response which AWWA did not print:

“December 17, 2013

To the Editor:

The reaction from an unidentified number of AWWA Journal readers (as well as the Journal itself) to National Taxpayers Union’s (NTU’s) report, “Reforming Our Nation’s Approach to the Infrastructure Crisis,” only illustrates NTU’s point: industry interests should avoid entrenching themselves in positions that are too deeply rooted to fear and orthodoxy (“Choosing the Right Pipe,” November 2013). The information we presented demonstrates that there are better strategies to attacking the $1 trillion liability that AWWA itself has identified in its “Buried No Longer” report.

The original article that prompted Mr. Mercer’s response (from the September 2013 Journal) actually cited not only a study from NTU, which has 362,000 members nationwide, but also a report from the U.S. Mayors Water Council,  which represents all mayors of cities over a population of 30,000.  These are diverse voices, but they are speaking from one common source: they’re using AWWA’s pipe data and cost data.

So why should AWWA, which highlighted this trillion-dollar liability in the first place, be surprised that a nationally-known organization would offer more cost-effective solutions than the federally-funded infrastructure bank that AWWA seems to prefer? How does this possibly answer the two major problems behind the future cost spiral, that pipes are failing from corrosion rather than age, and pipe thicknesses for DI are declining?

 

We sought some constructive answers. That’s why both NTU and the Mayors Water Council reports use the comparison of the two leading water pipes as examples, and then applied open procurement, asset management practices and financial analysis to recommend reforms.  

For the record, NTU is not involved in this issue to take sides within an industry. AWWA may represent a collective of water utilities, but in the case of public water systems, the “owners” (rate payers and taxpayers) are on the hook for all utility financial management decisions, including pipes. That’s why we’re engaging on this and other infrastructure issues at every level, every day.

In fact, AWWA’s “review” of our report, which essentially accuses NTU of being biased in favor of one pipe material, seems to have skipped over an important detail – the language of the report itself. Namely, the following, balanced assessment from the author:

The issue at hand is not really the selection of one pipe over another, but the ability for a utility to take advantage of all materials, processes, technologies and products that create the  most cost-effective solution while meeting sustainable performance goals. In fact, every pipe has its best use, but no single pipe is best in every situation. Open competition …will really reach the objectives of elected officials, rate payers and developers concerned with the rising costs of water infrastructure capital programs.

If we as a nation are to address the very real challenges facing water and sewer system replacements, organizations like AWWA need to lead the way by providing an open forum to discuss issues such as optimal consultative procedures for pipe selection; or, how the concepts of longevity and reliability are affected by corrosion and water main breaks; or, why AWWA standards and the National Association of Corrosion Engineers (NACE) are in disagreement over wrapping iron pipe in plastic.

In the absence of this vital dialogue, organizations like my own have to step in and develop a set of criteria, such as the 25-part “Yardstick” that utility rate payers can use to interact with elected officials. Journal readers deserve to know about all of them, but here are just five of those points:

8. Does the utility consider sustainability policies and life-cycle costs in the procurement process?

12. Has every fee and charge been reviewed as to its accuracy in the last 3 years?

16. Does the utility use a computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) to schedule all work orders?

21. Does the utility track and forecast the affordability impacts of current and future rate increases for each major demographic group within the utility’s boundaries?

24. Has the utility posted information pertaining to capital improvement plans, master plans, mitigation studies, cost-of-service studies, allocation studies, asset management issues, fee structures, and other key documents of interest to rate payers in an easy-to-understand format on the Internet? 

Who can argue with principles like these? Hopefully, no one who reads AWWA Journal. After all, even underground, there ought to be a way to reach common ground.”

Perhaps this blog post will be a start in the direction of that “common ground.”

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Does "Progress" Always Have to Mean Attacking Job Creation?
Posted By: Pete Sepp - 02/11/14

In the paradoxical category, a new but also not-so-new article from Center for American Progress calls - again - for discriminatory tax policies toward oil and gas companies.

That CAP is attacking the energy sector is no surprise - they release a piece of this nature each time quarterly corporate earnings are published. But it's important to acknowledge the contributions in jobs, retirees' investment returns, and yes, government revenues, that the energy sector is already making now. Implications that the industry doesn't carry its fair share of the tax burden undermine the formulation of effective energy and tax policy. Our recent infographic effectively shows the real story of the industry's economic contribution and tax burden.

Is it just a coincidence that this comes on the heels of the President's call for tax hikes on energy during his State of the Union?

Read more about the need to reform the corporate tax code for all, and end the government's trend of picking winners and losers, in my recent U.S. News & World Report piece.

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What Will it Take for Taxpayers to get a Modicum of Fiscal Responsibility on the Hill?
Posted By: Douglas Kellogg - 02/11/14

Seemingly right after the “sequester” spending caps were scrapped in the end-of-year budget agreement, we have the House passing a “clean” debt ceiling increase – rather than one with spending reductions to offset the additional debt.

Let’s be clear about how significant this is… In 2011 the first big fight over the debt ceiling led to the Budget Control act, and the aforementioned spending caps. This was not ideal in light of the rapid increase in federal spending we saw in 2009-10 (and the general rise during the preceding decade). However, it was the only tangible example of spending restraint America had seen in over a decade!

Now, this current Congress has effectively gotten rid of those spending cuts, and now raised the debt ceiling without any real attempt at attaching budget reductions, in a span of under three months.

Yes, it’s hard dealing with a party who has majority control and remains obstinate toward any fiscal discipline (outside of some defense savings). Which means it’s probably a good idea to value whatever spending cuts you get out of them, rather than throw them away.

NTU’s Vice President Brandon Arnold explained in The Hill last week how to proceed with a debt ceiling deal that included savings, citing U.S. PIRG and NTU’s latest joint report with $500 billion in bipartisan cut options.

Working for fiscal responsibility is no doubt difficult, but it’s best for the country.

The easy option of throwing America’s current and future taxpayers to the debt dogs is a temporary Washington solution, or more accurately, a passing of the problem on to someone else. 

Unless Senator Obama from 2006 shows up, it looks like tonight’s vote means the debt ceiling is going up with little resistance once again – and right after that same Congress undermined the last victory for taxpayers on this issue.

“The fact that we are here today to debate raising America's debt limit is a sign of leadership failure. It is a sign that the U.S. Government can't pay its own bills. It is a sign that we now depend on ongoing financial assistance from foreign countries to finance our Government's reckless fiscal policies.” 

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