Martinez Signs Asset Forfeiture Reform
Americans for Tax Reform would like to applaud Governor Susana Martinez (R-N.M.) and the state legislature for passing historic civil asset forfeiture reform legislation. The governor, a former district attorney, signed HB 560 which passed the legislature unanimously earlier this month. In a recent letter to Martinez, ATR urged the governor to sign this important law:
We ask that you help put an end to a regime that allows authorities to take and keep property from individuals not charged with a crime. By signing the bill, civil asset forfeiture is changed into criminal asset forfeiture; thereby ensuring that criminals, not law-abiding civilians, pay the price for broken laws.
In her a released statement, Martinez asserts “the changes made by this legislation improve the transparency and accountability of the forfeiture process and provide further protections to innocent property owners.”
This is, of course balanced with concern for law enforcement.
She asks that “we… ensure that our law enforcement officers have the training, protection, and tools necessary to fight crime within our borders. The burden is on public officials at every level to ensure that our law enforcement officers are respected for the work they do and have all the resources they need to protect our families.”
Civil asset forfeiture has been in the spotlight as a problematic tool that may invite abuse by some in the law enforcement community; however, New Mexico now finds itself leading the charge in reforms aimed at protecting the constitutional rights of Americans.
Hopefully, lawmakers and politicians will follow New Mexico’s example in protecting both citizens and law enforcement with similar reform legislation.
ATR Opposes Transportation Tax Hikes in Idaho
Yesterday, the Idaho state Senate amended a transportation plan to include new gas and car tax hikes to be phased in over the next four years. Intended to fund transportation projects, the $126.6 million tax hike cleared the Senate 22 to 13 and heads to the House for approval. Without a re-appropriation of funds from other parts of the budget, the state faces a $262 million shortfall for maintenance of its roads and bridges.
The House recently passed a 7-cent gas tax hike, which was coupled with a cut in the top income tax rates and the elimination of the sales tax on groceries. The Senate killed that bill without a debate or vote.
Idaho’s gas tax stands at 25 cents per gallon and when combined with the federal 18.4 cents per gallon of gas taxes, Idaho consumers pay 43.4 cents per gallon of gas in taxes. The Senate amendment would raise the Idaho gas tax to 35 cents per gallon for a total of 53.4 cents per gallon total paid in taxes by Idaho commuters. That's higher than consumers pay in neighboring Montana, Wyoming, Nevada, Utah, and Oregon.
The plan would raise the gas tax 4 cents this year, 4 cents in 2017, and another 2 cents in 2019.
Idaho Sen. Steve Vick (R-Dalton Gardens) opposed the tax increase, noting, "This is a very large tax increase…In my opinion, to come in, in the best revenue year since I’ve been here, to take all of that money and allocate it and raise taxes on top of that, I don’t think is frugal or conservative.”
The original House bill contained $20 million in new revenue. The Senate’s tax hike is 8.5 times larger than the House transportation package, which relied on registration fee increases of $15 on cars and trucks and $6 on motorcycles.
Another legislator who opposed the bill, Sen. Grant Burgoyne (D-Boise) noted the rushed nature of the proposal. “If we pass this, my constituents will never be heard on it…I didn't think that’s the way we did business.”
Idaho Gov. Butch Otter and other lawmakers have refused to prioritize transportation projects with revenue from the general fund. This is misguided, as Sen. Steve Vick recently pointed out. From IdahoReporter.com:
Vick said lawmakers should have found money in general fund spending hikes, at least $200 million in this year, to ease the burden of the gas tax and fee increases.
“To the citizens, it all comes out of the same pocket for them,” Vick said. “They have to budget for it. To those people, this is all the same money.”
Instead of focusing on ways to extract more revenue from taxpayers, commuters and small businesses in Idaho, the legislature should fund transportation with currently collected revenue, regardless of which fund it comes from. There isn’t a rule against using general fund money for transportation; it’s illogical to pretend that there is. General fund revenue should be spent on the legislature's greatest priorities, which should include maintaining state roads and bridges.
The Idaho House should reject this tax hike and demand tax relief instead.
ATR Joins Coalition Opposed to Free Speech Restrictions in Georgia
Today, Americans for Tax Reform joined a coalition of conservative organizations and individuals opposing free speech restrictions in Georgia. If signed by Governor Nathan Deal, Senate Bill 127 would restrict the ability of nonprofit organizations from engaging in public debates and political discourse during election years. A House amendment was made to a Senate ethics bill that would subject nonprofit organizations to disclosure requirements imposed upon political campaigns and PACs.
From the letter:
"SB 127 now is remarkably similar to recent legislation pushed by former Speaker Nancy Pelosi in Washington, D.C. designed to silence advocacy groups from educating the voting public. Fortunately, it didn’t pass at the federal level."
This is a clear effort intended to silence critics of incumbent legislators and it flies in the face of Supreme Court protections against this type of legislation.
"The 1958 Supreme Court case of NAACP v. Alabama put a stop to this type of onerous legislative restriction on free speech and free association. The Court’s decision to provide for “immunity from state scrutiny” for organizations like the NAACP at the time guaranteed an important protection on First Amendment rights. The case protected members of organizations from intimidation and harassment. The 2010 case of Citizens United v. FEC further restored free-speech protections for non-profit organizations.
SB 127 would tear down those constitutionally protected rights, for individuals and organizations."
SB 127 stands to do far more damage than simply shielding legislators from educated voters.
"If this bill is signed into law, Georgia would restrict free speech and association more so than any other state in the nation. SB 127 stands to hurt not only the organizations who participate in public discourse but the voters, taxpayers, and residents of Georgia who will no longer be entitled to know where elected officials truly stand on important public policy issues.
The clandestine and confusing efforts to advance SB 127 not only make for bad public policy, but are seen by members of impacted organizations as a legislative weapon intended to silence dissenting voices."
The coalition letter was signed by *(updated list):
Linda Fowler, Georgia Tea Party Patriots
Teresa Tatum, Georgia Tea Party Patriots
Debbie Dooley, Atlanta Tea Party & Georgia Tea Party Patriots
Jenny Beth Martin, Co-Founder of Tea Party Patriots, Tea Party Patriots Citizens Fund
Jeanne Seaver, Chairman/ President of Georgia Grassroots Coalition
Erick Erickson, Editor of RedState.com
Tim Head, Executive Director of Faith and Freedom Coalition
Patrick Parsons, Executive Director of Georgia Gun Owners
Stuart Griffin, Chairman of Georgia Pro Life
Jason Pye, Georgia Resident/Director of Messaging at FreedomWorks
David Bossie, President and Chairman of Citizens United
Marjorie Dannenfelser, President of Susan B. Anthony List
Brent Wm. Gardner, Vice President of Government Affairs at Americans for Prosperity
Charmaine Yoest, President & CEO of Americans United for Life
Matt Kibbe, President of FreedomWorks
Ed Martin, President of Eagle Forum
Amy Noone Frederick, President of 60 Plus Association
L. Brent Bozell III, Chairman of ForAmerica
Phil Kerpen, President of American Commitment
Virginia Galloway, Southern Regional Director of Faith and Freedom Coalition
Grover Norquist, President of Americans for Tax Reform
Healther Higgins, President and CEO of Independent Women's Voice
Georgia Lawmakers Pass Massive New Tax Hikes Targeting Tourism and Commuters
Last night, Georgia lawmakers passed House Bill 170, a massive transportation funding bill that will raise taxes by $700 million a year. Americans for Tax Reform opposed the legislation and urged the legislature to prioritize currently collected revenue to fund new and existing transportation projects instead.
Georgia ranks 36th in the country in the Tax Foundation's State Business Tax Climate. Florida ranks 5th. As Florida looks to further reduce the net tax burden on residents, particularly low-income ones, Georgia continues to fall behind by not working to simplify the tax code with pro-growth policies that reduce the net burden on small businesses and consumers. This may prove to be a boon for Governor Rick Scott, who has worked hard to attract new residents and businesses to the Sunshine State.
Here is a list of the tax hikes including in HB 170:
- A new $200 fee on electric vehicles and the elimination of a $5,000 tax credit for purchases or leases of electric cars;
- A new fee on heavy trucks between $50-$100 amounting to a $50 million tax hike;
- A new $5 per night hotel or motel occupancy tax amounting to a $200 million tax hike;
- A recalculation of the statewide gas tax and fee structure amounting to $390 million in tax hikes.
According to the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, "Local sales taxes on motor fuel amount to about 6 cents per gallon at current prices, so a revenue-neutral excise tax that does not change local sales taxes on motor fuel would equal 23.2 cents per gallon." Unfortunately, this legislation was not revenue-neutral. HB 170 imposes a new state 26 and 29 cent excise tax per gallon of gas and diesel. This is on top of the local taxes and a federal 18.4 cent per gallon gas and 24.4 diesel tax.
A last minute addition to the legislation included the $5 per night motel and hotel tax. These taxes are a top target for lawmakers who like raising taxes without doing so on people who can vote them out of office. These taxes punish hoteliers, small businesses that provide jobs and help stoke economic growth in their communities. Higher taxes reduce hotel business, which hurts downstream businesses such as restaurants and convenience stores whose success depends on hotel traffic. In inserting this tax hike into HB 170 at the last minute, legislators targeted the 5th largest employer in the state, an industry that already generates $2.8 billion in direct and indirect revenue for Georgia.
ATR opposes House Bill 170 and if Governor Nathan Deal signs it, he will be violating his Taxpayer Protection Pledge to Georgia taxpayers.
Cigarettes: A Case Study in the Slow Rise of Excise Taxes
The 18th century English writer Dr. Samuel Johnson defined excise taxes as "A hateful tax levied upon commodities, and adjudged not by the common judges of property, but wretches hired by those to whom excise is paid." In the midst of ongoing debates about tax hikes on tobacco cigarettes, liquor, soda, and vapor products, this seems relevant.
Over the last two years, a new target for the public health wretches has emerged, replacing the long-standing number one target of sin taxes aimed at extracting money from low-income consumers. Electronic cigarettes and vapor products are disruptive, innovative, technology products that are accomplishing what the public health community never could - they're getting people to quit smoking. Some estimates and national surveys suggest that more than six million people in the United States are daily vapers. This comes at a time when cigarette smoking rates are among the lowest they've been in years.
In 2014, 15 states considered proposals to tax vapor products like tobacco products with taxes as high as 95 percent. Alternative proposals, like those on the books in North Carolina, subject vapor products to a smaller tax of $.05 per mL of liquid nicotine. A proposal in Arkansas this year would do the same thing.
A recent history of cigarette tax increases should provide some insight into the future of e-cigarette and vapor product taxes, should more states add excise taxes to the books with regards to the products. As we at ATR have noted before, e-cigarettes should not be taxed like tobacco products. Currently, only Minnesota and North Carolina impose sin taxes on the products - with Minnesota taxing them at 95 percent, up 75 percent from two years ago.
But what about smaller taxes, less than 75, 95, or 50 percent? A look at cigarette tax hikes since 2000 may shed light on the threat of accepting such proposals.
The average excise tax on a pack of cigarettes in 1999 was 38.9 cents. Today, the current average excise tax is $1.54 per pack. States have increased tobacco taxes about five times as often as they have raised alcohol taxes between 2000 and 2015, with 111 increases over that time according to the National Association of State Budget Officers.
As you can see, the years during and immediately following a recession saw the largest number of cigarette tax increases. In 2003, 19 states increased tobacco taxes; 15 in 2004 and 16 in 2010.
What does any of this have to do with e-cigarettes and vapor products? Many state legislators have begun to realize that their increasing reliance on tobacco revenue to fund a wide range of programs may have been a bad bet. With declining cigarette revenue, states stand to lose (and are) billions of dollars in tax dollars. One would hope this could be celebrated, as less and less people are smoking but many legislators are clearly more concerned with compensating for this declining and lost revenue. And not in public health.
E-cigarettes are the new target. Click here to view a map of the tax threats in the states.
The rise in cigarette excise taxes over the past 15 years should provide a warning to those who think once a tax is on the books in a state, there won't be efforts to raise it slowly over time. Minnesota's tax on e-cigarettes began at 75 percent and is now 95 percent. Some taxes are far more damaging than others. But the fact remains, it is much easier to fend off new taxes than to fight higher taxes. Just ask smokers.
Governor Rick Scott Kicks Off “Cut My Taxes Week” at Florida State Capital
Today, Gov. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) kicked off “Cut My Taxes Week” at the Florida State Capitol. Taxpayers are being invited to bring their bills and use a tax cut calculator to see their savings under the governor’s proposed cell phone and TV tax cut.
Whether or not you’re a resident of Florida, you can use the calculator to see what kind of savings you’d experience under Gov. Scott’s proposal by clicking here.
The Florida Communication Services Tax (CST) is imposed on cell phones, cable and satellite TV, and non-residential landline phone services. While the state rate is 9.17 percent, with local taxes the average rate exceeds 14 percent and is as high as 17 percent in some areas.
Governor Scott’s proposed tax cut reduces the state portion by 3.6 percent to 5.57 percent, which equates to a potential $470 million in annual savings for taxpayers. Estimates suggest the cut will save every single Florida family around $43-$54 a year, depending on their provider and service.
Currently, Florida has the fourth highest CST rate in the country, behind Washington, Nebraska, and New York. These state, local, and federal taxes can add up to more than 22 percent of service costs, which represent a significant burden on families, especially low-income ones. Prepaid calling services are not subjected to these high discretionary tax rates, making switching more attractive.
The CST tax is not neutral as it forces consumers to alter their behaviors. Reducing it will provide financial relief to families and small businesses and may create jobs by attract more investments in telecommunications infrastructure.
Gov. Scott is so committed to this most recent set of tax cuts that he will be manning the booth at the state capitol himself today and tomorrow. Florida residents are encouraged to take advantage of the opportunity to calculate their savings with the governor in person.
The Senate Communications, Energy, and Public Utilities Committee unanimously passed a version of Scott’s tax cut. Americans for Tax Reform encourages the entire legislature to pass the CST cell phone and TV tax relief legislation.
Flashback: Governor Rick Scott has already signed over $2 billion in tax cuts into law. He also campaigned for re-election on reducing the communications tax and is a signer of the Taxpayer Protection Pledge.
Documents: California Department of Public Health Launches $75 Million Campaign to Discourage Vaping
Today, the California Department of Public Health (CADPH) kicked off a new public relations campaign aimed at discouraging consumers from using electronic cigarettes and vapor products. Documents reveal that a cost of $75 million to taxpayers, this campaign is the most recent in a long list of efforts to create negative public sentiment about vaping.
In a press release, the CADPH stated that today they were going to “premiere a series of television, digital, and outdoor ads in a new campaign called ‘Wake Up,’ as part of its educational effort to inform the public about the dangers of e-cigarettes.”
Though they do not announce the cost of the program in the press release, documents from the California Tobacco Control Program Funding Opportunities and Resources reveal the cost of this campaign: “Approximately $75 million is estimated to be available for the five-year contract period.”
A website, www.stillblowingsmoke.org is being promoted by the state. To the tune of the 1958 song by The Chordettes, one ad flashes images of young adults vaping. Another ad claims that e-cigarettes are “a new way to inhale toxic chemicals with a drug addictive as heroin.”
"The orchestrators of this campaign at the California Department of Public Health should be ashamed of themselves. For years, public health bureaucrats claimed that efforts to discourage smoking were about increasing public health. This most recent $75 million taxpayer-funded effort has further exposed the fraud of those claims by demonstrating that anti-vaping government activists care about one thing and one thing alone: money," said ATR president Grover Norquist. "Campaigns like this are clearly aimed at preventing smokers from making the transition to a much healthier alternative so that the state can continue to fund big government initiatives with cigarette tax revenue."
The original documents from the state show that a Request for a Proposal (RFP) was released in December of 2013 as RFP 14-10003. A “pre-proposal webinar” stated that at the time, the goal was to make California “America’s largest non-smoking section.” Despite the fact that vapor products don’t contain tobacco and smoke isn’t produced in their use, this proposal asked a firm to apply for available taxpayer resources for this project.
A PowerPoint at the time noted “Other Tobacco Products” like electronic cigarettes were an area of concern. One slide suggested, “Funding: Less smoking = less tax collected” with regards to smoking.
In targeting an effective smoking cessation device – vapor products – it is clear that the California Department of Public Health wants to maintain cigarette sales as an important funding source for their big spending priorities. By discouraging vaping, the state may recoup potential revenue losses that occur when a smoker transitions from unhealthy cigarette use to products proven to be 99% less harmful, but not taxed as much. In doing so, the CADPH is putting at risk thousands of lives as they promote lies about the innovative and disruptive technology products that have grown in popularity over the last 5 years.
E-cigarettes are accomplishing what social engineers never could: they’re getting people to quit smoking across all demographics. And they’re accomplishing this without taxpayer funded PR campaigns or government bans and regulations.
A joint effort by the American Vaping Association, The Consumer Advocates for Smoke-free Alternatives Association, and the Smoke Free Alternatives Trade Association mocks CADPH’s propaganda and creates a different narrative about the product with a website of their own: www.notblowingsmoke.org. The website uses similar graphics and images, flipping the script on the CADPH.
Here is one example from a CADPH ad:
Yeah, conservatives are the sole cause of Cali's problems. Maybe it's because they have so much sway in the government there.
Wake up. Libs love revenue above all else, just like cons.
Governor Paul LePage’s Plan for Prosperity in Maine
Governor Paul LePage (R-Maine) recently announced his plan to place on the ballot a referendum in 2016 to abolish the income tax. His proposed amendment to the Maine Constitution would eliminate the income tax for good, preventing Augusta politicians from re-implementing the income tax in the future via legislative vote.
LePage announced that he would likely set 2020 as the year the income tax repeal would go into effect. If the referendum were successful, Maine would become the tenth state to not tax income, which would help fulfill one of the promises LePage made regarding his two terms in office.
Gov. Le Page recently pitched his budget and the elimination of the income tax at a town hall forum:
“The whole purpose of my budget is to make Maine more prosperous and to give the Maine worker the largest wage increase since the 1960s,” LePage said. “This is better than any minimum wage you can talk about. This will propel the economy for decades.”
According to his new budget, he not only wants to abolish the entire state income tax - which is comprised of two brackets - but also reduce the top tax rate from 7.95 % to 5.75%. His budget also reduces top corporate tax rate from 8.93% to 6.75% while broadening and raising the state sales tax from 5.5% to 6.5%.
The Tax Foundation concluded in their State Business Climate Index, that if all of Le Page’s budget proposals were implemented, Maine would move from being ranked at 33rd to 23rd in the index.
The budget would result in more than $250 million in net tax cuts, independent of the plan to eliminate the income tax.
In 2014, Forbes ranked Maine as second worst state to do business in, something that clearly concerns Gov. LePage. The governor has worked to make the case since his first election 5 years ago that the tax code must be simpler, flatter, and encourage more economic growth. His most recent budget and his plan to place the elimination of the income tax on the ballot further demonstrates his commitment to those principles.
ATR Supports Mid-Level Dental Reform in Texas
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.
In what has been called a "big idea" for social change, a new category of mid-level dental practitioners known as "dental therapists" may hold the key for providing dental services in underserved and rural populations. Like hygienists, dental therapists work under the supervision of dentists with collaborative agreements that allow them to provide an expanded list of services to patients. Governor Paul LePage and former Governor Tim Pawlenty, both Republicans, already signed legislation permitting the creation of these mid-level practitioners in Maine and Minnesota.
Americans for Tax Reform supports this bold type of dental care reform because it, at no cost to taxpayers, stands to expand health care to underserved populations in the United States.
Two bills in Texas would tear down an unnecessary barrier created by protectionist government rules by permitting small business to hire trained "Dental Hygiene Practitioners" to aid in their dental practices. ATR president Grover Norquist recently sent a letter to members of the Texas House, Senate, and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick in support of Senate Bill 787 and House Bill 1940.
As Grover Norquist notes,
"Dentists who want to expand their practices to include educated and qualified mid-level practitioners should be free to do so. Innovative ideas like this have faced intense opposition but are very similar to the fights that took place decades ago with the emergence of nurse practitioners. Physicians began working and collaborating with nurses who had clinical experience to fill a void left by specialization in the medical field. Today, nurse practitioners provide equivalent or superior care to that provided by physicians. SB 787 and HB 1940 responsibly follow the nurse practitioner model for dental practices."
This is a free market health care solution that utilizes the desire and qualifications of trained professionals to provide much needed dental care to underserved populations without raising costs on taxpayers. It would be irresponsible for the state to stand in the way.
ATR Opposes Onerous Restrictions on Vapor Market in Indiana
When the debate over electronic cigarettes and vapor products started months ago in Indiana, the Attorney General presented a misguided idea aimed at raising the cost of these innovative products. He suggested e-cigarettes be subjected to the same rate of taxation as smokeless tobacco and other tobacco products. They are currently subjected to the sales tax. As we noted at the time, this would have created an incentive for people to continue smoking traditional tobacco cigarettes instead of making the switch to a much healthier alternative.
The tax debate seems to have stalled but a more nefarious proposal has taken its place. Senate Bill 539 and its companion House Bill 1432 have both passed their respective chambers of the Indiana legislature. Americans for Tax Reform opposes these bills and recently sent a letter to Indiana lawmakers and Governor Mike Pence explaining why.
These pieces of legislation create a state-based regulatory framework for vapor product packaging and labeling, a framework that is best left to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). If every state imposed its own set of guidelines for good manufacturing practices, labeling, and packaging, companies who sold products in multiple states would have a compliance nightmare on their hands, likely reducing the availability of products on the market.
Additionally, the FDA is better suited than the state to regulate and test ingredients and batches of products in this industry.
There is a more sinister motive behind the push to regulate these products that has nothing to do with protecting consumer or the general public. These regulations are being pushed by a company intent on establishing a monopoly on vapor product sales in Indiana.
The Indiana Vapor Company LLC would be set up to be the sole manufacturer of e-liquid (the product consumers use to refill their "open system" vapor products) in Indiana. Small businesses in the state could not afford the expensive security systems SB 539 and HB 1432 mandates, security systems far more complex than ones required by the federal government for tobacco companies. Indiana Vapor Company has suspicious ties to a Centaur Gaming, a company that is no stranger to the benefits of a monopoly on the market.
We urge the legislature to reject this blatant act of crony capitalism and defer to the FDA for the appropriate set of guidelines for vapor products. Any set of state-based regulations should acknowledge that when the FDA releases their minimum level of product guidelines, they will trump state laws to ensure simplicity and conformity for all companies who do business in multiple states. This will benefit consumers, who seek a wide range of available flavors and options in the vapor market in their journey to quit smoking.