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Billions on the November 5 Ballot
Posted By: Lee Schalk - 11/01/13

This week, NTU released its 2013 Ballot Guide: The Taxpayer’s Perspective. Our findings might surprise you.

As we all know, there’s no Presidential race this November, nor is there a regular round of Congressional elections. However, voters in Colorado, Maine, New Jersey, New York, Texas, and Washington will decide on statewide ballot measures that will impact the nation’s fiscal policy. Additionally, many taxpayers will find local ballot measures when they head to the polls on November 5. Here are the highlights from our latest guide:

  • Major tax hikes are on the docket in Colorado: Amendment 66, the $1 billion income tax hike for education and Proposition AA, a pair of sales and excise taxes on marijuana, a product recently deemed legal by Coloradans.
  • Taxpayers in Telluride, Colorado will decide on a penny-per-ounce soda tax. Last November, two California cities that voted overwhelmingly for President Obama vetoed similar measures.
  • Maine and New York residents will decide on debt increases. Voters in Maine are being asked to increase state debt to fund everything from the Army National Guard and higher education to transportation and the Maritime Academy, while New York’s Proposal 3 would allow localities to keep exceeding debt limits.
  • In addition to the gubernatorial race, New Jersey taxpayers will find a 27 percent minimum wage increase on their ballots next week, from $7.25 to $8.25 per hour. SeaTac, Washington voters will decide on a minimum wage hike to $15 per hour. Significant economic evidence that shows higher minimum wages can actually reduce overall employment.
  • Should Texas tap into its Rainy Day Fund to pay for local water projects? It will be up to Lone Star State taxpayers to decide, and the outcome will determine whether or not officials must rein in some of their spending plans.
  • Following the Detroit bankruptcy, pension reform became one of the hottest issues of 2013. Voters in Cincinnati, Ohio and Hialeah, Florida will face questions regarding a transition to defined contribution plans for new city employees and the elimination of newly elected officials’ pension payments, respectively.
  • Washingtonians have a chance to strengthen their own initiative and referendum process by allowing more time for signature collection and imposing penalties for those who interfere.

State and local measures can have major implications not just for the citizens deciding them but for taxpayers nationwide. Whether it’s the massive Colorado Amendment 66 tax hike, significant debt increases in Maine, or an attempt to bolster the initiative and referendum process in Washington, voters in many parts of the country will encounter some eye-opening that could impact their wallets for years to come.

Stayed tuned to NTU.org for our post-election ballot measures analysis.

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BillTally Report: Congress Still Proposing New Spending
Posted By: Michael Tasselmyer - 10/31/13

As we approach the final weeks of the first session in the 113th Congress, taxpayers have already been faced with a number of major legislative shakeups in Washington, D.C. From automatic sequestration cuts to the rollout of several major provisions of the Affordable Care Act – and a multi-week government shutdown, to boot – there’s been a lot for citizens to consider as they reflect on how their Representatives and Senators have used their tax dollars.

Fortunately, National Taxpayers Union Foundation (NTUF) has been keeping tabs on Congressional budget proposals through its BillTally project – the only comprehensive database that tracks every major spending and saving bill introduced on Capitol Hill. In a new Policy Paper, NTUF Director of Research Demian Brady has crunched the BillTally numbers from the first six months of the current session of Congress to offer taxpayers perspective and insight into how the proposals we’ve seen so far measure up to those in previous years.

Among the major findings:

  • In the House, NTUF was able to score 438 bills over the first six months that would affect the budget by $1 million or more. For every bill that would decrease federal outlays, there were 4.41 that would increase them. Over the entirety of the 112th Congress, that ratio was 3.87.
  • In the Senate, NTUF found 230 such bills over that same time, with a ratio of 5.97 spending increase bills to every one savings bill. In the 112th Congress, the Senate’s ratio was 4.6.
  • Excluding overlapping bills, the House proposed a net $1.2 trillion budget increase, already higher than the previous Congress’ $1.12 trillion over its first year. The Senate offered a net savings agenda of $46.8 billion, which is lower than the 112th’s $405 billion net increase in its first year, but does not include any high-cost universal health care proposals.
  • Across both Chambers, legislators introduced a net spending increase agenda of $1.28 trillion in their first six months, which is almost exactly the same total agenda proposed over the course of the entire 112th Congress.

Brady also analyzed lawmakers’ proposals by policy category, and found that health care and job creation/”stimulus” measures carried the highest costs to taxpayers. Among the least expensive proposals – those that would reduce federal spending the most – were across-the-board spending cuts, Affordable Care Act repeals, and tax code reforms that would reduce or eliminate many refundable credits.

Overall, although the 113th Congress has introduced its share of spending cuts, Brady’s analysis shows that at least over the first six months, it is doing so at a slower pace than the 112th. That finding comes at a time when many Americans are still concerned over mounting deficits and no sure sign that a long-term budget deal will be worked out in the coming months.

To read the full report online, complete with in-depth data, charts and analysis, click here. A press release with summary information can be found here.

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The Late Edition: October 31, 2013
Posted By: Curtis Kalin - 10/31/13

Today’s Spooky Taxpayer News!

More website waste: A new report from CBS News reveals that 15 of the state-based exchange websites for Obamacare are facing errors and cost overruns that total more than $1 billion. Also alarming are reports that contractors were paid to do duplicate jobs among the states.

Backlogged parks: In the wake of the National Parks Service’s questionable actions during the ‘shutdown’, the agency is now drawing fire for failing to use their allotted taxpayer funds to solve the backlog of maintenance issues at parks. Almost $2 billion of money allocated to fix toilets, clean monuments, and fixing outdated utilities were instead used to send rangers to a wine tasting and a Michigan car show. Read more at B98.5 FM.

Green tech mess: The scope of financial and environmental damage from a taxpayer funded solar company is now being realized. After receiving a loan guarantee from the federal government, Abound Solar went bankrupt in 2012, leaving taxpayers to pick up a $40-60 million tab. What’s worse, the company left toxic chemicals at the site and the cleanup will cost another $3.7 million. Moe details from the Heartland Institute.

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Beat Back the Wicked Witches of Spending: Donate to NTU Foundation
Posted By: Dan Barrett - 10/31/13

hh2013The National Taxpayers Union Foundation wishes you a Happy Halloween! With your help, we can make scary spending scarce!

From commemorating Milton Friedman’s work to giving taxpayers the best and latest research, NTUF has done a lot this year. With the support of taxpayers like you we don’t plan to stop! Now more than ever, NTUF’s timely research and the BillTally project -- the ONLY comprehensive tracking system that looks at what federal legislators want to spend -- is needed to hold back the fiscal phantoms and debt demons.

How can we help save America from the spending specters? By educating citizens on the often complex issues and proposals that make their way through the halls of Congress. NTUF has taxpayers’ backs, arming Americans with knowledge, analysis, and real-time estimates to stay ahead of the most frightening tax and spending legislation being crafted on Capitol Hill.

NTUF’s work doesn’t stop there. Like Van Helsing, we stay vigilant through the dark of night to keep tabs not only on elected officials but candidates seeking reelection or higher office. Just recently, we examined the budgets proposed by New Jersey Senate contenders Cory Booker and Steve Lonegan.

With your $100, $50, or even $25, the best is yet to come. We will continue to provide insights and analysis the hard numbers behind politicians’ soft talk, but we need your help! NTUF doesn’t take public dollars. We depend on the help of Americans like you to bring our timely and important research to taxpayers across the country.

THANK YOU for your past support. We look forward to working together for a better future.

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Top Five Head-Scratching Quotes by Secretary Sebelius
Posted By: Brandon Arnold - 10/30/13

Today, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius testified before the House Energy and Commerce Committee on the disastrous implementation of Obamacare. Here are five direct quotes from the Secretary that have left us puzzled to say the least.

#5: “Contractors had never suggested a delay.”

Secretary Sebelius seems to suggest that the Administration was blindsided by the numerous problems of HealthCare.gov. A story in the Washington Post suggests otherwise. According to the article, a group of about 10 insurers were convened to test out the website before its release and “about a month before the exchange opened, this testing group urged agency officials not to launch it nationwide because it was still riddled with problems, according to an insurance IT executive who was close to the rollout.” It appears that the Administration was at least partially aware of the serious technical issues associated with the website.

#4: “The assessment we have made is that it will take the end of November for an optimally performing website.”

No one can predict the future, but given its track record and the analysis of various IT experts, the Secretary’s claim is hard to believe. An article in the New York Times noted, “Some specialists working on the project said the online system required such extensive repairs that it might not operate smoothly until after the Dec. 15 deadline for people to sign up for coverage starting in January, although that view is not universally shared.”  The article also states that, “One specialist said that as many as five million lines of software code may need to be rewritten before the Web site runs properly.”

A blog post by Clay Johnson, President Obama’s former innovation advisor, suggests the issues with the website run much deeper: “Healthcare.gov got this way not because of incompetence or sloppiness of an individual vendor, but because of a deeply engrained and malignant cancer that’s eating away at the federal government’s ability to provide effective online services. It’s a cancer that’s shut out the best and brightest minds from working on these problems, diminished competition for federal work, and landed us here — where you have half-billion dollar websites that don’t work.”

#3: “The website has never crashed. It is functional but at a very slow speed and very low reliability.” 

Perhaps she is using a nonconventional or extremely technical definition of “crashed,” but there have been numerous reports of the website crashing or being completely unavailable to users since its October 1st launch. In fact, on its very first day, the website crashed according to an article by Josh Archambault at Forbes.com. Embarrassingly enough for Secretary Sebelius, HealthCare.gov appeared to be down during the hearing, as illustrated by a CNN split-screen.

#2: “I am not eligible for the exchange, because I have coverage in an employer plan.”

This was perhaps the most bizarre statement by Secretary Sebelius during the hearing. According to Healthcare.gov, this appears to be completely false. A page on the website titled, “What if I have job-based insurance?” specifically states, “If you'd like to explore Marketplace coverage options you can.” As long as an individual lives in the United States, is a citizen or legal resident, and is not presently incarcerated, he or she is permitted to utilize the Obamacare exchanges. As far as I know, Secretary Sebelius meets all of those requirements. 

#1: “Yes, he is.”

Some context is needed here. This was a response to Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn, who during the hearing asked, “the president kept saying if you like your health care plan, you can keep it, so is he keeping his promise?” So Secretary Sebelius is standing by the President’s frequently cited claim that people could keep their health insurance.  She does so despite numerous stories and reports of millions of Americans losing their insurance as a result of the law – not to mention the recent analysis of Washington Post’s “Fact Checker,” who judged Obama’s claim false and issued it a whopping “Four Pinocchios.”

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A Tax That (Literally) Makes You Sick?
Posted By: Michael Tasselmyer - 10/30/13

Back in April, NTUF devoted coverage in the Taxpayer's Tab to H.R. 1686, a bill by Rep. Jim Moran (D-VA) that would impose a five-cent tax on every disposable paper or plastic bag that grocers and other retailers issue to customers. The proposal -- known as the Trash Reduction Act of 2013 -- was introduced to coincide with Earth Day, and was designed to incentivize shoppers to switch to reusable bags instead of single-use varieties that wind up in landfills across the country.

The legislation would generate plenty of revenue: in a press release, Rep. Moran's office cited figures from 2009 that showed Americans use over 102 billion plastic bags per year. However, that money would be directed towards new environmental spending to the tune of $4.08 billion.

The bag tax proposal isn't new. In fact, Moran based his legislation on an existing law in Washington, D.C., a city not far removed from his own Congressional district that encompasses parts of Northern Virginia.

Now, the bag tax has made its way overseas to the United Kingdom, and while many consumers may already be weary of new taxes and regulations, emerging research shows that this new initiative could actually make some Brits physically ill.

The Telegraph reports on a study from Aberdeen University in Scotland that warns the tax could result in more outbreaks of sickness from E. Coli and other food-borne bacteria, due largely to the high risk of contamination in reusable bags. "We have to be careful about being too strict in forcing people to re-use bags. ... There are some bags you should only use once, so I would be very unhappy at having a 5p charge on bags that are being used for food," said Professor Hugh Pennington.

Bacteriologist Kofi Aidoo echoed Pennington's concerns: "If people are going to have to pay for bags and re-use them my concern is we're creating a high risk of food poisoning. At the very least people have to be given advice to clean these bags every time they use them."

The UK study seems to be supported by research from UPenn, in which scientists observed a 25 percent increase in hospital admissions for bacterial infections (including E. Coli) after San Francisco banned plastic bags from certain stores.

The findings suggest an unintended, potentially hazardous consequence of environmental regulations that public officials will undoubtedly have to address should they decide to move forward with new or existing bag tax laws.

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Senate, House to Vote on Resolutions to Stop Debt Ceiling Suspension
Posted By: Nan Swift - 10/29/13

Today the Senate, and tomorrow the House, are expected to vote on resolutions (S.J. Res. 26 and H.J. Res. 99 respectively) that disapprove of President Obama’s suspension of the debt ceiling until February 7th. One of the provisions of the Continuing Resolution/Debt Limit compromise (H.R. 2775) of only about two weeks ago was to give Congress the chance to end the suspension of the debt limit via an expedited resolution process. Technically, this does give Congress back some of the “power of the purse” it abdicated via yet another debt ceiling suspension, but the truth is that this will be little more than a show vote.

Nothing short of a miracle could give S.J. Res. 26 the votes it needs to pass in the Senate. Across the Hill, H.J. Res. 99 is expected to pass the House and promptly stall, as it  will neither be able to pass the Senate nor garner anywhere near enough votes to override a veto from the President (should the unthinkable happen in the Senate). This means a free-pass for many Members who want the chance to say they oppose overspending without any real-world implications.

The resolutions at hand are far from the serious reforms we urgently need. Rather than continue on this unsustainable trajectory, in which debt ceiling increases are routine, Congress must demonstrate a clear, credible plan to reduce expenditures.

Continually raising the debt limit without the serious reforms necessary to rein in our out-of-control spending only compounds the uncertainty and drag that weighs down our economy and potential for growth. It is likewise a moral imperative not to continue taking out lines of credit at the expense of future generations whose own prosperity is equally uncertain.

It is essential that Congress adheres to the principles NTU repeatedly outlined during consideration of H.R. 2775:            

1. Do not raise taxes

2. Resist the temptation to include extraneous measures

3. Preserve the sequester

4. Enact meaningful entitlement reform.

Our debt and spending problem is so massive, even the most aggressive, confiscatory tax plans can’t begin to fill the hole left by profligate legislators and administrations – not to mention the negative economic consequences of such tax schemes. Loading down “must-pass” legislation with other favored projects obscures the issue, and unnecessarily muddies the water in the search for votes.

Failing to address the real spending problem at the heart of repeated “debt ceiling crises” by dismantling the sequester or failing to enact meaningful entitlement reform only makes these issues increasingly hard to tackle and ensures that just a few short months from now we’ll be here again, looking up from the bottom of an even deeper hole.

Go here to tell Congress to “Keep the Caps” and stop the spending binge.

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The Late Edition: October 28, 2013
Posted By: Curtis Kalin - 10/28/13

Today’s Taxpayer News!

Costly questions: The National Endowment for the Humanities is spending hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars in an attempt to answer timeless philosophical questions such as “what is the meaning of life?” and “why are people bad?”. The NEH budget runs at about $150 million per year. The Washington Examiner has more.

Failure to navigate: As the new healthcare exchanges still face tech difficulties, the Department of Health and Human Services is adding $13 million to the “Navigator” program that is supposed to help uninsured Americans traverse the new health exchanges. However, even before the program earned a raise, over half of Americans don’t know what the exchanges are and HHS has still refused to release a number of actual enrollees. More details at the Gardner News.

Pricey political food: Members of Cleveland area city councils have spent into the thousands on pre-meeting meals and snacks and using taxpayer money to do so. One council president defended the meals saying, “It is an incidental expense that is well within our authority.” The Cleveland Plain-Dealer has more details.

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Obamacare’s Website Flop Stirs up D.C. with Seton Motley - Speaking of Taxpayers, Oct. 24
Posted By: Douglas Kellogg - 10/26/13

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

In an extended podcast, Seton Motley of Less Government talks about the latest developments in the Obamacare debut catastrophe. NTUF's Demian Brady kicks off the podcast with an update on Congress' Florida excursion, and the Outrage of the Week! 

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Latest Taxpayer's Tab: The Conference Committee's Agenda
Posted By: Michael Tasselmyer - 10/26/13

Tab Insert

The federal government reopened after a 16-day shutdown last week, and as part of the compromise that will fund the government going forward (at least until January), Congress has established a bi-partisan budget conference committee to try to work out a long-term budget deal by December 13.

The 29-member committee is made up of lawmakers from both Chambers of Congress, and has been tasked with the difficult job of reconciling House and Senate budget proposals that were passed earlier in the year. In order to give taxpayers some insight into who these Members are and what sort of spending (or saving) proposals they've supported in the past, NTUF compiled data from our BillTally project -- which tracks the budgetary impact of all legislation introduced in Congress -- for each Member. The average Democratic committee member supported, on net, $276 million in budget increases, while the average Republican member proposed $271 million in net budget cuts.

For a breakdown by Member, check out the table in the latest issue, available online here.

Also in this week's issue is a breakdown of the possible costs taxpayers might be facing after Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) authorized military transport for Congressmen to attend former Rep. Bill Young's (R-FL) funeral on Thursday in Largo, FL. Few details about the trip's logistics were disclosed, but some of the planes used to transport Members in the past have carried a cost per flight hour ranging anywhere from $15,000 to as high as $43,000. More info is available in the Tab.

To sign up for future Tab updates via email, register online here.

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