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High-Frequency Trading and the "Transaction Tax"
Posted By: Michael Tasselmyer - 04/11/14

When most of us think of trading on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, images of traders frantically running across the room as they take orders over the phone come to mind. Many Americans also trade at home, relying on internet services or financial advisors to relay the latest information on the stocks and funds that they're interested in.

However, there is growing concern that automated "high-frequency trading", which utilizes computer algorithms and software to make split-second decisions as trading conditions change in real-time, might give some traders an unfair advantage over others. The problem stems from the idea of marginal profit -- that is, even very small profits on minor trades can accumulate into larger ones so long as the trader conducts enough transactions. Software and computer algorithms are already capable of trading at exponentially higher speeds than the every-day financier, yet some firms spend hundreds of millions of dollars to cut down on communication time even further in order to get their hands on a stock first, then immediately resell it at a marginally higher price.

Author Michael Lewis has chronicled the debate in a recent book and several media appearances. The issue has gotten the attention of some lawmakers on Capitol Hill, too, who are pushing a national transaction tax in response. That tax would be levied on every financial transaction that investors make, which, according to Congressman Keith Ellison (D-MN), could serve as a deterrent for firms who are supposedly gaming the system by conducting thousands of small transactions at a time and rely on the very small marginal profits made on each one.

Ellison's idea -- which he has dubbed the "Inclusive Prosperity Act" -- attempts to counteract the effect of "Wall Street speculation" that "is currently subject to zero sales tax on its trillions of dollars of annual transactions- while consumers regularly pay sales taxes even on daily necessities." It has been proposed before in previous sessions of Congress.

NTUF featured an even broader transaction tax proposal in a 2012 edition of The Taxpayer’s Tab. Congressman Chaka Fattah's (D-PA) Debt Free America Act proposed to eliminate the personal income tax, virtually all tax credits, and the Alternative Minimum Tax and replace them with a one-percent fee on each and every cash, credit, debit, and stock or bond transaction. While it's unknown whether the bill would have any administrative costs associated with tracking every financial transaction Americans make, Rep. Fattah claims that his legislation will generate enough revenue to pay down the national debt in just ten years. Variations on that proposal include a 0.35 percent tax on all transactions, which proponents argue would simplify the current tax system and expand the revenue base.

Since our feature on Rep. Fattah's legislation, NTUF has offered a preview of other tax reform proposals -- including the Fair Tax and a flat tax -- that have been proposed in Congress. You can read our analysis here.

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Broad Coalition Sends Message to Congress: Oppose Internet Access Taxes
Posted By: Brandon Arnold - 04/11/14

NTU is proud to be among the 29 groups from across the political spectrum that signed a letter urging Congress to block potential tax hikes on Internet access. Specifically, the letter calls upon the House and Senate to pass the Permanent Internet Tax Freedom Act (H.R. 3086) or the Internet Tax Freedom Forever Act (S. 1431), bills that would make permanent the moratorium on multiple and discriminatory taxes on the Internet.  The current moratorium is scheduled to expire on November 1, 2014. 

As the letter explains:

Internet taxation affects all Americans from all political views and all walks of life. From healthcare to education, small business entrepreneurs to Fortune 500 companies, the Internet has dramatically transformed the way everyone lives, works, and learns. In 2010, the Internet accounted for an estimated $684 billion, or 4.7 percent of all U.S. economic activity. While the Internet was a nascent technology when the current moratorium was established in 1998, it has become the economic engine driving innovation and growth in our 21st century economy. Throttling that engine at a time when our economy is struggling hurts not only those trying to invest in America’s future, but also those who can least afford it and have the most to gain from the Internet’s potential.

Let’s hope Congress heeds the letter’s advice and works to reduce barriers to Internet access.

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Democratic Caucuses' FY 2015 Alternative Budget Plans
Posted By: Michael Tasselmyer - 04/10/14

In the newest edition of The Taxpayers Tab, National Taxpayers Union Foundation (NTUF) compared the alternative budget proposals put forth by Congressional caucuses including the Republican Study Commission (RSC), the House Republicans, the House Democrats, the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC), and the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC). We looked at each budget's top-line numbers relative to the Congressional Budget Office's baseline projections for 2014 to give taxpayers an idea of how each of these budget alternatives differ from each other and the current budgetary forecast.

There were several alternatives offered from the Democrats:

FY 2015 Democratic Budget Proposals
(in billions of dollars)
 
Defense
$514
$549
$521
Unknown
$574
Other Discretionary
$524
$516
$492
Unknown
$596
Mandatory
$2,116
$2,458
$2,728
Unknown
$2,763
OCO1
$92
$85
$85
$49
$29
Total
$3,246
$3,608
$3,826
$3,492
$3,962
Change from FY2014
N/A
+$362
+$580
+$246
+$716
Notes:
Totals may not add due to rounding.
Figures are in budget authority except for the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) (see below).
BillTally does not track changes in debt interest servicing and so they are not included in these figures.
1Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) funding is not subject to the budget caps.
2The Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) does not provide a breakdown of discretionary or mandatory spending. NTUF included CBC's OCO outlays to its FY 2015 budget authority total for a more complete spending total.
3CPC reported their budget proposal only in outlays. NTUF therefore must compare their outlay figure with the budget authority figures of the other entities. This may not reflect the caucus's budgetary intent.

They differed in a few key ways:

  • Both the CBC and CPC budgets explicitly state that under their plans, Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) will end after FY 2015. The CBC provides $85 billion in budget authority for that function in 2015, but projects only $49 billion in outlays (with the rest spread out over the next ten years). CPC limits OCO funding in FY 2015 to amounts needed for immediate wind-downs.
  • The House Democrats' budget sticks to the spending caps proposed in the Ryan-Murray budget compromise; the President's budget acknowledges those amounts in its formal request, but also offers policy proposals that adjust those caps and thus allow for higher discretionary spending levels.
  • Each of the Democratic plans emphasize increased support for economic stimulus and job development programs, and thus would increase discretionary spending above baseline levels. However, they also grow mandatory spending largely by way of expanding eligibility for certain entitlement programs.

The Democrats' budgets focus primarily on responding directly to the country's poor economic conditions, both by increasing eligibility for entitlement programs and providing increased funding for job training and development. In general these proposals would be offset by more and/or higher taxes, but none of these plans project a balanced budget within the next ten years.

For more, check out NTUF's full analysis in The Taxpayer's Tab.

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RSC and House GOP Alternative Budgets for FY 2015
Posted By: Michael Tasselmyer - 04/10/14

In the newest edition of The Taxpayers Tab, National Taxpayers Union Foundation (NTUF) compared some of the alternative budget proposals put forth by several Congressional caucuses, including the Republican Study Commission (RSC), the House Republicans, the House Democrats, the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC), and the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC). We compared the top-line budget numbers from each proposal relative to the Congressional Budget Office's baseline projections for 2014 to give taxpayers an idea of how each of these budget alternatives differ.

This first of two posts will focus on each of the GOP alternatives.

FY 2015 Republican Budget Proposals
(in billions of dollars)
 
Defense
$514
$521
$521
Other Discretionary
$524
$429
$492
Mandatory
$2,116
$2,1572
$2,2103
OCO1
$92
$85
$85
Total
$3,246
$3,192
$3,308
Change from FY2014
N/A
-$54
+$62
Notes:
Totals may not add due to rounding.
Figures are in budget authority, except where noted.
BillTally does not track changes in debt interest servicing and so they are not included in these figures.
1Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) funding is not subject to budget caps.
2NTUF assumes that the Back to Basics budget reported mandatory spending in outlays. NTUF therefore must compare their outlay figures with the budget authority figures of the other entities. This may not reflect the caucus's budgetary intent.
3The Path to Prosperity budget reported mandatory spending in outlays. NTUF therefore must compare their outlay figures with the budget authority figures of the other entities. This may not reflect the caucus's budgetary intent.

Some notable points:

  • Both the RSC and Ryan budgets eventually balance, but the RSC's does so within four years, compared to the ten year goal in the Ryan proposal.
  • Both GOP budgets maintain Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) funding at $85 billion, and propose $521 billion in discretionary defense budget authority.
  • The RSC plan proposes deeper cuts to non-defense discretionary programs than does the Ryan plan, but a simplification of the current tax code is a stated priority for each group.

While the two GOP budgets are similar in that their ultimate goals are balanced books, the RSC plan would try to achieve that within a much shorter timeframe. In both cases, emphasis is placed on cutting discretionary spending rather than any wholesale or fundamental reforms of mandatory entitlement programs.

For more, check out NTUF's full analysis in The Taxpayer's Tab.

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Latest Taxpayers Tab: Budget Alternatives
Posted By: Michael Tasselmyer - 04/09/14

Taxpayer's Tab Update

As tax day approaches, lawmakers in various Congressional caucuses have been unveiling their own alternatives to the President's Fiscal Year 2015 budget proposal. In this week's edition of The Taxpayer's Tab, NTUF looked at proposals from the Republican Study Commission (RSC), House Republicans, House Democrats, the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC), and the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) -- in addition to President Obama's own budget -- to see what their policy priorities could mean for taxpayers.

  • RSC: The RSC budget attempts to balance the federal budget within four years by offering lower spending caps than the ones currently on the books, as well as freezing discretionary spending at $950 billion in every year that the budget does not balance. The RSC budget also calls for a simpler tax code and cuts to non-defense discretionary programs.
  • House Republicans: The Path to Prosperity put forth by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) and the GOP House Budget Committee would also balance the budget, but within ten years instead of four. It would defund President Obama's signature Affordable Care Act and attempt structural reform of several mandatory entitlement programs.
  • House Democrats: The Democrats' alternative represents a renewed focus on economic stimulus, offering additional funding for infrastructure & education projects as well as expanded unemployment benefits. The new spending would be offset by additional taxes.
  • CPC: The CPC's Better Off Budget increases discretionary spending in order to achieve its goal of creating 8.8 million jobs by 2017. The budget would discontinue Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) funding, and expand long-term unemployment benefits, education grants, and public works projects.
  • CBC: The CBC budget emphasizes social welfare programs and anti-poverty initiatives with $3.4 trillion in budget authority for FY 2015. It would also discontinue OCO funding, and provides significant investment in community development and job training programs.

For more on these alternative budget proposals and how they compare to each other and the President's proposals, check out the online edition of The Taxpayer's Tab.

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New Report on State and Local Tax Burdens
Posted By: Lee Schalk - 04/04/14

The good folks at the Tax Foundation have released another eye-opening report with their Annual State-Local Tax Burden Rankings, which “estimates the combined state and local tax burden shouldered by the residents of each state.”

Not surprisingly, New York placed first, with taxpayers shelling out 12.6 percent of their income to pay for state and local taxes, while Wyoming replaced Alaska at number 50 with a burden of 6.9 percent.

Other key findings, according to the Tax Foundation:

  • During the 2011 fiscal year, state-local tax burdens as a share of state incomes decreased on average. This trend was largely driven by the growth of income in all states.
  • In 2011, the residents of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut had the highest state-local tax burdens as a share of income in the nation. In these states, residents have forgone over 11.9 percent of income due to state and local taxes.
  • Residents of Wyoming paid the lowest percentage of income in 2011 at just 6.9 percent. They replaced Alaska, which had previously been the least-taxed for multiple decades, as the lowest-burdened state in the nation. After Wyoming and Alaska, the next lowest-taxed states were South Dakota, Texas, and Louisiana.
  • State-local tax burdens are very close to one another and slight changes in taxes or income can translate to seemingly dramatic shifts in rank. For example, the twenty mid-ranked states, ranging from Oregon (16th) to Georgia (35th), only differ in burden by just over one percentage point.
  • On average, taxpayers pay more to their own state and local governments (73 percent of total burden). Taxes paid within states of residence decreased on average in 2011, while taxes paid to other states increased, leading to a slight decrease in total burden. Some states deviated from these national trends, however.

The report serves as an excellent reminder for taxpayers to continue the push for tax reform and decreased spending at state and local levels of government. For more from the Tax Foundation or to read the entire report, click here.

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Taxpayers Claim Big Win in Fight Against IRS Free Speech Silencing Rule
Posted By: Nan Swift - 04/04/14

NTU members deserve a pat on the back for their hard work in the on-going fight against IRS-overreach. For months, NTU and other grassroots organizations (categorized under section 501(c)(4) of the Tax Code) have been engaged in an uphill battle against an oppressive new IRS rule proposal that would significantly restrict our ability to educate citizens and hold elected officials accountable. Thanks to your help however, this silencing of free speech has been thwarted...for now.

After concerned citizens filed an overwhelming number of comments with the IRS to oppose the rule – thousands of which came from NTU members – IRS Commissioner Koskinen announced yesterday that the rule will not be finalized this year. So, it’s clear that taxpayers have won the first round.

According to Koskinen:

During the comment period, which ended in February, we received more than 150,000 comments. That’s a record for an IRS rulemaking comment period. In fact, if you take all the comments on all Treasury and IRS draft proposals over the last seven years and double that number, you come close to the number of comments we are now beginning to review and analyze.

It’s going to take us a while to sort through all those comments, hold a public hearing, possibly repropose a draft regulation and get more public comments. This means that it is unlikely we will be able to complete this process before the end of the year.

As you can see from Koskinen’s comments, this fight is far from over. Largely developed behind closed doors, the new ruling would have constituted a profound infringement of the First Amendment rights of NTU and each of our members. It would have made it difficult – if not impossible – for NTU to hold elected officials accountable for their actions and ensure that the voice of the taxpayer is heard in the nation’s capitol.  It should come then as no surprise that imposing this rule was a major priority for the Obama Administration to finalize ahead of 2014 Congressional elections. (Click here for more background information).

 It’s important that we use the time we have to keep up the pressure on our legislators to oppose this terrible rule!

Here’s how you can help:

  1. Take Action and urge your Senators to support S. 2011, the “Stop Targeting of Political Beliefs by the IRS Act of 2014” – this would impose a statutorial one-year delay of the proposed rule.
  2. Give generously to ensure we have the tools and resources we need to stop the IRS’s bullying of grassroots organizations.

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Fight for LNG Exports Reveals Ex-Im Bank Hypocrisy
Posted By: Nan Swift - 04/03/14

Next week the House Energy and Commerce Committee will consider a bill, H.R. 6, to open up new markets for natural gas exports. Currently, natural gas exports (in the form of liquefied natural gas or LNG) are restricted to the handful of countries with which the U.S. has a free trade agreement. In order to export LNG to other countries, applicants must first pass a public interest review and the process is marked by extensive delays.

The government-imposed export restrictions are hampering the growth of the domestic natural gas industry, even as new technology makes more and more resources available.  When domestic consumption of natural gas is flat and natural gas prices and consumption are high abroad, it makes perfect economic sense to take our abundant supply to the global demand. Our neighbors in British Columbia are doing so and expect to see 4 percent economic growth over the next few years.  Increased LNG exports would not only bolster the profitability of domestic natural gas production, but also bring with it new jobs and economic development – two things our struggling economy desperately needs.

Writing in at TheHill.com today, Raymond Keating, chief economist of the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Council explained:

According to the Center for Liquefied Natural Gas, each new terminal created to ship LNG overseas could generate more than $10 billion in investment for the U.S. economy, including wages and purchase orders for equipment. A single project will likely generate more than $10 million per year in new tax revenue at the federal, state and local levels. For good measure, it’s estimated that very $1 billion of LNG produced creates about 5,000 construction and manufacturing jobs.

So, while it’s still frustrating that government is still standing in the way of an industry’s success, what’s even more surprising is how U.S. taxpayer-backed dollars are being used to prop up the LNG industries of other nations even as our own producers are stymied by our government.

When it came to light that recent Administration-imposed sanctions towards Russia had put the kibosh on an Export-Import Bank (Ex-Im Bank) financing deal for the Russian OAO Novatek Yamal LNG project,   I wondered – how many other LNG export projects do we support in other countries? A quick search turned up quite a few.

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 cheap, taxpayer-backed credit. Not when our own producers are not allowed to compete on that playing field. This is doubly true when the recipients of Ex-Im Bank largess are giant corporations more than capable of securing their own private capital.

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Yet Another Scandal at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
Posted By: Brandon Arnold - 04/03/14

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) was created just a few years ago and it’s already experienced more than its fair share of stumbles. The latest kerfuffle: revelations that a self-professed socialist now sits on one of the agency’s advisory boards.

Ron Ehrenreich has been appointed to the CFPB’s Credit Union Advisory Council. Flash back to 26 years ago, and he was running to be Vice President of the United States on the Socialist Party’s ticket. How times change … or have they? In any case, it’s unclear what kind of impact Ehrenreich will have in this role, but his appointment certainly underscores the need for additional oversight and accountability at CFPB. This lack of Congressional supervision is something that NTU has been concerned about for years and was a major source of contention when President Obama appointed Richard Cordray to head the agency. At that time, Republicans in the Senate blocked the appointment for months as they raised serious concerns about the inability of Congress to conduct sufficient oversight, as well as concerns about the sweeping new powers the CFPB would wield. Obama eventually used a constitutionally questionable “recess appointment” to put Cordray in office and he was later confirmed after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid changed the rules to prevent his colleagues from using the filibuster.

The next CFPB public relations disaster occurred soon after Cordray’s Senate confirmation, when we discovered that many of its employees were extremely well-paid:

Hundreds of CFPB officials are paid more than Supreme Court Justices, senior White House officials, members of Congress, and all 50 state governors, according to a Washington Examiner analysis of salary data for the board's 1,204 workers.

As my colleague, Pete Sepp, noted in the same Washington Examiner story, “how can it be justified on grounds to hire expertly qualified people when many of the salaries far exceed the experts at places like the Federal Reserve and the Securities & Exchange Commission?”

This week, the CFPB was hit with two significant issues.  First, as previously mentioned, we learned of an avowed socialist serving on a CFPB advisory board. And just yesterday, the CFPB was accused of discrimination against women and minorities.

Taxpayers must be left wondering what is next for this troubled agency that is supposed to be protecting consumers from harm.

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Falling Behind on Corporate Income Tax is No Laughing Matter
Posted By: Pete Sepp - 04/01/14

There’s an old saying that goes, “Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me.” But when it comes to our tax system, the shame is a one-way street leading to our nation’s capital. Today is the second anniversary of the U.S.’s dubious distinction of having the highest combined corporate tax rate (39.1 percent) in the industrialized world. And guess who bears the burden of this cruel joke? Workers, investors, and taxpayers… everyone.

On April 1, 2012, Japan finally implemented a reform plan that lowered its corporate tax rates and simplified its tax base. “Finally” is an apt choice of words, since most developed countries had been taking such steps for years.  Since 1985, for example, the simple average corporate tax rate for OECD nations has fallen from a high of close to 50 percent down to roughly 25 percent.

When was the last time the U.S. took bold steps to slash its corporate tax rate? Hint: You needed a Walkman to listen to music, a paper map to find directions, and a landline to make phone calls. The year was 1986. Today, nearly three decades later, advances in technology allow us to listen to music, navigate, and communicate all on one device. Our tax code, on the other hand, has made no such advances.

If this seems ironic for the model of capitalism, that’s because it is. There is no good reason for the U.S. to voluntarily place itself at such a competitive disadvantage. Our 39.1 percent corporate tax rate is a disincentive to domestic investment and job creation.  And while some high-taxers dismiss this benchmark because it fails to account for the “effective” burden after deductions and credits, this too is a misnomer. Even by that measurement, the U.S. is still a serious laggard.

Even as we fall behind, other countries are making moves to attract American businesses with more desirable tax rates – not just Japan, but other competitors such as Canada and the United Kingdom. Still, the burden of paying taxes is not the only problem afflicting our businesses – it’s the burden of complying with taxes. As NTU’s most recent “Taxing Trend” analysis of systemic complexity reported from a PwC analysis, the U.S. ranked an underwhelming 63rd out of 185 countries surveyed for the time to fill out all the necessary business tax forms associated with a medium-sized manufacturer (“1” being the easiest to deal with).

Fortunately, some Members of Congress are starting to get serious about overhauling our nation’s personal and business tax systems. The House Ways and Means Committee’s recent tax reform discussion draft may need work in several areas, but it has helped to advance a much-needed dialogue.

The House Majority’s 10-Year Budget Resolution, introduced today, goes even further. While it does not endorse a specific plan, it calls for a wide-ranging debate over comprehensive tax reform that could include not only the Chairman’s draft but other worthy proposals to replace the code with a flat tax or consumption tax.

A day like this is a good one to remind Washington it’s time to stop fooling around with tax reform and get to work. Our lawmakers need to take action now before another three decades – and many more of our competitors – pass us by.

(Picture source: Mercatus Center, Veronique de Rugy, http://mercatus.org/publication/corporate-income-tax-rates-oecd)

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