City of Fairfax Wants to Tax the Rain

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Posted by Dennis Hull on Friday, December 3rd, 2021, 5:11 PM PERMALINK

Is there anything that can’t be taxed? In the city of Fairfax, lawmakers want to charge residents for the privilege of having rain fall on their property. 

Formally known as a “stormwater utility fee,” the Rain Tax will extend to everyone and everything with a roof, parking lot or driveway in Fairfax. Homeowners, small businesses, HOAs, non-profits, churches, and even disabled veterans, who were previously un-taxed, will feel the sting of a new monthly tax. City officials say the tax is needed to pay for maintenance of stormwater drainage infrastructure. 

But money is not the issue for Fairfax. The City has already spent about $400,000 – twenty percent of an entire year’s worth of stormwater management funds – on advertising to convince residents that a Rain Tax is a good idea. 

Now, the City wants another $4.48 million from families and businesses in 2022. By 2027, residents will be paying $5.58 million in new taxes, simply for having a roof over their heads. 

The amount that residents will be charged depends entirely on the surface area of their roof, driveway, parking lot, gravel and concrete surfaces – any “manmade feature” that creates runoff during a storm. Under this proposal, important considerations like property valuations, annual income, and the ability of a resident to pay the fee are irrelevant. The bigger your roof and driveway, the bigger your tax bill will be. 

Historically, Rain Taxes are incredibly unpopular. Maryland tried a statewide version of the Rain Tax in 2013. For years, the city of Baltimore and Maryland’s nine largest counties were forced to charge their residents for every square foot of impervious surfaces on their properties. 

Along with being intrusive and frivolous, the Rain Tax was implemented differently in each county, making it difficult for Marylanders to correctly follow the law. For example, Charles County levied a flat fee of $43 per property, while Montgomery County charged fees ranging from $29 to $265 depending on the total area of impervious surfaces.

A year after signing the Rain Tax into law, Governor Martin O’Malley saw his chosen successor lose to Republican Larry Hogan in an embarrassing upset. In fact, Maryland’s Rain Tax was so unpopular that a repeal of the law was passed almost unanimously just two years later. Only one state delegate voted to uphold the tax. 

For residents struggling with rising inflation, and small businesses battling a historic shortage of labor, a Rain Tax will only make life more difficult in the City of Fairfax. Lawmakers should look to surplus General Fund revenue or existing real estate tax funds to support stormwater management programs, as they have done for years, rather than impose a new burdensome tax on families and businesses. 

Photo Credit: W.carter, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

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Poll: Voters Say IRS Enlargement Will Hit Middle Class

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Posted by Isabelle Morales on Friday, December 3rd, 2021, 2:49 PM PERMALINK

By a 2-1 margin, voters believe additional IRS funding for auditing and tax law enforcement will impact the middle-class, despite Democrats’ claims that it would be aimed at the wealthy. According to a new poll by HarrisX, 58 percent of voters believe that the Democrats’ plan to supersize the IRS would impact the middle class, compared to just 23 percent who believe it’d be limited to the wealthy. 

Out of nearly $80 billion in new IRS funding in Democrats’ reconciliation bill, $44.9 billion, more than half, will go directly towards “enforcement.” The agency will receive a comparatively meager $1.93 billion in funding for “taxpayer services” which include things like pre-filing assistance and education, filing and account services, and taxpayer advocacy services. That is a 23-1 ratio of spending on “enforcement” vs. “taxpayer services.”

President Biden and congressional Democrats have claimed that this increase and enforcement will be limited to the wealthy.  

Respondents were asked the following:    

Do you think the additional IRS funding for auditing and tax law enforcement, which is supposed to be aimed at wealthy, would be limited to that group or would the middle class also be impacted? 

58 percent of respondents said that increased enforcement will impact the middle class, while just 23 percent believed it would be limited to the wealthy. 

Voters in key demographics agreed that the additional funding would impact the middle class:  

  • 76 percent of Republicans  
  • 56 percent of independents  
  • 65 percent of male voters  
  • 52 percent of female voters  
  • 59 percent of voters with 4+ years of post-high school education  
  • 61 percent of suburban voters  
  • 61 percent of rural voters  

 

The poll-takers are correct, as the bill will fund 1.2 million more annual IRS audits; about half will hit households making less than $75k. 

As previously reported by CNBC, experts say a fattened-up IRS would go after small businesses that necessarily depend on cash transactions: 

Certain small businesses may face an audit under the plan. “I think the industries that should be concerned are those in cash,” said Luis Strohmeier, a Miami-based CFP and partner at Octavia Wealth Advisors. 

[He expects the agency to scrutinize cash-only small businesses like restaurants, retail, salons and other service-based companies.] 

The wealthy and large corporations already have armies of lawyers and accountants that ensure they legally take advantage of the plethora of credits and deductions offered by the tax code. Further, the IRS already audits the largest corporations at high rates.

The IRS will go after easier targets to find this money instead: businesses and individuals without legal teams and accountants. New IRS enforcement will fall on American families and small businesses, not the “rich.”  

The poll was conducted between November 29 - December 1 among 1,848 registered voters. The sampling margin of error of this poll is plus or minus 2.3 percentage points and results reflect a nationally representative sample of registered voters. 

Photo Credit: Van Tay media licesned for free use.

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Wisconsin Residents Won’t Have To Worry About State Taxes Going Up If Rebecca Kleefisch Is Elected Governor

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Posted by Americans for Tax Reform on Friday, December 3rd, 2021, 12:22 PM PERMALINK

Former Wisconsin Lt. Governor Rebecca Kleefisch signed the Taxpayer Protection Pledge this week in her bid to be the Badger State’s next governor. The Pledge, sponsored by Americans for Tax Reform, commits gubernatorial signers to oppose and veto any and all efforts to enact net tax hikes. 

Americans for Tax Reform offers the Pledge to all candidates for state and federal office.  Fourteen incumbent governors and over 1,000 state legislators have signed the Pledge. Rebecca Kleefisch joins 15 sitting Wisconsin state legislators and four members of the state’s congressional delegation who have made this important commitment to taxpayers.

Incumbent Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers (D) has made it clear he does not share Kleefisch’s commitment to defending taxpayers. In fact, Governor Evers kicked off this year proposing to raise state taxes as part of his executive budget. Governor Evers’ proposed budget would’ve raised taxes by a billion dollars over the next biennium. The Republican controlled Wisconsin House and Senate not only put a stop to Evers’ billion dollar tax hike this year, they convinced him to swallow a budget that actually cut taxes.

By signing the Taxpayer Protection Pledge, Rebecca Kleefisch makes it clear she would be a governor whose administration would allow state legislators to resume and build upon he considerable progress that’s been made over the past decade in reducing Wisconsin’s tax burden. Wisconsin’s average state and local tax burden has dropped from 12.2% of income in 1999, the nation’s fifth highest at the time, to 10.3% today, the nation’s 23rd highest. This progress has been made thanks in large part to the tax relief and Act 10-facilitated spending restraint enacted by then-Governor Scott Walker, Lt. Governor Kleefisch, and the Republican-run Wisconsin Legislature during the last decade.

“I want to thank and congratulate Rebecca Kleefisch for taking the Taxpayer Protection Pledge,” said Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform. “Were Rebecca Kleefisch to be elected governor, that would allow Republican lawmakers to build upon the progress they made during the Walker years, such as with reforms that reduce the state’s still uncompetitive top income tax rate. But first and foremost, under a Kleefisch administration Wisconsin taxpayers would not have to worry about their state tax burden going up. The same comfort would not be there should Tony Evers get another four years in office. By signing the Pledge, Rebecca Kleefisch has demonstrated that she understands the problems of hard-working Wisconsin taxpayers in a way that Tony Evers does not.” 

The Taxpayer Protection Pledge is a public, written commitment by elected officials or candidates to the taxpayers of his or her state or district. The Pledge is a commitment to oppose and veto or vote against any net tax increase. All candidates for federal and state office have been offered the Pledge each election cycle since 1986.


Stolen Taxpayer Files: Senate Finance Republicans Send Letter to IRS Commissioner Demanding Answers by Dec. 15

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Posted by Michael Mirsky on Thursday, December 2nd, 2021, 3:30 PM PERMALINK

Senate Finance ranking member Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) and 13 of his Republican  colleagues sent a detailed letter to IRS commissioner Charles Rettig urging him to probe the theft of private taxpayer files of thousands of Americans spanning a period of 15 years. The Dec. 1 letter, which comes nearly six months after progressive news outlet ProPublica published the stolen information, calls out the agency for its foot-dragging in determining the source of the breach.

The letter criticizes Rettig for the agency's slow response to a serious violation of the privacy of American taxpayers. The Senators wrote:

Despite clear and ongoing evidence of a threat of a data breach, in response to a letter sent to you by Senators Grassley and Crapo, you responded in part that “We do not yet know whether there has been a data breach or a threat of a data breach.” Your letter of September 13, 2021, also notes that “We do not yet have any information concerning the source of the alleged taxpayer information published by ProPublica.”

On Tuesday, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said -- for at least the fifth time -- that she still does not know the source of the IRS leaks. 

The letter points out how the IRS does not have proper safeguards in place to protect confidential taxpayer data. As the letter notes:

Even before ProPublica began publishing articles utilizing taxpayer information, significant issues with IRS IT systems were well documented. In fact, the struggles of the IRS to modernize IT systems is something of an old chestnut in tax policy circles. Aside from a reliance on COBOL which is referred to as “geriatric code,” it is also reported that the “IRS main software "Master File" was developed in 1962 and uses nine-track tape for data storage. None of the IRS programs have ever been that well coordinated.”

Crapo and his colleagues go on to say that IRS contractor relationships introduce additional security vulnerabilities that have not been adequately addressed. The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration recently recommended that the IRS implement end-to-end encryption in transferring taxpayer data to Private Collection Agencies to protect taxpayers against unauthorized access and disclosure. Despite the recommendation, the letter notes that “PCA information residing at the IRS had not been encrypted in the production environment.”

The lack of competence on the part of the IRS is especially shocking in light of their request for unprecedented funding. The letter points out that:

the IRS and Treasury are advocating for an unprecedented, nearly $80 billion, amount of mandatory funding from general taxpayer resources. In the funding scheme being advocated, the IRS is to be provided with a mandatory stream of $80 billion, after which the IRS would report to Congress on how it plans to use the funds—that is; fund now, plan later. Such a scheme, in the face of ongoing alleged privacy leaks of what appear to be IRS information, the source(s) of which no federal agency appears to have any knowledge, and in the face of known serious deficiencies in IRS data protections, defines irresponsibility.

The letter concludes with a series of questions about the agency’s response to these leaks, including how many employees have been tasked with this investigation, what is the status of  IRS’s efforts to resolve the 120 open GAO recommendations, how many contractors has the IRS provided taxpayer information to that has not been encrypted over the past year and the past 10 years, and how much of their requested funding would the IRS plan to use on additional digital surveillance of taxpayers. 

Given their failure to protect sensitive taxpayer information, every American should be concerned about the Democrats' proposal to increase the size and scope of the IRS. 

The PDF of the letter can be found here.

 

Photo Credit: United States Senate


Ohio Considers Mandating Union-Only Workers at Refineries

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Posted by Dennis Hull on Thursday, December 2nd, 2021, 2:23 PM PERMALINK

Ohio’s four oil refineries could face onerous new requirements to hire union-only workers under a recently introduced bill. 

Refineries often use construction crews to complete turnaround projects, in which the entire processing capacity of a plant is taken offline for inspection, improvements, and catalyst regeneration. Turnarounds are already expensive, constituting the most significant portion of a plant’s yearly maintenance budget. As production is shut down, efficiency is key: companies lose revenue every day the facility is not in operation. But HB 235 would impose even higher costs and regulatory burdens on turnarounds and other construction projects as refineries are forced to contract with crews of union workers. 

While the word “union” is never mentioned in the legislative text, the bill recognizes only participants and graduates of registered, government-approved apprenticeship programs. That means apprentices in similar programs recognized by the refining industry, but not registered with the Ohio government, cannot count toward the new mandatory quotas. 

Apprentices of industry-recognized programs graduate with specialized knowledge and experience, as well as comprehensive safety training. Trade groups, corporations, non-profits and educational institutions collaborate to provide competitive training programs for future industry employees. But the bill unfairly treats these apprentices as inferior workers by banning them from construction projects in the refining industry, putting them at a disadvantage despite no real difference in ability. 

Proponents of HB 235 say that the bill accounts for non-union workers. It is true that Class B skilled journeypersons – trade workers who have acquired at least 10,000 hours in on-the-job experience –  may also count toward the new mandatory quotas. However, 5 years of experience is a high and unnecessary bar to set for construction crews in one of the safest manufacturing industries in the nation. 

Known as the High Hazard Training Certification Act, HB 235 asserts that workplace safety is a major concern in the refining industry and that additional union workers would fix the problem. Yet this notion is a slap in the face to Ohio refiners, which consider safe operations their number one core operating value. In fact, the industry itself is remarkably safe: compared with more than 500 other manufacturing industries, the U.S. refining industry boasts the lowest injury and illness rates, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The data simply do not support a blanket ban on an entire class of apprentices, especially in the name of safety. 

While HB 235 will have little impact on worker safety, it will interfere with efficient operations at Ohio’s four refineries by mandating high quotas of union workers. Beginning in 2022, the bill requires 45% of workers hired for construction projects to have completed registered apprenticeship training. That quota will increase rapidly through 2024, when 80% of project workers must be graduates of a government-approved program. Most industry-recognized apprentices, who have the same skills, will have to find a job somewhere else. 

Meanwhile, the refineries will have to sacrifice significant time and resources to meticulously ensure their quotas are being met. After all, the bill intimidates companies into compliance with harsh penalties. Refineries that do not fulfill their government-mandated quota of union workers face a hefty fine of $10,000 per worker for every day they are not in compliance. 

To make matters worse, HB 235 requires each contractor and subcontractor to submit a compliance report on all workers for every project at an Ohio refinery. Contractors are also expected to maintain a massive database of employee records for up to 3 years after completion of a project, allowing the state to comprehensively enforce its union worker requirements. Information contained in compliance reports will include the names and addresses of the refinery owner and operator, the name and address of all subcontractors working on a construction project, proof certification, and a numerical breakdown of the different types of union apprentices who worked on a project, among several other provisions. 

As America’s labor shortage continues to jam production, Ohio legislators should reject this proposal to burden refineries with needless government mandates and financial penalties in order to address a problem that doesn’t exist. House Bill 235 will not only challenge the economic viability of operating Ohio’s refineries but will also jeopardize the safety of their workers, and their surrounding communities, by taking away their rights to hire the best in the business.

IMAGE credit: WikiMedia Commons

URL: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/01/Aerial_of_Badak_NGL_natural_gas_refinery.jpg

DescriptionAerial photo by PT Badak NGL

Date23 January 2019, 13:29

SourceAerial of Badak NGL natural gas refinery

Authorconsigliere ivan from Bontang, Indonesia

Photo Credit: WikiMedia Commons

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Poll: Majority of Voters Believe Energy Taxes in Reconciliation Bill Will Increase Consumer, Small Business Energy Costs

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Posted by Isabelle Morales on Thursday, December 2nd, 2021, 2:10 PM PERMALINK

Voters overwhelmingly believe that the two energy taxes included in Democrats’ reconciliation bill will increase energy prices and home heating costs. According to a new poll by HarrisX, 66 percent of voters believe these energy taxes will increase energy costs, compared to just 12 percent of voters who do not think it will increase costs.  

Within Democrats’ “Build Back Better” bill are two new energy taxes – one on methane emissions from natural gas production and one on crude oil production.  

One provision of the bill imposes a 16.4 cents per barrel tax on crude oil and petroleum products beginning in 2022, a $12.77 billion tax. This tax would be pegged to inflation, meaning the tax would be increased automatically every year without Congress ever having to vote again.  

The second provision is an $8 billion energy tax on natural gas production that would be phased in, beginning at $900/ton of methane emissions in 2023 and rising to $1,500/ton for emissions reported in 2025. 

The poll was conducted between November 29 - December 1 among 1,848 registered voters. The sampling margin of error of this poll is plus or minus 2.3 percentage points and results reflect a nationally representative sample of registered voters. 

Respondents were asked the following:   

Congress has proposed two new energy taxes - one on methane emissions from natural gas production and one on crude oil production. Do you think these taxes will be passed onto consumers and small businesses in the form of higher energy prices and home heating costs or not? 

66 percent of respondents said they believed these taxes would be passed onto consumers and small businesses in the form of higher energy costs, while just 12 percent said that the taxes would not be passed on.  

This consensus remained consistent amongst key demographics including: 

  • 74 percent of Republicans 
  • 64 percent of Democrats 
  • 62 percent of independents 
  • 65 percent of Biden voters 
  • 76 percent of male voters 
  • 58 percent of female voters 
  • 77 percent of voters with 4+ years of post-high school education 
  • 67 percent of suburban voters 
  • 68 percent of rural voters 

 

These proposals come at a time when gasoline prices have increased 49.6 percent in the past 12 months, 6.1 percent in October alone. Americans are facing average gas prices of $3.49 per gallon, marking 12 straight months of rising gas prices and the highest retail gas prices since August of 2014. 

This winter, the U.S. Energy Information Administration forecasts that Americans will be paying 30 percent more for natural gas, 43 percent more for heating oil, 6 percent more for electricity, and 54 percent more for propane. If the weather is colder than normal, Americans could be paying even more.  

Inevitably, imposing new energy taxes will exacerbate this problem.  

Energy taxes are extremely regressive, given that higher costs disproportionately hurt low-income families. Thus, these tax hikes are clear violations of President Biden’s pledge not to raise any form of tax on anyone making less than $400,000 per year. Officials within the administration have repeatedly admitted taxes that raise consumer energy prices are in violation of the pledge. 

Already, low-income families are struggling because of rising costs nationwide. According to a new Gallup poll, 71 percent of low-income households have reported experiencing financial hardship due to rising prices. Of the 71 percent, 28 percent of low-income households say they have experienced “severe hardship” due to rising prices, and 42 percent say they have experienced “moderate hardship.”

Instead of helping solve Americans’ real and tangible problems, the Biden administration and congressional Democrats seem willing to exacerbate them to fund a bill packed with earmarks, wasteful spending, and special interest giveaways. 

Photo Credit: "Pumping Gas" by Micheal Kappel is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.

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Washington Sued Over Long-Term Care Law

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Posted by Drew Carlson on Thursday, December 2nd, 2021, 11:19 AM PERMALINK

Washington recently passed a new law mandating that workers sign up with the state’s long-term care program, the WA Cares Fund, and pay a payroll tax to finance it. This will be the nation’s first long-term care law. However, some are alleging that this law is not only burdensome but illegal.  

On November 9, opponents of the law filed a class-action lawsuit to stop the payroll tax from taking effect this January. The lawsuit alleges that the long-term care law violates the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) and federal protections for older workers. 

The law imposes a .58% payroll tax to pay for the WA Cares Fund in exchange for a benefits program where, starting in 2025, workers who have trouble with at least three “activities of daily living” can receive funds for care such as installing wheelchair ramps, rides to the doctor, and in-home care. The program comes with a lifetime cap of $36,500, though the government can adjust this based on inflation.  

To access these funds, a worker must have paid into the program for a total of ten years with at least five being uninterrupted, or three of the previous six years. The program also requires recipients to reside within Washington to receive the benefits. The only way someone can opt-out of the program is if they had a long-term care plan already in place by November 1st. 

According to the suit, the restrictions on who can access the funds run afoul of ERISA, a federal law mandating specific standards for most retirement and health plans in the private sector. ERISA has a nonforfeiture rule which prevents workers from being denied benefits from a program they paid into.  

This is a problem for the long-term care law since Idaho or Oregon residents who work in Washington must pay the tax but cannot access the benefits. Washington residents who paid into the program but retired to another state are similarly barred. The suit claims that these restrictions violate the nonforfeiture rule since these workers paid for the benefit but cannot use it. 

The lawsuit also accuses the WA Cares Fund of age discrimination since older workers won’t be eligible for the benefits if they’re within ten years of retirement. Not only does this mean the law fails to help the sort of people it was written for, but the lawsuit claims it also violates the Older Workers Benefit Protection Act.  

Finally, the lawsuit claims that the treatment of Idaho and Oregon workers violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution since they are being treated disparately compared to their fellow workers. The district attorney of Idaho held similar views, issuing a cease-and-desist order to Jay Inslee concerning the tax against Idaho residents.  

The order declares, “The Program is discriminatory and unconstitutional as to Idaho residents who work in Washington. To avoid legal action, please ensure that Washington refrains from implementing or enforcing the program against Idaho residents.” 

The WA Cares Fund is yet another poorly conceived government welfare program. It claims to want to help people, whether they like it or not but then bars them from the same benefits it promised while taking their money. It is a poor law being used as a pretext for yet another tax. 

Photo Credit: “Washington State Capitol” by Steve Voght is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

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What Is New York City’s New Congestion Tax Scheme?

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Posted by Boldizsar Hajas on Wednesday, December 1st, 2021, 4:59 PM PERMALINK

Back in 2019 the New York State legislature approved a “congestion pricing” plan for downtown New York City.  

The basic concept is simple: tax people for entering highly congested areas, thus reducing the traffic. 

This idea is meant to harness the “nonlinear” nature of traffic congestion. As a highway reaches its design capacity, each additional vehicle added to the road creates more congestion than the vehicle that came before it. Also, the reverse is true. That is what the policy is built upon: even a small decrease in the number of vehicles can visibly ease congestion.

New York would be the first state to introduce such a plan, formally named the ‘Central Business District Tolling Program’. The planned pricing area would consist of Manhattan downtown, that is all streets and roadways south of 60th Street, except the FDR Drive, the West Side Highway, sections of the Battery Park Underpass and Hugh Carey “Brooklyn-Battery” Tunnel that connect the FDR Drive to the West Side Highway.   

The pricing is not determined yet and will be decided according to how many credits and exemptions are given out, but it will likely be around $12 – 14 for passenger vehicles, and $25 for trucks. The fee would operate on a once-a-day basis.   

The congestion tax is expected to pay for 30% of the $51 billion capital investment plan of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) – with 80% of funds is planned to go to New York City buses and subways, and 10% each to the Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North Railroad.   

Since the passage of the bill, the Governor of New York changed, with Kathy Hochul taking over, as well as the federal administration. Now given approval, a long process has started in which the MTA will meet with federal, local, and state agencies. Also, on September 23, a series of virtual public hearings have started, running through October. Additionally, the most important time-related factor is that an environmental assessment needs to be carried out, which will supposedly take until late 2022, delaying the actual implementation of congestion pricing to 2023. 

A fundamentally critical point of this policy is that it provides more funding for the MTA on the expense of commuters, ultimately introducing a new kind of tax for driving downtown. The issue with it is that the MTA have already received huge amounts of federal funding, despite its questionable management efficiency and a just recently surfaced example of its poor stewardship. It is a fair question to ask whether the best way to make the NY metro more developed and efficient is providing it with more money, especially as it was in deficit even before the hurdle of the coronavirus hit. 

This reservation resonates with the costly nature of introducing such a plan. An operational system for enforcing the regulation would need to be designed, which requires investment in infrastructure and manpower. TransCore, a private company based in Nashville was already awarded in 2019, contracting with MTA $507 million for the design, building, and operation of such a system. 

Moreover, the different aims of the policy seem conflicting, as it is aiming to result in fewer people on the roads, however, that means lesser revenue ultimately.  Thus, the sustainability of the plan, that is being efficient rather than consuming more funds, is questionable.

Something to take into consideration after assessing the costs, is who would pay for it and by what means. Businesses which will have to continue getting their supply downtown by trucks will raise their prices or lower their wages, harming their consumers or workers. Rideshare companies will also pass the hike to their customers, making an otherwise reasonable alternative to driving one’s own car more costly. And although the rate probably won’t be firmly regressive, as less low-income people drive into the Manhattan area, by making living-general costs higher, the policy could easily result in excluding outer-borough residents and unfavorable treatment of commuters.

Rather than raising even more revenue for an authority of seemingly not the best management skills by making people not using the service pay for it, the government should apply reforms addressing the core problems of the metro system. And as for easing congestion, the named main goal of the policy, valid alternatives which make the existing system more efficient (like cashless tolling on the Thruway) should be examined.  

PHOTO credits:

Taken on 23 April 2018, 08:49:52

Source: Own work

Author: Tdorante10

Photo Credit: WikiMedia Commons; Tdorante10

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Coalition Opposes Sohn's Federal Communications Commission Nomination

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Posted by Katie McAuliffe on Tuesday, November 30th, 2021, 7:32 PM PERMALINK

A coalition of 19 center-right organizations sent a letter to the Senate opposing Gigi Sohn's nomination to serve as a Commissioner on the Federal Communications Commission.

Sohn has spent decades as a hyper-partisan activist, launching attacks against regulators and elected officials who do not share her views. All of which has been well documented on social media. The letter outlines her past positions and how, if confirmed, Sohn would work to instill policies that would crush innovation, silence conservative speech, and eviscerate intellectual property protections.  

December 1, 2021  

Dear Senators:  

We, the undersigned, represent a broad coalition of organizations who oppose the nomination of Gigi Sohn to serve as Commissioner at the Federal Communications Commission. If confirmed, Sohn would work to instill policies that would crush innovation, silence conservative speech, and eviscerate intellectual property protections.  

The FCC was created by Congress to be an independent regulator and it has broad power over the telecommunications, media, and technology sectors. The agency has been characterized by bipartisan cooperation and accountability to Congress.  

Sohn has spent decades as a hyper-partisan activist, launching attacks against regulators and elected officials who do not share her views. She implied that the ranking member of the Senate Commerce Committee is an industry puppet. She suggested that Republican senators are a threat to the country. She credits center-right news outlets with “destroying democracy” and “electing autocrats.” And she joined the board of an organization after it was sued by major broadcasters for violating the Copyright Act—a case that recently resulted in a $32 million judgment against her organization. Given these views, it is hard to believe that Sohn would give regulated entities a fair shake or operate in a bipartisan manner at the FCC.  

The FCC plays a critical role in protecting and upholding free speech and the First Amendment rights of regulated entities. Sohn’s willingness to use the FCC’s power to silence her opponents is disqualifying on its own.  Sohn has expressed interest in the FCC revoking hundreds of broadcast licenses from a particular broadcaster due in part to the editorial decisions that company has made. She supported a campaign by elected officials to pressure cable and streaming services to drop conservative news outlets. And she closely aligns with an organization who petitioned the FCC to investigate broadcasters whose COVID-19 coverage they disagreed with.

Her views on Title II are emblematic of her longstanding tendency to promote policies that over-regulate the industries in the FCC’s jurisdiction. Sohn was one the chief architects of the short-lived Title II common-carriage rules that she claimed were necessary to enforce net neutrality. The rules drove down broadband investment,  increased prices, and decreased the adoption of home Internet service. Sohn has made it clear that she not only wants to reinstate these rules, but wants to take them further, including a ban on “zero-rating,” the free wireless data services that are particularly popular among low-income users. She has also signaled a desire for the FCC to set the price of broadband service, a practice that would be more apt for the Soviet Union than the United States.

When the rules were being repealed by the prior administration’s FCC, Sohn encouraged the far-left activist campaigns that fueled hyperbolic and doomsday predictions about the destruction of the Internet. FCC commissioners received death threats and a bomb threat was called into the FCC moments before the vote to repeal the rules. Sohn works with and supports the organizations who engaged in the tactics and rhetoric that led to these ugly displays.

Throughout her career, Sohn has favored policies that undermine intellectual property rights protections. She spearheaded an FCC proceeding that would have enabled tech platforms to effectively steal and monetize television content without paying for usage rights. Sohn also served on the board of Locast, a “non-profit” that was determined to be illegally retransmitting broadcasters’ content without their consent in violation of the Copyright Act. The case resulted in a permanent injunction that required Locast to pay $32 million in statutory damages. Sohn cannot be an impartial regulator of the broadcast industry after joining the Board of an organization that openly violated that industry’s copyrights. 

As the decisive vote on controversial matters at the agency, Sohn would have the power and incentive to push the FCC towards government control of communications. Further, the Biden Administration has shown a willingness to mislead Senators when it comes to agency leadership, as demonstrated by the bait-and-switch the White House pulled with the Federal Trade Commission, when Chair Khan was elevated after being confirmed under false pretenses. The potential for Sohn to become chair of the FCC makes her nomination all the more concerning. 

Sohn’s confirmation would jeopardize investment and innovation, threaten free speech, and bring partisanship to the FCC. For these and other reasons, we urge Senators to reject Sohn’s confirmation. 

Sincerely,  

Grover G. Norquist
President
Americans for Tax Reform

Phil Kerpen
President
American Commitment
 
Krisztina Pusok, Ph. D.
Director
American Consumer Institute
Center for Citizen Research
 
Jon Schweppe
Director of Policy and Government Affairs
American Principles Project

 

Richard Manning
President
Americans for Limited Government

 

Jeffrey Mazzella
President
Center for Individual Freedom

 

Andrew F. Quinlan
President
Center for Freedom and Prosperity
 
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More from Americans for Tax Reform


Yellen Claims She Still Does Not Know Who Stole Thousands of Private IRS Files

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Posted by ATR on Tuesday, November 30th, 2021, 3:50 PM PERMALINK

[See Also: Here's your handy cheat sheet on the Big Dem Tax and Spend Bill]

As the Biden administration seeks a dramatic increase in the size and power of the IRS, today Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said she still does not know who stole the private taxpayer files of thousands of Americans, or who gave the files to the progressive group, ProPublica. The files cover at least 15 years worth of data, described by ProPublica as "a vast trove."

Yellen said: “We don’t know what the source of the leak of that information was, and I would say it’s premature to indicate that it came from the IRS.” 

It doesn't seem like there is a sense of urgency to get to the bottom of things. Meanwhile Democrats push for more IRS power, more IRS agents, more IRS audits.

When the existence of the "trove" was announced on June 8, IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig said under oath that an investigation was already underway:

I can confirm that there is an investigation with respect to the allegations that the source of the information in that article came from the Internal Revenue Service. Upon reviewing the article, the appropriate contacts were made as you would expect. And the investigators will investigate." (1:08:12)

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) followed up and asked (1:09:42):

"When you said that you are investigating this ProPublica release of secret IRS files, I assume that if your investigation finds a violation of the law, you are going to see that people are prosecuted, is that right?"

Rettig replied:

"Absolutely."

It's been nearly six months, and still there is nothing but radio silence, all while the American people are supposed to just shrug and accept the imposition of enormous new IRS powers -- including bank account snooping -- as proposed by Democrats in their tax and spend blowout bill. Over the decades, the IRS has proven to be unable or unwilling to safeguard taxpayer data.

Here is a timeline of Yellen's statements on the matter:

June 16, 2021

(1:21:38) Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.): "Just last week the IRS had one of the most widespread breaches in the agency's history in order to advance a political agenda. This apparent leak -- a targeted leak, a targeted attack I should say -- on a select few Americans undermines the confidence in the agency and goes to the heart of public trust between taxpayers and the IRS's ability to safeguard private information. Can you tell me how the Treasury and the IRS hold individuals accountable who broke federal law by sharing confidential tax information, tax returns, and will you commit to updating me on what steps the administration has taken to ensure this doesn't happen again, and can you maybe tell us what steps you have taken so far?"

Janet Yellen: "Yes. This was a very serious situation that I and the Treasury Department take very seriously, the protection of government data. We've referred this matter to the Treasury Inspector General, and to the Department of Justice. The IRS commissioner is looking into the matter, as is the Treasury's Inspector General for Tax Administration. But we are only one week out on this. And I really want to emphasize, we do not know what happened. We don't have any facts at this point. I promise to keep you updated on what we find. But it is absolutely top priority to safeguard taxpayer data. When we see the results of the investigations that are done, if there are actions that we need to take to shore up the protection of this information, you have my absolute word that we will do so and we will keep you and congress informed on what we are doing, and what we are finding on this."

June 23, 2021 (44:00) Janet Yellen: “Let me just say one final word about the IRS. Many of you have expressed concern about the recent ProPublica report. I am deeply troubled by it as well. And it’s important to stress that an unauthorized disclosure of taxpayer information is a crime and that it has been referred to the FBI, federal prosecutors, and Treasury Department oversight authorities. We don’t yet know what occurred, but all is being done to get to the bottom of this criminal activity and we will be sure to update you as we learn more.” 

September 28, 2021 (2:13:12) Janet Yellen: “Protecting taxpayer information is the highest priority of the Internal Revenue Service. The ProPublica information represented an illegal revelation of taxpayer information. It’s an illegal act. And it is being investigated thoroughly by independent entities, law enforcement, and the inspector generals of Treasury and the IRS. And there really can’t be tolerance for that.”

“Just to be clear: we do not know that the ProPublica information came from the IRS. That hasn’t been established.”

September 30, 2021 Rep. David Kustoff (R -Tenn): “How did ProPublica publish and obtain the information from the IRS about taxpayer information?”

Janet Yellen: “Independent agencies and law enforcement are currently looking into that and attempting to figure out how that occurred. That is clearly a crime and an utterly unacceptable thing and it will be prosecuted when it’s understood.”

November 30, 2021 Janet Yellen (1:50:59): “There are independent agencies, both within Treasury, the inspector General, also the FBI and DOJ, that are conducting investigations. We’re not privy, nothing has been reported out yet from those investigations that I’m aware of, but I believe those investigations are moving forward”

Janet Yellen (1:51:58): “We don’t know what the source of the leak of that information was, and I would say it’s premature to indicate that it came from the IRS.” 

Photo Credit: Federalreserve


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