« September 2017 | Main

October 15, 2017

A Thought about Social Media

"Social media -- a permanent marinade for the human brain -- is causing a vast, mysterious transformation of how people process experience, and maybe someday a future B.F. Skinner will explain what it has done to us."

~ Daniel Henninger

Source: his June 15, 2017 Wonderland column (behind paywall), "Political Disorder Syndrome," page A15, Wall Street Journal.

October 14, 2017

Chicago Repeals Its Soda Tax

At the National Taxpayers Union's blog on Thursday, Tom Aiello reported that Cook County (Chicago and inner suburbs) realized their mistake and repealed their soda tax after just 71 days.

He went on to explain:

"Yesterday, the Cook County Board of Commissioners voted to repeal the disastrous sweetened beverage tax. After going into effect back in August, the tax has united 87 percent of residents in opposition due to its adverse economic impacts. With a super majority voting in favor of repeal, shoppers and businesses will no longer have to bear the burden of the penny-per-ounce tax starting December 1st.

"In addition to the county’s sweetened beverage tax, Chicagoans already pay a 3 percent tax on soft drinks. Adding both on top of Chicago’s sales tax rate of 10.25 percent (the highest of any major city), soda sold in the city is among the most expensive in the country. According to research from the Illinois Policy Institute, “a two-liter bottle of pop with a base price of $2.49 now costs $3.49, an effective 40 percent combined tax rate on soda.” In fact, the county’s tax on sweetened beverages is more than five times higher than Illinois’ state tax on beer and alcohol.

"When consumers are faced with higher prices on goods, they will end up reducing their purchase quantity. This law of economics holds true in Chicago as small businesses are struggling to offset  loss of revenue from the lack of soda sales. As a result of sagging sales, employers are  cutting hours from their employees or not filling vacant positions. In total, the impact of Cook County’s beverage is tax devastating with an estimated 6,100 lost jobs, $321 million in lost wages, and $1.3 billion in lost economic activity."

Aiello added that with Cook County having to make up a $200 million shortfall, taxpayers need to be prepared to fight the next proposed tax increase.

The National Taxpayers Union was founded in 1969. For more information about our friends at NTU, click here.

October 13, 2017

A Thought about Prejudices

"Prejudices are what fools use for reason."

~ Voltaire

HT ThinkExist.

October 12, 2017

Americans Say the Sales Tax is the Fairest of Taxes

A survey of 1,000 Americans, published last month by Rasmussen Reports (tm) and conducted September 6 - 7, reported:

"Even as the fight over charging sales tax for online retailers ensues in Congress, Americans still think sales tax is the most fair type of tax they pay. But they’re nearly as likely to see income tax as both the most (and least) fair type of tax today.

"A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone and online survey finds that 39% of American Adults, when given four chief types of taxation, view a sales tax as the one that is most fair. Thirty percent (30%) rate an income tax as fairest, while eight percent (8%) feel that way about property taxes and 5% consider a payroll tax the most fair. Eighteen percent (18%) are undecided."

Sales taxes seem little more than the state version of the FairTax. For more information about the FairTax, visit the FairTax.org website.

FairTax legislation, S.18, has been sponsored in the 115th Congress (2017-2018) by Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kansas), and currently has four co-sponsors. In the House, Rep. Rob Woodall (R-Georgia), has sponsored FairTax legislation, H.R. 25, and currently has 45 co-sponsors.

Dan Mitchell, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, explains the flat tax in this April 2010 U.S. News & World Report article. A brief, seven-page guide to the flat tax, authored by Mitchell, is available at the Heritage Foundation.

With tax cutting and tax reform legislation about to be the major focus of Congress, Growls readers are encouraged to take a few minutes to write or call their Congressional representatives. Tell them about the Rasmussen survey, and what you think about a flat tax and/or the FairTax. Contact information is available at the Library of Congress' Congress.gov. Taxpayers living in Virginia's Arlington County can contact:

  • Senator Mark Warner (D) -- write to him or call (202) 224-2023
  • Senator Tim Kaine (D) -- write to him or call (202) 224-4024
  • Representative Don Beyer (D) -- write to him or call (202) 225-4376

And ask for a written response. And tell them ACTA sent you.

October 11, 2017

Another Thought about Patriotism

 "Our obligations to our country never cease but with our lives."

~ John Adams, letter to Benjamin Rush -- 1808

HT Founders' Quote Database, The Patriot Post.

October 10, 2017

Arlington Public Schools Pass All-Time Enrollment Record

According to the Arlington Sun Gazette's Scott McCaffrey today, "It may not be as high as school officials had projected, but Arlington’s student population has now overtaken the previous all-time record, set during the heart of the Baby Boom generation."

A few more details from his reporting include:

"Arlington Public Schools officials submitted an official 2017-18 count of 26,927 students to the Virginia Department of Education, based on the number of youngsters in class on Sept. 30.

"The official count was up 789 students – 3 percent – from a year before, and has now risen 27 percent since the 2010-11 school year.

"And it has now surpassed the previous record of 26,927 students in 1963.

"The official count, submitted annually to state officials by all of Virginia’s school districts, is “the basis for budget planning and planning for next year’s projections,” Superintendent Patrick Murphy said at the Oct. 5 School Board meeting.

"While now at a record high, the enrollment count was below what had been anticipated. “We had projected over 27,000,” Murphy said. The school system could still get there this year, as “we will ebb and flow throughout the year,” he said."

McCaffrey points out that compared to last year, "total enrollment was up 2.8 percent at the elementary-school level, 4 percent at the middle-school level and 2.6 percent at the high-school level,." Surprisingly, he wrote, "Arlington has a smaller percentage of households with school-age children, compared to surrounding jurisdictions."

He didn't mention, however, the cost of those additional 789 students. Using the FY 2017 cost-per-student of $18,957 from the most recent WABE Guide, the FY 2018 cost won't be available until later this month, the additional 789 student will cost Arlington County taxpayers almost $15 million.

Will the Arlington School Board direct the Superintendent to take immediate steps to find $15 million in cost savings to pay for the additional students? We doubt it. Growls readers with questions or comments about the year-to-year growth in enrollment can direct them to the Arlington School Board. Just click-on the link below:

  • Call the School Board office at (703) 228-6015

And tell them ACTA sent you.

October 09, 2017

A Thought about Mass Movements

"The quality of ideas seems to play a minor role in mass movement leadership. What counts is the arrogant gesture, the complete disregard of the opinion of others, the singlehanded defiance of the world."

~ Eric Hoffer

HT Thomas Sowell's Collection of Favorite Quotations.

October 08, 2017

Deregulating America's Regulatory Burden

At his American Enterprise Institute blog last week, James Pethokoukis highlights a new report from the President's Council of Economic Advisors (CEA) on the growth potential of deregulation.

In introducing the report, Pethokoukis reminds us that "not every regulation is a bad one or is preventing sustainable and balanced economic growth. But some do, and the report correctly highlights occupational licensing as one barrier to labor market entry. Regulation that empowers incumbents over challengers is what I worry about. Bans on plastic water bottles in national parks, less so."

Here is the CEA report's summary:

"Excessive regulation is a tax on the economy, costing the U.S. an average of 0.8 percent of GDP growth per year since 1980. This taxation by regulation has increased sharply in recent years, with approximately 500 new economically significant regulations created over the last eight years alone. Through a thorough review of the literature, the Council of Economic Advisers (CEA) finds that deregulation will stimulate U.S. GDP growth."

Pethokoukis presents a picture of America's regulatory burden in five charts, including a chart comparing the regulatory burden borne by the 35 countries in the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development, which appears below:

 

So take a few minutes to scan the other four charts that Pethokoukis highlights. The 18-page CEA report discusses each of the charts more fully. It contains almost three pages of references.

Finally, we growled on June 12, 2017 pointing out the cost and burden of federal regulations is $1.9 trillion, based upon the most recent report from the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

Growls readers are encouraged to take a few minutes to write or call their Congressional representatives. Tell them what you think about the cost burden of federal regulations. Contact information is available at the Library of Congress' Congress.gov. Taxpayers living in Virginia's Arlington County can contact:

  • Senator Mark Warner (D) -- write to him or call (202) 224-2023
  • Senator Tim Kaine (D) -- write to him or call (202) 224-4024
  • Representative Don Beyer (D) -- write to him or call (202) 225-4376

And ask for a written response. And tell them ACTA sent you.

October 06, 2017

Record 154.3 Million Americans Employed

In response to today's Labor Department jobs report, CNS News' Susan Jones reports, "Hurricanes Harvey and Irma are long gone, and despite dire predictions, they did not dampen the September jobs report in most key areas."

She explained her lede this way, writing:

"The Bureau of Labor Statistics on Friday said the labor force participation rate of 63.1 percent reached a high for the year in September, up two-tenths of a point from August.

"The number of employed Americans reached 154,345,000 in September, setting a sixth record since January. As the number of employed Americans reached an all-time high, the number of unemployed Americans in September -- 6,801,000 -- hasn't been this low since May 2007.

"The already low unemployment rate dropped another two-tenths of a point to 4.2 percent last month. That is the lowest since early 2001.

"BLS noted that the recent hurricanes had "no discernible effect on the national unemployment rate."

"The number of Americans not in the labor force declined a bit in September to 94,417,000. The record, set in the final full month of the Obama presidency, stands at 95,102,000 Americans not in the labor force.

"On the negative side, BLS said no new jobs were added in September: In fact, BLS counts a job loss of 33,000, and it blamed the net effect of the two hurricanes for the negative jobs-added number.

"BLS noted that a “steep” employment decline in food services and drinking places and below-trend growth in some other industries likely reflected the impact of Hurricanes Irma and Harvey. Employment rose in health care and in transportation and warehousing.

"BLS said job gains have averaged 91,000 over the past three months.

"And wages are going up: In September, average hourly earnings for all employees on private nonfarm payrolls rose by 12 cents to $26.55. Over the past 12 months, average hourly earnings have increased by 74 cents, or 2.9 percent,, BLS said."

The Washington Free Beacon's Ali Meyer also reported on the report from the Labor Department's Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), writing:

"The number of employed Americans hit a record high of 154,345,000 in September, according to the latest numbers released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

"There were 906,000 more Americans who gained employment over the month, and more individuals joined the labor force as well.

"There were 575,000 more Americans who joined the labor force in September, while 368,000 fewer left.

"The number of Americans not participating in the labor force declined from 94,785,000 in August to 94,417,000 in September. The bureau counts those not in the labor force as people who do not have a job and did not actively seek one in the past four weeks.

"The labor force participation rate, which is the percentage of the population that has a job or actively looked for one in the past month, increased from 62.9 percent in August to 63.1 percent in September. The participation rate hasn’t been this high since March of 2014."

Meyer also observed, "The unemployment rate for all Americans declined from 4.4 percent in August to 4.2 percent in September, which is the lowest level seen in 16 years."

The Wall Street Journal's economics blog provides several reports about the BLS jobs report. These include: 1) 9 charts; 2) the numbers; 3) economists reactions; and 4) five things to watch for in the report.

The BLS' employment situation report is available here.

October 05, 2017

A Thought about America

"The cause of America is in great measure the cause of all mankind."

~ Thomas Paine, Common Sense -- 1776

Source: Founder's Quote Database, The Patriot Post.

                                            - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 

"Thomas Paine, (born January 29, 1737, Thetford, Norfolk, England—died June 8, 1809, New York, New York, U.S.), English-American writer and political pamphleteer whose Common Sense and “Crisis” papers were important influences on the American Revolution. Other works that contributed to his reputation as one of the greatest political propagandists in history were Rights of Man, a defense of the French Revolution and of republican principles; and The Age of Reason, an exposition of the place of religion in society." (Encyclopedia Britannica)

October 04, 2017

Improving Government with a $250,000 Chandelier?

The Washington Free Beacon's Elizabeth Harrington reported today that "Fannie Mae charged taxpayers $250,000 for a chandelier."

According to Investopedia, "Fannie Mae (officially the Federal National Mortgage Association, or FNMA) is a government-sponsored enterprise (GSE)," and operates under Congressional charter." Its stock has been publicly traded since 1968.

Harrington began her report, writing:

"Fannie Mae is charging taxpayers millions for upgrades to its new headquarters, including $250,000 for a chandelier.

"The inspector general for the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), which acts as a conservator for the mortgage lender, recently noted $32 million in questionable costs in an audit for Fannie Mae's new headquarters in downtown Washington, D.C.

"Fannie Mae will be the flagship of Midtown Center, which is scheduled to complete construction in June 2018. The inspector general reported that costs for the new headquarters have "risen dramatically," to $171 million, up from $115 million when the consolidated headquarters was announced in 2015."

She continued her reporting, writing:

"The inspector general blamed expensive upgrades for cost overruns, such as a third glass walkway costing $2 million to connect Fannie Mae buildings, $1.2 million for "decorative wood slatted ceilings," decorative wood "lunch huts," and pergolas, or garden-style pavilions, in elevator lobbies.

"FHFA officials have had poor oversight of the project, according to the inspector general, because they "did not review whether any of the major upgrades were cost-effective or whether lower cost alternatives were available."

"Among the upgrades: a $250,000 chandelier that no one was quite sure what it was for.

"For example, we identified an upgrade in the 80 [percent] General Contractor construction design documents identified as a $250,000 chandelier," the inspector general said. "The expert's representative explained that the expert first thought it was a light fixture but learned later that it was an ‘architectural feature' for the trading room, intended to ‘evoke' the activity in that room and assumed that this feature was part of some ‘government art program.'"

"The acting deputy director of the FHFA told the inspector general he was "unaware" of the pricey chandelier, but said he would "question the expenditure of $250,000 for a piece of art."

"We found no evidence, however, that FHFA has ever challenged this expenditure," the inspector general said.

"After the inspector general inquired about the chandelier, officials scrapped plans for a $150,000 "hanging key sculpture," and $985,000 for "decorative screens" in a conference room."

Harrington concluded by noting the pushback from the FHFA director:

"FHFA director Watt pushed back against the report and said the new Fannie Mae headquarters will "benefit taxpayers."

"I consider the build-out features reasonable, cost-effective and consistent with my responsibilities under the law and I, therefore, did not object to them," he wrote in response to the audit. "Some of these relate to the effective and efficient operation of Fannie Mae's market room, which provides critical capital markets financial services to help support and sustain the U.S. housing market."

Sure looks as if more of the proverbial swamp needs draining.

Growls readers concerned about government waste at Fannie Mae, or another of the so-called government-sponsored enterprises, are encouraged to take a few minutes to write or call their Congressional representatives. Contact information is available at the Library of Congress' Congress.gov. Taxpayers living in Virginia's Arlington County can contact:

  • Senator Mark Warner (D) -- write to him or call (202) 224-2023
  • Senator Tim Kaine (D) -- write to him or call (202) 224-4024
  • Representative Don Beyer (D) -- write to him or call (202) 225-4376

Be sure to ask for a written response. And tell them ACTA sent you.

October 03, 2017

Arlington's Unemployment Rate Stiill Lowest in Virginia

The weekly Arlington Sun Gazette reported yesterday that "Arlington’s jobless rate stood unchanged from July to August, retaining its position as lowest in the commonwealth, according to new data."

The Sun Gazette provided additional details, including:

"With 146,881 county residents employed in the civilian workforce and 3,721 looking for jobs, Arlington’s August unemployment rate of 2.5 percent was the same as a month before, according to the Virginia Employment Commission.

"Unemployment rates across Northern Virginia in August changed little on a month-to-month basis, remaining unchanged at 2.8 percent in Falls Church; 2.9 percent in Alexandria; 3.1 percent in Fairfax County and in Loudoun County; and 3.4 percent in Prince William County.

"Across Northern Virginia as a whole, August’s unemployment rate of 3.2 percent – unchanged from July – represented 1,578 million employed and about 51,600 looking for jobs.

"Statewide, the non-seasonally-adjusted unemployment rate was up a tick to 3.9 percent, with 4.17 million employed and 165,000 seeking jobs."

The chart below was included in the Sun Gazette's reporting:

The Sun Gazette observed that Virginia's unemployment rate ranked the state 19th nationally.

October 02, 2017

How High are Excise Taxes in Virginia?

Morgan Scarboro, Tax Foundation policy analyst, looked at the amount of excise tax collections in each state last week at the the Foundation's Tax Policy Blog.

She sets the context for the blog post, writing:

"Excise taxes are particular taxes levied on specific goods or activities, not general tax bases like income or consumption. Some excise taxes are fairly well-known to the public, like cigarette or alcohol taxes, but others are more hidden, like taxes on admission for amusement businesses.

"On average, these excise taxes make up a relatively small portion of state and local tax revenue – about 11 percent – but per capita collections vary widely among states. Vermont has the highest state and local collections at $1,068 per capita, followed by Nevada with $910, and Hawaii with $885 in collections per capita.

"On the other hand, some states collect relatively little per capita in state and local excise taxes. South Carolina collects $317 per capita, Arizona collects $301, and Idaho collects the least in the country with only $292 per capita."

As can be seen on the Tax Foundation map below, Virginia ranks #31 in excise tax collections, based on FY 2014 excise tax collections of $466.

 

Scarboro closes with the following caution:

"We’ve written extensively about the challenges associated with various excise taxes. Cigarette tax revenue is unstable. The soda tax has serious unintended consequences, particularly as they pertain to health. Most of these excise taxes are regressive.

"Excise taxes are typically either propped up as a way to either reduce consumption of a good or raise revenue, but these goals contradict each other. Reduced consumption naturally leads to a decline in revenue. Excise taxes are also often touted as a quick way to fill budget shortfalls. However, legislators should fund important policy priorities with broad-based, stable taxes, not narrow and nonneutral tax policy."

For information about the Tax Foundation, click here.