By Star Beacon•
To you and me, the meaning of the word “temporary” is generally clear. But not when the folks in Washington use the word.
Consider the “temporary” telephone tax Congress imposed to help fund the Spanish-American War. If you check your history books, you’ll see that the war lasted from April to August of 1893. The tax, on the other hand, survived into the second Bush Administration.
Another “temporary” law, one intended to speed the commercialization, expansion, and consumer adoption of new technology is set to expire at the end of 2019. The Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act Reauthorization (STELAR) should be allowed to fade away, but political pressure being applied by the parties who benefit from it most may unhelpfully keep it alive.
No only have growth in the satellite television industry and advancements in technology made the continuation of STELAR unnecessary, it may never have been needed in the first. It was enacted just about 30 years ago to provide a significantly discounted compulsory copyright license to give satellite companies the right to import out-of-market network television signals into a local market. The alternative, forcing their retransmission to local broadcast stations over the air, was financial prohibitively and technologically challenging.
These rules were supposed to give satellite television a boost in their push to compete with the cable giants. It worked. Today, DirectTV is worth $235 billion, Dish is worth $17 billion, and both networks offer just about every programming option available.
Letting the STELAR Act expire wouldn’t be the end of the world. No one would have missed the final episode of “The Big Bang Theory” or the “Game of Thrones” finale.
What would go away are:
• The discounted compulsory copyright license for satellite retransmission of distant (or imported) broadcast signals to “unserved households.”
• A corresponding exemption from retransmission consent requirements for the carriage of these out-of-market network signals by satellite TV providers.
• The requirement broadcast TV stations and satellite and cable TV companies both negotiate carriage of local broadcast signals in good faith.
According to the broadcasters, the number of satellite television subscribers who’d be impacted if the law expires as intended is now down to just about half a million. And there’s every reason to believe consumers in those markets could find other ways to pick up network signals, either by taking them down over the air or as the beneficiaries of private arrangements between providers and broadcasters.
This corporate to corporate stuff shouldn’t have any impact on what almost every viewer in America can watch. In fact, without STELAR, it might give individual communities a lift since the incentive for satellite carries to offer network affiliates from outside the coverage area instead of local news goes away. The playing field, as it were, becomes level.
Mature, multibillion-dollar satellite companies don’t need crony capitalist legislation protecting their interests, especially when those interests include denying consumers local news, weather, sports, and emergency information. It’s time to let it go.
Since the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act became law in 2017, government officials in high-tax states have been frantically trying to find a way to overturn the provision that limits taxpayers’ deduction for state and local taxes to $10,000. That limit makes taxpayers in high-tax jurisdictions feel the impact of their local governments’ tax-and-spend policies more keenly, and those governments will do anything (short of actually cutting taxes) to prevent that from happening.
First they resorted to weird workarounds that will surely be ignored by the Internal Revenue Service and struck down by the courts as the ruses that they are. Then they sued in federal court to stop Congress from changing the tax law. The lawsuit is without merit—it’s so bad, even California declined to join it.
Now at least one state, Connecticut, is considering radically reordering its tax system in a way that will be objectively worse for its citizens, all to spite the federal government. Sooner or later, these tricks will be used up and the high-taxing states will have to face reality.
Any analysis of the federal income-taxing power must begin with the Sixteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which is brief but sweeping: “The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several States, and without regard to any census or enumeration.” While Article I always gave Congress the power to impose direct taxes, the Sixteenth Amendment removed the constitutional restrictions on that power that made its exercise practically impossible.
That power, with the pre-1916 restrictions removed, is as broad as it gets. If you have income, the federal government can tax it. From the beginning, courts have recognized the sweeping nature of the Sixteenth Amendment and, in 1955, clarified further just how broad the amendment is in the landmark case of Commissioner v. Glenshaw Glass Co. In that case, the upheld the Internal Revenue Code’s definition of income as being truly “all-inclusive.”
To admit this does not require an endorsement of high taxes, or indeed of any taxes at all. To say that the government can tax all income does not mean you think they shouldtax all income. It is only to admit a fact that, until recently, Democrats were especially fond of acknowledging: the government has the power to tax your income.
Admitting that also does not mean that the government must tax all income. We have never had a truly flat tax. The 1916 Revenue Act, for example, allowed a deduction for foreign taxes as well as state and local taxes (commonly abbreviated as SALT). It also contained deductions for depreciation, depletion, and interest that are similar to those still in the code.
But none of these deductions were a matter of right; they were legislative choices, undertaken to reduce the burden of taxation in ways that Congress thought made the income tax fairer. That’s a fine idea, but it does not create an inalienable right to that tax deduction.
Connecticut’s plan to beat the system is clever—too clever, really. Jared Walczak of the Tax Foundation explained the details in a recent article: “the state’s graduated-rate income tax would be largely replaced by a 5 percent payroll tax, plus an additional 2 percent tax on income above $200,000, which would raise more money than the current income tax. The state’s Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) would be increased to offset the higher tax liability for low-income earners, and because the payroll tax is a deductible expense for businesses, taxpayers subject to the $10,000 [SALT] deduction cap would get a federal tax cut even as the state generates more money.”
Walczak’s article points out the main problems with the complicated proposed tax structure. Getting the thing to work at all without creating bizarre incentives is a problem. For example, a payroll tax with multiple brackets will inevitably require massive end-of-year adjustments for anyone working multiple jobs. It also results in a different tax structure for wage workers and independent contractors, as well as people who live off investments.
Does the Nutmeg State really want to shift the tax burden away from one group of people based purely on the terms of their employment? If so, regular jobs are going to shift to other states and freelancers are going to move in, creating a hole in the state budget. The idle rich will come out ahead, too, as their non-wage income becomes non-taxed.
That’s a strange thing for a supposedly liberal state to do, but ordinary concerns fly out the window when the overriding goal of thwarting the president enters the equation. Democrats have made a cottage industry out of saying richer people need to pay more taxes. When that becomes slightly true because of a Republican initiative, however, all of the well-heeled blue staters want to use corporations to hide income from the federal government.
The pending case of New York v. Mnuchin, to which Connecticut is also a party, makes even less sense. The attorneys general of these four high-tax states suggest that the federal taxing power was never intended to interfere with the states’ taxing power. There is no citation for this point, which tells you about all you need to know: the claim is invented out of thin air.
The idea that the reduced SALT deduction impairs the states’ taxing power is also nonsensical; the states retain the power to tax, they just can’t use a federal deduction to hide how high their taxes are. As Joseph Bishop-Henchman wrote for the Tax Foundation, “Tax deductions and carve-outs are a matter of legislative grace.”
Even the idea that federal taxation must exempt all state taxes is unsupported by history. Bishop-Henchman cites several instances when the deduction was limited, including in 1964, 1969, 1986, and 1993. And from the start, federal tax never completely excluded state and local taxes: it was a deduction, not a credit. While taxpayers did not pay taxes on the portion of their income that they paid to their state, they did not get a full credit for that amount, either. The deduction only saves the marginal rate on the income devoted to state taxes—the fraction of the fraction.
The complainants say that “at ratification, it was widely understood that the federalism principles enshrined in the Constitution would serve as a check on the federal government’s tax power.” That’s true, but not in the way they think it is.
Federalism did result in informal limits on federal power, but only because the states, represented in the Senate, kept the federal government from fully exercising its powers at their expense. If those limits have been eroded in the past century, it is because progressives went out of their way to erode them, first by requiring the direct election of senators and later by appointing judges who allowed them to ignore all limits on federal power, written and unwritten.
These same progressives now want you to believe that one of those unwritten, informal restrictions must override the law. The change of heart is cynical, if predictable. Rich people in high-tax states are paying more federal tax, not because the federal tax rate has gone up, but because Congress decided to stop helping the states hide the effect of their unsustainable tax-and-spend policies. Those who destroyed the norms of federalism now wish the courts to re-erect them—but only insofar as it helps their friends.
All of these lawsuits and legal hedges are rooted in the same complaint: the rich blue states want to keep imposing high taxes on their people and want the federal government to help them obscure the consequences.Their argument here is that imposing the same rule on all taxpayers is unfair.
“By decreasing state tax revenue and making state taxes more expensive,” they write in the complaint, “the new cap on the SALT deduction will ultimately force the Plaintiff States to choose between maintaining or cutting their public investments and level of services, and the taxes supporting them. As such, the new cap on the SALT deduction directly and unfairly interferes with the Plaintiff States’ sovereignty, by depriving them of their authority to determine their own taxation and fiscal policies without federal interference.”
Their argument here is that imposing the same rule on all taxpayers is unfair. That’s a definition of “unfair” that only a small child could love. What it really means is, “I didn’t get what I want.” What they want, as the complaint plainly acknowledges, is to avoid making hard choices to balance their budgets. Every other state has had to make hard choices, but these four states don’t want to. Unfair!
Even if it were true that the law is unfair, this would be a political argument, not a legal one. Politicians on the far left want the courts to impose rules that the people and their legislators have rejected. Even their own statements confuse to whom exactly the law is unfair.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo attacked the tax law as one “that benefits the 1% at the expense of middle-class families.” But the loss of the deduction hits only those families who pay more than $10,000 in state and local taxes—hardly the average Joes Cuomo awkwardly attempts to evoke.
This lawsuit will fail, and Connecticut’s too-clever workaround probably will, too. What happened in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 was a result that politicians from these four states found distasteful. It will force them to make the kind of hard choices that they were elected to make. It will make their previous bad decisions more obvious to their voters and put pressure on them to fix them. It will, in short, force them to govern.Twenty-first-century politicians will do nearly anything to avoid governing.
Twenty-first-century politicians will do nearly anything to avoid governing. The arguments are flimsy at best, and the remedy is uncertain. Asking the courts to strike down the partial limitation of a tax deduction is novel enough, but what comes in its place? Do they want the courts to impose taxes directly, an act that is at the core of a legislature’s functions?
They know this lawsuit is a damp squib, a feeble attempt to show the folks back home (and especially their rich donors) that they’re “doing something” to stop taxes on the rich from going up. Connecticut’s radical reform is somewhat better thought-out, but will certainly inflict unintended consequences on that state’s already struggling economy, even if the IRS doesn’t decide to ignore the whole shell game they are playing.
Like a child throwing a tantrum, they will flail and kick for as long as they can before finally having to do what they were elected to do: set a level of taxing and spending that their people can afford.
By Christopher Jacobs • The Federalist
Unless you’re a procrastinator, tax filing season officially ended Monday. That milestone means a likely reprise of the political battles from earlier this year about tax refunds and the effects of the Republican Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.
Early in the filing season, Democrats argued that smaller refunds for filers demonstrated the legislation’s ineffectiveness. (As of March 29, the Internal Revenue Service has processed $6 billion less in refunds than during last year’s filing season.) Republicans counter that, under the new law, most individuals will have smaller tax liabilities overall, meaning that individuals receiving smaller refunds this spring benefited from fatter paychecks throughout 2018.
By and large, Republicans have the better argument. Even the liberal Tax Policy Center concedes that most households will benefit from the tax legislation. Under their estimates, more than four in five tax filing units (80.4 percent) received a net tax cut, with fewer than one in twenty (4.8 percent) paying a net tax increase. (About 15 percent of households won’t see a major change, one way or the other.) As a result, most families with smaller refunds received larger net pay during the year, due to smaller tax withholding in their paychecks every month.
But the political back-and-forth misses the bigger point: Continue reading
By Glenn Kessler • Washington Post
“The average tax refund is down about $170 compared to last year. Let’s call the President’s tax cut what it is: a middle-class tax hike to line the pockets of already wealthy corporations and the 1%.”
— Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.), in a tweet, Feb. 11, 2019
Harris, who is running for president in 2020, attacked President Trump’s tax law after the Internal Revenue Service reported that preliminary data shows that the average tax refund check is down 8 percent ($170) this year compared with last year.
Boy, talk about a non sequitur that turns out to be nonsensical and misleading. Let’s take a look.
The average tax refund is down, at least according to very preliminary data for returns processed through Feb. 1. (That’s essentially one week of filing data.) But the size of a refund tells you nothing about a person’s tax bill. Continue reading
By John Stossel • Reason
Today is the Super Bowl.
I look forward to playing poker and watching. It’s easy to do both because in a three-hour-plus NFL game there are just 11 minutes of actual football action.
So we’ll have plenty of time to watch Atlanta politicians take credit for the stadium that will host the game. Atlanta’s former mayor calls it “simply the best facility in the world.”
But politicians aren’t likely to talk about what I explain in my latest video—how taxpayers were forced to donate more than $700 million to the owner of Atlanta’s football team, billionaire Arthur Blank, to get him to build the stadium. Continue reading
by Haris Alic • Washington Free Beacon
Democratic Rep. Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) has yet to take the speaker’s gavel of the U.S. House of Representatives, but Democrats are already laboring to make it easier to dismantle the achievements of the Trump presidency.
The incoming chairman of the House Rules Committee, Rep. Jim McGovern (D., Mass.), confirmed to colleagues on Wednesday that he would not honor the three-fifths supermajority requirement to raise income taxes, as reported by the Washington Post.
McGovern’s decision overturns a rule implemented under outgoing Speaker Paul Ryan (R., Wis.) that mandated a three-fifths majority approve any proposed hike to the income tax.
The change comes after a standoff between Pelosi and her moderate allies in the Democratic conference, such as incoming Ways and Means Committee chairman Richard Neal (Mass.), and younger, more progressive members like Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.). Continue reading
Taxes: A new “study” in Britain suggests that by raising taxes sharply on Facebook, Amazon and Apple, the government could pay for a universal basic income (UBI) for all Britons. It’s an absurd idea, which is why it can’t be counted out.
The so-called FANG companies — the above-mentioned three, plus Google and Netflix — have been vilified now for years in Europe and in the U.S. as “monopolies” and, worse, “predators.” When such strident rhetoric is used by politicians, you know they’re going in for the kill. There’s money to be made in taking down big, successful companies.
In the case of Britain, the left-wing paper The Guardian reports, the Royal Society of Arts (that’s right, Arts) recommends that “Britain could raise new taxes on Amazon, Facebook and Apple to give every citizen under the age of 55 as much as £10,000 ($14,000) in a form of universal basic income … helping to counter the growing risk of job losses from automation and artificial intelligence.”
America’s FANG tech companies look like easy victims. Inevitably, since they have little in the way of a domestic British constituency, they will come into the cross hairs of Britain’s tax-happy, left-wing politicians. Continue reading
It's a good start, but it can't be the end of the GOP's economic efforts.
By US News•
The Republicans have kicked off the New Year with an earnest effort to sell the American public on the benefits of the tax bill just passed. It’s better than nothing, but if they hadn’t put the cart before the horse in the first place, they might not be in as much of a mess.
To be sure, achieving the first major overhaul of the U.S. tax code in 30 years without the single vote of a single Democrat is a considerable accomplishment. And, unlike the Affordable Care Act – with all the regulations and other nonsense Barack Obama piled on the economy in his first two years – the Tax Cut and Jobs Act of 2017 will be a boost to the economy rather than a drag. Still and all, telling the voters they should be for it because it puts more money in their pockets (or, more accurately, leaves it there in about nine out of 10 cases) doesn’t really constitute a Reaganesque vision for a more prosperous America in which each citizen has a vested share.
Hopefully things will turn towards the better, and soon, meaning the Republicans will retain control of Congress through 2020 and be able to pass additional tax cuts, continue to lessen the size of government, remove unnecessary and counter-productive controls on productive economic activity, and set the stage for another long boom like the Reagan tax cuts kicked off back in the early 80s. But time and the narrative are not yet on the GOP’s side.
Like it or not, even with relatively low rates of inflation for much of the last decade, the purchasing power of the dollar has declined. Families are felling pinched, which is part of the reason many of Continue reading
By Ali Meyer • Washington Free Beacon
One in five small businesses, or 22 percent, pay at least $10,000 on the administration of federal taxes each year, according to the National Small Business Association’s 2017 taxation survey. This does not include the money that a business owes the IRS in taxes.
Five percent of small businesses pay more than $40,000 a year on the administration of federal taxes, seven percent pay between $20,001 and $40,000, and ten percent pay between $10,001 to $20,000. The majority of businesses, 67 percent, pay more than $1,000.
Small businesses and their staff also spend significant amounts of time dealing with taxes, whether it be by filing reports, working with accountants, or calculating payroll. Twenty percent of businesses spend more than 120 hours annually. Continue reading
Ali Meyer • Washington Free Beacon
This year, taxpayers will spend 113 days working to pay for the nation’s tax burden, according to a report from the Tax Foundation.
Tax Freedom Day is April 23, 113 days into the year, and falls 5 days after taxes are collected on April 18. Tax Freedom Day would fall roughly two weeks later on May 7 if federal borrowing or future taxes were included.
“Tax Freedom Day takes all federal, state, and local taxes—individual as well as payroll, sales and excise, corporate and property taxes—and divides them by the nation’s income,” the report says.
Americans will spend upward of $5.1 trillion on taxes, which includes $3.5 trillion in federal taxes and $1.6 trillion in state and local taxes, according to the report. Continue reading
by Crystal Wright • Morning Consult
Just when you thought the disastrous Obamacare literally couldn’t get any sicker or more costly to Americans, think again. However, this time it isn’t the law’s namesake President Obama and his Democrat cronies harming our country’s health care system while ballooning the federal budget, it’s Republicans.
Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) and Rep. Mark Walker (R-N.C.) introduced a bill — the Taxpayers Before Insurers Act which requires funds paid in by private insurance companies collected under the auspices of the “reinsurance program” mandated under the Affordable Care Act to go the U.S Treasury instead of being used to reduce consumer medical costs. And many Republicans in Congress say it’s a great idea. Continue reading
The IRS is abusing its authority once again by employing the help of a private law firm in its case against Microsoft.
By Peter Roff • USNews
If there is one federal agency that has clearly run amok during the Obama administration, it’s the United States Internal Revenue Service. From the harassment of tea party groups applying for nonprofit status to the defiance of congressional subpoenas, it’s an agency badly in need of a thorough housecleaning.
IRS Commissioner John Koskinen is already under threat of impeachment by the U.S. House of Representatives. That might be a good start, but removing him won’t fix the problems any more than the ouster of his predecessor did. The problems run too deep. Congress needs to act, not just by stepping up oversight of the tax collectors but by jerking their chain and narrowing their authority.
From top to bottom the agency is engaged in a wholesale abuse of its authority – and is defying attempts to investigate what it has been doing. Groups on the right are still reportedly having their applications for tax-exempt status slow-walked through the process. Confidential data is still leaking out and the auditing process is out of control. Continue reading
by Kenneth Bloomquist
Standing before an audience of college students, President Obama remarked that “As Americans, we can and should be proud of the progress that our country has made over these past six years. This progress has been hard, but it has been steady and it has been real. And it’s the result of the American people’s drive and their determination and their resilience, and it’s also the result of sound decisions made by my administration.” These remarks sound more defensive than confident. The President asserted that Americans should feel proud of the modest economic gains his administration frequently cites, but given that over half of Americans still consider the economy to be meandering through a recession it seems they have overwhelmingly rejected his outlook and chosen to remain humble instead.
Perhaps they’re being overly pessimistic? In the President’s defense, the metrics commonly used to measure the duration of recessions do indeed place the end of the Great Recession in 2009. Since then, GDP has risen slowly, but steadily, at an adjusted rate of just over 2% per year. The unemployment rate has fallen from its 2009 high of just under 10% to just under 6%, and new jobs are being created at a pace which is improving with time. And yet despite the graphs and charts, Americans refuse to be optimistic no matter how often they are told to be. The economy as described in press conferences doesn’t seem to be same one which most Americans live and work in, where family and friends remain unemployed or underpaid, where they have been passed over for raises, and where there just isn’t enough income leftover to save. Americans may not all have advanced economics degrees, but they are intuitively aware when times are good and when times are bad, and they remain skeptical even when bombarded by a steady stream of rose-tinted statistics. Continue reading
And secret friend of the one percent.
by Jay Cost • The Weekly Standard
In last week’s State of the Union address, President Barack Obama came across as the ultimate class warrior. His domestic agenda consists of more spending on roads and infrastructure, new entitlement programs for community college and preschool, and tax preferences targeted to low- and middle-income earners. All of this he would pay for with new inheritance taxes on the wealthy, a hike in the capital gains tax, and a special levy on the biggest financial institutions.
But don’t be fooled. Obama may seem like the newest member of Occupy Wall Street—chanting “We are the 99 percent!”—but his record shows him to be a corporate liberal, and a closer look at last week’s proposals confirms it. Continue reading
Obama goes where the money is to pay for ‘free’ education programs – your savings account.
by Glenn Harlan Reynolds • USAToday
Bank robber Willie Sutton is said to have explained his career this way: “That’s where the money is.” Whether Sutton ever really said that, it’s an aphorism that, according to Bloomberg’s Megan McArdle, explains President Obama’s plans to go after middle class assets like 529 college savings plans and home appreciation.
Though millions of Americans have been putting money into “tax free” 529 plans to save for their children’s increasingly expensive college educations, President Obama would change the law so that withdrawals from the plans to fund college would be taxed as ordinary income. So while you used to be able to get a nice tax benefit by saving for college, now you’ll be shelling out to Uncle Sam every time you withdraw to pay for Junior’s dorm fees.
This doesn’t hurt the very rich — who just pay for college out of pocket — or the poor, who get financial aid, but it’s pretty rough on the middle– and upper–middle class. In a double-whammy, those withdrawals will show up as income on parents’ income tax forms, which are used to calculate financial aid, making them look richer, and hence reducing grants. Continue reading