Daniel Silverman

The Straw-man Argument for Banning Straws

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Posted by Daniel Silverman on Thursday, August 2nd, 2018, 10:32 AM PERMALINK

You might have noticed memes related to straw bans spreading across the Internet.

This is happening for good reason, as California (surprise, surprise) has led a misguided charge by governments across the country against plastic straws.

Santa Barbara, CA has now famously gone so far as make violating its ban on straws punishable with jail time (or a $1,000 fine). 

Moreover, each plastic straw represents a separate penalty, so someone could theoretically be jailed 30 months for handing out five plastic straws to five different people. According to Santa Barbara’s environmental outreach coordinator, the penalty would not affect “first-time offenders,” and only represents a “last-line of defense.” So for potential two-time plastic straw delinquents in Santa Barbara, beware!

San Francisco and nine other cities in California, Portland, Washington D.C., New York City and State, and Hawaii have also jumped on the “ban-wagon.” Seattle, for example, imposes a $250 fine on restaurants that offer plastic straws.

The hysteria over straws has been fueled by ambiguous, and sometimes outright false information.

For example, according to Reason, 15 major news sources, including The Washington Post, CNN, Reuters, and National Geographic, publicized that Americans use 500 million straws per day. As it turns out, the 500-million number comes from a nine-year old child’s estimations.

In reality, plastic straws account for only 2000 tons of the nine million tons - approximately 0.02 percent - of plastic waste dumped into oceans annually.

On top of that, Americans only produce one percent of the world’s plastic waste. Banning plastic straws hardly amounts to the environmental victory that the anti-straw movement insists that it is.

That is not to mention the nightmare this policy is for disabled people who need straws in order to drink effectively at all.

When people are going to jail for drinking out of a straw and violating a ban that was built on phony stats, the zealous push for green policy has jumped the shark.

Twisty straws are fun, twisty facts are dangerous.  Before this absurd straw ban sucks up any more cities or states, public officials should get their facts straight.


First & Second States to Legalize Sports Gambling Avoid Pitfalls, Get Results

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Posted by Daniel Silverman on Thursday, July 26th, 2018, 6:17 PM PERMALINK

In May, the Supreme Court in a 6-3 ruling reversed the Professional Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992, which prohibited gambling on sports.

The court ruled in favor of New Jersey, so it’s no surprise the Garden State moved swiftly to cultivate legal sports gambling. Delaware still managed to be first, living up to their “First State” moniker. Most importantly, these states have avoided pitfalls along the way.

New Jersey legalized sports betting at two locations in Oceanport and Atlantic City on June 14. Another venue in Atlantic City opened up for sports betting on June 29.

The three venues have made a combined $3.5 million in profit in the first month of legal sports wagering, and that has led to $294,000 in tax revenue, according to the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement.

Gaming revenue in June of this year shows a 7.6 percent increase from June of 2017.
 
Delaware made even more money in its first month of legal sports betting. They legalized gambling on sports on June 5, just three weeks after the Supreme Court’s ruling.

The state collected about $1 million in revenue from over $7 million wagered overall. Major League Baseball proved to be the most significant source gambling, accounting for 75 percent of bets placed.

Thanks to sports betting, Twin River Management Group, which owns two casinos in Rhode Island and one in Mississippi, signed a merger agreement with Delaware’s struggling Dover Downs casino. The merger raised Dover Downs’ stock by 50 percent, and it’s expected to increase investment in Delaware’s gambling industry.
 
As more tax revenue begins flowing into state coffers, New Jersey and Delaware’s bets to legalize sports betting may just be paying off.
 

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons


Legal Victory for Vapers in Pennsylvania

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Posted by Daniel Silverman on Tuesday, July 10th, 2018, 2:50 PM PERMALINK

Vapers in Pennsylvania won a small, but important victory last week at the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court. Since 2016, Pennsylvania has levied a 40% tax on electronic cigarettes and vapor products. East Coast Vapor, a Pennsylvanian vape shop, brought the tax to trial on the grounds that most vaping products lack tobacco, the defined product subject to the excise tax.

Judge Renee Cohn Jubelirer, who wrote the opinion, found that while nicotine and vaping liquids are subject to the tax, the component parts such as devices should not be. For consumers and businesses, this distinction is important. According to the court, this distinction adds up to a lot of over-collected tax revenue. For East Coast Vapor, the plaintiff, it was $28,000 in over-collected taxes on products consumers are using to quit smoking traditional cigarettes. Moreover, the decision allows users to buy parts separately and assemble the product themselves to avoid paying the onerous and unnecessary tax. Vapor products can be assembled by consumers and sold in many parts, including a cartridge for the liquid, batteries, etc.

Unfortunately for vapers, the presiding panel of judges decided that the tax still continues apply to many vape products. Judge Jubelirer concluded that the nicotine found in vaping products generally comes from tobacco. In a misguided assessment about vaping, she found that the tax intends to discourage addictive smoking habits for public health benefits and noted that the state has a legitimate authority to tax vaping products for causing addiction similar to smoking. Perhaps ignored was the fact that while nicotine may be addictive, vapor products deliver it without 95% of the risk of cigarettes.

Jubelirer noted that if self-assemblage becomes a measure to avoid the tax, the Pennsylvania Revenue Department could lobby Pennsylvanian lawmakers to pass a law that taxes individual parts as well. Until then, however, vapers should enjoy this partial, but significant win.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia

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Oklahoma Taxpayers Start Petition to Repeal Gov. Fallin's Massive, Pledge-Breaking Tax Hike

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Posted by Daniel Silverman on Monday, June 11th, 2018, 4:05 PM PERMALINK

This past session, the Oklahoma legislature passed a massive, $447 million tax hike. The bill, HB 1010xx was signed into law by Governor Mary Fallin.

 

The move was spurred by a multi-state movement to increases taxes to raise teacher wages. Oklahoma lawmakers fell for this, despite gross tax receipts reaching a monthly record high in May at $970.9 million — and tax receipts over the past 12 months having grown by $1.3 billion.

 

It might come as a surprise that a legislature controlled by Republicans, with a Republican Governor, would pass a tax increase. It should come as a shock that they mustered 79 out of 101 House delegates to vote in favor of a tax hike. It is completely reprehensible that 18 of these lawmakers had pledged in writing to protect taxpayers by opposing any tax increases.

 

These pledge-breakers are: Governor Mary Fallin, Representatives Josh Cockroft, Randy McDaniel, Charles Ortega, Leslie Osborn, Dustin Roberts, Mike Sanders, Earl Sears, Chris Kannady, Michael Rogers, Scooter Park, Dennis Casey, Senators Kim David, OKC Mayor-Elect David Holt, and AJ Griffin.

 

Oklahoma taxpayers aren’t taking this lying down. A movement to repeal the tax hike through a ballot initiative, led by Oklahoma Taxpayers Unite, has been working to circulate petitions and advocate for alternatives to a tax increase.

 

Also fighting the tax hike with Oklahoma Taxpayers Unite is former U.S. Senator Tom Coburn. Coburn explained in an op-ed that while Oklahoma’s public school teachers deserve higher wages, the answer should be more efficient spending rather than increasing taxes.

 

It’s not just the size of the tax hike, and the betrayal of taxpayers by so many legislators, it is also how the increase was passed that has people up in arms.

 

It takes a two-thirds majority to pass a tax hike, thanks to a taxpayer protection provision in the state constitution. While the legislature managed to vote with the required majority, they then adjusted the law after the fact. Tax hike opponents say this should have required another vote on the whole package, which would likely have failed.

 

The petition faces a legal challenge, which will be decided by the state Supreme Court shortly. Though, Oklahoma’s Attorney General Mike Hunter has advocated with Taxpayers Unite in their struggle to repeal the recently approved tax hikes, and has urged the Oklahoma Supreme Court to reject attempts to repeal an anti-tax petition started by the group.

 

If allowed to move forward, the petition needs 41,000 signatures by July 18 to get on the general election ballot.

Photo Credit: James Johnson

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Democrat Governors Who Whined About Tax Reform Are Actually Benefitting

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Posted by Daniel Silverman on Wednesday, May 30th, 2018, 1:43 PM PERMALINK

A number of Democrat Governors have raged against the GOP Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA). California Governor Jerry Brown described the bill as “evil in the extreme.” New York Governor Andrew Cuomo called it an “economic missile.”

At the heart of their complaint is the $10,000 State and Local Tax Deduction (SALT) cap, which they claimed would hurt their wealthier taxpayers and drive them away. Of course, pursuing policies at the state and local level to relieve tax burdens on these residents has not been at the top of these Governors’ priorities.

 As the Wall Street Journal Editorial Board points out, their complaining has not stopped their state coffers from benefitting from a major tax reform provision.

State governments have seen a sudden spike in tax revenue due to a provision of the TCJA allows companies to repatriate overseas financial holdings back to the U.S. for free after paying a one-time tax. The combination of growing company profits and repatriated cash has yielded a boom for state corporate tax revenue.

Despite their wailing, Democratic states have greatly benefited from the TCJA. Before the tax cut, Connecticut was at risk of hitting its debt limit. This year it collected $1.3 billion more than the projected in the most optimistic estimates. California and New York also exceeded their budget projections by $3.8 billion and $315 million respectively.

If opportunistic politicians keep lying about federal tax reform, don’t fall for it.

Photo Credit: Steve Rhodes

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