Brooke Starr

North Dakota Income Tax Elimination Still Alive as House Takes a Stand

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Posted by Brooke Starr on Wednesday, April 17th, 2019, 2:38 PM PERMALINK

As North Dakota’s legislative session wraps up in the next three weeks, there are a few important bills that lawmakers are trying to get across the finish line before the 80-day session ends. 

One provision that Republicans are trying to pass is income tax relief. The Senate failed to pass House Bill 1530 late March, which would have transferred funds from the Legacy fund, an oil tax savings account, to an income tax rate reduction fund. This is important because without returning to money to taxpayers through a tax cut, it could be spent instead. 

Provisions of HB 1530 were added to Senate Bill 2006 in the form of an amendment this last week, an appropriations bill originally meant to target the homestead credit and the disabled veterans’ credit. The House-amended version of the bill now awaits in senate conference, so hopefully lawmakers will be able to hash out the differences before their session is up on May 2nd.

This is a push in the right direction as states with lower or no income tax allow for higher growth, especially in the job market. According to a report by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), over the past decade, the nine states without personal income tax have consistently outperformed the nine states with the highest taxes on personal income in job creation, population growth, and tax revenues.

Another bill that legislators should aim to deliver to the Governor’s desk is House Bill 1286, relating to civil asset forfeiture reform in the Peace Garden state. The goal of this bill, according to its sponsor Representative Rick Becker (R-Bismark), is to eliminate the, “perverse incentive” of “policing for profit.”

According to the Institute for Justice (IJ) Policing for Profit report, North Dakota currently earns an F for its civil forfeiture laws. Only two states have received F ratings from IJ, North Dakota being one, and Massachusetts being the other. They rightfully received this rating for having the, “lowest bar to forfeit and no conviction required and poor protections for innocent third-party property owners,” with as much as 100% of forfeiture proceeds going to law enforcement. HB 1286 would raise the standard of proof for convictions and require annual reporting to increase transparency.

This is not going to solve the problem of corruption in the civil asset forfeiture system overnight, however, it is a step in the right direction when it comes to ensuring North Dakotans are granted due process and justice under the law.

Photo Credit: Timothy Vogel

States Say Yes to Second Chances

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Posted by Brooke Starr on Wednesday, March 20th, 2019, 2:00 PM PERMALINK

The U.S. has made enormous progress in criminal justice reform this last year with the passage of the First Step Act in December of 2018. The momentum for reform continues in the states.  

With an eye towards reducing recidivism, and making sure former non-violent offenders are able to become contributing members of society, states are tackling civil asset forfeiture, occupational licensing reform, and making the expungement process easier and cheaper.

"Clean slate," expungement focused measures are intended to make it more straightforward and simple for former offenders to get convictions removed from their record, or to have old nonviolent records sealed.

In Kentucky, Senate Bill 57, introduced by Senators Jimmy Higdon (R-14) and Gerald Neal (D-33), would allow discretionary expungement of Class D felonies with a ten-year waiting period. It is important to note that this does not include violent or sexual offenses, offenses involving a child, and public corruption offenses.

The bill would also lower the filing fee from $500 to $150. Currently, Kentucky has one of the highest costs of expungement, $500 for the filing fee, and a $40 certification (see chart below). The bill was introduced on January 8, has made it through the Rules and Judiciary Committees, and will be brought to the floor for a vote on Tuesday, March 12.

A “Clean Slate” bill also was heard in the Utah statehouse: House Bill 431, sponsored by Representative Eric Hutchings (R-Kearns). This bill would identify people who are eligible and put them on an automated track to a clean slate by expunging certain misdemeanor crimes. This bill has earned bipartisan support and backing from the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office, Utah Department of Public Safety, and more. HB 431 passed the House, made it through the Senate Committee on Judiciary, Law Enforcement, and Criminal Justice, but was not voted on in the Senate before session ended.

Lastly, Wisconsin lawmakers are also advancing similar sister bills in the State Assembly and Senate,  Assembly Bill 33 and Senate Bill 39. Both bills had respective public hearings this week. These bills make common-sense revisions to Wisconsin’s outdated expungement laws and make it easier for former convicts to connect with potential employers. This will be especially valuable to employersduring a time while almost every industry in Wisconsin is experiencing a workforce shortage.

The Badger Institute in Wisconsin released a report on the problems with Wisconsin’s expungement laws, and possible solutions to let Wisconsin judges help ex-convicts in the job seeking process. The report found that the state’s expungement laws were largely ineffective because judges are tasked with making the decision during sentencing rather than after completion of the defendant’s sentencing, when rehabilitation is more apparent.

The purpose of expungement itself is to reward those that have successfully completed their sentence and remained crime-free. If a former felon is serious about their repentance and rehabilitation, their prior mistakes, with some exceptions, should not be holding them back from being a contributing member of society. Too often, criminal records bar ex-convicts from re-entering society by way of job or home ownership, for example, and they get trapped in the same cycle of crime.

Charging high fees and having arbitrarily long waiting times for ex-convicts to receive expungement also defeats the purpose and does nothing to increase public safety or trust in the criminal justice system. The Kentucky bill is a great start, but the bill currently establishes a 10-year waiting period, when in reality, there is no evidence that a 10-year waiting period better protects public safety than a 5-year waiting period.

These bills allow for second chances. There should always be exceptions, based on the degree of the crime, but one mistake on an former offenders criminal record should not bar them from jobs, housing, or dignity for the rest of their lives – and when it does it makes it far more difficult for them to positively contribute to society. 

Photo Credit: Jorge Díaz

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Carbon Tax Pushed By New Mexico Dems Would Raise Gas Taxes and Fees by 238%

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Posted by Brooke Starr on Wednesday, March 13th, 2019, 3:44 PM PERMALINK

New Mexico Democrats, with full control of the state House, Senate, and governorship, want to impose a carbon tax on state residents that would cause a steep increase in household costs.

Senate Bill 393, sponsored by Senator William Soules (D-37), would burden the hardworking people of New Mexico with a massive gas tax hike. If implemented, what Democrats deem the “Next Gen Carbon Emission Pricing Plan,” would impose a gasoline surtax of 45 cents per gallon. The tax increase would begin at nine cents per gallon in 2020, and then increase by nine cents a year over the next five years until 2024.

To put this tax hike in perspective, SB 393 would increase New Mexico’s total taxes and fees on gasoline by 238 percent. The proposed 63.875 cents per gallon rate, coupled with the existing 1.875 cents Petroleum Products Loading Fee, would be 89 percent greater than the current national average of 33.78 cents per gallon, and would also beat out Pennsylvania's total gas tax of 58.7 cents as highest in the nation.

In addition to the gasoline surtax, SB 393 would also impose a natural gas processors surtax on top of New Mexico's existing natural gas processors tax. This tax would be begin at 60 cents per MMBtu in 2020, and increase 60 cents a year over the next five years until reaching $3.00 in 2024. Along with forcing taxpayers to spend significantly more of their hard-earned money at the pump, SB 393 would hurt one of New Mexico’s strongest industries, costing the state jobs and wages.

The carbon tax included in the bill adds a surtax to gasoline and natural gas equal to $10/metric ton of CO2 emitted, and will increase by $10 per year until it reaches $50 in 2024. This bill remains in the Senate Corporations and Transportation Committee after a tied vote on March 7, so it is thankfully dead for this session. There is no question that carbon tax proposals are unpopular with voters, so that combined with a 238% gas tax increase would most likely not spark joy with many voters in the Land of Enchantment.

The fiscal impact report of SB 393 released by the New Mexico state legislature included a graphic from NMDOT showing how truly drastic this proposal is:

Even Congresswomen Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has acknowledged the consequences of gas tax increases. In the original FAQ of her Green New Deal, she states, “We cannot simply tax gas and expect workers to figure out another way to get to work unless we’ve first created a better, more affordable option.” It seems SB 393 is in some ways more radical than the most aggressive Democratic proposal to date.

New Mexico legislators are going after taxpayers with this bill, and are completely following the lead of national left wing Democrats. New Mexico’s legislative session ends on March 16, however this issue is certainly not going away anytime soon.

Photo Credit: Jim Hickcox

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Don’t Tread on Me: California Dems Introduce Tire Tax, Gun Tax, Water Tax, and Energy Tax

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Posted by Brooke Starr on Monday, March 11th, 2019, 4:57 PM PERMALINK

California Democrats are insatiable when it comes to extracting taxes and siphoning money from the hard-working residents of the Golden State. The latest tax grab proposals are aimed at residents who use or buy guns, soda, tire changes, oil and gas, and water. Let’s review these tax-hiking bills one at a time:


Firearms Excise Tax - Assembly Bill 18, sponsored by Assemblyman Marc Levine (D-Greenbrae), would impose an excise tax on the sale of handguns and semi-automatic rifles. 


Tire Change Tax - Assembly Bill 755, introduced by Assemblyman Chris Holden (D-Pasadena), which would raise the tire change fee from $1.75 per tire to $3.25 per tire.


Water Tax - Senate Bill 200, sponsored by Bill Monning (D-Carmel), gives authority to all public water systems to “set, establish, and charge a schedule of rates and fees” that will increase household costs for Californians.  (A similar Democrat bill, Senate Bill 2805, died in the New Jersey state legislature last year).


Energy Tax - Senate Bill 246, sponsored by Senator Bob Wieckowski (D-Fremont), which would impose a tax of 10 percent of the average price per barrel of oil or unit of gas. His reasoning? Wieckowski wants oil and gas companies to pay “for the privilege of severing oil or gas from the earth or water.”


Beverage Tax - Lastly, though a bill has not yet been introduced, Assemblyman Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica) has already announced that he plans to revive his “beverage fee” bill this session. This would be his third attempt.


In the past, Bloom has argued for a 2-cents-per-fluid-ounce tax, but this may change in the new legislation. Regardless, soda taxes are bad policy. Like gas taxes, soda taxes are also regressive and disproportionately harm those who can least afford them, low-income consumers. Even Bernie 


Sanders agrees. He said: “The mechanism here is fairly regressive. And that is, it will be increasing taxes on low income and working people.”

Sanders also said: “Frankly, I am very surprised that Secretary Clinton would support this regressive tax after pledging not to raise taxes on anyone making less than $250,000. This proposal clearly violates her pledge."


These tax hike proposals are just another cash grab that will make California even less affordable.

Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore

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Third time will not be the charm for a carbon tax in Washington state

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Posted by Brooke Starr on Tuesday, March 5th, 2019, 4:30 PM PERMALINK

Last week, Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee (D) announced his candidacy for president. Inslee has joined several other Democrats candidates in embracing the radical Green New Deal. But Inslee has yet to see any of the climate policies that he has supported over the years cross the finish line in his own state.

Twice now, Washington voters have overwhelmingly rejected carbon taxes at the ballot box. First in 2016, with 59.25 percent of taxpayers voting no, and second in 2018 with 56.56 percent voting no.

Inslee is clearly out of touch when it comes to his constituents’ priorities. According to a Crosscut/Ellway poll from January 2019, the environment is not even in Washingtonians top six legislative issue areas – social services, economy, education, taxes, health care, and transportation all outrank environmental issues for voters in the Evergreen State.

Yet once again Inslee and some Washington lawmakers are refusing to listen to their constituents and are working to impose a carbon tax legislatively. Senate Bill 5971 would result in a roughly $17.1 billion tax hike, primarily by imposing the nation’s first carbon tax -- which would raise extract about $7.9 billion from residents over the next 10 years -- and increase the motor and special fuel excise tax by six cents per gallon.

Even bill sponsor Senator Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens, said his bill, also known as the “Carbon Pollution Fee,” would result in the hardworking people of Washington being burdened with the most expensive fuel taxes in the nation. The proposed carbon “fee” would add an additional 15-cent per gallon tax on fuel, plus the proposed six cents-per-gallon fuel tax increase for a total tax hike of 21 cents per gallon.

Washington’s current gas tax is already third highest in the nation:

Gas Tax




In addition to being forced to fork over more of their hard-earned income at the pump, the hardworking people of Washington would also have to spend more on their monthly utility bills. No wonder carbon taxes have been rejected in numerous blue states such as Maine, and other countries including Canada and France.

Adding insult to injury, SB 5971 also has the potential to raise other taxes and fees, including those on property development and commercial, electric, and private vehicles, as well as taxes on rental cars, bicycles, and auto parts.

Carbon taxes in Washington have already failed twice at the ballot by large margins, so the fact that Inslee is not only pushing another carbon tax bill, but also running as the “climate change” presidential candidate is laughable. He is clearly out of touch with voters in his home state which will definitely not translate well to a nationwide vote.

Photo Credit: Thomas Sorenes

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ATR Urges Arkansas Lawmakers to Reject Gas Tax Hike

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Posted by Brooke Starr on Friday, March 1st, 2019, 1:43 PM PERMALINK

Earlier this week, the Arkansas House Revenue and Taxation Committee approved Senate Bill 336, legislation that would force the hardworking people of Arkansas to spend more money at the pump. If implemented, this bill would impose an additional wholesale sales tax on gas and diesel fuel, undermining the pro-growth income tax cut that was signed into law just last week. 

Americans for Tax Reform sent a letter to Arkansas lawmakers urging them to vote NO on SB 336. The full text of the letter is below:

To: Members of the Arkansas House of Representatives

From: Americans for Tax Reform

Re: Oppose Senate Bill 336


Dear Representative,


On behalf of Americans for Tax Reform (ATR) and our supporters across Arkansas, I urge you to oppose Senate Bill 336, legislation that would impose an additional tax on gasoline and diesel.

If implemented, this bill would undermine the enactment of Act 182, Arkansas’s new pro-growth tax reform that will bring the top individual income tax rate down from 6.9 percent to 5.9 percent once fully implemented, and force taxpayers across the state to fork over more of their hard-earned income at the pump.

As shown on the chart below, excluding Tennessee, Arkansas’s current fuel tax rates are already higher than all of its neighboring states. SB 336 would exacerbate this gap by imposing a new wholesale sales tax on both gasoline and diesel fuel, at 3 and 6 cents per gallon. Rates proposed by SB 336 are in red.

*Tax rates are measured in cents per gallon. Source:


Under SB 336, Arkansas would replace Tennessee as having the unfortunate distinction as home to the highest diesel tax in the region, and have an even less regionally competitive gas tax.

Rather than taking more money from the hardworking people across Arkansas, lawmakers should better prioritize and make more efficient use of existing funds. ATR opposes SB 336 and all other efforts to raise taxes, including legislation that would refer tax increases to the ballot, and urges lawmakers to vote against them.

ATR will be educating Arkansas taxpayers as to how lawmakers vote on SB 336 and other issues this session. Please look to ATR as a resource on tax, budget, and regulatory matters pending before you.


Grover Norquist


Americans for Tax Reform

Photo Credit: Flickr

Gov. Wolf Says He's Not Asking for Tax Hike, While Proposing Tax Hike

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Posted by Brooke Starr on Thursday, February 14th, 2019, 10:06 AM PERMALINK

When Pennsylvania governor, Tom Wolf, gave his State of the State address on February 5, he said his budget proposal for the year asked for, “no new taxes. Not one dollar. Not one dime. Not one penny.” However, this turned out to be a lie. Just days before, the governor announced a plan to restore infrastructure across the Keystone state, that would be funded by a severance tax on natural gas drillers.

This tax is a double-tax on natural gas extraction that attacks the energy sector and will drive jobs and investment out of Pennsylvania, ultimately resulting in more expensive energy for families in the state. Not only is this proposal horrible policy, but it has already been repeatedly rejected by the state’s legislature over the past couple of years. Wolf is using infrastructure as an excuse to grab money at the expense of the state’s economy and taxpayers. This could definitely result in more than “one penny” in tax increases for Pennsylvanians, contrary to Governor Wolf’s remarks at the State of the State.

It is clear that protecting Pennsylvania taxpayers is not at the top of Governor Wolf’s legislative priorities for his term, as he has also once again called for raising the minimum wage in the state to $15. This minimum wage increase is clearly a move to appease the “Fight for $15” movement that claims to care about workers, yet advocates a policy that will kill jobs and shutter businesses. Radical minimum wages not only cost jobs, but also directly drive up costs for state and local governments, and consequently, taxpayers.

Photo Credit: Flickr

CT Governor Goes From 'No Tax' Ned, to 'New Tax' Ned

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Posted by Brooke Starr on Monday, February 11th, 2019, 11:16 AM PERMALINK

Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont is considering applying a sales tax to groceries and taxes on pharmaceutical drugs in order to address his state’s $1.5 billion budget shortfall. He also has officially introduced a new series of “sin tax” proposals, that include levies on sugary drinks, electronic cigarettes, plastic bags, and deposits on alcohol.

These proposals will make life more unaffordable for Connecticut residents and taxpayers who are already struggling, and leaving the state in droves. They are bad policies to pursue, especially for an already notoriously a high-tax state. 

Lamont repeatedly promised during the campaign to not raise taxes on the "middle class", though he also promised new taxes. Now these new tax possibilities show what Lamont's attempts to have it both ways will mean for taxpayers.

Taxes on groceries and pharmaceuticals disproportionately harm middle and low-income families – this is not the right way to balance the budget and it unfair to the poorest Americans. According to a study led by Norbert Wilson of Auburn University, grocery taxes contribute to a higher rate of food insecurity, while costing families hundreds of dollars per year. It is no coincidence that the three state with the highest levels of food insecurity, according to Feeding America, -  Mississippi, Arkansas, and Alabama – all have grocery taxes in place.

Pharmaceutical taxes have a similar effect. According to a World Health Organization’s policy brief on the topic, pharmaceutical taxes increase the price of medicine, are regressive, reduce utilization by the poor and elderly in particular. Taxes commonly make up 20-30% of the final price people pay for medicines, so having no pharmaceutical taxes not only reduces prices, but improves access.

The latest set of Lamont’s tax increase proposals, include a 10-cent tax on plastic bags, a 75 percent tax on e-cigarettes, a 25-cent deposit on wine and liquor bottles, and a nickel deposit on 50 milliliter bottles of alcohol. “Sin” taxes are bad policy - they disproportionately affect the poor and lead to job loss in their respective industries.

Governor Lamont’s proposals are so bad even progressives in the state are speaking out and urging the governor to ditch these unnecessary tax increases.

Not to mention, Lamont campaigned on the promise that he would not raise taxes on the middle class – which was the demise of his predecessor Dannel Malloy – so this also could hamper his ability to govern effectively, not to mention his reelection chances in 2023.


Photo Credit: Catherine Avalone | Hearst Connecticut Media

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Criminal Justice Reform Progress in the States

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Posted by Brooke Starr on Monday, February 11th, 2019, 10:59 AM PERMALINK

Less than two months after President Trump signed the historic and bipartisan First Step Act into law, states like Mississippi, Wyoming, and Florida are using the momentum and advancing meaningful criminal justice reform bills.

This week, Mississippi’s House and Senate Judiciary Committees passed respective criminal justice reform bills, House Bill 1352 and Senate Bill 2791.

HB 1352, the “Criminal Justice Reform Act,” introduced by Representative Jason White, would help improve the lives of the formerly incarcerated by removing barriers of entry and creating pathways into the workforce. SB 2791, “Re-entry and employability,” introduced by Senator Juan Barnett, similarly makes it easier for former inmates to find work, but also implements evidence-based solutions to reduce incarceration with the use of “problem-solving” or “intervention” courts.

Florida is working to pass their own version of the First Step Act. Senator Jeff Brandes pre-filed Senate Bill 642 on February 1st, a sister bill, House Bill 705 is being introduced by Representative Byron Donalds today, February 11.

The Florida First Step Act aims to make sure the vast majority of prisoners who will be released one day are better prepared to become productive members of society. It would create a more efficient and effective criminal justice system.

The bill would do so by creating early incentives for prisoners enrolled in educational programs, giving judges discretion on mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses, and more. These proposed reforms are even more exciting now that lawmakers have the option, after passing Amendment 11 in November, to apply sentencing retroactively - meaning these new laws could immediately impact those behind bars.

In Wyoming, a wide variety of reforms are being considered. The Senate Judiciary committee voted unanimously to advance two separate criminal justice reform files - Senate File 10 Modification and Senate File 38 Limitation. SF0010 gives judges the discretion to sentence people to unsupervised probation (with the exception of crimes punishable by death or life in prison), to reduce a probation sentence, and evaluate offender’s mental and social health. SF0038 places a 36-month maximum on probation terms, after data from the Council of State Governments found that two-thirds of probation revocations happen in the first two years, and 85 percent in the first three years.

One mistake on someone’s record shouldn’t bar them from employment and opportunity for the rest of their lives, especially when those outcomes are the unintended result of poor government policy. Communities and families are better, and safer, when the criminal justice system turns out productive citizens, instead of locking former offenders on a hopeless path.

Photo Credit: Thomas Hawk

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Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Set to Advance in New Jersey

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Posted by Brooke Starr on Monday, January 21st, 2019, 2:59 PM PERMALINK

In many states, it is lawful for police to seize your property, your car, your belongings, with no conviction required, as long as they have suspicion whatever they’re taking was involved in a crime.

Civil asset forfeiture has become a major issue in recent years because of numerous stories of injustice, as citizens who are never convicted of wrongdoing struggle and fail to get their property back. Under civil asset forfeiture, you are not innocent until proven guilty.

New Jersey is not immune. Law enforcement in New Jersey need only show by preponderance of evidence, meaning based on credibility and not by amount of evidence, that the seized assets
were used in a crime to retain as much as 100 percent of forfeiture proceeds.

To make matters worse, New Jersey agencies currently have no statutory requirement to track or report any forfeitures by law enforcement or by the state attorney general’s office. This allows for zero transparency, which inevitably leads to abuse of the system.

Police face twisted incentives to police for profit, instead of for public safety, which in turn makes no one safer.

New Jersey currently has a well-deserved D- rating from the Institute for Justice for its civil forfeiture laws.

There is hope thanks to a bipartisan bill in the New Jersey Assembly (A-3442), which the Assembly Committee on Law and Public Safety has stated they will advance.

A-3442 was introduced on March 5 of 2018 by Assembly Members Jay Webber, Erik Peterson, and Angela V. McKnight, then referred to the committee. The bill aims to establish asset forfeiture reporting and transparency requirements by creating a publicly-available database of forfeitures. If passed, this database will shed more light on New Jersey law enforcement’s abuse of the system.