Doug Kellogg

Michigan Task Force Recommendations Offer Promise for Overcrowded, Costly Jails

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Posted by Doug Kellogg on Monday, January 20th, 2020, 3:44 PM PERMALINK

The Michigan Joint Task Force on Jail and Pretrial Incarceration released long-awaited recommendations last week to reform the state’s overcrowded jails. Michigan’s jail populations have rapidly gone up, a sign of a system that is not delivering the public safety, justice, and efficiency that people deserve.

In 2017, taxpayers spent an estimated $478 million on county jails. It’s not just that high costs are unaffordable for taxpayers, but they are a warning sign that too many people are being jailed, often for bad reasons, and reform is needed.

The data-driven recommendations from the Joint Task Force on Jail and Pretrial Incarceration offer an extensive set of reforms needed to create the more efficient, effective, and affordable jails that Michigan communities deserve.

The reforms include:

Ending the practice of suspending driver’s licenses for offenses that aren’t related to safe driving, like owed court debt. Driving without a valid license was the third most common reason for admissions to a correctional facility. Reform in this area would mean people can get to work to pay their fines, and don’t rack up criminal charges and lose the ability to hold a job because of a lack of means.

Decriminalizing low-level traffic misdemeanors. Low level offenses that currently entangle people in the criminal system that pose no risk to the community can be better handled by traffic courts.  

Taking into account one’s ability to pay when imposing fines. Fines are meant to be a punishment first, not a revenue raising tool. It makes sense to limit the amount of fines to something an offender can reasonably be expected to pay. Imposing an exorbitant fine that an offender can never reasonably pay ties them to the criminal justice system in perpetuity.

Diversion for behavioral, mental health issues. With addiction driving so many people into jails, diversion that gets people with mental health and addiction issues into programs that can help is a needed reform.

More alternatives to arrest for police officers. Allowing officers to use appearance tickets when arrest and jail are not warranted for the suspected crime is a smart step that empowers police, and avoids pulling people into the jail system unnecessarily.  

Caps on jail time for technical parole violations. The possibility of being jailed is important to incentivize people who are on parole to keep up with their obligations. However, that should be weighed against the unintended consequences (losing a job for instance) for otherwise well-behaved parolees.

Defendants must be tried within 18 months of arrest. Ensuring the justice system delivers speedy trials and people are not left in jail for extended periods of time is a win for liberty and safety. Extended jail time can make people more likely to commit future crimes.

Improved data collection. It is vital taxpayers know what is happening in the criminal justice system. Better data collection accomplishes this, and it is also critical to tracking the impact of reforms. If something is not working as anticipated, citizens and legislators should know quickly, and be able to act with confidence.

There are a couple areas that are left to counties that will be important for the counties to implement in the right way. The task force recommends bail reform, with release unless the court determines that a defendant poses a risk to the community, themselves, a flight risk, or has committed certain crimes (violent or against children). Counties will have to ensure effective risk assessment fills in where reliance on cash bail is reduced to ensure public safety is not put at risk.

Michigan residents have every reason to be excited about the task force recommendations. Now, the road to reform turns toward hammering out legislation. ATR looks forward to working with the legislature to ensure the best version of these proposals becomes law.

Photo Credit: Livingston County, MI

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NJ: California-Style Attack on Contractors Will Hurt More than Just Uber & Lyft

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Posted by Doug Kellogg on Wednesday, January 8th, 2020, 11:54 AM PERMALINK

"It may be a new year, but the same policy debates from last year continue in Trenton. The first major item on the agenda is borrowed directly from California’s uber-liberal policy playbook, legislation that would aggressively redefine what qualifies as an independent contractor.  

It’s one thing to want to address cases of wage theft, or an issue in a specific business sector. But it is far different to radically alter the state’s economy, business climate, and employment opportunities, with a blatant giveaway to big labor..." Read the full article on Save Jersey HERE.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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New Jersey's Attack on Free Speech Blocked in Court

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Posted by Doug Kellogg, Andrew DiMatteo on Tuesday, November 19th, 2019, 2:05 PM PERMALINK

That pesky constitution just keeps getting in the way of blatant attempts by state lawmakers to cripple free speech, and attack citizen groups and non-profit advocacy organizations.

A bill (S1500) passed in New Jersey that would force donor disclosure for citizen groups that weighed in on state legislation has been blocked by a federal judge. The bill would also affect independent expenditure organizations, or PACs.

The legislation was driven by a drawn-out controversy. Governor Murphy was under duress due to his use of non-profit entities to advance his agenda. Rather than focusing on a narrow issue – sitting public officials informally running non-profits – opportunistic legislators seized their chance to stifle free speech and citizen advocacy much more broadly.

Even Murphy initially opposed the bill he eventually signed because of constitutional concerns. Well, now that has been proven correct, as the state was sued successfully by Americans for Prosperity. American Civil Liberties Union-NJ, the New Jersey League of Conservation Voters also filed lawsuits.

The Supreme Court case Alabama v. NAACP already upheld the right to privacy of non-profits against state disclosure mandates.

The broad opposition from across the ideological spectrum shows just how significant an attack on the First Amendment New Jersey’s law is, and remains as there is plenty of damage to be done if the law is updated by the legislature, even with this decision.

Of course, unions are exempt from the disclosure mandate, the predictable special treatment for a political powerhouse shows how insincere the motives are behind the disclosure push.

Such legislation would set a dangerous precedent for future regulation of advocacy groups. The massive restriction on non-profit organizations would make it difficult for an average individual to create an organization. It would also equate educating the public about active legislation with direct spending on political candidates.

Disclosure mandates would make donors subject to retribution, harassment, and possibly worse. In today’s polarizing political environment, the preservation of free speech is even more important. This chilling infringement on the first amendment would discourage the free exchange of ideas, limiting constituents’ ability to hold their elected officials accountable. Which is ironic: a law touted as being a remedy for corruption would make it worse in reality.

Although many in the Garden State may see a problem with the non-profit run by Governor Murphy’s allies, unconstitutional restrictions on free speech for everybody else is not a solution, and in fact would enable corruption in Trenton.


Photo Credit: Jimmy Everson DVM

Clean Slate Promises Less Crime, More Jobs & Stronger Communities for Michigan

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Posted by Doug Kellogg on Monday, October 21st, 2019, 3:26 PM PERMALINK

For people who have paid their penalties, and served their time in the criminal justice system, rejoining society can be a major challenge. The stigma of a conviction, even for nonviolent and misdemeanor offenders, can follow them as they try to build a new life.

They should have a chance to earn trust again, rather than being relegated to second class citizenship and punished far beyond what was intended. It’s not just the right thing to do, but smart policy that reduces recidivism, and strengthens families and communities. Making it easier to expunge certain crimes offers that opportunity.

A study from University of Michigan law school researchers found people’s wages went up by 20 percent on average one year after expunging their record, and that former offenders who have expunged their records very rarely break the law.

Michigan is currently considering a number of commonsense “Clean Slate” criminal justice reform bills that would expand expungement, and make the process automatic in some cases for people who have not reoffended – HB 4980, HB 4981, HB 4982, HB 4983.

While Michigan has expungement, it does not allow for records to be automatically expunged, usually known as “Clean Slate”. The state allows a person with a felony offense and no more than two misdemeanor offenses to petition to expunge the felony offense. Someone with two misdemeanor offenses and no felony offenses can expunge the misdemeanor offenses.

HB 4980 would mean an eligible offense is automatically expunged. A variety of crimes from sexual assault and violent crimes, to serious misdemeanors (like breaking and entering) would not be eligible. It requires that ten years have passed since the date of any sentence has been completed, and restitution has been paid. A person could not have more than two felonies or four misdemeanors automatically set aside.

Ten years is a significant amount of time. Justice Department figures show that re-arrest for former nonviolent offenders is very rare five or more years after release. 

HB 4981 would make it possible to expunge some traffic offenses, but not serious ones like drunk driving, or if injury is caused, or if someone causes an accident while driving without a license. Currently, no traffic-related crimes can even be expunged in Michigan, which is onerous. The waiting period to apply for expungement would be reduced from five to four years following completion of any sentence.

HB 4982 would simply allow for the expungement of any misdemeanor marijuana-related offenses that are no longer a crime following the passage of Proposal 1 last year – a state voter initiative that legalized adult-use marijuana.

HB 4983 reduces the waiting period to petition to expunge a misdemeanor offense from five to three years. The waiting period for a felony offense would remain at five years.

People who have proven they have learned from their crimes should have the chance to leave that past behind, build new lives, and become full, contributing members of their communities. The opportunity to clear one’s record is an important incentive for people to avoid committing another crime later. That’s why these bills are so important as the end of this year’s session nears in Michigan.

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Michigan Governor Wants to Run Up Tax Rate on Sports Betting

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Posted by Doug Kellogg on Thursday, September 19th, 2019, 5:32 PM PERMALINK

Sports betting is advancing down the legislative field in Michigan. A House committee advanced a package of bills to legalize sports betting Tuesday.

The current legislative package (HB 4916) would legalize sports betting with a tax rate of 8%, and a licensing fee of $100,000 – very competitive policies.

For whatever reason, Governor Whitmer and some others would like to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, and are pressing for a much higher tax rate of 15%, perhaps more.

It has been a rough past few years for Michigan sports teams, but that’s no reason for the Governor to steer the state toward losing tax policy on sports betting.

Michigan would be in a good place on sports betting tax rates with HB 4916. Neighboring Indiana has a 9.5% tax rate on adjusted gross revenue. Michigan’s tax rate would come in under that, and well under nearby Illinois’ 15% tax rate.

If anything, the debate in Michigan should be about lowering the rate. Increasing the tax rate, as Governor Whitmer wants, would put the state at a massive disadvantage.

It would then be easy for neighboring states that have not legalized, like Ohio, to come in with a lower tax rate than their regional rival. The Buckeye State has yet to legalize sports betting, but it is a ripe target for legislators in Columbus who finished work on their two-year budget this summer.

States that have legalized sports betting with lower tax rates have succeeded, New Jersey was the first and has seen industry performance catch up with Nevada already. Meanwhile, states that have not had the results they hoped for tend to have high tax rates: Pennsylvania with an effective 36% tax rate, Delaware and Rhode Island take over 50% of betting revenues.

There is a ways to go before the finish line on sports betting in Michigan, and some things will change. One thing that should not happen is making the tax rate higher.

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Ohio Moves Toward Nuclear Plant Bailout

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Posted by Doug Kellogg on Monday, July 22nd, 2019, 5:10 PM PERMALINK

Hopes that state legislators in Ohio would avoid meddling in energy markets with a bailout for struggling nuclear power plants is fading fast. A vote is now planned for Tuesday, July 23rd in the House, which would be voting to approve a Senate version of the bailout legislation the House initially passed.

The now notorious House Bill 6 (HB 6) is a response to a long, ongoing push from FirstEnergy to get state (and federal) money to assist nuclear power plants it says are struggling and would have to close without an infusion of taxpayer dollars.

The bill does reduce renewable energy mandates and efficiency mandates to lower their cost to consumers. In fact, the better version of the bill would have done away with Ohio’s renewable energy mandates entirely. The current version of the bill promises to save ratepayers $140 million over six years even after the bailout charges. This trade is better than a bailout-only bill, but there are many problems with HB 6.

The headline cost is $150 million per year for nuclear plants alone, over 6 years that amounts to nearly $1 billion in taxpayer money being given away. That money will go out the door with few strings attached, and little oversight.

Plant owners have cited a need to purchase fuel to keep the plants going as a reason for urgency for the bailout. However, if the money they get from taxpayers exceeds fuel costs, they don’t have to give it back.

One report questions whether the plants need the money at all.

And the former chairman of the Public Utilities Commission testified to the Senate that: “there could be 50% fewer new natural gas plants built in Ohio if nuclear is subsidized, creating the opposite effect and raising costs by about $16 million a year instead.”

If energy costs went up as a result of the bailout, that would be a huge counterweight to provisions limiting renewable mandates and lowering costs.

Make no mistake, consumers and businesses will be paying costs directly for the bailout. Residential customers will pay 85-cents, and industrial/commercial businesses will pay $2,400 per month. Making matters worse, small commercial enterprises do not have bailout fees capped, and could be swamped with higher costs.

Hitting consumers and businesses with higher costs to directly pay for the bailout will drive up costs for products and services, and generally drive up the cost of living in the state.

Reforming renewable energy mandates would be great. But a Republican-dominated legislature should be able to do better than flawed policy like HB 6 which will impose guaranteed costs on Ohioans, and mess with a competitive energy market, leading to unintended negative consequences.

No wonder Senator Uecker slammed the bill, saying, “When you put lipstick on a pig, it’s nothing more than a pig."

With Many States Near Finish Line on Sports Betting, TN & IL Show What Not to Do

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Posted by Doug Kellogg on Tuesday, July 9th, 2019, 4:29 PM PERMALINK

With 14 states and counting having at least passed legislation to legalize sports betting, most have done a decent job on taxes, and avoiding too much regulation. But that doesn’t mean they all have.

Recently enacted legislation in Tennessee and Illinois flop on taxes, and perhaps more importantly, include government mandates that mess with the market unnecessarily.

With some states, like North Carolina, close to passing legislation, and others thinking about what sports betting may look like in their state, like Ohio and California, now is the time for legislators to learn from the bad examples.

What did Tennessee and Illinois do wrong?

High tax rates. The Volunteer State will impose the second highest tax rate on bets in the nation at 20 percent. Illinois’ rate is 15 percent. Pennsylvania still leads the pack with an absurd 36 percent effective tax rate (Rhode Island has a 51 percent revenue share, a significant burden, but technically different than a tax on bets).

Government mandated usage of league “official” data. Tennessee imposed a mandate that puts government in the role of telling private operators who they must do business with. There are already plenty of services that offer stats and data. Requiring use of official data is a giveaway to sports leagues using government authority. Illinois did not fall as deeply into this trap, but did impose a similar league data mandate for in-play betting, as well as prop bets.

A data mandate also tramples on the long-held precedent that sports statistics are public information, like news. That’s why newspapers can report on sports events without paying royalties.

Legislators who crafted these bills may point to language that requires operators and data providers to come to a “commercially reasonable” agreement. Commercially reasonable agreements happen when there is competition and choice. Illinois and Tennessee have already barred that from happening, and instead put government in the middle as a referee.

The states that are doing best on sports betting have reasonable-to-low tax rates, allow mobile betting, and allow betting statewide. This is how New Jersey has succeeded, and even begun to surpass Nevada’s sports betting market.

Sports books are sensitive to taxes because if they try to pass on costs to customers, it impacts the value of their bet. Too high and betting activity goes down, and government revenues along with it. A Copenhagen Economics study showed this effect: “Denmark, with a tax-rate less than half that of France, has a growth in gambling volumes approximately five times larger.”

In the U.S., high tax sports betting states like Rhode Island and Pennsylvania have seen disappointment with lower than expected revenues, or delays in operations even starting.

As more competition comes online, consumers will have more options. States with high tax rates, and overbearing policies that help leagues at the expense of bettors and in-state operators, risk losing the long game.

The good news is states still working on legislation can learn from these bad examples. Iowa sure did, enacting sports betting with just a 6.75 percent tax rate. Maine's legislation is stalled at the Governor's desk, but it is solid, allowing statewide online betting and a competitive market.

It would be too bad if good policies didn't make it across the finish line while bills that needed more work made it through.

Photo Credit: Flickr- Steve Selwood

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What’s Worse than One Carbon Tax Proposal? Two.

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Posted by Doug Kellogg on Tuesday, June 18th, 2019, 5:46 PM PERMALINK

New York State’s new Democrat majority is working hard to make New York the most expensive, unfriendly place to live and build a future.

The state is already unattractive. More people left New York State than any other from 2017 to 2018. Worse, 42 of 50 upstate counties lost population since 2010. Even New York City, which has grown, has nearly half of residents saying they can’t afford it.

But the cost of electricity, driving, heck, everything we buy could skyrocket if either of two live carbon tax proposals reaches the finish line.

New York may be even closer to getting hit with a carbon tax – done in the name of compensating for the “social cost” of carbon.

Legislation from Assemblyman Kevin Cahill (D) would impose a $35 per ton tax on carbon which would rise to $185 over time. And that may not be the most immediate carbon tax threat!

New York’s Independent System Operator has released a proposal that includes a $50 per ton tax on carbon. This proposal has a long bureaucratic path in front of it before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) renders a decision, but could happen without the legislature taking action.

The state is already part of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) cap-and-trade regime. But a carbon tax goes far beyond the burdens imposed by RGGI, driving costs over 50 percent higher than the cap and trade regime.

“The prices in this scheme (RGGI) have never exceeded $5-6/ton on an annual basis. We estimate an initial impact on wholesale energy prices of $21/MWh… This would represent a 50-75 percent increase in NYISO wholesale energy prices,” an ICF analysis states.

Regional cap and trade in the northeast has imposed billions of dollars in costs which get passed on to consumers and businesses. The program decreased goods production 12 percent, and “energy intensive goods” production dropped 34 percent in the region, according to a CATO Institute analysis.

This is just an inkling of the damage a carbon tax would do to New York. All that extra cost, and for what?

“The EPA reports that the aggregate emissions of six common toxic pollutants (carbon monoxide, lead, nitrogen oxide, volatile organic compounds, particulate matter, and sulfur dioxide) have declined by 67 percent since 1980. Meanwhile, gross domestic product is up 160 percent and population is up 42 percent. Energy-related carbon emissions are down to near 1992 levels,” writes Texas Public Policy Foundation senior economist Vance Ginn and ALEC chief economist Jonathan Williams.

The way New York’s proposal is unfolding could shield legislators from some of the political consequences we’ve seen in other states and other countries. But perhaps it could be a problem for Governor Cuomo, who has already indicated he will run for a fourth (!) term as governor.  

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Climate Protection Act Could Be Lights Out for NY

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Posted by Doug Kellogg on Tuesday, June 18th, 2019, 12:11 PM PERMALINK

Democrats in the New York State legislature and Governor Cuomo have agreed on a massive climate bill, the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (built off the Climate and Community Protection Act), which will deal a fatal blow to affordable energy in the Empire State.

Under Governor Cuomo, New York’s energy policy is a political mess. Largely in pursuit of costly 50-by-30 renewable energy mandates (50% renewable energy by 2030), the state forces consumers and taxpayers to subsidize renewable energy, rams through wind turbine projects in communities that don’t want them, and bails out aging nuclear power plants that even their operators wanted to close.

Cuomo has also blocked multiple natural gas pipelines because… reasons. Natural gas has brought down carbon emissions, yet environmental activists have fought tooth and nail against extraction and any gas infrastructure in the state. Meanwhile, New York City is mostly powered by natural gas, but from Pennsylvania.

The results have New Yorkers paying high energy prices, in February 2019 New Yorkers were paying 30 percent more than the national average.

With Democrats now in complete control of state government, the situation could get even worse.  

The initial Climate and Community Protection Act (Senate Bill S7971A and Assembly Bill A8270B) received massive backing from left-wing groups, and it was passed in the Assembly. Now a tweaked bill negotiated in a deal with the Governor has passed both houses.

This measure would impose an 85 percent cut in carbon emissions in the state, compared to 1990 levels. 50 percent is unrealistic, 85 percent is a dangerous and costly for energy producers and manufacturers. The compromise bill will also call for 100 percent renewable energy by 2040.

“Numerous scientists, climate activists, and environmental organizations believe achieving zero greenhouse gas emissions in New York by 2050 seems to be physically impossible” writes Business Council of New York’s Darren Suarez in the Buffalo News.

According to an American Action Forum (AAF) analysis, a 100 percent renewable energy requirement, similar to the federal Green New Deal, is estimated to cost $423.9 billion annually, just to build and maintain the renewable energy capacity. “Merely building and operating the required number of renewable electric power plants would cost more than what Americans pay for electricity today,” AAF’s report states.

This would unfold on a smaller, but no less damaging scale in New York under the CCPA. New Yorkers already struggling to afford the cost of living will have to throw in the towel.

Also, manufacturers produce carbon dioxide in the manufacturing process. The National Association of Manufacturers states that manufacturing makes up nearly 5 percent of the state’s economic output and workforce.

The measure creates a council to develop reports and plans to get the state to those goals. A council that must include “environmental justice” advocates.

The plan includes a prevailing wage standard for projects  – a big wink toward big labor. It also means these projects will be as expensive as humanly possible.

Initial bills also included language calling for a low carbon fuel standard buried in it. This policy requires fuel producers to compensate for higher carbon fuels they deliver to the state by either producing lower carbon fuels, or buying credits. California’s low carbon fuel standard will add an estimated 69-cents to the cost of gas by 2030, if not changed.

The Governor’s bill is expected to send less than the 40 percent of revenues earlier bills promised to help disadvantaged communities. The council will have to map out more details on that, it could mean subsidized jobs for an area, or plastering solar panels all over rough neighborhoods.

Hammering New York businesses with a costly, and impossible demand will kill more jobs and growth in the state. The ironic side effect could be that overall carbon emissions go up because businesses with a carbon footprint flee New York’s onerous regulations.

Photo Credit: Flickr - Chris Ford

To the Surprise of No One, CT Budget Deal Looks Bad for Taxpayers

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Posted by Doug Kellogg on Friday, May 31st, 2019, 12:28 PM PERMALINK


Under the leadership of “New Tax” Ned, Connecticut lawmakers announced a budget deal that includes a number of tax hikes, though it could have been worse.

An income tax increase on the so-called wealthy, a capital gains “surcharge”, and a soda tax were left out of the deal. Great news, but that’s where the good news ends.

The budget (now available here) will include a “mansion tax”, a tax hike on small businesses through the reduction of a tax credit, and a myriad of Governor Lamont’s sales tax expansions have survived. Get ready to pay more for your parking, dry cleaning, and movies and video games purchased online.

A tax hike on meals, beverages, and alcohol is included as well, so nights out in Connecticut are getting more expensive too.

Reportedly, this will amount to a $60 million tax hike. Connecticut already has the 47th-ranked business tax climate in the country, and the 4th-heaviest state-and-local tax burden, according to Tax Foundation.

The budget also reveals how unaffordable the state’s pension obligations are – as it moves forward with a move to kick contributions to the teachers’ pension system down the road. This could cost future generations over $27 billion to pay back. Reform is clearly needed, but with Democrats in total control of state government, that seems unlikely.

On the spending side, the budget marks an agreement between the Governor and legislators on a new entitlement program, paid family leave (FMLA). This will take more money out of the paychecks of Connecticut workers whether they use the program or not.

Now that the budget is live, it appears real-time sales tax collection is not part of it.

Real-time sales tax is a fantasy concept, that could cost over $1 billion as stores, banks, and payment processors would be required to invent an entirely new system for processing credit card payments and remitting taxes. That cost would be passed to consumers in one way or another.

These changes would have very limited benefit even for government, as the Yankee Institute points out, “All of these massive expenses, all these demands to do the impossible, are for pretty much to no benefit. The “real time” sales-tax collection would speed up remittances to the state by about one month, one time.”

This amounts to a short-term advance in revenue for government, that’s it.

However, the budget deal unfortunately does not mean Hartford is done advancing this, or other bad policies.

The massive statewide toll proposal is still alive, as is a host of disastrous health care policy pitched by Governor Lamont and legislative leaders last week. That push could still lead to a misguided tax on opioid pain relief medication, and importation of prescription drugs from Canada – and socialist price controls with it. Though, it is good news neither are in the budget itself.

As ATR continues to point out, a tax on pain medicine punishes patients who are legitimately using medication under the supervision of a doctor. Then everyone in the state pays more as the costs from the tax and compliance are passed on to everyone in the state through higher insurance premiums.

After federal courts threw out language in New York’s first opioid tax law, costs must be passed on.

Worse, a tax on legitimate opioid medicine makes illegal synthetic drugs more attractive to people suffering from addiction. CDC data show it is illegal drugs that are killing people.

Even after avoiding some of the tax hikes that were on the table, Connecticut taxpayers are not out of the woods until legislators go home without rushing through more bad ideas.

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