Paul Blair

ATRF Poll Shows Overwhelming Bipartisan Support for Creation of Mid-Level Dental Providers

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Posted by Paul Blair on Wednesday, August 31st, 2016, 11:14 AM PERMALINK

In a poll conducted for the American for Tax Reform Foundation by Wilson Perkins Allen Opinion Research, likely voters overwhelmingly support a new and innovative solution to America’s dentist shortage. In what has been called a “big idea” for social change, a new type of mid-level dental practitioners has emerged as a possible way to reduce health care costs while increasing access to care for millions of Americans seeking dental services throughout the United States.

Like dental hygienists, “dental therapists” or “dental hygiene practitioners” work under the supervision of dentists with collaborative agreements that allow them to provide an expanded list of services to patients. Governor Paul LePage (R-Maine) and former Governor Tim Pawlenty (R-Minn.) were the first to sign legislation permitting the creation of these mid-level practitioners in their states.

Conducted at the end of June, the ATRF poll found that 79% of likely voters support the creation of mid-level providers that could perform dental care services such as basic extractions and hygiene plans.

In analyzing the results, WPA Opinion Research concluded,

“This support extends across all key demographic groups including men and women of all ages, Republicans, Independents, Democrats, white, and Hispanic voters. The support for such a process extends across a wide swath of Americans, regardless of political affiliation, ethnicity or gender.

77% of Republicans, 80% of Independents, and 80% of Democrats support the process of creating these new positions, which takes an act of the legislature in most cases. Additionally, 58% of voters strongly support this position, “illustrating that the support is not just casual and implementing this process would be welcomed by voters across the country.”

In an article for the Wall Street Journal titled, “You Don’t Need to Be a Dentist to Fill a Cavity,” reporter Eric Boehm recently explained the issue and some of it’s misguided opponents:

“Other states are considering dental therapy, but professional associations of dentists stand opposed. Take Michigan, where state Sen. Mike Shirkey introduced a dental therapy bill in June. Shortly thereafter, the Michigan Dental Association urged its members to oppose the bill. The association says that Michigan already has 7,500 dentists and 10,300 hygienists, which it insists should be enough to cover the state’s needs.”

In an interview with Wendell Potter at the Huffington Post, ATR president Grover Norquist went further in explaining ATR’s interest in this issue:

“When I asked Norquist recently why he has gotten involved in the fight to expand the dental workforce to include mid-levels—often called dental therapists—he told me it’s because, in his view, opponents are engaging in tactics to preserve a profitable status quo at the expense of millions of Americans. To him, this smacks of “crony capitalism” in which businesses and professionals exert influence on government officials, usually through campaign contributions and lobbyists, to get favorable treatment.”

Of the opportunities these new mid-level dental practitioner positions present, Grover went on to note:

“It’s going to have significant pay off, not only for people trying to move ahead in their careers and for consumers who need dental care” but also for dentists, who, Norquist notes, will be able to spend more time doing more complex, higher end procedures."

While the states have grappled with implementing a wide range of federal health care mandates, questions about rising costs the next steps in health care reform have lingered in Washington. Fortunately, states don't have to wait to act. Efforts to expand the scope of practice for dental hygienists with this new position do present great promise for qualified dental professionals and the millions of Americans interested in taking advantage of the services they can provide.

The full cross tabs of the national ATRF health care poll can be found here.

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Frank Catalanotto

Why is that only one organization- the American Dental Association-
opposes dental therapy and just plain lies about the facts supporting
dental therapy including their own Council on Scientific Affairs, and
evaluation data from Alaska and Minnesota. They claim to be an evidence
based profession, yet they ignore or just lie about the evidence.
Meanwhile about 190,000,000 people in the USA cannot access dental care,
primarily because of costs but also other reasons.

ATR Opposes Oroho-Sarlo Gas Tax Hike in New Jersey

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Posted by Paul Blair on Monday, August 1st, 2016, 5:39 PM PERMALINK

Proponents of big and unreformed government in the Garden State are demanding hundreds of millions of dollars in tax hikes as part of a proposal to fund the now-broke Transportation Trust Fund (TFF). The New Jersey State Senate was scheduled to hold its first series of votes in over a month today, including a vote on a proposal being pushed by Senators Steve Oroho (R-Sussex) Paul Sarlo (D-Bergen), which would raise the gas tax by 23-cents per gallon.

This effort comes on the heels of an Assembly-passed plan, backed by Governor Chris Christie (R-N.J.), which would have raised the gas tax but been paired with a greater net tax reduction of the state sales tax. That plan would have reduced the state sales tax from 7 to 6 percent.

In the current fiscal year, the Oroho-Sarlo tax plan represents a $760 million tax increase.  Over ten years, this plan would result in between $3.9 and $4.5 billion in tax increases, assuming a phase-in of several tax cuts, including the estate tax repeal and an increase in tax exemptions for pension income.

For lawmakers who have signed it, voting for the Oroho-Sarlo tax plan would clearly constitute a violation of the Taxpayer Protection Pledge.

Elements of the Oroho –Sarlo plan include:

Estate Tax Phase-Out

  • An immediate increase in the exemption of estate tax income, to $2 million;
  • An phased-in increase in the exemption of the estate tax income to the federal level of $5.45 million in 2 years;
  • An planned repeal of the estate tax entirely in the years following
  • If fully phased-in, this tax reduction would equal a $4.2 billion net tax cut over 10 years.


Exemption of Pension & Retirement Income from State Income Taxes

  • Five-year phase-in of an increase in the state exemption for pension and retirement income taxes from $100,000 to $150,000 annually;
  • If phased-in this tax reduction would result in $1 billion-$1.4 billion net tax cuts over 10 years.


Increase in Earned-Income Tax Credit

  • An increase in the Earned-Income Tax Credit (EITC) to 40% of the federal level.


Significant Increase in State Gas Tax

  • A 23-cent gas tax increase, which would bring the state gas tax to 37.5 cents-per-gallon;
  • This gas tax hike would make gas sold in New Jersey roughly the 7th highest taxed in the nation, and would rise with higher gas prices;
  • When implemented, this tax hike would result in an immediate $850 million gas tax hike, increasing to over $1 billion in new and higher taxes in annually and in perpetuity;
  • Tax hike breaks down as follows: 7% Petroleum Products Gross Receipts Tax, 10-cent-per-gallon PPGRT tax on motor fuel, and a 3-cent-per-gallon PPGRT diesel surcharge imposed at the wholesale level.


The fiscal note and table can be seen here. 

Americans for Tax Reform opposes the Oroho-Sarlo transportation tax hike and urges the legislature to consider reforms that drive down the cost of building and maintaining transportation infrastructure while working to protect taxpayers from further job-killing anti-competitive tax hikes like this. 

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Garden State Lawmakers On Verge of Passing Massive Gas Tax Hike

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Posted by Paul Blair on Monday, June 27th, 2016, 7:21 AM PERMALINK

A bill to immediately raise the gas tax by 23 cents per gallon could be brought to the floors of the New Jersey state Senate and Assembly as early as this week, after passing out of their respective Budget committees last Thursday. Sponsored by Senators Steve Oroho (R-Sussex) and Paul Sarlo (D-Bergen), the bill (Senate Bill S2412) would raise the net tax burden on New Jersey residents by more than $500 million annually.

 The Bad: Gas Tax Hikes.

  • The plan would immediately raise the state gas tax from 14.5 cents per gallon by 23-cents to 37 cents per gallon, making it roughly the 7th highest in the nation. This 23 cents is calculated based on a new 12.5 percent sales tax imposed up on the current average price of gasoline. The tax would rise with higher gas prices.
  • The current 14.5-cent gas tax is made up of a 10.5-cent per gallon tax on motor fuels and a 4-cent Petroleum Products Gross Receipts tax. 
  • Not all of the currently collected gas tax revenue goes to the Transportation Trust Fund (TFF), which runs out of money on July 1. 
  • The current gas tax is projected to raise $750 million this year and a 23-cent increase would add another $1.4 billion to state coffers per year.


The Illegal: Diverting Airport Revenue to Roads and Bridges.

  • There is a provision of this legislation, which raises the effective excise tax rate imposed on jet fuel 25-fold. 
  • The New Jersey jet fuel tax is currently applied to gallons of fuel used on taxiing and takeoff (the burn-rate method), resulting in an effective tax rate of .4 cents per gallon. 
  • This proposal would raise that tax to 10-cents per gallon, a 25-fold increase. 
  • Mandating that any of this money be diverted to roads, highways, bridges or any other non-aviation purpose would violate Federal law prohibiting the diversion of airport revenue. Read more on that here.
  • A plaintiff against the state would likely win this lawsuit, resulting in a $170 million loss of anticipated revenue immediately after this tax hike passes. 


The Good. Death Tax Phase-Out and Other Cuts. 

  • The legislation begins the phase-out the estate tax over three years, a $540 million per year tax cut once fully implemented.
  • Residents filing jointly will not have to pay income taxes on retirement income, including pensions, up to $100,000, up from $20,000.
  • Creates a new tax deduction for charitable giving.
  • Voters will be asked this fall to constitutionally dedicate existing and future gas tax revenue to transportation. 


If fully phased in, the total tax cuts being considered equal about $850 million per year compared to $1.4 billion in gas tax hikes. 

This legislation does nothing to address the cost-drivers and structural issues within the Transportation Trust Fund. If proponents of a gas tax hike are serious about the Garden State’s real transportation needs, they will re-examine the rampant waste within the system and the types of public projects funded by the state. 

Instead of requiring commuters to fork over more of their hard-earned income, New Jersey lawmakers should modernize the state’s prevailing wage laws, re-examine union contracts, and introduce real competition into the bidding and contract process for transportation projects. Until then, tax hikes should be a non-starter for negotiations about short or long-term transportation needs.

Americans for Tax Reform opposes this legislation and urges the legislature to reject Senators Sarlo and Oroho’s shameless gas tax cash grab.  

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ATR Launches Campaign to Defeat Vapor Products Tax Hike in Pennsylvania

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Posted by Paul Blair on Monday, June 20th, 2016, 4:35 PM PERMALINK

On the heels of a July 1 deadline for the FY 2016-2016 budget, legislative leaders and Governor Tom Wolf (D-Pa.) are in the final stretch on deciding the size of the annual budget and whether tax hikes will be an element of the deal. Unlike last year, broad based tax increases including the sales and income tax seem to be off the table. Unfortunately, the target of money-hungry lawmakers seems to be smokers, vapers, and gamblers.

In response to these targets for tax hikes, ATR has again launched a campaign to defeat any and all efforts to raise taxes, with a specific focus on the proposal to impose a massive and new 40% wholesale tax on tobacco-free vapor products.

The first set of lawmakers’ constituents who will receive phone calls urging them contact their lawmaker to tell them to reject taxes hikes on products that are helping smokers quit includes:

  • House Speaker Mike Turzai (HD-28)
  • House Majority Leader Dave Reed (HD62)
  • Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman (SD34)


A sample script can be read here:

Hi, this is Linda Adams with an important message about a pending tax increase in Pennsylvania. This call was paid for by Americans for Tax Reform at 202-785-0266. Republicans are on the verge of passing a massive new tax hike on small businesses that are helping smokers quit. This will hurt public health and kill jobs. Press 1 on your phone now to connect to your state Senator Jake Corman to tell him to reject tax hikes. Press 1 now.

Click here to listen.

The increasing body of scientific evidence suggests that vapor products are between 95 and 99 percent less harmful than combustible cigarettes and are being used by smokers as smoking cessation products. To target with tax hikes a product that helps smokers quit works at cross purposes with decades of efforts to curb the use of cigarettes and makes for horrible tax and public health policy. 

ATR will be closely monitoring this debate and urges lawmakers to rein in out-of-control spending instead of soaking consumers and businesses with unaffordable tax hikes. Additional legislative districts may be added to this campaign in the coming days. 

Photo Credit: 
Martin Cathrae: Flickr

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West Virginia Legislature Passes Massive New Tax on Vapor Products

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Posted by Paul Blair on Monday, June 13th, 2016, 3:34 PM PERMALINK

In a Special Budget Session, the West Virginia House of Delegates and state Senate voted to subject electronic cigarettes and vapor products to a new, onerous excise tax. By a vote of 63-45, the House voted to adopt a Senate proposal that is expected to yield $98 million in new revenue for the state over the next year.

Senate Bill 1012, which passed in the Senate over the weekend and the House today, included both a $.65 per pack cigarette tax hike and a new 7.5 cents per mL e-liquid tax.  The latter element of the packages makes West Virginia only the 5th state in the nation to subject vapor products to a sin tax.

Click here for a map of vapor taxes in the states. 

Americans for Tax Reform expressed its opposition to these tax hikes in a letter to the legislature, which can be read here.

We summarized the dangers in increasing the reliance on tobacco taxes by explaining,

“Targeted excise taxes have proven to be unstable sources of revenue, and ultimately can cause a reduction in tax receipts…In fact, only three out of the 32 state tobacco tax increases, enacted between 2009 and 2013, have met or exceeded tax revenue projects.”

This is largely due to black market smuggling, cross-border sales, and the seeking out of lower cost products in cheaper markets. All of these acts result in greater burdens on low-income consumers and to the detriment of in-state small businesses like convenience stores.

The greater affront to public health, however, came in the form of the new tax on electronic cigarettes and vapor products, which will now be taxed at a rate of 7.5 cents per mL of e-liquid.

We explained,

“These tobacco-free technology products are helping tens of thousands of smokers make the transition to far healthier alternatives. By imposing a 7.5-cent per mL tax on e-cigarettes…this punitive tax is both anti-health and a shameless cash grab…It is reckless to destroy with tax hikes small businesses accomplishing what tax hikes on cigarettes never could, getting people to quit smoking.”  

Vapor products are between 95 and 99 percent less harmful than combustible cigarettes and tax hikes clearly work against efforts to reduce the harm associated with smoking.

The House of Delegates rejected an amendment by Delegate Larry Faircloth that would have removed e-cigarettes and vapor products from Senate Bill 1012’s tax hikes. This new tax makes West Virginia the state with the 3rd highest tax rate on the products in the nation.

It should also be noted that with passage of this bill, "No wholesaler or other person may purchase e-cigarette liquids from any seller not approved by the Tax Commission," setting up a requirement for any company who sells products into WV to first be approved by the state to do so, beginning on July 1st.  

Instead of reining in spending, the legislature has imposed a senseless cash grab on consumers of smoking cessation products while increasing the state’s dependence on a volatile revenue source. As the legislature prepares for next year's budget debate, it should consider repealing these tax hikes as part of a broader effort on tax reform. 

Photo Credit: 
Linda Tanner, Flickr

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ATR Urges West Virginia Lawmakers to Rein in Spending During Special Budget Session

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Posted by Paul Blair on Sunday, May 22nd, 2016, 3:35 PM PERMALINK

As the West Virginia legislature enters the second week of deliberations during the 2016 Special Session, Americans for Tax Reform is urging lawmakers to focus on spending restraint instead of tax increases to address the state's $270 million shortfall. Unfortunately, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin (D-W.Va.) has limited the options of the legislature in his narrow call for session, and has proposed tax hikes as the ultimate solution to the state's overspending problem.

Among the most significant elements of the tax increases being considered is a tobacco tax hike, which would disproportionately harm low-income consumers and border communities. SB 1005 would increase the cigarette tax by 45 cents per pack, raise the wholesale tax on other tobacco products to 12 percent, and impose a new 7.5 cents per mL tax on the liquid contained in tobacco-free electronic cigarettes and vapor products.

ATR outlined our opposition to these proposals in a February letter to the legislature, which can be read here.

In urging the legislature to focus on spending restraint instead of tax hikes during the Special Budget Session, ATR president Grover Norquist and Americans for Prosperity - WV state director Jason Huffman (AFP) have jointly authored a letter explaining:

"Imposing tax hikes on residents will do little to make West Virginia more attractive to investment or stop residents from continually fleeing to other states." 

They explain further:

"West Virginia does not have a revenue problem; the state government has an overspending problem. At $12,910, per-capita government spending in West Virginia was the third highest in the nation in 2014. It should be noted that the two states with higher per-capita spending – Alaska and Wyoming – don’t impose income taxes and currently have among the lowest tax burdens among any states."

There are still significant elements of the budget that contain waste, cost overruns, and abuse that the legislature should work to eliminate.

"An estimated $100 million a year is wasted by bureaucrats on Medicaid because of improperly awarded managed care contracts obtained without competitive bidding.

Similar waste exists at the Division of Highways, where Deloitte identified 15 instances of waste that cost taxpayers $25-50 million a year in cost overruns because of the  inefficient use of resources."

ATR will closely monitor deliberations and continue to urge lawmakers to focus on spending restraint, budget transparency, and government reform instead of tax hikes in the coming days and weeks.

Click here to read the ATR-AFP coalition letter to lawmakers.

Photo Credit: 
Noel Benadom, Flickr

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Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller Refuses to Rule out Tax Hikes in Bid for Congress

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Posted by Adam Radman, Paul Blair on Wednesday, April 27th, 2016, 3:04 PM PERMALINK

Greg Zoeller is the only Republican candidate for Indiana’s 9th Congressional district to refuse to sign the Taxpayer Protection Pledge promising to oppose higher taxes. His unwillingness to rule out tax hikes is somewhat unsurprising, given his call for higher taxes in Indiana as recently as last year. Zoeller asked the state legislature to impose a new 24 percent wholesale tax on tobacco-free electronic cigarettes and vapor products in the lead-up to the legislative session.

His ignorance and outright hostility to this emerging product category flies in the face of growing evidence that vapor products are at least 95% less harmful than combustible cigarettes and are proven-effective smoking cessation devices. It also stands to make him among the only Republican member of Congress with such misguided and outspoken opposition to the products.

The Taxpayer Protection Pledge has been offered to every candidate for federal office since 1986. In the 114th Congress, 218 Congressmen and 48 Senators have signed the Pledge, including Rep. Todd Young (IN-09). 

Each of the remaining candidates has signed the Taxpayer Protection Pledge, promising to voters that they would oppose tax hikes. Those candidates include Trey Hollingsworth, Brent Waltz, Erin Houchin, and Robert Hall.

This primary election also comes on the heels of new state regulations that stand to decimate the state vapor market. One could argue that Zoeller’s outspoken position on the products jump-started the effort to overregulate the products in Indiana last year.  

The voters in Indiana have a right to know where a candidate stands on the issues before electing them to Congress. Zoeller’s refusal to sign the Taxpayer Protection Pledge puts him outside the mainstream of the Republican Party. Eighty-nine percent of all congressional Republicans have signed the Taxpayer Protection Pledge. He would be one of a small group of Republicans open to raising taxes,” said Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform. “The only reason  Zoeller wouldn't sign the Pledge is if he intends to raise taxes.

The promises that Zoeller makes about strengthening Indiana’s economy mean little without the backing of a concrete written promise to oppose higher taxes. Only by signing the Pledge can Indiana taxpayers be certain that Zoeller stands with them.

Voters should keep this in mind as they head to the polls in Indiana next Tuesday, May 3rd.

Photo Credit: 
Eric Bradner

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ATR Supports Predicate Date Change in the Tobacco Control Act

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Posted by Paul Blair on Monday, April 18th, 2016, 2:36 PM PERMALINK

The U.S. House Committee on Appropriations will begin markup on the 2017 Agriculture Bill tomorrow, representing a significant opportunity to halt the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) overregulation of vapor products in the United States. An amendment to the bill, proposed by Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) will change what is known as the “predicate date” for tobacco products that have hit the market since February of 2007.

This is significant for a number of reasons. First, the Tobacco Control Act (TCA) established an arbitrary date of February 15, 2007 of which all tobacco or tobacco-derived products must establish existence in the market in order to avoid an expensive, if not impossible regulatory pre-approval process within the FDA. This was essentially intended to prevent new tobacco products like cigarettes from hitting the market without pre-approval, which would likely not ever occur.

Unfortunately, innovation has encountered an outdated regulatory code and trapped life-saving smoking cessation products in the mix.

Tobacco-free electronic cigarettes and vapor products did not exist in any commercialized form in 2007, signaling that it was not the intent of the Tobacco Control Act to regulate these products in a similar manner. Unfortunately, because the nicotine contained in many vapor products comes from tobacco plants, the FDA has asserted regulatory authority under the TCA covers these products as well.

As such, an effort underway by Rep. Cole would change the arbitrary 2007 date to the date at which the FDA announces its “deeming regulation,” where they deem vapor products as tobacco products, for regulatory purposes. This common sense change to the Tobacco Control Act would ensure that products already being sold to millions of consumers in the United States would remain available and affordable for adults. Absent a change in this date, the most significant advancement in public health in decades will be stifled by government. 

The growing body of scientific evidence suggests that vapor products are at least 95% and as much as 99% less harmful than combustible cigarettes. Both Matt Meyers of the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids and Mitch Zeller of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products have made statements suggesting their understanding of the opportunity for risk mitigation as well.

Matt Meyers, in 2014 testimony to the Senate Commerce Committee: “Responsibly marketed and properly regulated, e-cigarettes could benefit public health if they help significantly reduce the number of people who smoke conventional cigarettes and become sick and die as a result.” He explained further that if properly regulated, “I don’t think there is any doubt that there would be a reduction in harm,” from smokers who switched to e- cigarettes.

Mitch Zeller: “If we could get all of those people [who smoke] to completely switch all of their cigarettes to noncombustible cigarettes, it would be good for public health.”

Absent a Congressional change in the predicate date, only large tobacco companies will be able to afford the compliance costs associated with obtaining pre-market approval within the FDA to sell electronic cigarettes. The millions of dollars necessary to undergo this expensive regulatory process will halt innovation, and put most small businesses out of business, striking a significant blow to public health.

A change in the predicate date will do nothing to prevent the FDA from regulating the product category with reasonable requirements like ingredient disclosure or the establishment of good manufacturing practices. It will simply permit innovation to exist to the benefit of most consumers and small businesses in the industry.

Click here to read ATR president Grover Norquist’s letter to members of the House Committee on Appropriations. 

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Oklahoma Lawmakers Playing Primary Politics with Tax Hikes

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Posted by Paul Blair on Wednesday, April 13th, 2016, 3:42 PM PERMALINK

In a stunning admission of tactics surrounding an effort to raise taxes in the Sooner State, Gov. Mary Fallin (R-Okl.) recently acknowledged that state lawmakers are postponing a public vote on her proposed tax hikes until after the candidate filing deadline has passed. 

"I think there are some members who are waiting to see if they draw an opponent during filing in April," Fallin said when asked about ongoing negotiations with the House and Senate on the budget. "They're slow playing things." 

The entire House and half of the state Senate is up for re-election this year, with a candidate-filing deadline coming up on Friday. In a letter to lawmakers yesterday, ATR president Gover Norquist expressed opposition to this tactic: 

“It is beyond reprehensible that legislators are postponing an open debate on the budget until they’re sure to get re-elected this year. Only cowards hide from voters when passing tax hikes on them in the dark of night.”

In February, Gov. Fallin proposed a number of tax hikes, including an expansion of the state sales tax ($200 million tax increase) and tobacco taxes ($182 million tax increase), tax hikes that ATR opposed. Fallin's support for these efforts constituted a violation of the Taxpayer Protection Pledge, a written commitment that she made to Oklahoma voters when she was elected as governor in 2010.

Fortunately, the Oklahoma Constitution requires a ¾ vote by both legislative chambers and the signature of the governor to pass tax increases. Unfortunately, the threshold for referring a tax hike to the ballot only requires a simple majority. Voting to refer a tax hike to the ballot constitutes a violation of the Taxpayer Protection Pledge unless voters are also provided the option of reducing their taxes at the same time.

ATR will continue to monitor these efforts in the coming days and weeks.

Click here for a copy of the letter sent to lawmakers. 

Photo Credit: 
Ben Dunham, Flickr

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Clarification on ATR's Support for Solar Market Reform Efforts in Maine

Posted by Paul Blair on Tuesday, March 22nd, 2016, 5:56 PM PERMALINK

In 2015, the Maine legislature passed a bill that required the development of an alternative pricing model for solar customers in the state by the end of 2016. Legislators have been working with the private sector over the past year to meet that mandate. At the crux of this debate is a policy and problem in the energy market know as net metering. 

In a November 2013 article entitled "Cautionary Tale About Solar Energy" for the Maine Wire, I explained:

"When a solar customer generates more power than they immediately need, utilities pay the customer for the power that is sent back onto the energy grid. A customer’s electricity meter spins backwards and the customer’s power bill is credited.

When the sun goes down, however, solar customers need energy to keep the lights on and thanks to a well maintained power grid and power generation stations, energy flows back to homes with solar units. The utility pays a higher retail rate for the energy they get from homeowners, creating a system where solar customers aren’t paying their fair share for energy use. 

The result of net metering is that traditional energy consumers end up subsidizing the use of solar power by their neighbors, as those costs are shifted to non-solar consumers. This is a problem. 

The Associated Press recently reported that "Grover Norquist Supports Maine Solar Bill" without providing the whole story. ATR did weigh in on the effort to address net metering in Maine, in a letter to lawmakers on the Maine Committee on Energy, Utilities, and Technology.

ATR did not endorse a specific piece of legislation. In fact, we noted,

"The proposal to increase the cap on solar power generation in Maine over the next 5 years without substantially changing the inherent cost shifting for current customers is somewhat concerning. "

We did, however, outline our support for ending or preventing the cost-shifting inherent in net metering, which the current legislative compromise does for future consumers. 

ATR's support for specific reforms contained within a compromise (like ending any sort of net metering for customers after a specific date) does not equate to supporting every element of that compromise. This important distinction was ignored by the Associated Press. 

Chris Rauscher, the director of public policy for Sunrun Inc., a massive solar company that pushes for the crony capitalism inherent in state solar energy market policies has expressed concerns with the compromise for the very reasons ATR supports elements of it. It puts in place an end to net metering, despite not doing so soon enough. 

He recently explained that his company would, "continue to fight for net metering as an option in the bill. He said net metering is the best way to ensure that solar customers receive a return on their investment." 

That letter in its entirety can be read here:

Dear Legislator,

I write today in support of efforts to address the consumer cost shifting inherent with net metering policies for solar power customers in Maine. Without this important reform - in the long term - traditional energy consumers will continue to subsidize the use of solar power by Maine customers who are not paying for their use of the energy grid.

Generous state and federal tax credits and subsidies have resulted in a large number of electric utility customers installing rooftop solar and other distributed generation (DG) power sources on their homes and businesses. Because on-site power storage remains to be cost-prohibitive, these customers rely heavily on the energy grid for power in inclement weather, at night, and when they generate excess power, which is sent back onto the grid.

Utilities are required to compensate these customers at the retail rate of power when this power is sent to the grid. As a result, rooftop solar and DG customers have their power meter rolled backwards (net metering) and utility companies are forced to pay customers at a much higher rate than it cost them to produce that energy by traditional means. The retail rate of electricity paid by traditional consumers includes the cost of building and maintaining the electric grid. In Maine, solar and DG customers are therefore not paying for their use or the maintenance of the grid.

The legislative compromise to address this problem isn’t perfect but it takes a step in the right direction.

The proposal to increase the cap on solar power generation in Maine over the next 5 years without substantially changing the inherent cost shifting for current customers is somewhat concerning. On the plus side, as new customers sign up, the contract price set by the Public Utilities Commission paid would decrease as the level of installation grows and the cost of solar installation declines. This introduces somewhat of an equitable and free market-oriented ratchet down compared to net metering policies.

The greatest benefit of the current compromise before the legislature is that if the new program is successful, net metering will not present the cost-shifting problem to the energy market for future solar customers, as it will not be available when certain benchmarks for capacity generation are met. The result is less volatility in the state solar and Maine’s overall energy market.

Americans for Tax Reform applauds efforts by the legislature to address the problems solar power generation presents to Maine energy consumers.

Grover Norquist
President, Americans for Tax Reform 

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