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The Late Edition: September 18, 2013
Posted By: Curtis Kalin - 09/18/13


Today’s Taxpayer News!

Another “green” bust: An electric car charging company in Phoenix which was sponsored by the Department of Energy is considering bankruptcy after admitting the stations they installed are not making a profit and disclosing that DOE’s “EV Project” spent almost $100 million of taxpayer money to help prop up the fledgling company.  Read more here.

Tattoo stamps? A Raleigh, NC tattoo parlor has been accepting SNAP cards (a.k.a. food stamps) totaling hundreds of dollars. Read more at Red Alert Politics.

HipsterCare: Watchdog News highlights a new, and quite psychedelic, ad from Oregon’s state agency administering the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare).  The ad, part of a longer campaign to enroll Americans, costs taxpayers almost $10 million.  The TV ads themselves total $3.2 million in taxpayer funds.

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Congressional Franking Spending on Decline
Posted By: Dan Barrett - 09/17/13

With public approval of Congress at a consistent low, it's hard to give Members a complement or, rather, a comment on them doing something less badly. However, when it comes to their decreasing mail costs, some credit may be due.

In the first 6 months of 2013, House Members spent significantly less of their office allowances on franked mail (official letters that are permitted to be sent without postage), $8.8 million less than the same period in 2012. There are a few reasons for such a change, including:

The Interwebs: Politico reported that direct mail is being replaced with online communications (email and web ads). Comparing 2012 to 2013, Congress is following the mass migration of advertising dollars from print media (newspapers, magazines, and mailers) to social media (Facebook, Twitter, Google ads, etc.). The average Member who spent $2.2 million last year is now spending $3.6 million now and the reasoning is simple: online targeting is cheaper (if it costs anything at all) in reaching a larger audience.

Legislative Action and Sequestration: That same article cited an 18 percent cut in Members' Representational Allowances (annual budgets of Congress' office space, travel, salaries, and franking). Congress itself has passed legislation that has cut their own office benefits by at least 11 percent (via the Congressional Research Service (CRS)). And, yes, the automatic across-the-board cuts (sequestration) that big spenders are preaching will bring about Armageddon are forcing Congress to further cut their own allowances like the rest of the government. Millions of tax dollars have been saved and millions more will not be spent if this trend continues.

The Election Cycle:  However, there is a factor that Politico does not address: getting reelected. Another CRS report delved into the limits of franking in relation to election season. If a Representative is a candidate in a primary or general election, they are prohibited from sending out official mail 90 days in advance. The Members then avoid violating the regulation by sending out more mass mailers in the first 6 months of the election year. No rules are broken but mail volumes for Quarters 1 and 2 spike, as seen in 2012 as opposed to 2013. One other thing to note: CRS believes mail volume between non-election and election years does not significantly change and, while I can agree with their research, I'm making more of a point on the timeliness of franked mail, not the quantity.

So what should taxpayers expect in 2014? My money is on registered voters getting more franked mailers in the first half of the year and a steadily increasing amount of emails and online ads as we get closer to November, compared to 2013. As far as federal spending, franking costs should be expected to further decrease as Hill offices discover that online communications produce better results at a much lower (if any) cost. This issue is also divided by political parties in that Republicans tend to send out more franked mail than Democrats. This too will likely decrease as technology gets better at delivering Members’ messages in better ways online.

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The Late Edition: September 16, 2013
Posted By: Douglas Kellogg - 09/16/13

Today’s Taxpayer News!

NTU’s Lee Schalk brings attention to the White House’s “Pre-school for All” initiative that could cost the taxpayers well above the promised $75 billion. Read his article on the Daily Caller here.

Sand for Sandy? The Army Corp of Engineers will use $7.2 million to dump about 600,000 cubic yards of sand on Coney Island. The stated purpose of the sand is to replace the amount lost during Hurricane Sandy last year. The only problem is the federally funded sand is more than double what was lost from the storm. Read more on CNSNews.

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Live at the Fillmore: Broken Promises
Posted By: Michael Tasselmyer - 09/14/13

Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, The Who, Miles Davis, The Grateful Dead: these are just some of the names of artists who have graced the stage at San Francisco's legendary Fillmore Auditorium.

So when music promotion company Live Nation announced plans to expand the venue's brand to Silver Spring -- a Maryland suburb just outside of Washington, D.C. -- music fans were excited about the prospect of attracting more regional and national talent to the mid-Atlantic. As part of a deal to secure $11 million in taxpayer funding to build and operate the venue, Live Nation and Montgomery County government agreed to host at least 72 free or reduced-price events for the local community.

To date, the venue has only hosted one such event and Live Nation has yet to agree on the specifics of an annual charity event the venue is supposed to host. The venue has hosted over 300 events since it opened in 2011.

Additionally, County officials are entitled to six free tickets to every event that the Fillmore hosts, a perk that's added up to over $20,000 in free admission for Montgomery County government employees.

As the Washington Post reports, Maryland and Montgomery County governments pledged $8 million to make the venue plans a reality, in the hopes that it would provide an economic boost to the downtown Silver Spring area. However, the costs turned out to be higher by the end of construction, and taxpayers in Maryland ultimately ended up contributing $11.2 million to the project. In exchange, Live Nation pays Montgomery County $90,000 per month for the first five years of the venue's existence (less than half the total taxpayer funding) and agreed to host 3 free or subsidized events per month -- 36 per year -- for local community groups and charities. Since the venue opened, 72 of these events should have taken place under the lease terms, but as mentioned, only one has actually come to fruition.

Live Nation has claimed it's Montgomery County's responsibility to coordinate the free and subsidized shows, but locals have expressed frustration in the length of time it's taken promoters and government officials to host just one. Unfortunately, taxpayers have footed the bill for a significant portion of Live Nation's construction costs (as well as government officials' free tickets to their events) in exchange for benefits that have yet to be delivered, providing more reason for taxpayers to be wary of private-public partnerships that depend on such agreements.

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George W Bush's Retirement Benefits
Posted By: Dan Barrett - 09/13/13

Below is the final NTUF infographic on Presidential Perks. Today's focuses on George W. Bush, who has spent $7.1 million of public money (so far) in six years. Like the other Chief Executives, there is no overall cost figure for Secret Service protection and the numbers are based on budgetary requests of the General Services Administration.

Be sure to check out the other Presidents' retirement costs and be on the lookout for more retirement analysis from NTU Foundation!

Other Infographics:

A summary of what former Presidents is available in an edition of The Taxpayer's Tab.

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Latest Taxpayers Tab: Health Care Anti-Fraud Legislation
Posted By: Michael Tasselmyer - 09/13/13

Tab Insert

Ever since the Obama Administration announced that it would delay certain provisions of the Affordable Care Act, legislators and policy analysts alike have been grappling with the issue of how best to phase in portions of the law within the new timeframe. One of the provisions affected by the delay is the income verification process that determines whether certain applicants are eligible to purchase coverage through state-run health exchanges. In this week's issue of the Taxpayers Tab, NTUF analyzed a bill that seeks to clarify how that process will eventually be carried out.

As originally passed, the Affordable Care Act specified that government entities would be responsible for screening health exchange applicants in order to verify that they meet certain income requirements. However, the Administration announced in July that the verification process would not be implemented until 2015, and that regulators would instead rely on applicants' self-reported income information.

Congresswoman Diane Black (R-TN) responded by introducing H.R. 2775, which requires the government to implement accurate verification systems before any health care exchange awards coverage or credits. The bill has gained 104 Republican sponsors in the House as of its passage yesterday. Because the bill does not specify the nature of the verification system it proposes, and such a requirement is in current law, the Congressional Budget Office determined that it would not affect federal spending.

Also featured in this week's Tab:

  • New former Presidents benefits infographic
  • Wildcard: S. 1213, the Weatherization Enhancement, and Local Energy Efficiency Investment and Accountability Act, was introduced by Senator Chris Coons (D-DE). It would authorize $452 million for various weatherization projects.
  • Most Expensive: Congressman George Miller (D-CA) introduced H.R. 2889, the Local Jobs for America Act, which would direct $25.3 billion ($6.3 billion per year) towards jobs programs in low-income and high-unemployment areas.

For more on these bills, be sure to check out the Tab online here. You can sign up for future email updates by clicking here.

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DC Mayor Sides with Walmart, Jobs, & the Free Market
Posted By: Dan Barrett - 09/12/13

Today, DC Mayor Gray announced that he will veto a bill that would require large retailers, including such stores as Walmart, Target, and Lowe's, to pay employees a higher hourly wage than other businesses. In a letter to the DC City Council, Gray said:

I recognize that reasonable people passionately support [the Large Retailer Accountability Act of 2013]. And I strongly believe that all District residents should earn a living wage. However, after careful consideration, I have concluded that the bill, while well-intentioned, is flawed and will fail to achieve its intended goals.

He goes on to list six reasons for rejecting the bill, including that, if enacted, the bill would affect many more companies than just Walmart (the target of the bill’s proponents) and it would result in the underserved consumers of the District's low-income areas to continue to pay more for everyday items (either in traveling longer distances or shopping at stores with smaller selections and higher prices).

What does this mean for DC residents?

Jobs Jobs Jobs. According to the DC Chamber of Commerce, if Walmart builds the two or three stores, 900 jobs will be created and available for low-income and low-skilled District residents. That's more money in their pockets and gaining experience for the future. It's helping take people off of welfare and grow the local and national economy.

What does this mean for DC Government?

For those who believe that the economy creates jobs, they will see some $7 million in new government revenues. That's $7 million that you can use for road repairs (taking down some speed cameras), school reform (add some more kids to the Opportunity Scholarship Program), or (dare I say it) lower taxes for everyone. Other companies will also see DC as pro-business instead of a city picking winners and losers.

For those who think that government creates jobs, sorry. You will be disappointed in the increased revenue because you have convinced yourselves that your citizens who are getting a paycheck from a private, successful company is a bad thing. As a result, the DC Council seeks to override the Mayor in passing this bill, which would require large companies to pay employees $12 an hour instead of the city's minimum wage. They very well may succeed but, as I explored back in July, the consequences will hurt them, DC’s citizens, and DC reputation.

Why discriminatory wages are bad for DC:

  • DC Council: By increasing expenses for a select group of businesses, you send a message that no one is safe and that you pursue policies based not on sound economics but special interests (entrenched interests/unions) and on emotional, short-sighted reasoning.
  • DC Citizens: You want DC to get better and the best/most efficient way to do this is for businesses to sprawl throughout the District and especially where poverty is the norm. Greater economic development means more jobs for everyone and quite likely less crime. However, very little of that happens (or at least on a smaller scale) if your government is telling businesses that they are not welcome.
  • DC Reputation: Most importantly, a discriminatory wage policy will have ripple effects that will be felt for decades. If Wal-Mart is told they must play by a different set of rules than the corner market, they will make the best economic decision available to them: they won't build in DC. They will build in Dayton, Denver, and Jacksonville and provide lower cost items to those citizens and leave you in the dust. Then, Lowe's and Target will also get the message that there is little point to negotiate with pick-and-choose governments. They will also invest and build elsewhere. And so on.

Here's what I'm saying and I think that Mayor Gray is saying something similar (though we disagree on the solution): If you are going to make one business pay more for something because of government policy, you should make all businesses do so because that's fair. Be it a McDonalds or a vegan bakery, the government is not the arbiter of success. Success comes from hard work, specialization, local knowledge, and innovation. All of that can be found in the free market.

We will, again, see what develops and if DC will see this wage hike again.

 

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The Late Edition, September 12, 2013: Today’s Taxpayer News!
Posted By: Curtis Kalin - 09/12/13

Today's Taxpayer News!

William Hartung uses Defense Department waste analysis from NTU to argue that the Pentagon should not use a possible conflict in Syria to increase department spending.  Read more on CNN.com.

“You’re fired”: The Hill reports on the IRS spending $10,000 of taxpayer money to do a spoof of Donald Trump’s reality show, The Apprentice. 

Finally, Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) recently introduced the “Eliminating Government-funded Oil-painting (EGO) Act,” which would prohibit the taxpayer funding of portraits of government officials from executive branch department heads to congressional committee chairman.  Check out Richard Simon’s piece in the LA Times for more.

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Bill Clinton's Federal Retirement Benefits, an Infographic
Posted By: Dan Barrett - 09/12/13

How much do you think that former Presidents get from taxpayers each year? Bill Clinton gets an average $1.09 million and that's not including his Secret Service protection or any trips that might come up (like state funerals or any international negotiations that he might be a part of). In this week's third infographic, NTU Foundation took a look at exactly what Clinton spends his retirement perks on and how that compares to the other three former Commanders-In-Chief.

Like our other infographics and a recent edition of The Taxpayer's Tab, we used the budgetary requests from the General Services Administration, which is the agency in charge of disbursing the Presidents' benefits. However, the requests do not necessarily translate to actual spending. GSA does not release the actual figures of how much Presidents really cost taxpayers each year. This is the most complete information that is publicly available.

Do you think that former Presidents need public dollars? Should something be cut or increased? Let us know in the comments!

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Banning Water Vapor in Duluth, Minnesota
Posted By: Lee Schalk - 09/10/13

In a logic-defying move, the Duluth City Council yesterday voted 6 to 3 to ban e-cigarette use in places where tobacco smoking is also banned. Not only is this another example of overregulation, but it discourages the use of a tobacco-free product that can reduce risk of tobacco-related death or illness by 98 percent or more, according to Dr. Joel Nitzkin of the R Street Institute.

In his testimony to the Duluth City Council, Dr. Nitzkin also pointed out the obvious: e-cigarettes produce a vapor, not smoke, that is almost completely water and contains no carbon monoxide. As such, this vapor poses no health risk to non-users in both indoor and outdoor spaces. Unfortunately, for Duluth residents who enjoy a safe smoking alternative, the nanny-state faction of the City Council ignored this research and passed the ban anyway.

Like the penny-per-ounce soda tax hikes that appeared on some local California ballots last November, as well as the never-ending state and local tobacco tax increase proposals, e-cigarette bans are simply the latest Bloomberg-style ploy to control individual behavior. Consumers should brace themselves for more proposals like the Duluth ban in the near future. Next time, lawmakers will hopefully relax, take a deep breath, and understand the facts before irrationally banning e-cigarette water vapor.

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