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Only in California: Berkeley Seeks Soda Tax while Desert Hot Springs Considers Marijuana Tax – Late Edition, July 7
Posted By: Jihun Han - 07/07/14

Today's Taxpayer News!

The Berkeley City Council unanimously approved a tax on soda and other sugary drinks. Berkeley Residents will have a chance in November on whether to approve the tax measure or not. Reuters has the latest!

Desert Hot Springs is considering legalizing medical marijuana dispensaries to fund the police department after a recent bankruptcy. The proposal would put a sales tax on medical marijuana. Read here for more!

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Latest Taxpayer's Tab: Presidential Perks
Posted By: Michael Tasselmyer - 07/06/14

Taxpayer's Tab Update

Last year, NTUF offered an analysis of the benefits that former Presidents are entitled to under the Former Presidents Act, which was signed into law in 1958. Presidents are entitled to a $200,000 pension, lifetime Secret Service protection, and reimbursement for travel, office space, administrative staff, and office supplies once they leave office in order to keep up with the public's requests and inquiries.

In this week's edition of The Taxpayer's Tab, we take a look at the latest estimate of how much those perks cost taxpayers, and which Presidents have received the most in benefits since 2000.

We also continue our "Profiles in Liberty" series, highlighting the background and work of the interns who are helping us research legislation this summer. This week we interviewed Paul Bartow and John Ridley.

For more, check out The Tab online.

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Profiles in Liberty: Kelly Hastings
Posted By: Dan Barrett - 07/05/14

NTUF picks the best and brightest young professionals to intern in our Alexandria, Virginia Headquarters. Many of our research interns have served as research assistants to either a professor or a department at their undergraduate schools; both of our communications interns have had experience in public speaking, either in front of large crowds or through radio; and our creative content intern has made several online educational tools. At NTUF, they are able to develop the skills to get taxpayers the most relevant information on government spending.

NTUF Research Intern Kelly Hastings

Kelly Hastings is a native of Knoxville, Tennessee who recently graduated from Berry College in Georgia. She has a BS in Economics, and participated in a research study with one of her professors, which resulted in her presenting a paper at the Southern Economic Association’s 83rd Annual Conference. Her interest in writing this paper was sparked by a summer spent interning as an economic analyst at the Tennessee Valley Authority. She has devoted some of her time at school to working as a research assistant for professors and as a Journal Reviewer for the Campbell School of Business’ Undergraduate Business and Economics Research Journal.

What have you enjoyed most about living in the DC area?

KH: Getting to see the national monuments and war memorials. I had never visited Washington, D.C. until this past summer, so I had only read about the monuments and memorials in textbooks. I was especially excited to see the Lincoln Memorial. I also love working in Old Town Alexandria because of its quaint, laid-back feel.

When you’re not at the office, what do you like to do for fun?

KH: I love exploring the cities in the area. It’s easy to get to Arlington, Washington, D.C., and Alexandria, and there are so many fun and interesting things to do. I’m also an avid reader- I’ve been through John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces and John Steinbeck’s East of Eden so far this summer.

How did you become interested in politics?

KH: My interest in politics came after my interest in economics. As an economics major, I was particularly influenced by the philosophical ideas of the economist Adam Smith. I see politics as an avenue to promote these ideas.

What are you hoping to learn while researching for NTUF this summer?

KH: I’m hoping to get a better grasp of how our political system works, but I’m especially interested in how legislation is drafted and how it moves through Congress. I feel that this will be very beneficial to me, as I’m considering a career in law. I’m also hoping to gain an understanding for how non-profit organizations work.

On that note, what have you learned so far at NTUF which has most interested you?

KH: I have learned about Steve Forbes’ monetary policy ideas. I had the fortune of hearing Forbes speak at Berry College during my Freshman year, but I didn’t realize that he was on the Board of Directors for NTU. Forbes’ discussion was on how a fiat monetary system leads to a debased currency, which erodes trust between lenders and borrowers. He pointed out that this eventually leads to a debased society.

What does a standard day at NTUF look like for you?

KH:  I research bills and make calls to congressional offices. I’m also in charge of taking the pictures for NTUF’s Instagram account, and sometimes I have the chance to write.

What is the most interesting bill you’ve researched?

KH: I researched a bill which places certain reporting requirements on the utility industry in order to ensure that the infrastructure is secure in the event of a security threat. This was particularly interesting to me since I spent a summer at the TVA. Though, in this bill, the TVA and the Bonneville Power Administration were exempted.

Be sure to read our previous interview with JR Ridley, and keep checking Government Bytes daily, as we’ll be interviewing Alex Eblan next week.

How can you help? NTU Foundation appreciates every contribution we receive. Your donations are tax-deductible and help further NTUF research and taxpayer education.

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

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Ex-Im Bank: Beyond Reform
Posted By: Michael Liguori - 07/03/14

The Export-Import Bank (Ex-Im) has long been an easy target for critics of cronyism, and rightly so. It’s hard to deny that the government is providing direct benefits to large corporations when a government agency’s entire purpose is artificially stimulating foreign demand for domestic companies. The federal lender looks worse when its main beneficiary is a massive corporation like Boeing, and still worse when four Ex-Im employees were found playing favorites for certain companies in exchange for cash. Such blatant abuse of taxpayer money might initially appear to be a temporary lapse in the bank’s integrity—until one looks at the fact that it is commonplace.

An article by the Heritage Foundation’s Diane Katz indicates more than 74 cases of inquiry into fraud at Ex-Im by the Office of the Inspector General, as well as others that are being processed by the Department of Justice. With new questions being raised about old problems, Congress has an opportunity to allow Ex-Im’s authorization to expire, at which point it would cease all new operations and wind down its outstanding credits and loans over a period of time.

Just a day after news of the Ex-Im employee scandal hit the airwaves, the House Financial Services Committee held a hearing to discuss the bank’s value ahead of the reauthorization deadline. Representative Jeb Hensarling (R-TX), who chairs the Committee, began the hearing with a very clear summation of what Ex-Im does: “Ex-Im effectively taxes you while subsidizing your foreign competitors.” The bank is often said to encourage American exports, but this claim is highly misleading. Less than 2 percent of US exports are affected by the bank’s work, and according to economist and hearing witness Dr. Veronique de Rugy, unsubsidized businesses fail to receive as much investment capital because their Ex-Im subsidized counterparts attract more private investment.

Proponents of Ex-Im, repeatedly claim the bank is profitable and a net gain for the federal government, however even these numbers are suspect according to an MIT study that criticizes the bank’s accounting techniques. According to the study, if Ex-Im used fair value accounting standards, it would be operating at a loss of about $200 million per year. A strong supporter of Ex-Im, Representative Brad Sherman (D-CA) responded in the hearing, derisively referring to the standards as “fairytale value accounting standards.” Representative Sherman’s comments appear to be dismissive of highly credible organizations like MIT and the Congressional Budget Office.

The Committee proceeded to hear from other witnesses as well, including Delta Air Lines CEO Richard Anderson, Captain Lee Moak, President of the Air Line Pilots Association, and Mr. Steve Wilburn, the CEO of FirmGreen, Inc and an Ex-Im customer.

In addition to a rigorous back and forth regarding the future of Ex-Im, witnesses and members of the Committee alike posed the question of reform. However, taxpayers should be wary of new attempts to reform the bank as a sleight-of-hand aimed less at protecting taxpayers than perpetuating corporate welfare. The 2012 Ex-Im reauthorization contained several significant reforms, which were largely ignored.

The news last week of kick-backs and bribes at Ex-Im on top of its numerous other problems that have been well documented by NTU, make it all the more imperative that lawmakers not reauthorize this archaic institution. One after another, the so-called benefits of Ex-Im have been debunked. Given that past attempts at reform went unimplemented, taxpayers should have little confidence the bank is about to change its ways and its days should be numbered. Ex-Im’s brand of cronyism burdens taxpayers and props up many businesses that either can’t succeed on their own or do not need the help at all. The time for de-authorization of this counter-intuitive agency is now and taxpayers will benefit greatly from following this path.

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Ohio Budget Surplus Will be Used as Tax Cuts; Tim Pawlenty Urges Corporate Tax Reform – Late Edition, July 3
Posted By: Jihun Han - 07/03/14

Today's Taxpayer News! 

Ohio finished the fiscal year with an $800 million surplus. Governor Kasich says that the money will be used to give tax credits and tax cuts to Ohioans. It will also fund Medicaid costs. Fox Business has the latest! 

Former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty is urging corporate tax reform after it was announced that Medtronic would move its headquarters to Ireland to pay less in taxes. Read his op-ed here!

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Profiles in Liberty: John Ridley
Posted By: Dan Barrett - 07/03/14

Ever wonder who designs the graphics for NTUF’s blogs and reports? This summer, Creative Content Intern JR Ridley is in charge of making sure taxpayers are provided with the interesting, understandable, and relatable pictures and graphs that illustrate NTUF’s research. The pictures he’s edited include those of the interns in their Profiles in Liberty posts, as well as this picture NTUF spending study of the 19th Florida special house election, which was included in NTUF’s candidate analyses in the latest Florida special election. He’s also working to prepare graphics for our upcoming BillTally Report.

NTUF Research Intern John Ridley

JR Ridley comes to NTUF from Flagstaff, Arizona by way of Vanderbilt University. He is currently seeking a BA in Political Science along with minors in Computer Science and Managerial Studies. Last summer, JR interned with Young America’s Foundation at the Reagan Ranch Center, where he organized high school and college conferences. This past year, he designed online educational modules for the college’s Medical School as part of his work in Vanderbilt’s IT department.

What have you enjoyed about working at NTUF so far?

JR: The people and the mission of NTUF are what make this internship so enjoyable. My supervisor, Tim Howland (NTUF’s Creative Content Manager) and the rest of the staff and interns are really supportive and motivated; it’s been a fun group to work with. I also feel that our work is making a difference. I’m working to educate taxpayers on very real, tangible problems in our government today. It’s a really fulfilling and rewarding experience.

How did you become interested in politics?

JR: In high school, I had several teachers who encouraged me to start following current events. As I read the news more and more, I started to realize that a lot of what I was reading sounded like completely absurd government policies and programs. I saw government as an impediment to my dreams of being successful, so I started researching policies in order to understand more about this intrusive bureaucracy and how to change it.

Who is your political hero?

JR: I have considered myself a Reaganite since I became interested in politics. I admire Reagan’s fortitude and conviction as President. Regardless of whether he was working on tax cuts, military operations, or horseback riding, President Reagan knew his position and stood by his beliefs. He didn’t yield to special interests or threats, and I admire his courage for that. Beyond that, though, he understood that his role as a national leader meant that people would be looking to him for guidance. He took his influence in stride, and painted an image of hope and optimism throughout his presidency, encouraging people to embrace American Exceptionalism.

What does a standard day at NTUF Headquarters look like for you?

JR: I can’t really describe a “standard day” because no day is really standard as a Creative Content Intern. My main task has been to design and develop different graphics for the BillTally First Session report. Some days, I spend most of the day formatting a single picture, and on other days I’m churning out images and graphs to post online. I also occasionally get to contribute to the BillTally report by scoring introduced bills for changes in spending. It’s a very dynamic and versatile workload.

Why did you choose to work at NTUF this summer?

JR: To develop two of my passions: reforming government spending and developing my computer programming abilities. NTUF offers me the best of both worlds, allowing me to take a very hands-on approach to understanding governmental operations while helping me build skills that will benefit me tremendously in my future professional career. The mission of NTUF is one that drew my attention as soon as I heard about it. I worry about the future of our country if the path of spending we’re on continues, and I’m glad that I have the opportunity to work with an organization which is so committed to providing information about this spending.

What do you enjoy doing in your time outside the office?

JR: Most of my free time is spent playing sports, learning about the exploits of Dr. House on Netflix, or exploring. I’m a rugby and soccer player at school, so I’ve found pickup leagues to stay active while in Washington, D.C.

What have you enjoyed most about living in Washington, D.C. this summer?

JR: I have a deep appreciation for American history so it’s been exciting to be able to explore so many of the museums and exhibits. The monuments at night (especially the World War II Monument) are mesmerizing, and Arlington National Cemetery and the American History Museum have definitely been some of the key highlights from my time here.

What advice do you have for future interns?

JR: Take advantage of your time here. The museums, the staff at your job, the entertainment, and your fellow interns are all part of an incredible opportunity that you may not get to experience again. Learn as much as you can with all the resources you have available, and, most importantly, enjoy the time you spend here.

Be on the look-out for our next interview with Kelly Hastings. If you missed it, be sure to read our conversation with Paul Bartow.

How can you help? Join with thousands of Americans committed to fiscal transparency and sustainable government by making a tax-deductible contribution. The more you give to NTUF, the less you hand over to Uncle Sam.

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

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IRS Announces New Simplistic Application for Tax-exempt Status; Senator Chuck Grassley Targeted by IRS in 2010 – Late Edition, July 2
Posted By: Jihun Han - 07/02/14

Today's Taxpayer News! 

In the midst of the “Lois Lerner e-mail” controversy involving the IRS Tea Party investigation, the agency announced a more simplistic application for organizations to receive a tax-exempt status. Forbes has the latest!

In other IRS related news, Lois Lerner was attempting to audit Senator Chuck Grassley after he blocked President Obama’s nominee for Assistant Attorney General of the Department of Justice Tax Division. The hearings for the DOJ Tax nominee occurred around the same time when the IRS was targeting conservative nonprofit groups.

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Congressional Travel Disclosures Get More Opaque
Posted By: Michael Tasselmyer - 07/02/14

For over three decades, lawmakers in Congress have had to disclose gifts of free travel on an annual financial disclosure form, which many watchdog groups and journalists use to monitor Members' privately-funded trips. Tracking those excursions, however, is likely going to be more difficult after the House Committee on Ethics recently decided to change the form, doing away with the travel report. While Representatives will still be required to report privately-funded travel to the Office of the Clerk of the House, the changes mean that the trips will no longer appear on the same form that notes most of the Members' other expenses.

According to Legistorm, lawmakers took over 1,900 trips in 2013 – over $6 million worth. That's a 60 percent increase in trips since 2008, the first full year after disclosure requirements were tightened in the wake of a scandal involving lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

National Taxpayer's Union Foundation has documented the taxpayer-funded travel of U.S. Presidents for many years, and although Congressional travel differs in some ways, one of the main takeaways from our most recent report is how little information we have regarding government-funded travel of any kind.

Although the House Committee on Ethics stated that the move was intended to streamline the travel disclosure process, taxpayers deserve easier access to travel information as Members of Congress take more privately-funded trips.

Special thanks to Ian Johnson for drafting this post.

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Natural Gas Exports Advance in House
Posted By: Nan Swift - 07/01/14

Last week, H.R. 6, the Domestic Freedom and Global Prosperity Act, passed the House 266 to 150, with 46 Democrats joining the vast majority of Republicans to push the measure over the top. NTU has supported H.R. 6 since its introduction back in the spring because it would “expedite current pending liquefied natural gas (LNG) export applications and streamline the process for future applicants,” as we stated in our endorsement letter.

And the bill passed not a moment too soon. Today, the U.S. is the number one natural gas producer in the world thanks to the shale gas revolution, but as the old saying goes “he who hesitates is lost.” Improved technology has boosted the discovery and development of shale oil and gas reserves the world over, and if we don’t act soon, the window of opportunity could be shut to U.S. exports as other sources from Scotland to India come online.

Here at home, domestic consumption has remained flat even as natural gas production has sky-rocketed. Low-cost energy is a boon for consumers, but as the availability of natural resources continues to expand, it’s clear that there’s plenty of room for the industry to grow and export LNG abroad to other markets. Doing so would ensure the long-term profitability of the natural gas industry and open the doors for even more growth in a sector of the economy with lots of opportunities for new jobs and investment: two essentials our economy is otherwise lacking right now.

The bottom line for taxpayers is that natural gas is an industry with room to grow if we get hurdles like export restrictions out of the way and we need to do so quickly to take advantage of an international appetite for clean-burning, low-cost energy.

Lately it seems that bills pass the House only to die in Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-NV) “do nothing” Senate—and that very well could be the same dismal fate that awaits H.R. 6. Yet, a glimmer of hope remains. Only a day after Rep. Cory Gardner (R-CO) introduced his LNG export legislation, Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO) introduced his own LNG export bill, S. 2083, the “American Job Creation and Strategic Alliances LNG Act.” The legislation closely mirrors H.R. 6 in that it also calls for an expedited application and approval process for LNG exports to World Trade Organization partners, although it stops short of the detailed plan, deadlines, and transparency outlined in H.R. 6. Still, it would be an important step in the right direction were Sen. Reid to allow a vote on S. 2083—practically any compromise bill that emerged from a conference  would be a net gain for energy and job growth in the U.S.

Of course, political considerations could factor into this issue, as Rep. Gardner is running against Sen. Udall. is reporting that “The lack of votes has become a liability for vulnerable Democratic incumbents from conservative states.” Colorado is not considered to be a conservative state, but the Cook Political Report did move the U.S. Senate race from “Lean D” to “Toss Up” in April. This change in the political landscape could force Reid’s hand and help bring the LNG legislation to the floor for a vote.  The same motivation could also work in taxpayers’ favor on another outstanding energy issue, the Keystone Pipeline, which has passed the House in numerous iterations, but still has yet to see the light of day on the Senate floor despite Sen. Mary Landreiu’s (D-LA) sponsorship of the bill. Instead of re-fighting jobs-killing battles, like bringing back the minimum wage hike, Sen. Reid should let bills come to the floor that put America back to work before these opportunities pass us by.  

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