Matthew Benzmiller

The Grover Norquist Show: Leave Vapers Alone

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Posted by Matthew Benzmiller on Thursday, November 5th, 2015, 1:16 PM PERMALINK

In this episode Grover discusses the greater political climate surrounding vaping. Paul Blair, a State Affairs Manager at Americans for Tax Reform, discusses some of the latest numbers about how many Americans smoke traditional and e-cigarettes with Grover. The CDC released a report saying that 3.7 percent of adult Americans smoke e-cigs, which is over 9 million people vaping. What is the significance of this? A new voting demographic that could change the way politicians respond to voters. Paul explains what he meant in his post about the first “victim” of vaping. He also explains the negative economic effects of taxing and regulating vaping in states that have declared war on vapors. Comment below and tweet Grover @GroverNorquist tell him what you think about the podcast and vaping.

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Cook County Residents to be Taxed on More Forms of Amusement

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Posted by Matthew Benzmiller on Tuesday, October 20th, 2015, 4:10 PM PERMALINK

Reposted from Digital Liberty.

The Cook County Board of Commissioners have proposed legislation that would extend more of its amusement tax to other various forms of entertainment. The extended legislation would now include specific rules on resale of tickets in any form, a tax on activities such as bowling, billiard games, golf, other sports activities, and any “similar activities”. It would also tax every form of television.

According to the definition of amusement by the bill:

“With respect to paid television, any person operating a community antenna television system or wireless cable television system, or any person receiving consideration from the patron for furnishing, transmitting, or otherwise providing access to paid television programming. Paid television means programming that can be viewed on a television or other screen, and is transmitted by cable, fiber optics, laser, microwave, radio, satellite or similar means to members of the public for consideration.”

It also removes the current exemption on fees that allows people to consume entertainment from their own homes. These definitions and alterations would possibly mean taxing online video streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, etc. The bill also says, “It shall be presumed that all amusements are subject to tax under this article until the contrary is established by books, records or other documentary evidence.” This massive blanket statement might cover just about any action that somebody might find amusement with, but it further enforces the idea that video streaming services would be subject to a county tax.

The extension comes with Cook County having a $6.5 billion shortfall for pensions. “We have pension liabilities, unfunded liabilities of $6.5 billion, and we’re accruing additional obligations at the rate of $1 million a day. If you think about it, if you have a credit card and you never pay the principal or interest, you accrue more debt,” Preckwinkle said. According to Phil Rosenthal, writer for the Chicago Tribune, “All told, subjecting these things to the county's existing 3 percent amusement tax will only net about $20.25 million, and $18 million of that is expected to come from taxing cable.”

Raising taxes on more forms of entertainment is not only a regressive tax, but an un-pragmatic one. $20.25 million would hardly put a dent in the unfunded pension shortfall, and further taxing things, like a game of bowling, just means less money for entertainment for lower earners, and just a chunk of change for Cook County. Although Preckwinkle has made efforts to cut back the budget, it needs further slashing if taxes in Cook County if it is to become even remotely fiscally responsible.

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Empowerment for Workers Means an Empowered Economy

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Posted by Matthew Benzmiller on Thursday, October 8th, 2015, 3:59 PM PERMALINK

Reposted from Center for Worker Freedom.


At the Summit on Workers’ Empowerment on October 6th, people interested in worker freedoms gathered to join at the Heritage Foundation to listen to ways that workers are fighting back against government, and quasi-government forces in the work place. People who have fought against unions and unfair licensing restrictions spoke on panels about their stories.

Heritage Foundation Research Fellow in Labor Economics, James Sherk, opened the summit showing the real situation of union statistics effects on wages, why union membership is falling, and where other studies have gone wrong in their methodologies.

People fighting unions were very clearly not anti-union as a few of them had actually started unions to give an alternative to big government, liberal unions. The common thing that they all had a problem with was that they all did not have any choice in the matter of being a part of a union. All members of the panel speaking on union affairs stressed this.


Matt Patterson of Center for Worker Freedom hosted the panel on unions, which consisted of (from left to right) Jesse Rojas, speaking for Silvia Lopez, Megan Kelly, a flight attendant for Allegiant Air Lines, James Perialas, a teacher from Michigan, Karen Cox, a lift-truck operator, and Mike Burton, formerly from Volkswagen in Chattanooga.

Some workers were more successful than others at fighting the unions. It is an uphill battle when unions or labor boards will count ballots if they predict victory for the incumbent union, and will keep ballots uncounted for years at a time when they expect a negative outcome for themselves. Jesse Rojas, a spokesperson for Silvia Lopez said that Silvia had collected thousands of signatures just in order to have an election on decertification from the United Farm Workers, twice.

Jesse explained that the California Agriculture Labor Board, that oversees agricultural unions in California coexists with the union that Silvia is opposing, the United Farm Workers. Because the UFW is really the only agricultural union in California, it would be detrimental to the California Agriculture Labor Board’s existence to lose the UFW. The California Agriculture Labor Board in turn protects the UFW’s ability to impose itself on farm workers in involuntary union dues on workers that don’t want to associate with the UFW. This mercantilist structure is unfortunately all too common a story across the United States in many different industries that are hampered by protectionist government policies.

The licensing panel was hosted by Derek Khanna, acting policy lead for Lincoln Labs, who had Isis Brantley, an ancestral hair braider, Sabina Loving, who owns Loving Tax Services, Inc., and Bill Main, of Segway in the City.

Licensing can keep entrepreneurs from participating in the market altogether sometimes. Isis Brantley is an ancestral hair braider, who has braided hair for more than 30 years. In 1995 the state of Texas started threatening Isis with letters saying that what she was doing was illegal, braiding without a license. Then in 1997, seven Dallas police officers raided her business and arrested her for braiding hair without a cosmetology license, a license which does not teach people how to braid hair. In 2007, the state allowed her to braid hair legally, but restricted her from teaching hair-braiding. Brantley says that this kept her from doing business for 20 years.

Another entrepreneur, Bill Main, was told he could not speak on his tour guides because he didn’t have a license. Bill’s company, Segway in the City, typically relies on younger, lively college students for their Segway tours around historic cities and sites. The District of Columbia required all tour guides to pass a 100-question exam, which has a several hundred dollar fee to take, in order to legally speak while on a guided tour. The only type of person that this would sound reasonable to is the incumbent tour guides who want to keep competition at bay, by enforcing higher barriers to entry to the tour guide industry. Bill took his case, with the help of the Institute for Justice, to the courts and won, using the first amendment as a means to free speech, whether you’re on a segway or not.

The panelists who spoke at the event were just a handful of the thousands of workers from around the nation who are kept from doing their jobs, or are involuntarily associated with labor unions. Derek Khanna ended the summit by speaking about proposing a federal law that would get rid of laws restricting people on the basis of frivolous, protectionist licensing laws. This would allow, as Khanna said, “permission-less” innovation to entrepreneurs who have the right to run a business free of red-tape, which in turn would help grow the American economy.

The entire event can be watched in the Heritage Foundation’s archives here.

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Barriers to Prosperity

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Posted by Matthew Benzmiller on Monday, October 5th, 2015, 10:00 AM PERMALINK

The Center for Worker Freedom, a special project of Americans for Tax Reform, is proud to co-host an event called A Summit on Workers’ Empowerment with The Heritage Foundation, the Center for Union Facts, and the Center for Independent Employees

The event will take place Tuesday, October 6th from 8:30am-12:30pm in the Allison Auditorium at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, DC, and will bring together workers from around the country representing multiple industries who all have one thing in common: They have struggled against state-enforced regulations and/or aggressive union organizing. 

CWF Executive Director Matt Patterson will be moderating one of the panels.

Come and support these workers and hear them tell their stories in a day celebrating worker empowerment. Panelists and speakers include:

Mike Burton – An autoworker from Chattanooga, Tennessee explaining why he and his co-workers did not find United Auto Workers representation attractive.

Isis Brantley – A hair braider from Dallas arrested because she braided hair without a cosmetology license.

Jesse Rojas – A spokesman for Silvia Lopez, a farm worker from California who has led the charge to decertify the United Farm Workers from her workplace.

Bill Main – A D.C. tour guide who fought the City for the right to give tours of America’s Capitol without a license.

Karen Cox – A lift-truck operator from Illinois whose workplace was unionized without a secret ballot election.

Megan Kelly – An Orlando-based flight attendant trying to decertify her union.

Event Schedule:

8:30 a.m.   Registration and Continental Breakfast

 9:00 a.m.   Introductory Speech: Economic Challenges Facing Today’s Workers

 9:30 a.m.   Panel I – Union Representation and the Modern Workforce

11:00 a.m. Panel II – Government Barriers to Work

12:00 p.m. Keynote Address

 12:30 p.m. Adjournment and Lunch

Address:

214 Massachusetts Avenue NE

Washington, DC 20002

For more details and the event page, click here, or contact Matt Patterson at mpatterson@atr.org.

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The Grover Norquist Show: Donald Trump’s Tax Plan: Pro-Growth and Pro-Simplification

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Posted by Matthew Benzmiller on Monday, September 28th, 2015, 5:27 PM PERMALINK

Grover Norquist analyses Donald Trump’s newly unveiled tax plan. Trump gives Americans a deal they can’t refuse, almost. With what Grover calls “Ronald Reagan” style growth, the Donald’s plan should give the United States 4 percent a year in economic growth. Trump’s plan is consistent with the Taxpayer Protection Pledge. The plan details four different tax brackets for individuals, lowering capital gains, lowering business taxes, and repealing taxes that were meant to be repealed several generations ago. Grover says that the plan would make us more competitive for business amidst the global market. Norquist even goes as far to say, “Trump’s plan is dead center of Reagan Republican thinking, when it comes to what would create growth in the United States.” To find out more, tune into the episode 35 of the Grover Norquist show, and don’t forget to email, tweet, or leave a comment for Grover to let him know what you think.

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Tax Hikes Shouldn't Be Part of West Virginia Tax Reform

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Posted by Matthew Benzmiller on Monday, September 28th, 2015, 11:43 AM PERMALINK

For decades, the West Virginia legislature has budgeted without fiscal restraint or reforms. In 2014, for the first time since 1929, Republicans took control of the House of Delegates and state Senate. Confronted with an overspending problem, some legislators are considering a short-term fix, a tax increase.

Tax revenues are falling, the state budget has used the Rainy Day fund three years in a row, and there is an estimated outstanding $1 billion in repairs for upgrading roads and bridges. The solution that some West Virginia legislators have come up with is a cigarette tax hike on low and middle-income consumers.

Senate minority leader Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, has criticized the cut in taxes that eliminated grocery taxes, phased out the business franchise tax, and the recent business tax reductions from 2006. Kessler proposed legislation last year that would have raised taxes on cigarettes.

“We need to start investing in our people. If that requires raising some taxes, then that’s the way to go,” Kessler said. According to a Gallup poll, “More than half of smokers earn less than $36,000 per year.” Even worse, over a third of smokers make less than $12,000 a year.

He claims, “things folks want — a qualified, skilled, educated and sober workforce; workforce participation; infrastructure and roads” are at stake if legislation to give tax cuts to big businesses are in the works.” Kessler claims he wants to help blue collar workers, but raising cigarette taxes will hurt those consumers most. 

Even more, cigarette tax hikes rarely meet revenue expectations. Of the 32 state tobacco tax increases that went into effect between 2009 and 2013, only three met or exceeded revenue projections. After cigarette tax hikes, consumers seek out alternative tobacco products that are less expensive or available across state borders in lower taxed states. 

58% of cigarettes smoked in New York, for example, are smuggled from out of the state, according to the Tax Foundation. This also results in decreased tax revenue. 

For decades, as the population has declined and West Virginia has failed to attract new businesses or taxpayers, the government has overspent instead of enacting pro-growth reforms. There absolutely is waste to cut from West Virginian spending but unfortunately there is very little accountability to the budget processes. The State Integrity Investigation gave West Virginia a D- in that category. Taxpayers have to pay for the feckless choices of their representatives according to Kessler’s philosophy on taxes.

“It [lowering taxes] hasn’t worked and no one can show me a place where it has.” Try Arizona, Florida, or Texas for examples Senator Kessler. The correlation between states with lower tax burdens and taxpayers and business migration is quite strong. From income to corporate tax reductions, states that let taxpayers keep more of their income are the bigger beneficiaries of those looking to leave less friendly states. Many governors and legislatures that understand that entrepreneurs bring growth have made their states competitive, tax-wise. It is an act of willingly ignorance for Kessler to deny this.

It’s time for the West Virginia government to get serious, cut spending, lower taxes, and stay out of the pockets of its citizens as much as possible. Some have suggested it may not be the right time for tax reform. In the case of West Virginia, this couldn’t be further from the truth.

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The American Energy Renaissance

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Posted by Matthew Benzmiller on Friday, September 18th, 2015, 11:57 AM PERMALINK

Federal Affairs Manager Justin Sykes joins ATR President Grover Norquist to discuss the current state of American energy regulations. Fracking has been spreading across the country, and it is one of the biggest factors affecting the state of affordable energy today. In episode 27 of the Grover Norquist Show, Norquist and Sykes discuss fracking, Obama’s recent attempts to take credit for the success of fracking, the US oil embargo, and the prospects for removing this unnecessary restriction. Do people own the resources under their property? Listen in and tell Grover what you think by tweeting him or leaving a comment.

 

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New IRS Data Shows Arizona Among Top Recipients of U.S. Wealth Migration

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Posted by Matthew Benzmiller on Thursday, September 10th, 2015, 4:09 PM PERMALINK

According to the latest IRS migration data, Arizona was among the top recipients of wealth migration and new taxpayers in 2013. That year, the state gained over 16,500 new residents, and along with them, $1.49 billion in adjusted gross income (AGI). ​

In 2013 Arizona had the largest net population gains from:

  • California 5,366 ($317 million)
  • Illinois 3,701 ($238 million)
  • Washington 1,538 ($82 million)
  • New Mexico 1,304 ($50 million)
  • New York 1,251 ($96 million)

 

When comparing Arizona to nearby states, it does better than New Mexico, Utah, Nevada, California, and Colorado. The runner up in the region is Nevada with an increase in $1.2 billion in AGI. Colorado comes in third with about $1 billion in net AGI.

In his 2014 campaign for Governor, Doug Ducey laid out a “Roadmap to Opportunity and Freedom” where he addressed the advantage Arizona had over states like California and Illinois. He explained, “The 8th-largest economy in the world is right next door in California and it’s busy taxing and regulating employers and small businesses to death. Illinois is so bad that we’re practically already Chicago’s favorite suburb!”

He was right. The corporate rate is scheduled to decrease from 6 percent this year to 4.9 percent in 2017, providing an even larger incentive for businesses and their employees to move to the Grand Canyon State. With an 8.84 percent top corporate income tax rate in California, it is not hard to see why 4.9 percent would be more appealing. Illinois with 9.5 percent in 2013 was the fourth highest top corporate income tax rate.

California’s top income tax is the largest in the country at 13.3 percent. Current Governor Doug Ducey also plans to progressively eliminate the state income tax depending on the growth of the economy in Arizona. In 2013 Arizona’s top personal income tax was 4.54 percent.

While states like New York, Illinois, and California were 2013’s biggest losers, Arizona stands out as a top recipient of taxpayers fleeing to friendlier states.


Judge Calls Foul in Stadium Funding Through Rental Car Taxes

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Posted by Matthew Benzmiller on Thursday, September 10th, 2015, 2:26 PM PERMALINK

Last Wednesday, Judge Christopher Whitten of Maricopa County Superior Court found Arizona’s car rental tax unconstitutional. This 3.25 percent car rental tax was key to funding the Valley sports stadiums, along with a one percent hotel-bed tax through the Arizona Sports and Tourism Authority. Both taxes went towards funding debt payments on the University of Phoenix Stadium, tourism promotion, and Cactus League stadiums. As a result of the court decision, Arizona government and taxpayers must refund $160 million combined to the various companies in the lawsuit.

Voters approved the rental car and hotel taxes in 2000. Targeted taxes like these are an often-used tactic for targeting out-of-state residents for projects like sports stadiums. Luckily, Arizona state law prohibits the use of tax revenue collected on cars to be spent on anything non-highway related. That includes stadiums.

David Goodfriend, chairman of the Sports Fans Coalition, weighed in on the use of taxpayer funds being directed towards sports enterprises “I have never seen a profitable multi-billion-dollar business at the trough — the public trough — the way we’ve seen sports leagues and team owners shamelessly take taxpayer money and not give anything back in return,” Goodfriend said. “They say to us essentially, ‘You should just be grateful that we are here.’"

The General Counsel for the authority, Sarah Strunk, said that there will likely be an appeal once the final rulings are made. This begs the question: What constitutional grounds could this rental car tax stand on? An attorney for the department of revenue could not be reached by the Arizona Republic.

While decisions on whether the already collected tax revenue is to be returned have not been made the taxes will continue to be collected. Strunk added, “This is business as usual.”

The Taxpayer Protection Alliance recently released a report detailing the massive amounts of public spending on football stadiums around the United States. In regards to Arizona they note that, “Despite hosting two Super Bowls and many other major events, the [University of Phoenix Stadium] has failed to generate the anticipated economic benefit.”

They report that the median household income in Maricopa County, where the stadium is, has fallen almost 10 percent since the opening of the stadium, and the poverty rate has increased significantly. TPA’s figures say that the stadium has cost $308 million to taxpayers.

The Maricopa County Court ruling suggests that a majority of the funds used to pay for the sports stadium over the past 15 years were done so unconstitutionally. So what’s next? Time will only tell but in the meantime, rental car consumers and tourists alike will continue to foot the bill. 

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