Obama’s Proposed Education Funding & Pay-As-You-Go

June 20, 2010

Recently, President Obama has been urging Congress to pass legislation that will provide $50 billion in aid to the states to fill budget gaps related to education/teachers, health care, and emergency personnel such as police and firefighters. Specifically, the legislation includes “$23 billion to help prevent teacher layoffs, $25 billion for state healthcare aid and $2 billion for cops and firefighters.”

The idea is simple. Without the aid, states will be forced to cut jobs and services in these areas, increase deficits, raise taxes, or a combination of these. Regardless of the outcome, it will have a disastrous effect on states already struggling to make ends meet while reviving their economy.

The plan, however, is meeting resistance from both parties, particularly from Republicans. Some Democrats, such as Majority Leader Steny Hoyer have asked Obama to consider using unallocated funds from last year’s stimulus bill. Republicans are pointing to the fact that Democrats are not abiding by their own Pay-Go (Pay-As-You-Go) legislation which requires new spending to be paid for by cutting spending or raising taxes.

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Twenty Democrats Take Aim At Ethics Oversight

June 6, 2010

Recently, twenty Democratic members of Congress have sought to limit the powers of the independent ethics oversight body, the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE), and essentially. These lawmakers represent less than half of the Congressional Black Caucus and a few of them are among a list of lawmakers in both parties who are under scrutiny by the OCE, including Rep. Charlie Rangel who was found in February to have knowingly violated ethical boundaries despite being warned by his staff.

It is noteworthy that more than half of the forty-two member Congressional Black Caucus has refused to join the effort, including leaders like Rep. Jim Clyburn, and the effort is not an official act of nor endorsed by the CBC.

Ethics reform was a high priority of the new Democratic majority in 2006 and has been a priority of Obama as a State Senator, U.S. Senator, and President. It is shameful that the progress on public service ethics in Congress is being targeted by a group of folks who happen to be directly or indirectly feeling the sting of the new oversight body. Members of both parties and all demographics are being investigated and there is no room for “poor me” when it comes to ethics and accountability. This is not unlike a child being punished for knowingly doing wrong, then whining that the parents’ authority should be hampered because they got in trouble while their siblings did not.  Instead of addressing the consequences of some members’ unethical conduct, these twenty members of Congress should be addressing the source of the unethical conduct.


The Unfair “FairTax”

May 27, 2010

For my first post, I thought I would tackle something that divides Republicans. Gaining momentum in the Missouri legislature has been to exchange the Missouri income tax system and replace it with a sales tax, commonly known as the “FairTax” system. The Missouri House has shown that they are able to pass it, but the Missouri Senate is where the plan has stalled.

In Missouri, the sales tax plan would “not exceed 7%.” Switching to a sales tax-based plan is a bad idea. The champions of the plan argue that everyone will get a probate, or check that would cover the increased cost in taxes on necessities. No incomes taxes and receiving a check by the state each month sounds good right? Re-evaluate this with me with 3 major considerations.

1. The plan does exempt a few services such as tuition paid for education and donations to charities to be exempt. The following is a small list of what would be charged sales taxes that do not currently charge sales tax:

  1. Rent
  2. Healthcare/Dental Care
  3. Prescription Drugs
  4. Utilities (including cable/internet)
  5. Child care
  6. Purchasing cars/homes, etc.

While a 7% sales tax may not be much on a $10 a month prescription drug, it is significant on that home that did cost $100,000, has increased to $107,000. Rent for us college age students would rise from $600 per month to $642 a month.

2.  While the plan said the statewide sales tax wouldn’t be more than 7%, would this bring in enough revenue to Missouri? Because no state has made a transition fully to a “fair tax” system, to reach current revenue estimates, this tax rate could need to be as high as 12%.

Because the plan is capped at 7%, if Missouri makes this transition and were to bring in say $7 billion instead of the anticipated $8 billion, the state would be forced to make cuts to balance the budget. The Missouri legislature just cut over $500 million in General Revenue from its budget, and that was incredibly difficult to do. We will see a tougher budget year in 2012. Do we want to see a change in our tax system to create instability when budget times are already incredibly tight?

Let’s take myself as an example. Under the current tax system, while it is complicated, I hired an accountant to do my taxes. As both full time students, my wife and I had no tax liability (state or federal) and had a nice tax return. This wouldn’t be possible under the “fair tax” plan. The only calculator that I found online to attempt to compare the two systems was on the Fair Tax’s website. This calculator is of no help because it compares a federal “FairTax” plan.

3. An argument for the “FairTax” is that it would lower consumer prices, and increase consumer spending. While saying that if we take away taxes from a business, that they will immediately drop the cost of the product by the amount they are taxed is speculating, let’s go with it.

Because this plan is just for Missouri, would a company decrease their prices in Missouri and not the rest of the country? I don’t think so.
The “FairTax” model plans on consumer spending. The average family is over $8,000 in debt in credit cards alone by purchasing consumable items. Assuming a family does save money under a new system, do they help keep the economy afloat by purchasing a higher taxed item or do they pay down their credit card debt or pay bills with? Or, do they go to Illinois or Arkansas to purchase their $20,000 car instead of Missouri?

I would encourage everyone to read about the “FairTax” before making their opinion. Many research groups (proponents would argue these groups are liberal organizations) have said that moving to a consumption tax in Missouri would increase taxes for 95% of Missourians. During public testimony, dozens of groups testified in opposition to the proposal. Fortunately for Missourians, this proposal will not appear on the 2010 ballot, but this proposal isn’t completely dead yet.