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(AUDIO) Speaking of Taxpayers: NTU Rates Congress – Sept. 20, 2013
Posted By: Douglas Kellogg - 09/20/13

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

NTU's Rating for the last session of the 112th Congress is out - Pete & Doug discuss Congress' performance, and how big names scored. Plus, what is the "Second Obama Express"? 

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DC Mayor Gray Presents $300 Million Gift to Local Unions
Posted By: Lee Schalk - 09/20/13

Last week, following in the footsteps of his predecessors, Washington, DC Mayor Vincent Gray announced the signing of a Project Labor Agreement (PLA) for the construction of the $300 million DC United soccer stadium. His reasoning? The PLA ensures that District construction workers are paid federal Davis-Bacon wage rates.

However, according to TheTruthAboutPLAs.com:

existing law called the Davis-Bacon Act governing federal, federally funded and DC-funded projects already requires above-market government-determined union scale wages and benefits to be paid to craft labor with or without a PLA. It’s a smokescreen to cover the fact it is a gift to unions [emphasis added].

The White House explains that a PLA is “a pre-hire collective bargaining agreement with one or more labor organizations that establishes the terms and conditions of employment for a specific construction project.”

But let’s get real. A PLA is nothing more than a corrupt scheme that removes competition from the construction bidding process and instead awards a contract to unionized construction workers.

Unfortunately, we’ve seen this game played in DC before with Nationals Ballpark. The end result? Eighty-five percent of construction workers and 95 percent of minority-owned contractors were left out of the work, and the project cost tens of millions of taxpayer dollars more than anticipated. Makes one wonder just how much the city actually cares about its workers.

From our support of Right-to-Work laws and public pension reform, it’s no secret that National Taxpayers Union is an outspoken proponent of fair labor laws that benefit workers, not just union bosses. Despite what may appear to be a well-intentioned effort to protect workers, Mayor Gray’s PLA for the DC United Stadium is nothing more than a kickback scheme to his union pals. The deal represents another example of just how dangerous backroom government dealings with unions can be – not only to taxpayers but to non-unionized construction workers struggling to find work in the Obama economy.

For more on the DC United Stadium PLA debacle, go HERE.

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Repeal and Replace
Posted By: Brandon Arnold - 09/18/13

Today, the Republican Study Committee released a health care bill that would repeal the Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare,” and replace it with a number of market-based reforms and improvements to the tax code.  You can read more about the legislation here and read NTU’s supportive letter to the bill’s author, Rep. Phil Roe (R-TN), here.

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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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