Obamacare Launch: The Crash
This Tuesday marked the launch of Obamacare, and things did not go as swimmingly as the administration would have hoped. In fact, representatives from three major insurance companies (Blue Cross, Aetna and Cigna) confirmed that signup numbers were ‘meager’ as glitches continued to plague the exchanges in numerous states. In fact, as Forbes noted:
“Very, very few people that we’re aware of have enrolled in the federal exchange,” said one anonymous insurance industry official to the Washington Post. “We are talking single digits.”
Furthermore, many state officials had to pare back their initial claims about website traffic. California officials initially claimed that as many as 5 million individuals had visited the state exchange website. Upon further examination, this estimate was “scaled down” to around 645,000. As one insurance company official put it, ‘it is a trickle, not a wave’. Perhaps Democratic Senator Max Baucus was not so far off when he called the law’s implementation a “train wreck”.
ATR Calls On Pennsylvania Legislators to Reject Local Drink Tax Hike
ATR President Grover Norquist sent a letter to legislators in Pennsylvania urging them to reject attempts to impose higher municipal taxes in economically distressed areas of the Keystone State. In particular, the proposal put forward would raise taxes on beer, wine and spirits, already one of the most over-taxed entities in existence. The text of the letter reads as follows:
Dear Members of the Pennsylvania Legislature,
I write today in strong opposition to the proposals put forward by the Act 47 task force to impose higher municipal taxes in economically distressed parts of Pennsylvania. The first problem with these proposals, which may be introduced as legislation for you to vote on this Fall, is that there is nothing that higher taxes will do to improve economically depressed communities in Pennsylvania. In fact, higher taxes will only make matters worse for these struggling towns.
The proposed 10% local tax hike on beverages containing alcohol is particularly problematic and misguided. With the federal Excise Tax ($13.50/proof gallon), the Johnstown Flood Tax (18%), Bottle Handling Fee, State Sales Tax (6%), and Local Sales Tax (up to 2%), Pennsylvanians already pay 5 separate taxes and fees every time they pick up a six pack of beer, a bottle of wine, or their favorite bourbon. Adult beverages are already one of the most heavily-taxed products on the market, with taxes and fees comprising over half of the retail cost of beer, wine, and spirits.
In fact, government makes more money off alcohol sales than the businesses that produce the product. For every dollar that the industry earns in profit, state and local governments take two dollars, on average. Not only is such discriminatory taxation unsound tax policy, it’s a terrible way to fill government coffers.
Businesses don’t pay taxes, people do, and a local alcohol tax hike would be borne by consumers in the form of higher prices. Making it more expensive to tailgate for the next Steelers or Eagles game is bad enough, but a local alcohol tax hike would also be a job killer. Economic analysis of the proposed 10% drink tax finds that it would result in the destruction of 275 jobs in the Commonwealth.
Your constituents already work 202 days out of the year, on average, well over half the year, just to pay for the cost of their state and federal governments. Furthermore, Pennsylvanians have seen 21 new or higher federal taxes signed into law in just the last five years. The last thing your constituents need is another job-killing tax increase from their elected officials in Harrisburg.
To view a PDF copy of the letter, click here.
Proposed Denver Bag Tax is all Economic Pain, No Environmental Gain
In the latest misguided attempt to “go green”, the City Council in Denver, Colorado is considering a proposal which would place a fee on the use of both paper and plastic bags. The legislation is ostensibly an attempt to curb litter and waste within the city by reducing the use of non-recyclable paper and plastic bags and encouraging consumers to instead procure reusable bags. If enacted, consumers would be charged 5 cents for every plastic or paper bag they use.
However, there is considerable doubt about whether the bag tax would even accomplish any of the goals that it purports to. Mayor Michael Hancock asked the Denver Office of Sustainability to study the potential impact of the proposed bag tax. The report came to the following conclusions:
- A bag fee would at best make only a “miniscule” contribution towards the City’s 2020 goal of reducing waste sent to landfills by 20 percent. In fact high-density polyethylene bags, the kind most frequently given out at grocery stores, make up only 0.3% of municipal solid waste in Denver.
- In terms of litter, the Office of Sustainability found that an in-depth study of litter associated with the bags that would be subject to the fee would be necessary before the city can sufficiently develop and recommend policy around the use of plastic bags. At current, the city has access only to “speculation and anecdotes” when debating litter issues related to the ordinance.
ATR has previously documented the abject failure of similar proposals enacted in the District of Columbia and other cities nationwide, as well as the health risks posed by plastic bag taxes and bans. Now that we are several years into the coercive environmentalist lobby’s quest to rid the world of plastic bags, it is clear that bag taxes and bans are solutions in search of a problem. A final vote for the legislation will be held by City Council on September 30th.
Five of the Worst EPA Fails
Even though the week has just begun, the EPA does not sleep when it comes to radical regulations, skirting transparency laws, ignoring subpoena’s, stealing money from taxpayers, and killing jobs before they are even created. Below is a list of five of the worst EPA scandals that have been in the news recently.
1.Gina McCarthy’s former deputy stole $900,000 from the EPA
John Beale, who formally worked under Gina McCarthy in the Office of Air and Radiation, is expected to plead guilty in a pay fraud case that pins him for stealing over $900,000 from the agency in bonuses and salary increases that he didn’t earn. Senator David Vitter, who is the ranking Republican on the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee, has called for a full blown investigation into how far this outrageous scheme went.
2.Former EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson still hasn’t come clean about her email addresses
Lisa Jackson, the former top ranking official at the EPA, has still yet to come clean about allegations that she used multiple email accounts and aliases to hide official agency business. You might remember that Jackson made headlines last year for some of these aliases, such as “Richard Windsor”. In fact, they even inspired ATR to create an “EPA Identity Creator” website, which can be found here. This was done in brazen disregard of federal laws governing transparency and public disclosure. So much for “the most transparent administration in history”.
3.EPA is in violation of a subpoena regarding their costly regulations
Rep. Lamar Smith, the Chairman of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee says that the EPA has refused to comply with his requests regarding the studies that are used to promulgate regulations which cost taxpayers trillions of dollars. After refusing to come clean with the data for several years, the Committee issued a subpoena on Aug 1st, which the EPA has yet to comply with. Click here for a copy of Chairman Smith’s letter to Administrator McCarthy
4.EPA colluded with radical environmental interests to block the building of a pebble mine-before they could even submit a plan…
New revelations show that an EPA employee, Phil North, may have encouraged the agency to take the unprecedented approach of creating a “watershed assessment” of the proposed Pebble Mine in Alaska, which would serve as an economic boom for the region. This theoretical assessment, which is essentially a “worst case scenario” of every possible factor that could go into the construction and operation of the mine, is falsely cited by the EPA to not only block the construction of the mine, but to veto the entire project before any plans have been submitted or considered.
5.The EPA’s own Inspector General admits that their employees have trouble understanding science!
In what can only be described as a startling revelation, the EPA’s own Inspector General recently stated in a report that the scientific “research” and calculations done by their employees could be inaccurate due to the fact they have trouble understanding the very science that they are studying. Questions were also raised about employee’s compliance with the agency’s “Scientific Integrity Policy”. The agency tasked with creating regulations which cost taxpayers trillions is employing individuals who do not even understand the science they continuously cite to justify onerous regulations.
Republican State Legislators Show Conservation is a Conservative Cause
ATR's Grover Norquist and Patrick Gleason have a new column in Reuters explaining how public-private partnerships – which have successfully funded major highway projects across the country — can be used to build, maintain and renovate core infrastructure outside of transportation, such as public colleges and government buildings.
Energy and environmental policy is in the headlines. The new Environmental Protection Agency administrator Gina McCarthy gave her first major policy speech this week, while congressional committees held hearings on a host of energy bills.
What’s clear is that, for at least the next two years, the White House, Washington Democrats and TV commentators will continue to portray Republicans as anti-environment. All while promoting policies that would cut gross domestic product and kill jobs. Yet Republicans at the state level are implementing innovative policies that reduce emissions, while saving taxpayer dollars.
Consider North Carolina. It has been the focus of national news with protests held at the state capitol in Raleigh every Monday since mid-April, which have made the state a political tinderbox. North Carolina Republicans took control of state government for the first time in over a century last November. Liberal critics now paint them as ill-intentioned troglodytes who want to pollute the state.
This narrative, however, is detached from reality. Last month, for example, the Republican Governor Pat McCrory announced that the University of North Carolina school system was going to make its campuses more energy efficient. The oldest public university system in the nation has contracted with private companies to retrofit all university buildings and facilities.
Most important, the UNC system energy efficiency initiative means significant savings to taxpayers. McCrory said the project will save the state $25 million over the next seven years. More than 100,000 energy-efficient lighting fixtures are going to be installed, the Associated Press reports, in classrooms, dormitories and other facilities across the 13 university campuses, the North Carolina Arboretum, and the state Department of Commerce Energy Office.
To read the piece in its entirety, click here.
ATR Supports Rhode Island Sales Tax Repeal
Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist sent a letter to Rhode Island legislators today urging them to support the "Sales Tax Repeal Act of 2013". The legislation would completely repeal the state's sales tax, thus creating a more competitive enviornment for both businesses and consumers. The letter reads as follows:
I write today in support of the Sales Tax Repeal Act of 2013. By being the first state in the nation to completely eliminate its sales tax, Rhode Island would immediately begin to reverse course on decades of uncompetitive and anti-growth tax policies that cripple the Ocean State economy.
This bipartisan legislation has the potential to create 20,000 new jobs while letting taxpayers keep and spend an additional $1 billion of their own hard-earned income. Everything from household appliances to dining out and clothing would be made less expensive by the Sales Tax Repeal. The increased economic activity driven by lower prices would be a boon to a state that loses business to neighboring states with more competitive sales tax rates.
Consumers should have a reason to shop in state instead of resorting to online purchases and traveling to purchase goods in neighboring states Massachusetts and Connecticut. The small size of Rhode Island opens it up to lost business as taxpayers can easily purchase less expensive goods without real effort in these neighboring states.
As Massachusetts, in particular, considers lowering their state sales tax to 4.5 percent, the potential for lost business among consumers is significant. Cross border purchases will have the predictive effect of lost revenue for the state, a legitimate concern that should jump start the real debate on this proposal.
This bill has another added benefit. Given Congress’s current consideration of the Marketplace Fairness Act (MFA), Rhode Island consumers would be the biggest winners in an unfortunate circumstance under which the federal bill passed. Because the federal legislation requires larger online retailers to charge sales taxes on consumers nationwide, a repeal of the state sales tax would protect Rhode Island taxpayers from higher costs associated with MFA. The sales tax repeal would further encourage in-state purchases in this regard.
Dynamic growth estimates suggest the loss of revenue to the state government is nowhere near the huge and unrealistic number some opponents claim. In fact, by not spending this year’s state surplus and freezing spending, the legislature would not have a long way to go in terms of finding other budget cuts to compensate for initial revenue losses.
North Carolina, Wisconsin, Indiana, and Florida all are working to provide friendlier environments for Rhode Island businesses and taxpayers. As other states across the country work to cut taxes, to remain competitive, Rhode Island should follow suit.
Whether this bill’s full impact is phased in over several years or adopted as written, it is a bold move in the right direction. The full legislature should have the opportunity to debate this bill’s merits which include more jobs, more investment, and a reduced burden on Rhode Island taxpayers.
To view a PDF copy of the letter, click here.
ATR Supports Wisconsin Tax Reform Efforts
Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist sent a letter to all legislators in Wisconsin today, urging them to support a tax reform proposal put forth by Rep. Kooyenga. The proposal would lower rates, eliminate some tax brackets, and close loopholes. The letter reads as follows:
I write in support of Rep. Dale Kooyenga’s effort to expand the income tax cuts first proposed by Gov. Scott Walker. This tax reform plan broadens the tax base, reduces tax rates and simplifies the code. It is an important step toward a more competitive Wisconsin.
The state is projecting a budget surplus of $575 million, and this measure correctly dedicates the majority of that to tax relief. It is also important to note that this tax relief is structured the right way: It delivers a $752 million income tax cut while reducing the number of tax brackets and getting rid of tax loopholes.
By 2015, Wisconsin’s personal income tax would be scaled back from five brackets to three, with rate reductions across all income levels. Low-income and middle class families would benefit from significant reductions in their tax burdens; married joint filers earning $29,020 would see a tax cut from 6.5 percent to 5.94 percent, according to the MacIver Institute.
But most importantly, the bill scraps many credits and deductions while remaining a large net tax cut. Too often politicians view “tax reform” as an excuse to raise revenue. Rep. Kooyenga’s plan recognizes that tax reform must reduce the burden of government while streamlining its tax code.
Wisconsin has made great strides over the past three years. Gov. Walker and the legislature have taken bold action to reduce the size of government, facilitate property tax cuts, realign government labor costs with economic reality, and create jobs. The next step is tax reform. The governor’s initial plan is certainly worthy of praise. But with new revenue numbers, it is now clear that the legislature can go even further.
I offer my full-throated support of Rep. Kooyenga’s tax reform plan and urge you to cast your vote in favor of this overhaul.
To read a PDF copy of the letter, click here.
ATR Urges Passage of 'Pint Bill' in South Carolina
ATR President Grover Norquist sent a letter to members of the South Carolina Senate today, urging them to support SB 423, also known as the 'Pint Bill'. The legislation would lift burdensome regulations on business and expand consumer choice. The letter reads as follows:
Dear Members of the South Carolina Senate,
I write today in strong support of SB 423, legislation introduced by Sen. Campbell that would allow Palmetto State residents to purchase up to 48 ounces of beer on the premises of a brewery. There is simply no good reason for the state to continue to prohibit consumers and businesses from engaging in lawful commerce in a responsible manner. SB 423 is a commonsense, pro-growth bill that would amend a nonsensical and archaic provision of state law – which costs the state revenue annually and restricts the freedom of consumers– and will give South Carolinians the chance to directly support in-state small businesses.
While the sale and distribution of beer and wine is conducted in a three-tier system, the vast majority of states allow some exceptions to this for samples and sales on site at microbreweries. It is time for South Carolina to join the ranks of those states and give small businesses the freedom to meet the direct demands of their consumers.
Although Prohibition was repealed over 75 years ago, South Carolina still has the dubious distinction of being among the handful of states that still prohibit the sale of pints on-site at breweries. This ill-advised ban reduces economic liberty and causes the state to needlessly forgo a large amount of revenue. Eliminating this prohibition would grow government coffers in the most preferable way possible: through economic growth and an expansion of commerce, not higher taxes. It would also lead to economic growth for small businesses and encourage others to start their own breweries.
Members of the South Carolina Legislature, many of whom were elected to office on a platform promoting economic growth and liberty, should support SB 423, which promotes competition, consumer choice, and the rights of small businesses to grow and thrive. For this and the other aforementioned reasons, I urge you to support SB 423, which is a smart, pro-growth bill that would remove an unnecessary impediment to private sector growth and job creation. ATR will continue to follow this issue and will be educating South Carolina taxpayers as to how their representatives in the legislature vote on this matter.
To view a PDF copy of the letter, click here.
ATR Joins Conservative Coalition Urging Texas Legislators to Show Spending Restraint
Americans for Tax Reform joined the Texas Public Policy Foundation and a dozen other conservative groups in sending a letter to Texas legislators which urged them to show spending restraint, protect the Rainy Day Fund, and avoid going down the path of fiscal ruin a la California and Illinois. The letter reads as follows:
ATR Supports HB 298, Legislation to Repeal North Carolina's Expensive Energy Mandate
News broke today that there will be another hearing tomorrow on North Carolina Rep. Mike Hager’s bill to repeal the state’s expensive energy mandate in the NC House Public Utilities & Energy Committee. Below is the letter that ATR President Grover Norquist sent to committee members in support of Rep. Hager’s bill to repeal this costly regulatory holdover from North Carolina’s Easley-Perdue era:
Dear Members of the House Committee on Public Utilities & Energy,
On behalf of Americans for Tax Reform (ATR) and our members across North Carolina, I write today in support of HB 298, legislation that would do away with the state’s costly renewable energy mandate. North Carolina’s renewable energy portfolio standard (RPS) mandates that utilities in the state generate 7.5% of their electricity from more costly and less reliable sources of energy by 2021. This misguided policy acts much like a hidden tax. By driving up utility bills, the state’s RPS needlessly decreases the job-creating capacity of North Carolina employers at a time when the state’s unemployment rate is one of the highest in the nation and leaves North Carolina families with less disposable income.
This command and control policy forces utility companies to procure energy from more costly and less reliable sources; with the increased costs passed on to consumers in the form of higher utility bills. Experience has shown that renewable energy mandates, like the one on the books in North Carolina, have a negative impact on the economy and an adverse impact on your constituents’ pocketbooks.
On average, states with renewable energy mandates have electricity costs nearly 40% higher than states that do not according to the Institute for Energy Research. In fact, a recent study by the John Locke Foundation found that the state’s RPS, if allowed to stand, would impose a net cost on the North Carolina economy of $1.8 billion through 2021. This economically destructive policy will result in less take-home pay, less investment in-state, and fewer job opportunities for your constituents (nearly 3,600 less jobs, according to the John Locke study).
ATR urges you to support HB 298, which would repeal this ill-advised mandate. Legislators in Raleigh should continue to focus on policies that allow the private sector to grow and create jobs and full repeal of the state’s expensive energy mandate is a great way to do that. ATR will be following this issue closely and educating your constituents as to how their representatives in the General Assembly vote on this important matter.
To view a PDF copy of the letter, click here.