DISAPPROVAL OF THE LIFESTYLE DOESN'T MEAN YOU'RE 'BASHING' GAYS
As discussed last week, Phil Robertson was suspended from the TV show Duck Dynasty for paraphrasing a passage found in The Bible. There needs to be great caution when one starts paraphrasing The Bible. There also needs to be great caution when quoting a passage from The Bible out of context. But what this is really about is an effort of the gay-promoting, Christian-hating crowd to shove their agenda down our throats (no pun intended).
The media reports have twisted the words of Phil Robertson. You really have to read all of each of the articles to see what Phil said. But, the headlines of most of the articles say things like “'Duck Dynasty' Star Bashes Gays.” No he didn't. He said that gays “won't inherit the kingdom of God.” Those aren't his words. They come straight out of The Bible.
In that same interview, Phil went on to say “We never, ever judge someone on who's going to heaven, hell. That's the Almighty's job . . . . Of course, we just love 'em, give 'em the Good News about Jesus – whether they're homosexuals, drunks, terrorists. We let God sort 'em out later, you see what I'm saying?”
Phil clearly does not approve of the homosexual lifestyle. But, he never advocated chaining gays to the back of a pickup truck and dragging them down the road. (Phil is from Louisiana, not Texas.) But, as usual, the media and the advocates for the gay lifestyle interpret disapproval of their lifestyle choices as “bashing.”
A gay-promoting group, GLAAD, has come out and attacked Phil. GLAAD's spokesman said “Phil and his family claim to be Christian, but Phil's lies about an entire community fly in the face of what true Christians believe.” Huh? I know some “Christian” denominations have “gone soft” (no pun intended) on being gay being a sin, but has GLAAD or these so-called “Christian” denominations actually read The Bible?
The statements in The Bible are pretty clear on this subject. That's not me talking or Phil talking. Just read it for yourself.
We are all sinners. We have all fallen short of the standard God sets for us by what we have done and by what we have left undone. In his book Happy, Happy, Happy, Phil even describes his own sin filled days before he “found Jesus.” The difference here is that the gay-promoting groups want to deny that conduct The Bible clearly describes as sinful is in fact sinful. They obviously just don't like hearing what The Bible has to say.
This story has been evolving over the last week. A&E executives announced the suspension of Phil from the show. The Robertson family responded with a statement of its own. From the statement it is pretty clear that the Robertson family is supporting Phil. The statement says “While some of Phil's unfiltered comments to the reporter were coarse, his beliefs are grounded in the teachings of The Bible.” If push comes to shove, it looks like the family would give up the show on A&E before it would not back Phil. As the statement says “We have a successful working relationship with A&E but, as a family, we cannot imagine the show going forward without our patriarch at the helm. We are in discussions with A&E to see what that means for the future of Duck Dynasty.”
Gay-promoting groups have been beating the drum to try to drive Duck Dynasty from the airwaves. Their success in getting Phil suspended from the show seems to be a small victory. However, their efforts may have backfired on them. The vice president of communications for GLAAD said that “I've never received so many violently angry phone calls and social media posts attacking GLAAD for us speaking out against these comments.” Good! Maybe there is still hope for America.
(James Thomas is an attorney who has long been active in local Republican politics. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org)
THE BIBLE CAN GET
YOU IN TROUBLE
Be careful when quoting The Bible. It can get you in trouble. Especially when you quote something that crazy liberals don't want to hear. At least that's what Phil Robertson, the patriarch of the Duck Commander/Duck Dynasty clan, found out.
Folks around here probably know about Duck Dynasty. I had never heard of this show until my friend Eric told me about it. I thought I would give it a try. I like the show, but it is my older daughter who absolutely loves the show.
The show is about a family that operates a duck call making business. (They actually have other products as well, but all of their products have a connection with duck or deer hunting.) Phil Robertson starting making duck calls as a start up business with barely two nickels to rub together. He sold his duck calls by driving from town to town in his beat up car getting stores to just put a few of his duck calls on the shelves. His Duck Commander business has gone from that to a huge business empire.
As part of their effort to promote the products of Duck Commander, the Robertson family started making hunting videos. These videos eventually led to the creation of Duck Dynasty, a TV show on A&E. The trademark feature of most of the family members is that they have long beards. (Think ZZ Top.)
There are two shocking things about Duck Dynasty. First, it is the highest rated reality show on cable TV and the second highest rated show of any type on cable TV.
Second, it is such a highly rated show on cable TV AND essentially every episode ends with the family at the dinner table with their heads bowed in prayer. (A third shocking thing is that they ever actually make any duck calls to sell because on the show the guys always seem to find a way to get out of working.)
Back to the show ending prayer: The family – parents, sons and wives, grandchildren, Uncle Si and usually a couple of employees and/or friends of the grandkids are all gathered together for a meal. After a brief prayer the show ends with the family passing food around the table with a voice over with the lesson learned from this particular episode. It is like a throwback to The Waltons and the “Good Night John Boy,” “Good Night Mary Ellen,” “Good Night . . ”
That show ending wholesomeness and God-loving attitude is why I can't believe a bunch of TV executives ever allowed the show to be on TV. It must have just been eating them up inside that a bunch of openly Christian people could maintain their faith, be successful in business and be wildly popular to the TV viewing community.
Well, those TV executives may have finally found a way to kill their wildly successful show. Phil was being interviewed by GQ Magazine. (I'm not sure why GQ was interviewing Phil. His long beard, camo attire and headband don't seem like “GQ” material.) In that interview he paraphrased a line from Corinthians when he said “Don't be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers – they won't inherit the kingdom of God.”
The media and the gay activists immediately twisted this to say Phil was gay bashing. Huh? He didn't bash anyone. He just paraphrased a line from The Bible.
But, this has given the gay-promoting, Christian-hating crowd an opportunity to strike back at a wildly popular show that they just have to hate. A&E has suspended Phil from the show. More to come.
(James Thomas is active in local Republican politics. Reach him at email@example.com)
HOW TO MAKE A THRIVING MIDDLE CLASS
Look out! We are having another “sky is falling” moment. Last week I agreed with union organizers that you couldn't support a family on a fast food worker's. This week I'm in agreement President Obama. Well . . . sort of.
Earlier this month President Obama said the income gap between America's rich and poor is a “defining challenge of our time.” I agree.
I have been fretting over the separation between the “haves” and “have nots” for quite some time. The good paying blue collar jobs just seem to headed for the endangered species list. The new jobs that are available seem to either be a few good paying jobs that require a fair amount of education and skills or lots of low paying jobs that only require limited skills.
The opportunities just seem to be different today than they were a generation or two ago. When my dad walked out of high school, he went to school for an airplane mechanic's license and started fixing airplanes for TWA. It wasn't a ton of money, but it was a good honest wage for many years that allowed for the comfortable support of a family. Fifty years ago, it was still possible to find a blue collar job and comfortable support a family. However, these good paying blue collar jobs seem to be much fewer than they once were.
This shift from good paying blue collar jobs to a mixture of a few good paying white collar jobs and more low paying low skilled jobs is creating a serious problem. It is creating an increasing gap between the rich and the poor.
Obama is right that this increasing gap is a huge challenge for America. But, the fix is not to take more money from the higher income folks and give it to the lower income folks. No! That fixes nothing! If anything, it actually makes the problem worse by failing to incentivize hard work.
Instead of creating an entire segment of our society that is depending upon getting a government check in the mail, wean people off of the government handouts. I know it might take some folks a while to make the transition so help them out with training programs and help them keep food on the table as they transition to a better, independent life. But, do not allow a system of permanent dependence.
Also encourage policies that will bring jobs back to America. I'm generally a free trade guy. As a general principle I disagree with tariffs that impair the flow of goods between countries. However, some countries are not playing fair. Some countries subsidize certain industries. Some countries have so few protections for the workers and the environment that it is much cheaper to produce goods in these countries. Place tariffs on these goods to even the playing field between American workers and foreign workers.
Yes. The increasing income and wealth gaps are a huge challenge for America. But, don't just take money from one group and give it to another. That isn't right and it doesn't fix anything. Adopt policies that will make America great again AND expect individuals to step up and do the things necessary to make their lives better. With those two things a thriving middle class that made America great can return.
(James Thomas is a veteran of local Platte County politics. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org)
PAY LEVEL HAS TO MATCH
SKILL REQUIRED AND
VALUE TO EMPLOYER
This week I found myself in agreement with the union folks who were trying to organize fast food workers. Well . . . sort of. Union organizers who led strikes at fast food restaurants said the wages paid to fast food workers are not enough to support a family. I agree. However, while I agree with this general principle, the general premise is essentially where our agreement ends.
The union organizers don't seem to understand that flipping burgers and trading money for food in a bag out of a drive thru window was never intended to be a job for supporting a family. This is the kind of work an unskilled teenage boy does to put gas in his car or to take his girlfriend to the movies or a teenage girl does to fund her next shopping excursion.
What the union organizers do not seem to understand is that the hourly wage paid to workers is supposed to be based upon the value the workers provide and not on how much are the personal expenses of the workers. Fast food jobs are jobs that require few skills. It is good, honest work. There is nothing wrong with working in the fast food industry. However, the kind of skills required to do this work just doesn't justify a big paycheck.
Instead of protesting the size of their paycheck, these fast food workers need to either do such an exceptional job that they get promoted to a management position (which will require more skill, more responsibility and probably more formal education) or use their time away from the restaurant to improve their education and skills so they can offer more value to some other employer.
A lot of folks have this misconception that how much they should get paid is based upon how much they need to pay for the things they want. I had a young woman that worked for me once that was confused over this issue. She was having car problems and would often have to walk a couple of blocks to the bus stop when her car wasn't running. One day I heard her calling in to the receptionist to say she wouldn't be coming in because she didn't want to get rained on as she walked to the bus stop. I shouted out to the receptionist to tell her to be ready and at her front door and I would swing by and pick her up. (No reason to let a little rain cost her a day's pay.)
On the ride back to the office I discussed her situation with her. She needed more money so she could get her car fixed. She proposed a raise. I said I couldn't do that because I was already paying her at or above the market rate for the work she did. However, I did offer her a solution. The other equity partner and I worked essentially every Saturday even though no one else was ever in the office. I offered to pay her to come in and work a half day every Saturday even if it just meant that I had to come up with stuff to keep her busy. She didn't like it, but she did figure out it was the way to get her car fixed.
Yes. You can't support a family on a fast food worker's wages. But the unions need to remember that the level of wage is not based upon how much the worker needs or wants to make, but instead needs to match the skill required and the value provided to the employer.
(James Thomas is an attorney who is active in local Republican politics. Email him at email@example.com)
SOME POTENTIALLY BAD NEWS FOR ONLINE SHOPPERS, RETAILERS
Thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court, “Cyber Monday” might also be considered “Black Money” to on-line retailers. And, I don't mean “Black Monday” like the expression “Black Friday” where the “Black” refers to huge profits to retailers. No. The actions of the U.S. Supreme Court are potentially bad for on-line retailers and consumers who shop on-line.
On Monday the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal from the highest court in New York that upheld a New York law that forces on-line retailers with no physical presence in a state to collect sales taxes on purchases by New York residents. This decision appears contrary to the U.S. Supreme Court's 1992 decision in Quill Corp v. North Dakota. Although the court simply declined to hear the appeal and did not explicitly overrule the Quill decision, the inaction certainly implies that Quill is no longer good law.
The Quill decision pre-dates the on-line shopping explosion and relates back to the days when consumers still made purchases through catalogs. In Quill, the U.S. Supreme Court said that a state may not collect taxes from out-of-state companies that have no physical presence in the state. Notwithstanding the Quill decision, the New York legislature adopted a law that says out-of-state retailers have to collect New York sales taxes on sales to New York residents even if those retailers have no physical presence in New York. (Now being more precise, there is a twisted sort of physical presence in the recent cases. The on-line retailers in question do pay commissions to New York-based affiliates for hosting on-line links to Amazon.com. However, this would seem to be nothing more than Quill using the U.S. mail to send paper catalogs to customers in a state.)
There are a number of problems with this decision. First and foremost, it is a further erosion of long-standing constitutional principles under the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution. Second, it puts us one step closer to the potential implementation of a national sales tax. I am adamantly opposed to a national sales tax because while it may initially start small (remember that the income tax was initially only 1% and then really only on wealthy people) it will certainly grow to a big percentage.
I know some folks are upset that on-line purchases may escape sales taxes. However, escaping sales taxes does not mean that the purchases escape taxation. In Missouri (and most states) there is a use tax. The use tax applies to a purchase made in another state that is not subject to tax in that state, but the purchased item is then brought to Missouri and “used” in Missouri. A big dollar example is the purchase of an airplane. An airplane might be bought in a state that does not apply sales taxes to the purchase of airplanes, but when the buyer brings the airplane to Missouri and stores it in Missouri so that it has “dropped out of the flow of interstate commerce” the airplane becomes subject to use tax in Missouri.
There is another little twist. The potential shift from use taxes to sales taxes could create a problem for Platte County. Platte County has a use tax rate that matches its sales tax rate. However, more than 60% of these sales taxes are dedicated to a specific purpose while the uses taxes are spent on whatever the county commission decides. So, “Black Monday” could potentially shift money from the use tax slush funds that the county commission currently enjoys to the specific purpose sales tax funds.
(James Thomas is a veteran of local Republican politics. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org)
WHO IS REALLY TAKING YOU TO THE CLEANERS ON YOUR GAS PURCHASES?
“Over the hills and through the woods to Grandma's house we go.” I know most would consider that a Christmas song, but a lot of folks will go to Grandma's house this week to celebrate Thanksgiving. And, what do you do on the way to Grandma's house?
That's right, you top off your tank.
Gas prices jumped late last week. I never know what really causes gas prices to fluctuate. You can talk about developments in the world and economic principles, but sometimes I think it is as simple as a whole bunch of people are going to be buying gas over the next few days so the retailers know they can raise the prices another dime. I guess that is just simple supply and demand.
A lot of folks, particularly the liberal Democrats, like to gripe and bellyache about how “evil” the oil companies are and how much money they make. Oil companies do generate a lot of gross revenue. Of course, when you sell a product that everybody needs – whether directly for your own vehicles or indirectly for the vehicles of others that take you places and deliver products to the stores you shop at – the demand will always be pretty high. That is especially true in a free and open society like ours when most folks don't give a second thought to hopping in the car to go somewhere.
However, the profits of these “evil” oil companies are only something like seven cents a gallon. That equates to only two to three percent of the gross sales price you pay at the pump.
Do you know who is really “taking you to the cleaners” on your gas purchases? Yep. You guessed it. The government. When you fill up at the pump you are getting dinged for both federal and state gas taxes.
In Missouri we are pretty fortunate. Our gas taxes are pretty low. The combined state and federal taxes at the pump in Missouri are only about 35.7 cents per gallon. Our neighbors to the west pay a few cents more. The taxes on gas purchased in Kansas are about 43.4 cents per gallon.
At least we have it better than folks who live in California or New York. They pay more than 65 cents per gallon in gas taxes. That is between nine and ten times the profits of the “evil” oil companies. Of course, states run by liberals having high gas taxes should not come as a surprise. Many liberals, including Obama, have advocated for dramatically raising gas taxes to try to discourage people from driving. I would be open to an honest debate over higher gas taxes for the purposes of providing increased funding for road improvements, but to raise gas taxes just to discourage fuel consumption is simply crazy liberal policy.
The bulk of the funding for road improvements comes from gas taxes. When you pay gas taxes in Missouri, those dollars – at least the state-level ones – will get spent in Missouri.
So, as you head off to Grandma's house this week, be sure to top off your tank in Missouri for the lower gas taxes. And, when you do, your state gas taxes will be cheaper and will go for Missouri roads and not the roads of another state. It is a double win for us.
(James Thomas is a veteran of local politics in Platte County. Reach him at email@example.com)
IF YOU LIKE TO SPEND OTHER PEOPLE'S MONEY, YOU'RE NOW IN SEASON
Summer is now officially over. I know that the last day of summer was Sept. 21 on the calendar. I know that I have had to scrape frost off my windows a few mornings over the last couple of weeks, but my summer was extended a little later this year regardless of the day on the calendar or the dropping temperatures thanks to “a little help from my friends.”
Brian Kelley and Tyler Hubbard of Florida Georgia Line allowed me to enjoy “The Heat of Summer” in St. Louis on November 1. (I now know I am officially an old man because Tyler called me “Sir” twice. My wife said it was just his good Southern-upbringing. That might have been part of it, but from looking around the room at all the young pretty girls there in their dresses and cowboy boots, I'm sure it was also because I looked like a “sir” to him.) Brad Paisley and his “Beat This Summer” Tour then extended my summer to November 14 in Omaha. But with the weathermen talking about that nasty white stuff (i.e., snow) and Thanksgiving only days away, I guess my pretend extension of summer must be at an end.
To get ready for my trip to see Brad, I listened to his latest CD, “Wheelhouse.”
Although he didn't perform this particular song, I thought the first verses of the lyrics of “Officially Alive” were an appropriate tribute to my rabble rousing conservative friends:
So you ruffled some feathers, yeah, you've done it now
Turned the tables in the temple clean upside down
You're out on a ledge and one thing's for sure
When you've got 'em all wishin' you'd never been born
Congratulations, you are officially alive
It's confirmation you are officially alive
Yeah. Some of my political friends have ruffled a few feathers over the years. I started a list of those red-blooded conservative patriots, but the list was just getting too long. So, let me just say to all of you rabble rousers, “Keep up the good work. Don't let the tax and spend liberals win.”
Of course, these conservative rebel rousers just can't help it. They don't need any encouragement. Like the chorus to Florida Georgia Line's “It's Just What We Do” says:
Hey, we might look a little crazy tonight, hey baby that's alright,
It's our backwoods, boondock roots, it's just what we do.
It's just what we do.
Hey, ain't no way to make this up, when it's runnin through your blood,
There ain't no hidin the truth, it's just what we do.
It's just what we do.
Yeah, it's just what we do
Yeah. These conservative patriots just have fiscal conservatism and patriotism in their blood. They see tax-and-spend liberals and just can't let them stand -- even within our own party.
Yep. Summer may be over. But the next political season is now opening and the rabble rousers will be on the hunt (politically speaking). If you like to spend other people's money willy nilly, you should look out. You are now in season.
(James Thomas has long been active in local politics. Email firstname.lastname@example.org)
ABOUT THE PRESIDENT'S PANTS CATCHING ON FIRE
The following quote has been circulated on the internet as coming from Donald Trump:
“Let me get this straight . . .. We're going to be "gifted" with a health care plan we are forced to purchase and fined if we don't, Which purportedly covers at least ten million more people, without adding a single new doctor, but provides for 16,000 new IRS agents, who have recently demonstrated their objective and professional integrity written by a committee whose chairman says he doesn't understand it, passed by a Congress that didn't read it but exempted themselves from it, and signed by a Dumbo President who smokes, with funding administered by a treasury chief who didn't pay his taxes, for which we'll be taxed for four years before any benefits take effect, by a government which has already bankrupted Social Security and Medicare, Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac, and the Post Office all to be overseen by a surgeon general who is obese, and financed by a country that's broke!!!!! What . . . could possibly go wrong?”
This statement may not have really been made by Trump, but the thoughts expressed in this inaccurately attributed quote are worthy of discussion.
ObamaCare is supposed to cover more people, but cost less money without cutting benefits and without paying the doctors less? How is that mathematically possible? It isn't. It is just pure fantasy. Such a premise defies simple math.
The falsehood of the premise that more people would be covered for less money without cutting benefits and without reducing what the health care providers are paid is so ridiculous it is hard to apply too much political pressure for such a ludicrous statement. Anyone that was dumb enough to fall for that is too dumb to be convinced of the flaws of ObamaCare. However, there is another false statement that people should not have fallen for, but it was not so false that its falsehood was blatantly obvious at the time the statement was made.
Obama and his buddies told the American people that under ObamaCare you can keep your own health insurance and continue to use the same doctors. WRONG!
Edie Sundby, a wife, mother and Stage-4 cancer patient, penned a Wall Street Journal article in which she described how ObamaCare has caused her existing insurance coverage to be cancelled AND how her potential replacement coverage under her home state's implementation of ObamaCare is forcing her to drop part of her existing team of doctors. The saddest thing of all is when this fact became public, the White House was not sympathetic to the problem. Instead, Obama advisor Dan Pfeiffer ridiculed Mrs. Sundby on Twitter. At least the President himself was a little more sympathetic as he apologized for the problem.
The late night talk show hosts have had a field day with this fiasco. For example, Jay Leno included this in his monologue:
“Actually, have you noticed the president backtracking a little bit on this whole deal? Like at a fundraiser earlier this week, President Obama said, 'No, no, no.' What he promised was that you could keep your health care plan if it hasn't changed since the law has passed.You know, he's such a good speaker, he almost believed it himself. And then his pants caught fire. That's when I knew. When I saw -- when the pants caught fire.”
Too bad folks weren't paying more attention when the pants of the president and his buddies were smoking BEFORE ObamaCare was adopted. Now we're stuck with it.
(James Thomas is a veteran of local politics. Email him at email@example.com)
WOULD THE UNDEAD DO A BETTER JOB THAN THE BRAIN DEAD?
Rasmussen Reports did a poll last week -- possibly in celebration of Halloween since the poll was released on October 31 -- that asked whether zombies would do a better job than those currently running the federal government. The only surprise in the poll results is that it was a tie.
Thirty-seven percent thought zombies would do a better job running the federal government than those currently in charge. Thirty-seven percent thought the people currently in charge of the federal government can do their jobs better than zombies. Twenty-six percent were undecided. However you look at it, this is a pretty low opinion of those currently running the show. The press release issuing the poll had a line that is just too good not to share: “A sizable number of Americans think the undead would do a better job than the brain dead in Washington, D.C.”
Not surprisingly, brain dead Democrats leaned toward those currently in charge with 56% of Democrats polled supporting the brain dead over the undead. Pluralities of Republicans (45%) and independents (44%) had more confidence in the undead.
The poor perception of those currently in charge relative to zombies is consistent with a string of polls over the last month. Recent polling shows that 64% view the federal government unfavorably. A mid-October poll indicated that 78% of those polled favored getting rid of the entire current Congress. This is up from the previous high from May, 2012 when 68% favored replacing the entire Congress.
One thing the polling tells is that Republicans have some very serious messaging problems. A September poll by Rasmussen showed that 64% think spending cuts were best for the economy. A poll released the following day showed that 42% identified themselves as fiscal conservatives while only 21% identified themselves as fiscal liberals. (Thirty-four percent self-identified as fiscal moderates, apparently the rest didn't know what they were.) These positions are clearly consistent with the Republican agenda.
However, a poll from 10 days later showed that 50% of voters viewed the Republican agenda as extreme. (Democrats didn't fare much better. Forty-six percent viewed the Democrat agenda as extreme.) There is clearly a disconnect between people overwhelmingly claiming to be fiscally conservative and fiscally moderate (collectively 76% of those polled) and the perception of the Republican agenda. I know the “not-so-mainstream” media does not help Republicans with their messaging, but you would think they could punch through the jibber-jabber of the liberals in the media and share a concise message with the American people.
Despite the messaging failures of Republicans, they are still in the hunt to control Congress. A mid-October poll showed that 46% of likely voters would vote for the Democrats to control both houses of Congress while 45% would for Republicans to control both houses of Congress. Although these numbers seem to be tracking slightly better than the Democrat/Republican numbers for “who would you vote for today?”
One thing the zombie poll tells is that age does not necessarily equal better judgment on this subject. Rasmussen tells us that “Americans ages 18 to 64 express slightly more confidence in zombies to run things than in the federal government. Seniors have more faith in the government.” Given the utter incompetence of the current leadership in this country – both Democrat and Republican – I would be willing to give the zombies a try. Could they do any worse than what we've got now?
(Republican James Thomas has been active in local politics for many years. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org)
IT MIGHT BE TIME TO PUT THE DUCK COMMANDER IN CHARGE IN D.C.
My older daughter is a huge fan of Duck Dynasty, the show on A&E with all the bearded fellas that make duck calls. (I told you before that my “big city” house is filled with a bunch of rednecks.) The patriarch of the Duck Dynasty clan is Phil Robertson. My daughter gave me his book, Happy, Happy, Happy as a gift.
In Chapter 11, Phil discusses how ridiculous the government's regulation of duck hunting has become. Phil writes:
After living more than six decades on Earth, I have reached the conclusion that ducks are the most protected species on the planet. In the United States of America, ducks are the most protected and overly regulated entity in history. It's amazing how many rules and regulations our government puts on duck hunters. (If you don't believe me, check with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's website for all the up-to-date information.)
To even hunt ducks, I have to begin on a precise day at an exact minute, which is pretty difficult for a man who has never even owned a watch! I can't fire a shot until thirty minutes before the sun comes up, so I have to constantly look to see when the sun is going to rise and then deduct thirty minutes to determine when I can fire my first shot. Of course, the sunrise and sunset are constantly changing, depending on the rotation of the Earth. But I always have to be aware of when the sun is going to come up because there might be a game warden sitting out there with a watch, waiting to write me an expensive ticket.
The U.S. government also dictates that I can have only three shells in my shotgun at once, not four or five, which would be a lot more efficient. I also have to have a precise kind of metal shot in my shells. It can't be lead; it has to be steel so it's not harmful to the ducks or the environment.
Phil goes on to discuss several more aspects of the regulation of duck hunting, but you get his point. Government regulation has just gotten flat out ridiculous. This regulation impacts not just hunting, but the gas mileage our cars must get, the amount of water our toilets can use and about every other thing that we do.
Phil has a couple of other great lines on government regulation. He states:
If I'm ever elected president of the United States – and you never know – the first thing I'm going to do is downsize the Department of the Interior. I don't know of any politician has ever said he would do that. I'd also make sure we have plenty of nesting grounds for ducks, so I'd work with our friends in Canada, where most of the ducks are born. I'd take all the money we're sending to the Middle East, where we're trying to pay people to be our friends, and divert it to Canada and earmark it to help raise ducks. We don't need to be sending money to the Middle East; too many of those people are mean. The Canadians are already our friends, and Canada would be number one on my list for foreign aid. So when I'm elected president, we're going to lower taxes and make sure we give Canadians truckloads of cash to raise mallard ducks. The American people are tired of pork-barrel spending; let's spend some money on ducks!
There we have it. The Duck Commander, Phil Robertson, for commander-In-chief. I'm in!
(James Thomas is a veteran of Platte County politics. Email him at email@example.com)
THE PROBLEM IS A FAILURE TO SET PRIORITIES
Boink . . . Boink . . . Boink . . . . What's that sound? That's the sound of the “can” that Congress just “kicked down the road.”
Yep! That's right. Despite all the drama of a government shutdown and supposedly running the federal government down to its last nickel of cash with which to pay its bills, the end result is nothing has changed. (I don't think the last nickel claim is real. I know I still had to send in my tax payments even though the government was supposedly shut down.)
We went through a similar scenario just a few months ago. The sky is falling! The world is going to end! The U.S. Government is going to fail to meet its debt obligations! What happened then? That's right. A compromise that just let spending continue at its prior pace and an extension of the debt limit to allow the federal government to continue to spend more than it takes in for several months.
As the new fiscal year approached on Oct. 1, there was a legitimate opportunity to have an honest debate about the fiscal policies of the federal government. What happens? NOTHING! Oh yeah. There was a “shutdown” for a few days, but at the end of the day absolutely nothing was accomplished. The federal government continues to spend more than it collects in revenue and the financial hole continues to be dug deeper.
Republicans did not handle this as well. Certain Republicans tried to make the budget battle about ObamaCare. ObamaCare is bad policy for many reasons. Congress refusing to authorize funding for ObamaCare is one way to attack this bad policy. However, fighting about not funding ObamaCare distracted the debate from the real issue.
The real issue is that the federal government cannot continue to indefinitely spend more money than it collects. Congress must adopt a budget that looks at the total projected revenues and set expenses at a number that does not exceed those revenues.
Okay. Okay. The federal government has been so out of control with spending for the last few decades that we cannot balance the budget overnight. And, the federal government has gone from over spending of a couple hundred billion dollars pre-Obama to over- spending by more than a trillion dollars a year in the Obama years.
There would be some shock to quickly balancing the budget. So, a legitimate compromise would be a multi-year phase in plan that would allow us to approach a balance budget over a five to ten year window. That would cause the hole to get deeper, but at least we would be on a path to a balanced budget and could ease our way out of this mess.
The problem is simply one of failing to set priorities. I don't like how the federal government chooses to spend a great deal of its money. In the give and take of the budget making process, there are going to be things I don't like and things the liberals don't like. However, they must sit down at the table and hammer out a spending plan that is sustainable. The federal government must set priorities and only spend what it takes in. Most importantly, kicking the can down the road only accelerates the day when America will collapse.
(James Thomas, a Republican, has long been active in politics in Platte County. Email firstname.lastname@example.org)
AMERICA NEEDS A CHANGE OF ATTITUDE
The decline of America continues! On Monday MSN Money reported in “Food stamp glitch leads to Wal-Mart stampede” that a computer glitch for the benefit cards issued to food stamps recipients caused a “shelf-clearing rush” at Wal-Mart stores in Springhill and Mansfield, Louisiana.
Food stamp recipients are now issued something that looks like a debit card. The recipients take this card to the grocery store and use this special debit card when they buy food. On Saturday night, these food stamp cards were apparently showing no limits.
Wal-Mart employees reportedly called their corporate office seeking direction. Corporate supposedly told the store employees to let the cards be used any way. So what happened next? That's right. The food stamp recipients got on their taxpayer-funded Obama-phones and called all their friends. The rush was on! The stores were flooded with food stamp recipients. Store shelves were literally cleared. The police had to be called. One Wal-Mart employed described it as “worse than any Black Friday that he's ever seen.”
Eventually the computer glitch was addressed and the cards stopped showing unlimited balances. One woman was detained by the police because she was attempting to “purchase” $700 in groceries, but only had $0.49 on her card. She was released after she abandoned her heaping carts of groceries and went home.
Once the glitch was addressed, an announcement was made over the loud speaker. What did the food stamp recipients do? They simply abandoned their carts full of food in the aisles and left.
This is disgusting. This “shelf clearing” is no different than stealing. The food stamp recipients are already getting “free” food. Somehow they think that a computer glitch should just allow them to get more “free” food? And, how do they approach this? Do they pick out items they need to sustain themselves for the next week or two? No. They simply come in and start dumping entire shelves of groceries in their carts.
Now don't misunderstand. No one should ever go hungry in this great land of ours. We have ample resources and should be able to provide for all. However, there are two critical components to “providing for all.” First and foremost, we need programs that are a “hand up” and not just a “hand out.” Encouraging people to be dependent on the rest of us is really a disservice to them and a degrading approach. We must adopt programs where the whole point is to see how quickly we can get people off of those programs.
Second, the recipients of the benefits of these programs need to have the correct attitude. This doesn't need to be a subservient attitude, but it does need to be a grateful attitude that respects the help that someone else is providing. Nothing is “free.” The food stamps that someone receives are paid for by someone else.
I truly have a great deal of fear about the future of America. There seems to be no respect in our society. And, there is an ever growing number of people that think that the government should just give them “free” food, housing, cell phones, etc. Wake up! It is not mathematically possible to give away all this “free” stuff. And, doing so is undermining the work ethic and the very fabric of our society. We must change these attitudes before America collapses.
(James Thomas has long been active in local Platte County politics. Email him at email@example.com)
REAL BUDGET BATTLE
HAS TO BE ABOUT MORE
THAN JUST OBAMACARE
The budget showdown has stretched into its second week. A major aspect of the fight has been over whether or not Congress will fund the cost of ObamaCare in the budget. This is a legitimate question worthy of debate, but this in itself is not the critical issue with the budget. The critical issue is the overspending by the federal government.
ObamaCare was/is a bad idea. The way it was shoved down our throats was outrageous: “You have to vote for it so that you can know what was in it.” Huh? Shouldn't Congress know what a law says before they adopt it? Well, of course not according to the Democrats.
No. ObamaCare is a bad idea and should not be funded, but the real budget battle needs to simply be over the out-of-control spending.
The federal government is bumping up against the debt ceiling. Notwithstanding that a budget has not been adopted, the federal government will spend more money than it has and borrow more money that it is has been authorized to borrow.
What is the Democrats’ fix to reaching the debt ceiling? That's right, just adopt a law the raises the debt ceiling. This is ludicrous.
Think about if we ran our households that way. We could just go along and spend money on whatever we want year in and year out without any regard for how much anything costs or whether we can actually afford it. When we don't have enough cash, we just put it on the credit card. When the credit card is maxed out, just get the credit limit on the card increased.
Some politicians are crying that we have to increase the debt ceiling or the federal government will not be able to pay for all its spending and there is a risk that the federal government's credit rating could be downgraded. They are correct. I agree with them that both of those things would be bad. The federal government defaulting on its obligations or having its credit rating downgraded would both be detrimental not only to the federal government, but also to our economy and each of us as individuals. But this pattern of overspending cannot continue.
Would it be painful if the federal government had to cut its spending to balance the budget and come up with a real plan for paying down the debt? Yes. But that is what has to happen. This fiction of the federal government having a magic credit card that never has to re-paid is not realistic. The fiction can continue for a while, but eventually the overspending will lead to an economic collapse.
I have said it before and I'll say it again. We may have to allow the debt ceiling to be increased over the next few years to allow a phase-in of fiscal responsibility. But these increases in the debt ceiling must be tied to a realistic understanding that the budget will have to be balanced at some point or our entire national economy will collapse on itself.
The time for hard choices is long overdue. Congress needs to start setting priorities on how the limited bucket of dollars will be spent. Is doing away with ObamaCare one step to balancing the budget? Absolutely! But that is just one piece of the problem. The real question is if Congress does fund ObamaCare, what is Congress not going to fund so that the federal government does not spend more money than it has? That is what they should be discussing in Washington.
(James Thomas is a veteran of Republican politics in Platte County. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org)
THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT IS NOT AN ENDLESS POCKETBOOK
Wow! I never thought I would see this day, a day when the federal government is NOT spending money.
Oh, wait. Maybe the federal government IS spending money. I know the president is saying that the federal government is shut down, but it isn't really. The federal government claims that the National Mall in Washington, D.C. is closed. However, someone was reported to be out today putting up barricades to “close” the National Mall. So, someone is working, which means that someone is getting paid (or will be paid) for doing this work.
I didn't want a government shutdown. But I would rather see the government shut down for a few days rather than pretending that this insanity can continue.
Just look at the last four years. Obama has led the country on the path that has seen the federal government spend $4.654 trillion (With a T!) more than it took in.
Now this is not just an Obama problem. There is plenty of blame to go around. George W. Bush ran up $1.886 trillion in excess spending between 2002 through 2008. Then the real whopper comes in fiscal year 2009, which started under Bush and continued under Obama, when the federal government's OVER spending in a single year was $1.413 trillion. However, even if you stick Bush for all of this $1.413 trillion, the increase of the federal deficit during his eight years was only $3.299 trillion compared to Obama's $4.654 trillion in just four years. There is plenty of blame to go around. Democrats and Republicans are both to blame for this mess that has been building for decades. But, there is no question that Democrats make Republicans look like amateurs when it comes to overspending.
This is just a simple math problem. The federal government cannot spend more money than it takes in indefinitely. Eventually the constant overspending will collapse not only the federal government, but our entire economy.
“Wouldn't it be nice. . .” has to be one of the worst phrases that can ever be uttered in the halls of Congress. “Yes. It would be nice if . . .,” but the federal government cannot fix every ill. The federal government cannot pay for roads that should be the responsibility of the state and local governments. The federal government cannot provide housing, food and money to people who are too lazy to work. The federal government cannot provide “free” health care to everyone. The federal government cannot mathematically run the Ponzi scheme known as Social Security without the scam of the whole thing eventually being revealed.
Congress must start to make hard choices. Would I like it if the federal government funded all the things I would like to see happen? Absolutely. But, the money to do so simply doesn't exist so some hard choices have to be made and some priorities set.
My suspicion is that even before this week's newspaper reaches your mailbox that there will be at least a temporary solution to the government shutdown. That is both good and bad. There are certain essential federal government services that must go on to keep our country safe and to keep our economy running smoothly. But Congress must start making the hard choices and set some priorities. The federal government is not an endless pocketbook that can fund everyone's pet project or cause no matter how altruistic and noble the cause may be.
(James Thomas is a veteran of local Republican politics who can be reached at james@JCT3LAW.COM)
IF CONGRESS CAN'T ADOPT A BUDGET, THEY ALL SHOULD BE FIRED
The new budget year for the federal government will be upon us in a matter of days and . . . surprise, surprise . . . a new budget has not been adopted. In fact, there appears to be little hope of a budget actually being adopted. Instead, at best, we are anticipating another “continuing resolution,” which means that government will simply keep spending money willy nilly.
There is actually a double-whammy approaching for the federal government. Not only is it necessary to adopt a new budget by Oct. 1 (or a continuing resolution), but also the federal government is bumping up against the debt ceiling and needs to be authorized to “dig the hole” deeper if it is going to keep spending money.
President Obama was in Missouri last week encouraging Congress to stop trying to override ObamaCare and adopt a budget and increase the debt limit. He had some “really genius” quotes. He said the United States is “. . . not some banana republic. This isn't some deadbeat nation. We don't run out on our tab. We're the world's bedrock investment. The entire world looks to us to make sure the world economy is stable. We can't just not pay our bills. And even threatening something like that is the height of irresponsibility."
With all due respect, Mr. President, we are on the path to becoming a “banana republic.” We ARE a “deadbeat nation.” A person that pays his bills by just adding them to his credit card with no plan for ever paying off their credit card is not being responsible. That person is a deadbeat. This ever increasing unpaid credit card bill is how this country has been run for decades. Our economic policy is a train wreck. The only reason America is even close to being “the world's bedrock investment” is that most of the rest of the nations in the world are even more messed up than we are. Being less messed up than almost every other nation does not make America a “bedrock investment.”
I know a lot of time in politics is spent talking about a wide range of social issues (e.g., abortion, guns, gays, etc.), but, as I have said before, all of these social issues are not the most important thing that government does. The most important thing that government does is how it manages fiscal policy. Adopting an annual budget is the single most important aspect of that fiscal policy.
Congress has failed to do its job and adopt a budget for a long time. What do you do when you have an employee who doesn't do his job? You fire him. Well, we are long overdue for some firings. In fact, I would suggest a really radical idea. Let's adopt a 28th Amendment that says that if Congress fails to adopt a budget at least 30 days before the start of the next fiscal year, then every sitting Congressman is fired immediately AND not eligible to run for re-election for the next 10 years.
A radical solution? Yes. Fair to those Congressmen who are working diligently to do the job they have been elected to do? No. However, this is ridiculous. If the group in Congress is not capable of adopting an annual budget, they should be fired and we just start over.
(James Thomas is active in local Republican politics. Reach him via email to email@example.com)
BROUGHT TO YOU COURTESTY OF THE RED, WHITE AND BLUE
Wow! I love today's country music.
I didn't really grow up on it. I was a teenager in the late 70s and early 80s. So, I'm really a product of what is today considered “classic rock.” I still enjoy Boston, Journey, Styx and the timeless Aerosmith. But something was just missing from many of their lyrics.
I always loved Boston's “Boston” album. When I drove to law school I used to listen to it a lot. However, I had to change some of the lyrics. For example, the chorus of “Peace of Mind” goes “I understand about indecision. But I don't care if I get behind. People livin' in competition. All I want is to have my peace of mind.”
Great music, great sound, but not exactly inspiring lyrics for knocking yourself out working full time and going to school full time trying to build a life for your wife and future family. But, I loved the music so I would just change the words to a more hard-working theme.
Thanks to my wife frequently changing the radio station when we used to car pool, I quit listening to music and started listening to talk radio in the 90s. But also thanks to my wife giving me Rodney Akins' “If you're going through hell” CD in 2006 and then dragging me to a Brad Paisley concert after that, I was converted to a country music fan.
Now country music lyrics aren't always about working hard although many of them are. And, every country artist has to have at least one “drinking song.” Most country artists have songs about kicking back and enjoying the important things in life. But, all country music tends to tell a story that fits who I am and who I think most conservatives Republicans are.
If you drive by my house, you might not know a couple of rednecks live there. The yard gets mowed once a week and when it does you won't find a car up on blocks. (Although since I now have more cars than garage stalls it sometimes looks like a used car lot.) And, you won't find the Stars and Bars flying outside. (Mostly because some folks don't seem to understand that the War of Northern Aggression was about the federal government illegally forcing states to remain in the union rather than about the horrible institution of slavery.) But, I'm still a redneck even if I'm more of a “citified” redneck.
Besides telling great stories, country music has another great theme. It is very pro-America. For his encore to close out the Flatlands Music Festival on Saturday night, Toby Keith came back out and played “American Soldier.” Then he brought a wounded soldier on stage to join him for “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue.” The lyrics were great, but this wounded soldier belting out “Brought to you courtesy of the red, white and blue” just made you want to cheer, which I did loudly. Then, the soldier pointed out a few of his fellow soldiers in the crowd. Toby reached out and literally pulled them up on stage for the big finish. Toby slid into the background and let these servicemen and women take center stage to take a bow as Toby and his band continued to play and flames shot in the air to close out the show. If you weren't inspired, I'm not sure you're a real American.
(James Thomas is a veteran of local Republican politics who can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org)
SOME LAWSUITS ARE SIMPLY OUTRAGEOUS
I've said it before and I'll say it again, “I hate lawyers.” What has me hacked off this time? Well, a widower in Nebraska has sued Wal-Mart claiming a plastic bag caused his wife's death.
No. The man's wife didn't put the bag over her head and suffocate. What happened was that she bought two 42-ounce cans of La Choy soy sauce and a 2-pound bag of rice at a Wal-Mart in Bellevue, Nebraska. The Wal-Mart checker put the entire purchase in a plastic bag. The bag broke while the woman was walking to her car. Did she fall over the item and break her neck? No. But, one can of La Choy sauce did fall on her foot, broke her toe and made a cut in her foot. This cut became infected.
Surgeries and antibiotics did not stop the infection. Sadly, the woman died from the infection a few months after the incident.
This is a tragedy. The death or injury of anyone IS a tragedy. However, just because something tragic happens does not mean that someone else has to pay.
I am outraged over the lawyers who file lawsuits like these. It creates an appreciation for the statement by Dick the Butcher in Shakespeare's Henry VI, “The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers.” (Although this was actually a compliment to lawyers who preserve order and justice in our society and who were seen as an impediment to the evil plans of the folks who came up with the idea of a lawyer-elimination plan.)
I have a similar outrage for lawyers who file lawsuits against everyone they can find when their clients fall on their butts in the ice and snow. I see two or three lawsuits every year because I am the registered agent for a lawn and landscaping business that, like most lawn and landscaping businesses in our area, do snow removal in the winter. Slimy lawyers sue the property owner, the retail business and the guys who do the snow removal. I read the petitions when they come in before I forward them to the client's insurance company. I just want to ask three questions of the plaintiffs: Why did you feel the need to go shopping in a blizzard? What kind of shoes were you wearing when you just had to stop off at a women's clothing store to make a purchase? And are you too stupid to know that when there is snow and ice on the ground that it will be slick out so that you have to be careful?
Sometimes people are injured and it is someone's fault. These people should be properly compensated for their injuries by the parties that did them harm. Lawyers provide a valuable service seeing that injured parties are properly compensated by the wrong doer. However, proper compensation to an injured party does not mean making a slimy plaintiff lawyer rich off of a fat commission relating to someone else's injuries.
As sad as the loss of this woman's life is, it does not mean that Wal-Mart should write a check to her husband and the slimy lawyer that filed this lawsuit. The bagging of the items was not the “proximate cause” of the woman's injury. Apparently, this slimy lawyer must have been asleep when this concept was discussed in his first year of law school.
(James Thomas is a veteran of local Republican politics. Reach him at email@example.com)
A MULTI-BILLION DOLLAR
ENTITLEMENT IS JUSTIFIED
BY 600 CALL CENTER JOBS?
Another Labor Day weekend has come and gone. The unofficial “end of summer” has passed. The kids are back in school. The pools are shut down for the winter. Yep summer is over. (Although, as you read three weeks ago, my summer ends with Florida Georgia Line in St. Louis on Nov. 1 and Brad Paisley in Omaha on Nov. 14.)
Labor Day isn't really a big holiday to me. In fact, I am somewhat confused by the “Labor” designation. It seems odd to celebrate a day called “Labor” Day with a day off from work. So, a little out of protest and little out of simply the fact that I own my own business and don't make money if I don't work, I usually try to make a point of spending most of “Labor” Day in the office. It is just my way of celebrating “Labor” Day.
Besides being the “unofficial” end of summer and a misnomer for those of us who work for a living, Labor Day brings another challenge. Monday holidays mean Ivan accelerate the deadlines for the coming week's paper. So, I need to start a little early to find a column topic.
Lucky for me, the editorial board of the St. Louis Post Dispatch came to the rescue. (What would I do without them and the editorial board of the Kansas City Star?) They recently ran an editorial entitled “GOP's moment of truth on ObamaCare has arrived, in Wentzville of all places.” The basic premise was that certain businesses located in Missouri were getting money as a result of ObamaCare. For example, one of the three ObamaCare call centers is being located in Wentzville. This call center is projected to add 600 new jobs. Similarly, FleishmanHillard, a public relations firm located in downtown St. Louis, is set to receive a $35 million contract to promote the health exchanges created in Illinois. The “geniuses” at the editorial board assert that “ObamaCare is producing real benefits . . . offering tangible hope to people wanting a taste of economic recovery . . . .”
I don't know if these guys drank too much in college (or the night before they wrote their editorial) or if their mothers dropped them on their heads when they were little. Maybe they smoke those “funny little cigarettes” when they write their editorials. Whatever it is, this is just nuts!
A new, big, fat, multi-billion dollar entitlement is somehow justified because there are 600 new call center jobs or a few public relations firm executives who will pocket huge bonuses this year? Are they completely crazy? This is one of three call centers. So, let's say this massive expansion of government creates 1,800 jobs. A multi-billion government program divided by 1,800 jobs is a ridiculous cost per job created.
The editorial board encourages you to pressure the Missouri General Assembly to expand MediCaid because of these 600 new jobs and public relations executives' bonuses. The editorial board has no sense of history or math. Missouri was on a path to go broke from the dramatic expansion of MediCaid during the 12 years of Democrats prior to Matt Blunt. We certainly don't want to start back down that path!
I hope you enjoyed your Labor Day weekend. And, thanks to the St. Louis Post Dispatch's editorial board, I was able to write my column early and “enjoy” my own “Labor” Day weekend billing time at the office.
(James Thomas is a veteran of local Republican politics. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org)
REPUBLICANS HOLD ALL COUNTY
OFFICES, THOUGH NOT
ALL ARE 'REPUBLICANS'
The sunrise on Sunday, Sept. 1, will be historic. It will be the first time since the sun first rose on Platte County on Jan. 1, 1839 that every officeholder will be a Republican. (The territory that makes up what we know as Platte County was not part of Missouri when Missouri became a state.)
I know we were all excited about this “All Republican” sunrise in January. However, any celebration on Jan. 1, 2013 was really a little premature. Although the assessor is elected in November, the term of office actually runs from Sept. 1 from the year after the assessor is elected until Aug. 31 of the year after the Assessor either loses election or at least doesn't run for office. David Cox, who defeated the governor-appointed Democrat in November of 2012, was sworn in last week and will begin officially serving on Sunday.
It has been a long road to an all-Republican courthouse/administration building. Platte County didn't even elect a Republican until 1968. So, Platte County existed for 130 years before there was a Republican in the courthouse/administration building.
In 1968 Bill Honeycutt and Tom Thomas were elected county commissioner (they were still called judges back then) and sheriff, respectively. Honeycutt has joked that he was really the first Republican ever elected to a Platte County office because the office he was running for was higher on the ballot than sheriff.
However, Thomas might actually have a better claim to being the first Republican elected in Platte County because he was elected county-wide and Honeycutt was only elected to represent half of the county's population as county commissioner/judge. Regardless of who really was first, both of their accomplishments are a significant part of local Republican history.
You might ask what difference being a Democrat or Republican makes for a county office. Well it really shouldn't make any difference, BUT IT DOES! Democrats and Republicans have a fundamentally different philosophy. Republicans believe in smaller government, less government spending and that the government is often the problem and not the solution. Democrats think more government and more spending is the answer to all our problems.
This is an ove-rgeneralization. Not all Democrats are liberals. There are still a few conservative Democrats. But, if they are really conservative, they need to accept the reality of the liberal nature of the Democrat Party and leave.
Similarly, not all “Republicans” are really “Republicans” (i.e., conservatives). There have certainly been some Republicans who have adopted the Kansas City Firefighters' Union mentality of “Taxpayers Unlimited.” They view the taxpayers as an endless source of cash for their pet projects. For example, it was a “Republican”-led county commission that gave us a 175% increase in the Platte County sales tax rate within a four-year window.
Not every Republican at the courthouse/administration building is a “Republican,” but let's still enjoy the progress. We have every officeholder “claiming” to be a Republican. Now “real” Republicans can turn their attention to replacing the “Republicans-In-Name-Only” with “real,” conservative Republicans.
To celebrate this progress, Republicans might want to set their alarms a little earlier for Sunday morning so they can enjoy this historic sunrise. Democrats might just want to sleep in that morning. But, don't lie in bed too long. You don't want to be late to church.
(James Thomas has long been active in local Republican politics. Reach him at email@example.com)
NOTHING WRONG WITH POLITELY DECLINING A WHITE HOUSE INVITE
The 1972 Miami Dolphins are going to the White House for a visit, but at least three team members aren't going. Why? They don't like the politics of Obama.
The Sun-Sentinel reports that former center Jim Langer said: “We've got some real moral compass issues in Washington. I don't want to be in a room with those people and pretend I'm having a good time. I can't do that.”
The man to Langer's left, at least on the field, former left guard Bob Kuechenberg reportedly said, “I want to be careful, because mom said if you have nothing good to say about someone, then don't say anything. I don't have anything good to say about someone.”
Kuechenberg added, “I don't belong there, I'll tell you that. Without being critical, I can just tell you I don't belong there. It would be hypocritical of me to be there. I don't want to do that. I just don't believe in this administration at all. So I don't belong.”
The Sun Sentinel also reports that defensive tackle Manny Fernandez said: “I'll just say my views are diametrically opposed to the president's. Enough said. Let's leave it at that. I hope everyone enjoys the trip that goes.”
The media types are of course up in arms that anyone would turn down a trip to the White House. They also try to make this out to be a personal issue and not a political issue. The author of one article described the reason for the football players turning down the trip was “out of spite.”
Leave it to the media to get it wrong. Did the writer not listen to what each player said? They did not attack the President personally. Each of their statements were tied to policy positions.
I get it. President Obama stands for the opposite of everything I believe in. He believes in taking money from people who work hard for a living and giving it to people who aren't willing to work for a living. He thinks government (as opposed to personal responsibility) is the answer to America's problems. He believes that government can spend money it doesn't have with no plan for repayment. He believes in abortion as a method of birth control.
Is there anything wrong with declining an invitation to go to the White House based upon the policies of its occupant? No.
Look. Going to the White House is cool. I had the privilege of being in a group of 104 students who met with President Reagan in 1983. I made two different trips to the White House while George W. Bush was there. I got to meet with President Bush with 100 or so other folks in 2002. In 2007 all I did was meet with staff and wave at President Bush as he boarded Marine One and took off. But even that was cool.
Would I pass up an opportunity to return to the White House during Obama's term? Probably, yes. Of course, I won't have to worry about it. I'm pretty sure I'm not on the list of potential invitees.
If I disagree with someone's views, I can and should be polite when I see them in public. That doesn't mean that I have to go over to their house and hang out.
(James Thomas has long been active in local Republican politics. Reach him by email, firstname.lastname@example.org)
WEATHER-WISE, THE WORLD SEEMS TO BE A BIT OFF ITS AXIS
Summer is over. I know technically the last of summer is the day before the autumnal equinox or September 22. I know some folks think summer ends with Labor Day weekend. But, when you have kids, summer ends for all practical purposes when the kids go back to school. In our household that was Wednesday.
Summer seems to have flown by again. And, surprisingly, it hasn't really been hot and miserable like most Missouri summers can be.
Just a few days ago we were joking as we looked at pictures in The Landmark from the Platte County Fair that it wasn't hot enough to have been the week of the Fair. The joke at our house is that the hottest week in Platte County is whenever the Platte County Fair is held. And, as you know, around here we aren't talking about kind of warm. We are talking about high 90s and low 100s and with sweltering humidity. The kind of heat where you walk outside and your shirt instantly sticks to your body. The kind of heat where you don't dare leave your car windows all the way up for fear of burning yourself on a heat blast when you open the car door.
We've had a few hot, humid days, but it certainly isn't anything like you would see for a summer in Missouri. In fact, I was just joking the other day that it almost seems like the earth is a little off its axis weather-wise. We had a big snow the week before Christmas, but then we were pretty much snow free until we got another blast in late February. Then, the snow didn't seem to want to stop. We had a soccer tournament snowed out early in the spring soccer season. That was a little odd, but it was still March. What was bizarre was that we had a soccer game snowed out on MAY 4 and a soccer tournament snowed out on MAY 6. Wow! I don't ever recall snow in Missouri n May.
The environmental crazies will tell you the unusual weather patterns are all due to global warming. (It is interesting that “global warming” explains both it being hot and cold for them.) I have always wondered where they get their data from 100s of years ago. Was there some little scientist from the 1500s that preserved accurate temperature measurements that are accessible by scientists today? Not sure that there was. In fact, it has been reported that some “scientists” actually faked their data to support their political agenda about global warming.
With the late winter and the warm, but not hot summer, Rasmussen Reports has some interesting new polling on global warming. Only 35% believe global warming is a very serious problem. Forty-one percent are willing to pay more to fight global warming. Forty-seven percent are not. (Not sure what the other 12% were thinking.) Despite these percentages, only 24% think Americans are selfish for putting the economy ahead of global warming.
Although summer may be over both practically and technically speaking by November, I'm actually planning to extend my summer until then when I go enjoy the “Hell Raisin' Heat of Summer” with Florida Georgia Line in St. Louis and later in the month catch Brad Paisley's “Beat This Summer Tour” in Omaha.
Given the weird weather we've been having, it could be 70 degrees or 15 degrees by then.
(James Thomas is a local political veteran who can be reached at email@example.com)
AMERICA HAS THE RICHEST POOR PEOPLE IN THE WORLD
“America has the richest poor people in the world!” I know that is kind of crass. I probably shouldn't say such a thing, but it is true. America's “poor” people are far richer than “poor” people outside of America.
I have always made this assertion based upon things you can observe. Most “poor” people in America have at least one TV – and it is probably a color TV. (Remember when a color TV was a big deal?) Many “poor” people have cars. And, they almost certainly have cell phones. (If they don't have a cell phone, Obama and his minions will give them a cell phone.) So, despite being “poor,” these folks sure tend to have a wide assortment of “stuff.” (I know this is an over generalization. I appreciate that some “poor” people don't have anything but the clothes on their backs, but stick with me.)
I'm not the only one who has made these observations. I love the story that professor/author/ radio talk show host Jack Cashill tells about when he was over in Europe teaching and he shows pictures of people flocking from the dust bowl of Oklahoma to the “promised land” of California. He is explaining what a rough experience these people were having. Then, he notes the Europeans' exasperate comment of “Your poor people had cars!?!”
This analysis isn't just based upon observation. The Charles Koch Foundation claim that an annual income of $34,000 puts a worker among the wealthiest ONE PERCENT in the world. Such an assertion, although probably true, makes the liberals come unglued. Of course, this just supports my point. America has the wealthiest “poor” people in the world.
Of course, the problem is that Americans are spoiled. Just look at the history of the American garage. Before the 1940s, garages tended to be small detached buildings. By the 1950s attached single car garages became common. By the 1970s, a two car garage was common place. Today 17% of new single family homes in the U.S. (34% in the Midwest) have a three car garage according to the “History of the Garage” by the IFA Insurance Company.
Now don't get me wrong. I'm spoiled too. I have more than my share of garage stalls and I really need (okay . . . want) at least two more stalls. So, my perspective is warped as well. But that's the point. Americans are spoiled.
I know it is tough out there. Some folks are struggling to find work. Others may not be unemployed, but they very likely may be underemployed. I also know the cost of raising a family in America is astronomical compared to the rest of the world. Of course, in part, we have brought that on ourselves by the standard of living we seek to enjoy. No. I don't want to go back to those days just 30 years ago when Sandra and I thought if we could just make $10,000 a year we would be able to support ourselves so we could go ahead and get married.
I don't want to make light of people having a rough time financially. The goal of ending poverty in America is a worthy one and a noble one. But, we do need to temper our concept of “poor” just a little bit in light of what “poor” really means on a worldwide basis.
(James Thomas is a veteran of local politics. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org)
EVENTUALLY, AMERICA WILL COLLAPSE FROM THE GIVEAWAYS
A political acquaintance of mine sent me a cartoon last week. It was entitled “Planned Economy or Planned Destruction?” and it showed three guys shoveling money out of a cart with “Depleting the resources of the soundest government in the world” written on the tailgate. Down in the left hand corner is a guy writing on a large tablet. It is labeled “Plan of Action for U.S.” at the top with “Spend! Spend! Spend!” as a headline.
Beneath the headline it reads “Under the guise of recovery – bust the government – blame the capitalists for the failure – junk the constitution and declare a dictatorship.”
Sound familiar? That is what is going on right now. This cartoon could have appeared in any newspaper just last week. However, this cartoon is actually from a 1934 edition of the Chicago Tribune.
The guy in the corner writing on a tablet has messy hair and a scruffy beard like a typical cartoon communist from the 30s. Off in the left hand corner is a figure labeled “Stalin” saying “How red the sunrise is getting.” The guys with the shovels include FDR cabinet members Harold Ickes and Henry Wallace. (If the name Ickes sounds familiar it might be because his son was deputy chief of staff to President Clinton.)
The cart also has a sign on the side that says “Young pinkies from Columbia and Harvard.” Let me see. Who else do we know who went to Columbia and Harvard? Oh yeah! The current occupant of the White House.
We are on a path that will destroy America. America started down this path in the 1930s under FDR. Things got worse under LBJ. Barrack Obama's plan for America is a further expansion of the socialistic approach that gets us one step closer to our downfall. However, it isn't just liberal Democrats who have kept us on this path.
At a luncheon with George Will in the fall of 2000, Will said “Conservatism is dead.” And, to support his conclusion he pointed out that both Al Gore and George W. Bush were promoting a prescription drug benefit for seniors. Yes. They had dramatic differences in how they wanted to implement their respective programs, but the bottom line was that both candidates were promoting taking money from the public treasury for a private benefit. A worthy and helpful benefit, but an expansion of government none the less.
It has been said (There is some question of whether this was a quote from Alexis de Tocqueville, Alexander Fraser Tytler or Benjamin Franklin) that, “A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the majority discovers it can vote itself largess out of the public treasury. After that, the majority always votes for the candidate promising the most benefits with the result the democracy collapses because of the loose fiscal policy ensuing, always to be followed by a dictatorship, then a monarchy.”
That is where we find ourselves today. Democrats and Republicans are both “depleting the resources of the soundest government in the world” by throwing money to their constituents out of the back of a cart. Democrats are using bigger shovels and bringing ruination more quickly than Republicans, but both parties' candidates are guilty. The collapse of America will not have come overnight like the Revolution in 1917. We may last another generation or two. But, eventually the math just won't work and America will collapse from the giveaways.
(James Thomas is a veteran of Platte County politics who can be reached at email@example.com)
FEDERALISM AND WHAT IT MEANS IN THE SAME-SEX MARRIAGE ISSUE
While last week's column hinted that federalism is waning, federalism got a boost in an unusual way by the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in U.S. v. Windsor that invalidated part of the Defense of Marriage Act (“DOMA”).
The basic concept of federalism is that the federal government is not superior to the state governments. We essentially have co-existing co-equals where the federal government and state governments are each exercising certain governmental functions independent of each other. Some things, such as the definition of marriage, are generally left to the states to address, while other things are purely within the realm of the federal government. Where federalism gets messy is where federal law and states seek to address the same subject matter.
The recent U.S. Supreme Court case looked at Section 3 of DOMA, which barred same-sex married couples from being recognized as “spouses” for purposes of federal law including receiving marital benefits under federal law even if the “couples'” state recognized their same-sex marriages. (The case did not address the provisions of DOMA that said one state does not have to recognize the same-sex marriages from another state.)
The Windsor decision now requires the federal government to recognize as “married” for a variety of purposes (e.g., filing tax returns, employee benefits, etc.) many people who are not really “married” in the traditional sense. However, this doesn't only impact things that cost the government money. The striking down also impacts other areas of federal law, such as immigration.
It certainly is easy to see how the public could view court decisions as the court deciding what result it wants and then just figuring out a way to justify that result. That perception is reinforced by the back-to-back decisions of the court. The day before the Windsor decision was announced, Justice Scalia joined the conservative majority to hold a section of Voting Rights Act of 1965 unconstitutional even thought that law was passed with overwhelming support. But, in the DOMA case, Scalia chastised the liberal majority for usurping Congressional authority. He elegantly chastised the majority saying that the framers of the Constitution created a judicial branch with limited powers in order to “guard their right to self-rule against the black-robed supremacy that today's majority finds so attractive.”
Regardless of the analysis, the Windsor decision has created other issues. First, it will cost the federal government money by extending benefits for married people to certain same-sex couples. Second, it creates a scenario where same-sex couples in a state that does not recognize same-sex marriage may not be eligible for the same federal benefits as same-sec couples in a state that does recognize same-sex marriage.
The bigger issue for citizens of Missouri, which have overwhelmingly rejected same-sex marriage, is that the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the U.S. Constitution will soon be used to try to force states that do not permit same-sex marriage in their own state to recognize same--sex marriages from other states.
Is federalism dead? Not quite, but the U.S. Supreme Court has taken some interesting twists and turns this year when deciding when federalism is still valid and when it is not. Interestingly, the U.S. Supreme Court actually was “sort of” sticking up for federalism when it invalidated Section 3 of DOMA, but it may have also accidentally undermined federalism at the same time by opening the door to future Full Faith and Credit claims.
(Email James Thomas, firstname.lastname@example.org)
WHEN IS FEDERALISM VALID AND WHEN IS IT NOT?
Is federalism dead? Some say federalism died at “The Angle” at Gettysburg. Other say federalism died when a previously strong U.S. Supreme Court turned cowardly in the face of FDR's proposed “court packing” scheme. More say that federalism died when the federal government figured out it could use money from the U.S. Treasury to force states to do whatever it wants. Regardless of the precipitous event, federalism is certainly waning.
The concept of federalism is an attribute of American government that made America great. The basic concept is that the federal government is not superior to the state governments. We essentially have co-existing co-equals where the federal government and state governments are each exercising certain governmental functions independent of each other.
The Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution has been used extensively by the federal government to develop a concept of “pre-empting the field,” which means that when the federal government acts on some aspect properly within its legitimate constitutional purview, such as interstate commerce, that the federal laws “trump” the state laws in order to achieve consistency among the states.
A critical blow to federalism was the recent U.S. Supreme Court case which struck down the requirements of a new Arizona law that says prospective voters must show proof of citizenship before registering to vote. Those opposing the law were successful in convincing the court that the “motor voter” law pushed through by Clinton “pre-empted the field” so that the motor voter law's requirement that a potential voter simply state under penalties of perjury that they are a U.S. citizen prevented Arizona from imposing more stringent proof of citizenship requirements.
One critical flaw in this analysis is that the motor voter law may not have been something the federal government had a right to pass. As a general rule, registering to vote is a state-level issue. You don't go to the post office and register to vote in a federal election. You can vote in a federal election because you are registered to vote in your state. This does not mean that the federal government has no say in who can vote. We do have Constitutional Amendments that prohibit states from preventing anyone from voting based upon “race, color or previous condition of servitude” (15th), that give women the right to vote (19th) and that prohibit a higher minimum voting age than 18 (26th). However, each of these is an amendment to the U.S. Constitution and not mere legislation passed by Congress.
One thing that seems almost schizophrenic about the decisions from the U.S. Supreme Court this term is that the court invalidated the Arizona law and held a section of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to be unconstitutional. The section in question dealt with whether state and local governments with a history of racial discrimination were required to get pre-clearance by the Justice Department or a federal court before enacting changes to their voter eligibility. The court did not throw out the entire Act. It simply invalidated a formula contained in one section of the Act. However, this recognition that Congress does not have the final say on voter eligibility seems inconsistent with denying Arizona the right to require potential voters to show more proof of actually being a citizen before being allowed to register to vote.
Is federalism dead? Not quite, but the U.S. Supreme Court has taken some interesting twists and turns this year when deciding when federalism is still valid and when it is not.
(James Thomas is an attorney who has long been active in local politics. Reach him at email@example.com)
150 YEARS AGO: THE SADDEST FOURTH OF JULY EVER
The 4th of July is the celebration of the birth of the United States of America as a country and also one of the biggest events in the history of the world. However, the 4th of July from 150 years ago had to have been one of the saddest Fourths in the history of America.
Over the three preceding days in a small town in Pennsylvania, a battle was fought that generated nearly 60,000 casualties. The saddest part of all was that every casualty was an American.
Just thinking of that day makes we want to tear up as I think about looking across a long grassy expanse between opposing, battered armies. Soldiers on both sides being good and faithful men who believed they were there for the right reasons. But, sadly, those soldiers were all Americans fighting other Americans. War is bad. War amongst your own people is about as bad as it can get.
Historians have made the war about abolishing slavery. Slavery is morally wrong and the practice should have been ended without the necessity of an invasion of the Southern states by armies from the North. But the war was not really about slavery.
The war was really about whether the federal government can tell the state governments what to do and whether an individual state had a right to leave the union. Slavery was a bad thing, but it was clearly not prohibited by the U.S. Constitution. Furthermore, just as Gorbachev was not justified in attempting to militarily keep Lithuania in the U.S.S.R, in the early 1990s, Lincoln was likewise not justified in invading the South to impose a federal policy on a state.
Sadly, the folks in South Carolina overreacted to Lincoln's election when they fired on Fort Sumpter and escalated a mess that would cost so many American lives and lead to so much destruction. Prior to that action, Lincoln had not shown any intention to disrupt the status quo. I just wish cooler heads could have prevailed so that the War of Northern Aggression could have been avoided and slavery could have been abolished by peaceful means.
As the sun set on that 4th of July in 1863, there would be no fireworks. After looking across the field at each other after three hard days of fighting and no action on that Fourth, General Lee would withdraw his troops and move back south towards the Potomac. Historians say that third day at Gettysburg marked the high point of the Confederacy. Some say General Meade should have taken his troops across the field and smashed Lee's army while he was crippled. Instead Lee withdrew and that awful war would last nearly two more years before the superior numbers and manufacturing capacity of the North could overwhelm the agrarian South thereby creating a constitutionally incorrect precedent that a state does not have the right to leave the Union.
As I reflect in sadness on that day, I just can't help but wonder what would have happened if Lee, who had always been brilliant at judging the topography of the battlefield ever since his days during the Mexican American War, hadn't slipped east and south of the Union Army, as recommended by General Longstreet, and waited for the Union Army to come to him. Regardless, the result would have still been a sad day with all American casualties.
(James Thomas is a veteran of local Republican politics. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org)
WORDS OF THE DECLARATION
STILL RING OUT TODAY
AS HOPE AND INSPIRATION
On this eve of the Fourth of July, it is important that we look at that document that started this great country. Yes. The truly formative document that created our current form of government is the U.S. Constitution, but that piece of paper that summarizes what America is all about is the Declaration of Independence.
Thomas Jefferson, as the primary draftsman of the Declaration, gave us words that are so eloquent that they are patriotic poetry.
“When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.--Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government..
The Declaration then recites a list of specific grievances with King George and concludes with:
“We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”
Those first shots fired at Concord and Lexington in 1775 may have been the “shot(s) heard 'round the world,” but the words of the Declaration are the “shots” that ring out to this day as hope and inspiration to Americans and the world. Those words have been bought and paid for by many “Lives,” “Fortunes” and “Sacred Honor.” For those sacrifices, the only two things I can do are humbly say “Thank You” for those who sacrificed so much and pledge my own efforts to not let the liberal socialist/communist Democrats destroy what those patriots sacrificed so much to create and maintain. I sincerely hope you will do the same.
SCHOOLS AND THE
In 1993 the Missouri legislature adopted a law that said if a student lived in an unaccredited school district the student could transfer to a nearby school district and have the student's tuition paid for by the unaccredited school district. Although the law has been on the books for 20 years, there has been on-going litigation with respect to the law. Just two weeks ago, the Missouri Supreme Court upheld the law as valid.
The law makes logical sense. A school district is obligated to provide a quality education product to its students. If the school district loses its accreditation, a student should be able to transfer to an accredited school district and have the school district that is collecting tax money, but not providing a quality product, pay for the transfer.
This may be a logical outcome, but it raises all kinds of practical problems. For example, what if the accredited school district the fleeing child wants to attend does not have the capacity to accept more students? And, exactly what is the capacity cut off? Who makes that determination? And, how much is tuition? Who decides the tuition rate?
There are some other challenges. For example, how far can the fleeing child move? Can the fleeing child move only to adjacent school districts? Or can the fleeing child skip adjacent school districts and transfer two or more school districts away from the unaccredited district? (This is a particularly important issue for Platte County R-3 because the North Kansas City and Park Hill School Districts create a buffer between the unaccredited Kansas City Missouri School District and Platte County R-3's boundaries.)
One other consideration is whether the accreditation standards are correct. Standards that look at test scores to determine whether a school is pumping out children with certain skill levels does seem appropriate. However, is the failure of children to meet certain testing standards the fault of the school, the students, the students' parents or a combination of the three? And, if the failure is not the school's fault, why should the school district bear the burden of the failure?
The real tragedy here is the disservice being done to the children in the unaccredited school districts. The school district exists to provide them a quality educational product. The failing school districts tend to be in economically distressed areas which have a higher low-income population. The primary way out of poverty is a quality education (of course, coupled with a strong work ethic). By failing to provide a quality education product, the failing school districts are dooming the vast majority of these children to an endless cycle of poverty.
I don't have a magic wand that will fix these failing schools. The failure is a little bit the fault of each of the school district, the students, the parents, the culture and our liberal government handout policies. To make these schools work you could certainly pursue some improvements in school administration and the delivery of the education product, but you also have to fix people – students and parents – and how our government gives money to people for sitting at home doing nothing. A comprehensive fix is needed.
However, until that comprehensive approach comes along, the least we can do is support a mechanism that allows those who want to escape to a better life the ability to transfer to an accredited school district.
(James Thomas is a veteran of Platte County politics. Email him at email@example.com)
REACTION TO NIXON'S VETO OF THE TAX CUT BILL
Two weeks ago Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed the tax cut bill passed by the Missouri House. This was not a surprise. He had given every indication that he was going to do so for several weeks.
The response to Nixon's veto clearly emphasized the separation between pro business organizations and pro government “quasi-business” organizations. Most folks probably think that Chambers of Commerce are pro-business organizations. That is not necessarily true.
The Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Associated Industries of Missouri are clearly pro business organizations. They have an active presence in Jefferson City encouraging pro business legislation and policies.
This is not the case for groups like the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce, the Northland Chamber of Commerce and the Civic Council. Such groups often have “chamber of commerce” in their name that would imply a pro business approach.
However, such groups have a long history of being supporters of higher taxes and expanding the size of government. In fact, when Nixon vetoed the tax cut legislation, the Civic Council issued a statement applauding the veto.
Missouri's tax cut legislation was largely a response to a tax cut made by Kansas to start 2013. In oversimplified terms, Kansas will no longer charge income taxes on the income of a partnerships, limited liability companies or an S Corporations, which are corporations that have their income generally taxed to their shareholders instead of at the corporate level.
The Missouri legislation was far less aggressive than the new Kansas law. It phased in the tax cut on income similar to the sort of income that will no longer be taxed by Kansas so that the tax cut did not happen in full in a single year. The legislation also had triggers that prevented certain of the tax cut provisions from taking effect unless state revenues grew by a certain amount.
This was a smart move by Missouri. There have been many predictions that the Kansas tax cuts may create an initial shock to the Kansas revenue stream. The big picture theory is that the income tax cuts will attract more businesses to Kansas and that these businesses and the activities they generate will ultimately create more net revenue for Kansas. However, this new revenue won't happen overnight. So, Kansas may experience some “adjustment pains” before the new tax structure truly begins to work. In fact, one commentator encourages Missouri to be patient because Kansas will self destruct. I'm not sure Kansas will self destruct, but I do concur that it will take some time for the new revenue streams created be the tax cuts to become effective.
It is possible that the legislature could override the Governor's veto, but this is not likely. The 2012 election did give Republicans a veto-proof majority of 109 votes. However, Jason Smith just got elected to Congress a few days ago thereby dropping the Republican count to 108 votes. It is unlikely that Nixon will call for the special election to replace Smith before the veto session is held in September. Also, three 3 Republicans did not vote for the bill when it was originally passed. So, Republicans would likely have to find four votes for an override.
The probability is that this debate will be one that simply returns in the 2014 legislative session. Stay tuned.
(James Thomas is a veteran of Platte County politics who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
WHAT THIS WORLD NEEDS IS A FEW MORE REDNECKS
“What this world needs is a few more rednecks.” That's the theme for this week's column that I came up with while enjoy my first vacation in a LONG time and my first, but hopefully not last, trip to the CMA Festival in Nashville last week.
My first thought was the attitude of the folks I saw. When the emcee announced the color guard everybody stood up without being told to do so. When the Oak Ridge Boys invited everyone to join them in the national anthem, they did, even though just listening to their harmony would have been a real treat. The crowd loudly sang along as Lee Greenwood closed out his set with “God Bless the USA.”
On one night, two “real American heroes” and their families were brought out on the stage. The announcer talked about their service and how appreciative all Americans should be for their work to keep America and the things we enjoy safe and possible. The crowd erupted. Then, he announced that LP Building Products was donating the materials and two local builders were committing the labor to build houses for each of them. The crowd cheered again.
The daily crowds of over 80,000 were well behaved, but folks did start drinking early. Of course, we did have lunch at Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville one day and there was a sign plain as day there on the wall announcing that “It's five o'clock somewhere.” But the crowds weren't really rowdy drunks. The worst thing I saw in four days was that some folks who were in the “cheaper” seats kept trying to slip past security to get closer to the stage. It was mildly irritating, but who wouldn't want to be closer to the stage with the likes of Brad Paisley, Carrie Underwood, Luke Bryan, Blake Shelton, etc.
I know I live in the big city now (although I do have 1,500 acres of vacant ground to my east), but I still pride myself on my redneck country values. I mean the “red” parts of the country are “red” for a reason. A lot of song lyrics are appropriate. “These are my people, this is where I come from” by Rodney Atkins. “Where there's more trucks than cars” by Craig Morgan.
Charlie Daniels made only a brief appearance with Brad Paisley and he didn't sing “What this world needs is a few more rednecks,” but here are the closing lines for you.
What this world needs is a few more rednecks
Some people ain't afraid to take a stand
What this world needs is a little more respect
For the Lord and the law and the workin' man
We could use a little peace and satisfaction
Some good people up front to take the lead
Need a little less talk and a little more action
And a few more rednecks is what we need
That's what we need
And a few more rednecks is what we need
Hey. I may live in the city now, but I'm still a “red” state kind of guy that's “clinging to my guns and my religion” and don't really want liberals from Washington telling me how to spend my money or how to live my life.
(James Thomas is a veteran of local politics in Platte County. Email him at email@example.com)
TAX RULES ENCOURAGE CERTAIN BEHAVIORS
“Figures lie and liars figure.” We have all heard that saying. Or how about “You can twist statistics to say whatever you want.” An article published by Reuters last week entitled “Wealthy benefit most from top tax breaks, government study shows” emphasizes how true these statements are.
The article reports on a Congressional Budget Office study that claims that the wealthiest Americans benefit the most from the top ten tax deductions, credits and exclusions. Of course, their analysis is based upon two misleading premises.
First, you need to look at what is being analyzed under the premise that $12 trillion is being “kept out” of the federal government coffers. These evil vehicles that the rich are unfairly taking advantage of are things like (1) the lower highest marginal tax rate on capital gains and dividends, (2) the non-taxability to an employee of employer provided health insurance, (3) the partial exclusion from taxability of Social Security and Railroad Retirement benefits, (4) the non-taxability of contributions to retirement accounts, (5) the deduction for home mortgage interest and (6) the deduction for state and local income taxes.
The whole proposition is flawed. Except for the preferential tax rate on capital gains and dividends, each of these items has to do with how you arrive at taxable income. To look at each of these deductions or exclusions as some sort of “tax preference” is just silly. Of course taxpayers with higher incomes are going to put more dollars in tax deferred retirement accounts. (This money isn't tax exempt. It will be taxed quite heavily later.) Of course taxpayers with higher incomes are more likely to have a mortgage of more dollars than taxpayers in the lower tax brackets. Of course taxpayers in higher tax brackets pay more state income taxes than taxpayers who make less money.
Second, the analysis ignores that tax rate differential. Someone in the highest tax bracket is paying federal income tax at a marginal rate of 39.6%. Half of America isn't paying ANY income tax. And, those who are paying a little tax aren't out of the 10% bracket. So, of course the taxpayers in the higher brackets are getting more of the “benefit” of these deductions and exemptions.
What the article doesn't bother to note is that the higher income taxpayers have their personal exemptions and dependent exemptions phased out to zero. What the article doesn't tell you is that the higher income taxpayers lose a significant portion of their itemized deductions to the re-instated phase out rules.
The article looks at the rules the government has given us to play by as some sort of tricks to benefit the wealthy. That's ridiculous! The rules that exist have been created by the government to encourage certain behaviors. The government wants employers to provide their employees health insurance so it made the health insurance premiums deductible to the employer and non-taxable to the employee. The government wants to encourage home ownership and home construction so it made the interest on your home mortgage tax deductible.
Truthfully, after the Tax Reform Act of 1986, the special income tax planning opportunities for higher income taxpayers are rather limited. The few opportunities for tax planning that are left are things like maximizing your contributions to your retirement accounts and deducting the interest on a mortgage on your home. Oh the atrocity! I can just see Obama and his crazed followers marching with their torches and pitch forks to punish those folks who maximize their 401(k) contributions or have mortgages on nice homes.
(James Thomas is active in local Republican politics. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org)
EDUCATION IS NOT ABOUT PROTECTING JOBS FOR TEACHERS UNIONS
The Chicago School Board voted last week to close 49 elementary schools and one high school. I know this is Chicago and far from little Platte County or even Kansas City. However, the reaction to the closing of these schools is indicative of what is wrong with many of those involved in public education.
Karen Lewis, president of the Chicago Teachers Union was up in arms about the school closings. She said the actions of the Chicago School Board exhibited a “cowboy mentality” and constituted a “hijacking” of education. She vowed to lead a voter registration drive to register 200,000 new voters to exact her revenge against Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel for his participation in the school closing process. The Chicago Teachers Union also dispatched its members to Springfield (Illinois) to lobby for new state laws that would prohibit future school closings.
This makes absolutely no sense. The Chicago Teachers Union should not be fighting for an out and out prohibition on the closing of schools. The important question needs to be whether the district really needs as many schools as it is now operating. What is missing from the Chicago Teachers Union response and from the nbcnews.com article that I read on this subject as the basis of this column is information about exactly how many schools Chicago operates, how many kids are in those schools and whether if makes sounds business sense for the Chicago School Board to act as it did.
As close as the article gets to this critical information is to note that the School District's CEO has said “the district has about 100,000 more seats than students at a time the district is facing a $1 billion deficit. Each school closed . . . would ultimately save the district between $500,000 and $800,000, saving the district $560 million over 10 years in capital cost and an additional $43 million per year in operating cost.”
This is the kind of information that is critical to analyzing whether closing these schools makes sense. The chest beating and podium pounding of the Chicago Teachers Union is NOT the critical issue here. The critical issue is whether this is an effective use of resources and an effective way of educating children.
The Chicago Teachers Union misses (or simply doesn't care about) this point. They view their role as protecting the jobs of their 26,000 members and not as educating children in a manner that best serves the children and respects the taxpaying public.
I know it is hard to imagine the closing of schools in Platte County as we have an ever increasing population. But declining enrollment in inner city schools seems to be a national problem. I recall an article I read a few months ago that said the enrollment of the Kansas City School District was less than it was in the 1870s. (Yes! 18-70s.) Declining enrollment in other metropolitan areas (e.g., Philadelphia, Detroit and Washington, D.C.) is also an ever increasing challenge.
Although I send my kids to private faith-based schools, I still adamantly believe that education – whether public or private – is a ticket to an individual's better life and our society's better development. I just wish that groups like the Chicago Teachers Union would remember that the goal here is to educate children as best as possible while respecting the resources of the taxpaying public rather than to focus on how many dues paying members they have.
(James Thomas is a veteran of local Republican politics. Reach him at email@example.com)
HEY! WE SURVIVED ANOTHER STATE LEGISLATIVE SESSION
No. Not the latest weather crisis over the weekend that all the weather stations had to interrupt regular programming to tell us about. Our survival was not weather related. What we survived was the end of the latest session of the Missouri General Assembly.
The Missouri General Assembly ended its regular session last week. There is still the veto session in the fall. There might even be a special session. However, for now the legislature is likely done until September.
There was a lot of excitement as the session began. Republicans had veto-proof majorities in both the State House and State Senate. If they voted as a block, they could mathematically do anything they wanted despite a likely veto by the governor. However, building consensus on what they wanted to do proved more difficult than some had expected or at least hoped.
Some big things were kicked around as the session began. Some hoped that Right to Work would be addressed. Others advocated for sweeping education reforms. Others thought this might finally be the year that we clean up the mess with tax credits. None of those things happened.
Of course, some times the victory is legislation that does not get passed. A major victory is that the legislature resisted the push to expand ObamaCare in Missouri. It sounds good on the surface. If Missouri will expand Medicaid eligibility, then the federal government will send all this money to Missouri. However, the extra money from the federal government is temporary. If the legislature agreed to the expanded Medicaid eligibility, in a few years it would mean massively greater Medicaid costs for Missouri without the money from the federal government to cover those costs.
We have been down this path before. Carnahan and Holden made massive expansions to Medicaid eligibility. It put Missouri on a path that Medicaid costs were going to overwhelm the state budget. It took the leadership of then-Gov. Matt Blunt and a Republican legislature to rein in this out of control Medicaid spending. We don't want to go down that path again.
The legislature also resisted the push to pass a new statewide sales tax. Early on it sounded like this was going to pass. The tax increase was for a legitimate state functions – primarily roads and bridges. All those set to profit from the tax (i.e., heavy contractors and unions) were pushing the legislation. However, the proposal died on the last day of session.
The legislature did pass a historic income tax cut. This legislation is designed to reduce the highest marginal tax rate paid by all taxpayers. It is also designed to reduce the taxability of the income of certain pass-through entities (such as partnerships, LLCs and S Corporations). This is designed to compete with the tax law that went into effect in Kansas on Jan. 1. However, Gov. Nixon is expected to veto this bill.
Some less sexy things did get done. The legislature did send more than 150 bills to the governor, including an attempt to fix the Second Injury Fund, which has been near collapse. Exciting? Maybe not. Important? Yes.
You know how the joke goes “No one is safe when the legislature is in session.” Well, lucky for us, the legislators have all gone home for the summer. Phew!
(James Thomas of Platte County has long been active in Republican politics. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org)
WAGES ARE BASED ON THE VALUE OF THE SERVICE YOU'RE PERFORMING
Last week food service workers in St. Louis walked off the job pushing for higher wages. These sorts of protests started in Chicago and New York City. Now they have come to St. Louis. Kansas City or even Platte City will likely be targeted soon by these union organizers.
These fast food workers are pushing for higher wages. Their argument on the surface might sound reasonable. Rev. Martin Rafana, co-chairman of the Missouri Jobs with Justice workers' rights board of St. Louis aid “We're not asking for the moon, we are asking for what these multi-billion dollar corporations can afford to pay.” The slogans the workers chanted of “We need change, and we don't mean pennies” and “We can't survive on $7.35” may also sound kind of catchy. The organizers also presented a study from the Missouri Women's Council that claims the self-sufficiency standard for an adult with one child living in St. Louis County is $14.85 per hour working full time with benefits.
The problem is that these workers are completely missing the point. Wages are NOT set based upon how much money you want or need to live on. Wages are set based on the value of the service you as a worker provide. Making sandwiches at Jimmy John's or flipping burgers at McDonalds (two of the fast food establishments picketed last week) is not a highly skilled job. Almost anyone can do it. That is why these jobs are often the entry point for teenagers with no prior work experience wanting to make some extra money for car gas, car insurance or date money.
There is nothing wrong with doing entry-level jobs. We all have to start somewhere. No matter what the job, all workers need to take pride in their work, be responsible, show up on time and provide as efficient and faithful service as possible.
I got my first job when I was in junior high. I truly started out in the legal business on the ground floor or, more accurately, on the floor. I cleaned a law office. I got down on my knees and scrubbed the floor. I dusted the bookshelves, did the dishes, ran the vacuum and scrubbed the sink and toilet. Not exactly a lofty beginning to a legal career, but we all have to start somewhere. I did this job with the dedication that my parents instilled in me. And, just in case I might fall short of this standard, my mom would come by and do an inspection before she took me home from my job. (Obviously she was still my ride in junior high.)
I made a whopping $8 a week. I was thrilled to have the job and the pay was certainly fair for the services I provided. That's the whole point. How much you make at your job is NOT based upon how much you would like to make or how much you need to support your family. Your pay is to be based upon the value of the service you provide.
How would my clients feel if I told them I was going to double my hourly rate because I needed/wanted to buy a third Suburban this year? They would fire me and go somewhere else for their legal services. I see that same thing happening to folks who want to strike at a burger or sandwich joint.
(James Thomas is a veteran of local Republican politics. Reach him at email@example.com)
GOOD NEWS: STATE FINDS MONEY; BAD NEWS: LAWMAKERS BURN THROUGH IT IN 24 HOURS
News out of Jefferson City this week reminded me of a childhood book where a character learns of good news only to learn of bad news, followed by goods news, followed by bad news, back and forth until the end of the story. As Missouri citizens we got a bit of good news, bad news and semi-good news from the Missouri capitol.
The Missouri Budget Director Linda Luebbering announced a dramatic jump in April revenue collections by the State of Missouri. Missouri's year-to-date net general revenue collections are reported to be up 11.2 percent compared to 2012. Net collections for last month were 27.4 percent higher than April 2012. Luebbering estimated that Missouri is on track to collect nearly $500 million more in state revenue this year than it had expected.
Luebbering stated that a major source of the increased revenue in April was the collection of income taxes on capital gains. She attributed this to the taxpayers' stock holdings no longer losing money. Of course, she did not mention that a lot of capital gains may have been generated at the end of 2012 -- and the taxes on those capital gains collected in April -- because taxpayers were fearful that favorable federal capital gains rate were going to expire on December 31. Luebbering also reported a sharp increase in sales tax collections, but she did not offer an explanation for this windfall.
Regardless of the events that triggered the new revenue, Missouri being able to exceed its budgeted revenue projections is a good thing. This is especially true because Missouri has had to borrow money from the Budget Reserve Fund during fiscal year 2013. The strong revenue numbers for April have allowed this loan to be repaid.
Now for the bad news: The rosy revenue report was announced on Thursday morning. By mid-morning, Gov. Jay Nixon announced a proposed use of this “newfound” money. Even worse, by the end of the day, the Republican-dominated Missouri House had adopted an amendment to spend much of this “new” money.
However, there is a bit of good news about how Nixon and the Missouri House proposed to spend the money. Nixon wanted $86 million allocated to one-time spending for capital improvements. The amendment adopted by the Missouri House called for spending $121 million for several capital projects. These projects included $38 million to purchase the building next to the Capitol Building, $50 million for repairs to the Capitol Building, $20 million to improve Missouri parks, and $13 million for design work to replace a hospital for the mentally ill. Sure. The politicians are burning through this “new” money like drunken sailors on a three day pass after a six month cruise, but at least they are spending the money on capital items that are one-time costs and not new programs and new overhead. (Of course, any news buildings will obviously cost the state more money for maintenance and utilities on an on-going basis.)
So, for those keeping track at home: good news – more revenue for Missouri than expected; bad news – the politicians burn through this newfound money within 24 hours of “discovering” it; semi-good news the politicians are spending the money on capital improvements, many of which are long overdue and not spending this money on new government programs that will become part of the budget in perpetuity.
(James Thomas is a veteran of local politics in Platte County. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org)
IS A NEW SINGLE TERMINAL AT KCI THE BEST WAY TO SPEND $1 BILLION?
Another big debate is brewing for our community: Should the airport be consolidated into a new single terminal structure?
I really hate to fly. It isn't a fear of flying. It is the hassle of flying. You are supposed to be at the airport two hours early. You show up and your flight is delayed. There are all kinds of hassles of whether you can take your shampoo in your carry-on.
My wife is great at flying. She travels all over the country on business and spends at least 30 days a year out of town. So, she is really good at cramming everything she needs for a two day business trip into a single small carry-on and knows all the rules about hot big your shampoo bottle can be and how to get preferred seating on your flight and easier check-in. However, I don't have a clue about these things and simply prefer to drive if I can get to my destination in less than five hours.
On those occasions when I do have to fly, I am impressed about how friendly our airport is. It is easy to get in and out. More importantly, since my wife is usually the one flying and I usually pick her up or drop her off ever since her gas tank got siphoned while parked at the airport, I really like the convenience of being able to pull up to the gate where my wife walks off the plane and pick her up right on the street.
For quite some time now, the Aviation Department of Kansas City has been discussing consolidating to a single terminal format. They do have some really good reasons for this. One key reason for the single terminal is that the security checkpoints could be reduced to a single checkpoint. This would result in the need for less and equipment and fewer personnel because everyone at the airport would be going through the same checkpoint for all flights. Of course, for travelers, this creates the nightmare of a potentially massive and slow single checkpoint. (I have certainly experienced this sort of nightmare in other cities.)
Another reason for the new structure is that the airport terminals are aging. In our “throw away” society, there is a tendency to tear down an existing structure and build new rather than continually repairing on an aging building.
Of course, there is really probably another issue at play: money. The Aviation Department is an “enterprise fund” for accounting and budgeting purposes. Although the Aviation Department is under the umbrella of Kansas City, it has its own funding sources – leases, fees, etc. -- that do not include support from the general tax revenues of the city. Right now the department has been very well run and has a nice stream of cash flow. The concern is that if the Aviation Department does not have a need for this cash flow, the city will try to divert this money to other purposes. So, the department needs a big project that costs a lot of money.
At this early stage of the discussions, there are two key concerns that I have about a single terminal. First, I would hate to give up the convenience of our airport. Second, I just want to ask the question of whether a new single terminal is really the best way to spend $1 billion. I'm sure this will be hotly debated over the next few months. Stay tuned.
(James Thomas is a veteran of local politics in Platte County. Email him at email@example.com)
OBAMA'S POLICIES ARE AIMED AT HURTING THE MIDDLE CLASS
Obama's attacks on the middle class continue. Obama released the fifth budget proposal of his presidency and it is loaded with ways to take more money from the middle class.
One proposal is a $3 million limit on how much people can keep in their IRAs and other retirement accounts. At first blush that might seem like a lot. However, when you think about investments like certificates of deposit paying one percent or less in interest right now, a $3 million IRA invested in certificates of deposit would only return $30,000 in interest. Not exactly enough to enjoy the “lifestyle of the rich and famous.” And, more importantly, if Obama can get such a cap in place, it is only a matter of time before such a cap is slowly lowered to capture more and more people in the limit.
Obama has also proposed reducing the deduction for the interest on your home mortgage. There are several options for how this has been proposed. One is to lower the existing $1 million cap on the size of deductible loans, eliminating the interest deduction on mortgages for a second home and imposing percentage of income limits on the itemized deductions of high income earners. This proposed tinkering with the home interest deduction won't affect everyone, but it would be a hard hit for taxpayers in the $75,000 to $200,000 income range.
The bottom line is this. All of Obama's policies are aimed at hurting the middle class. Now some folks we say these people are the “upper middle class,” but the taxpayers that Obama is targeting are heavily made up of folks who are not “rich people” by my definition.
I view “rich people” as people who don't have to get up and go to work in the morning. They have enough resources that they can just live off of their money. I do not consider someone “rich” just because they happen to get a nice paycheck. Yes. They may make more than $100,000 per year or even more than $200,000 per year. They may live in a nice house, drive relatively new cars and go on a nice vacation every year. However, when they don't get up and go to work in the morning the cash flow stops and their “comfortable” lifestyle is significantly less comfortable.
The Obama proposals aren't going to significantly hurt “rich” people. Yes. A home interest deduction might be nice for someone making more than $1,000,000 and with $20,000,000 in assets. But, they are not going to dramatically feel the pinch of the loss of the home interest deduction. Truthfully, these taxpayers probably don't have home mortgage interest. No. The real sting is going to be felt by those folks who have been living “comfortably.”
The same is true with the cap on retirement accounts. Someone who has $3 million in their retirement account might seem “rich” to most people, but a 1% return on $3 million won't allow you to live “high on the hog” especially if you are early in your retirement years and your principal needs to last you for a remaining life expectancy of 20 to 25 years.
The Obama plan is simple: Prevent lower middle class folks from ever reaching the dream of entering the upper middle class and also prevent folks in the upper middle class from ever really becoming “rich.”
(James Thomas has long been active in local Republican politics. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org)
LIBS LOOK FOOLISH WHEN THEY
GET ANGRY ABOUT CONSERVATIVES
The ideas of liberals are frustrating. They believe in a welfare state where as many people as possible live off the government rather than promoting policies that create a society where people become independent, personally responsible and self reliant. They tell us that they can spend our money better than we can so we need to hand our money over to them for them to redistribute in accordance with their priorities. They tell us that an unborn child is unworthy of protection, but don't any one dare harm the habitat of a migrant bird. They tell us that we need to let people share their “unnatural” sexual preferences, rather than those with such preferences just keeping these preferences private.
Yes. The ideas of liberals are irritating. I STRONGLY disagree with them. However, we live in a free society and liberals are entitled to have their own opinions even if they are wrong. So, while I strongly disagree with liberal ideas, I respect the fact that liberals can have those opinions.
No. What I find outrageous about liberals is that they think conservatives need to be open minded about liberal ideas, but liberals do not believe that conservatives have a right to express their opinions. Even more outrageous is that liberals believe they can make vicious and rude comments about anyone who does not agree with them.
A great local example of this liberal attitude was shown recently by the editor of a left-leaning newspaper in the county. As the owner of his own newspaper, the editor is free to express his opinions in print as he chooses. Of course, he doesn't think that anyone but he and those people who agree with his positions have the authority to express an opinion on any issue.
A group of citizens joined forces to create the Taxpayer Protection PAC. This PAC was created to participate in multiple elections for many years into the future, but its first act was to oppose the Platte County Roads Sales Tax. The leftist newspaper described this PAC as “some folks who were hoping to undermine county progress in the dark and under a veil of secrecy.” Huh? “In the dark?” “Under a veil of secrecy?” All the activities of the PAC were reported to the Missouri Ethics Commission with every nickel received and spent, a public record that is online for all the world to see. Where is the “dark” and “secrecy”?
The truth is that the leftists editor didn't like that this PAC mailed postcards and made telephone calls to registered voters. Wait. Isn't that what you call free speech?
Here is a little reminder for all the liberals out there. The First Amendment reads as follows: “Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for redress of grievances.”
I'm sure the leftist editor is familiar with the “freedom of the press” in the First Amendment. I'm betting it is near and dear to his heart. But, that is not the only thing in the First Amendment. It also includes the right of citizens to speak freely. So, liberals need to quit being angry about conservatives expressing themselves. Conservatives believe in the right of liberals to share their wrong ideas. Liberals need to respectfully listen to the right ideas of conservatives.
(James Thomas has long been active in local politics. Reach him at jct3law.com)
COUNTY HAS FAILED TO TAKE A COMPREHENSIVE LOOK AT ITS FUNDING
The Platte County Roads Tax passed last week. I'm not really surprised. Many local communities have become dependent upon the supplement from the county to fund their road maintenance programs. The proponents created fear amongst the citizens of these local communities that they would not have any money for roads in the future. (Of course, the people creating these fears are the same local leaders who irresponsibly allowed their funding of road improvements in their communities to be heavily dependent upon money from an outside source.)
I actually was only mildly disappointed with the renewal of the Platte County Roads Tax. Roads are a legitimate function of local government. My real objections were that (1) the county commission has failed to take a comprehensive look at the funding sources for the county and (2) the use tax generated as a result of the Platte County Roads Tax will not be spent on roads or at least spent on something that will expire when the Platte County Roads Tax expires in 10 years.
The lack of a comprehensive analysis of the county's funding sources is particularly disturbing. The county has the multi-million dollar radio obligation hanging over its head, but the county has a parks program that is the size of the county's general revenue sales tax. The allocation of resources just seems out of whack.
The “secret taxes” created by the special purposes taxes are what make me the maddest of all. The roads sales tax will generate millions of dollars of Use Tax. Is this money spent on roads? No! It is reallocated to other purposes. It just seems dishonest that one tax increase for a legitimate purpose creates another tax that is used as a slush fund for unrelated purposes.
Even if the use tax from the roads sales tax was not dedicated to roads, I would at least like to see it dedicated to something other than a general slush fund for the county. When the roads sales tax was first adopted, the corresponding use tax was used to fund the bonds for the Platte County Resource Center. The county needed the Resource Center like we need another hole in our heads, but at least the first round of use tax was dedicated to something that would expire with the original roads sales tax rather than just general spending that never goes away.
One thing that is very interesting is that the only roads that the county is responsible for are in unincorporated Platte County. However, the voters in these areas tended to vote against the roads sales tax (No votes in Platte City 57%; New Market 64%; Edgerton 53%; Camden Point 54%; Hoover 68%; Shiloh Springs 70%; and Seven Bridges 59%). The people in areas where the county is not responsible for their roads seem to be willing to pay at least twice -- once to the local jurisdiction that is responsible for their roads and a second time to the county for roads their local jurisdiction should already be paying for.
Two great things about the roads tax are that the county is much more efficient at spending its money than Kansas City and Kansas City tends to allocate money to projects in Platte County because of Platte County's contribution. So the renewal is not entirely a bad thing. I get to drive on Kansas City roads that are heavily funded by the county. Of course, I am getting to pay for these roads twice. I guess I'll just have to drive on these roads extra to make up for that.
(James Thomas has long been active in local Republican politics. Email jct3law.com)
THE IRS NEEDS TO GO AFTER THE REAL TAX CHEATS
In most things in our lives, common can sense can get us a long way. This is not the case when it comes to tax law and dealing with the Internal Revenue Service. A recent Tax Court case, Durden v. Com'r., T.C. Memo 2012-140, emphasized this lack of common sense.
The Durdens made $22,517 in contributions to their church during 2007. All but $317 of these contributions were made by checks in amounts larger than $250. The IRS audited the Durdens' return and denied the Durdens' charitable deduction. In response to the denial of the charitable deduction, the Durdens provided copies of cancelled checks and a letter from their church that acknowledged the contributions. The letter from their church was dated Jan. 10, 2008, which was before the April 15, 2008 due date of the Durdens' 2007 return.
The IRS rejected the acknowledgement from the church because it did not contain a statement that “no goods or services were provided in consideration for the contributions.” The Durdens obtained a second acknowledgement from their church that contained the “no goods or services” disclaimer. However, since this second acknowledgement was not obtained until after the Durdens had filed their return and were under audit, it was dated after the due date of the Durdens' return.
The IRS rejected the second acknowledgement because it was dated after the due date of the Durdens' return. On appeal, the Durdens argued that they had substantially complied with the substantiation requirements for their charitable contribution deduction. The Tax Court rejected the Durdens' “substantial compliance” argument.
The denial of the Durdens' charitable contribution is consistent with the letter of the law. The first acknowledgement was statutorily deficient because it did not contain the required “no goods or services” disclaimer. The second acknowledgement did contain the required disclaimer, but it was statutorily deficient because the second acknowledgement was provided after the due date of the Durdens' return. Therefore, the Durdens did not technically comply with the requirements for their charitable contribution deduction.
While technically correct, this is a ridiculous result. There was no ill will or bad intentions on the part of the Durdens. There is no argument made that the Durdens did not actually make the contributions to their church. There is no argument that the Durdens actually received any goods or services in exchange for their contributions. There is no indication that the Durdens' church was a “fake” church created to avoid taxation. These were just dedicated, faithful churchgoers who had one sentence left off the contribution acknowledgement from their church.
This is an easy problem to have. Most taxpayers probably don't even know about the required disclaimer. They probably just check the dollar amount on the charitable contribution acknowledgements against their records. Some churches or other charities may not be paying close attention to this substantiation requirement. Yes. The substantiation requirements are in the Internal Revenue Code. Yes. The taxpayers and the charities need to follow the law. However, a little common sense is necessary in the application of the law. This is just another attack on honest, hard-working people by the government. Maybe the IRS should quit picking on hard working honest folks and actually go after the REAL tax cheats, many of whom are in President Obama's cabinet, including Obama's recently retired Secretary of the Treasury.
(James Thomas has long been active in local Republican politics. Email him at email@example.com)
'REPUBLICAN' APPARENTLY NOW MEANS SUPPORTING TAX-AND-SPEND POLICIES
I am worried that maybe I am becoming a liberal. Two weeks ago the extremely liberal editorial board of the Kansas City Star and I agreed that local sales tax rates were becoming too high. (I've thought this for a long time, but the Star seems to have just figured it out.) Then earlier this week I read an article that said that Sen. McCaskill is calling for an end to the free cell phone program. Have I become a liberal?
McCaskill has proposed ending the government program that gives free cell phones to people receiving low-income or disability benefits. Of course, the cell phones aren't free. Those of us who work hard, are responsible and pay our bills are actually paying for these “free” cell phones.
One of the problems with the program is that the program is fraught with fraud and abuse. One salesman worked with a TV station in St. Louis on a day he was distributing cell phones in St. Louis. The TV station noted that people were standing in line to get free cell phones while talking on a cell phone.
Of course what really set McCaskill off is that she was solicited for a “free” cell phone. Maybe they picked her name up off the government pay roster. I mean we are paying her $174,000 per year.
The whole “free” cell phone program is particularly upsetting to my younger daughter. (We let our older daughter have a cell phone a few months before she started high school, but our younger daughter still does not have a phone.) She knows we pay a ton of taxes. She is pretty hacked off that her parents are paying taxes to pay for someone else's cell phone while she doesn't have one.
On further reflection, I'm not becoming a liberal. It just happens that these off the deep end liberals (Sen. McCaskill and the KC Star) are finally admitting that some of the ridiculous level of taxation and government spending is out of hand. Finally! Too bad they aren't really opposed to the out of control taxation and spending.
Some friends and I did have a little bit of a chuckle last week. We were talking about RINOs, which stands for Republicans In Name Only. Now we normally use the RINO label in a derogatory way. It refers to people that want to be “Republicans” because it is currently the “cool thing to do,” especially in local politics, but they don't want to be “Republicans” from the perspective of conservative ideology. For many years now “Republicans” have not been acting like conservatives. This is true at the federal level where “Republican” officeholders claim to be conservative when they are in their home states, but vote like liberals when they go back to Washington. We also see local elected officials waving the “Republican” banner at election time, but acting like “tax and spend liberals” once they get elected.
My friends and I realized that maybe we are the RINOs. Of course, we are using the term in reverse of its normal usage. In this context what we mean is that we are conservatives that have traditionally considered ourselves to be Republicans, but “Republican” apparently now means supporting “tax and spend” policies. So, since we are still conservatives, maybe we're now the Republicans “in name only.”
(James Thomas is a longtime local Republican leader who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
SHOULD VOTERS APPROVE THIS PARTICULAR ROAD TAX PROPOSAL? NO
They're back! Yes money grubbing politicians are again trying to get in your wallet. And this time it is much closer to home than those far away folks (both geographically and politically) in Washington or even Jefferson City for that matter. No. This time those politicians are the newly elected Republican (at least in name) Junior Commissioners in Platte County who want to raise your sales taxes. (This really is the renewal of an expiring sales tax, but renewing a tax that would expire is a tax increase.)
Despite being adamantly opposed to more taxes, part of me doesn't want to be too upset about this renewal of the roads sales tax. Roads truly are a legitimate function of government. Government needs money to be able to fund its responsibility of taking care of the roads, but I still have some frustration with this particular proposal.
First and foremost I'm upset about the renewal of the roads sales tax because with the roads sales tax a corresponding use tax is created. This use tax will likely generate more than a million dollars a year. Are the commissioners willing to dedicate this use tax to roads? No. They want this money to spend on extra stuff they want and that extra stuff is NOT roads.
Second, I am extremely irritated with the way the renewal of the parks sales tax was handled just a few years ago. I have been calling for a comprehensive consideration of the allocation of the county sales taxes. Right now we have a half cent general revenue tax, a half cent parks sales tax and a 3/8 cent roads sales tax. These priorities seem all goofed up. Yes. Parks are nice, but roads are more important. Shouldn't the roads sales tax be a half cent and the parks sales tax something less than 3/8 cent?
Third, the commissioners have already admitted that more taxes are coming. They are talking about additional taxes to pay for the law enforcement radios and maybe another sales tax to create a slush fund for law enforcement. Now don't get me wrong. Law enforcement is another very important government function that needs to be funded. However, instead of asking for the parks tax a few years ago, the roads tax now and another tax later, the commissioners need to take a comprehensive view to their funding needs and not keep coming back with multiple dedicated taxes.
One good thing about the existing roads tax funds is how the funds have previously been handled. The existing funds are split between the county and the other local jurisdictions responsible for maintaining the roads, such as Kansas City. However, instead of just writing a check to Kansas City, the county has entered into agreements to jointly make improvements. The county provides the oversight of the project and Kansas City contributes part of the money. This is great for two reasons. First, it allows us to get more Kansas City projects in Platte County because Kansas City's money is leveraged with the county's money. Second, the county is much better at managing projects efficiently so the projects cost a lot less.
Should Platte County have a dedicated sales tax for roads? Probably yes. Has this particular proposal been thoroughly vetted so that the voters should approve it? No.
(James Thomas has long been active in local Republican politics. Email email@example.com)
EVEN THE LIBERAL KC STAR CONCERNED ABOUT HIGH SALES TAX
The world is coming to an end. Is it the sequester? No. We discussed that last week. My latest “Chicken Little” opening is due to an editorial in last Sunday's Kansas City Star. The editorial begins like this:
How high can sales taxes go?
This doesn't sound too appetizing: The total sales tax at restaurants in the Power & Light District could reach 13.85 percent within five years. Dining on the Country Club Plaza could mean a 13.35 percent sales tax added to the bill.
Sales tax rates could top 13 percent in the future at many Kansas City restaurants. The potential sales tax rates for many retail stores could reach 10.85 percent in Kansas City within Jackson County, 10.225 percent in Independence and Lee's Summit, and 9.225 percent in Liberty.
And many tax rates could be close to or above 10 percent in cities on both sides of the state line as publicly subsidized community improvement and transportation development districts multiply around the area.
If there's a tipping point on sales taxes, the Kansas City region seems closer than ever to finding it. In recent years, politicians have leaned heavily on those taxes for extra revenue, fearing voters would reject higher property taxes. But sales taxes are regressive and can't remain the “go-to” tax of choice indefinitely.
The content of this editorial is no big surprise. My friends and I have been “banging the drum” for quite a while that the sales tax rates are too high. The stunning thing is that the Kansas City Star editorial board is finally noting that the “tipping point” is near.
The editorial goes on to note several potential sales taxes on the horizon including a possible state-wide sales tax for Missouri roads. Interestingly, the article doesn't mention the exorbitant sales taxes in Platte County.
If you buy something in the Kansas City portion of Platte County, you are going to pay what is probably the highest sales tax rate in the metropolitan area. You get dinged for the Kansas City sales taxes, which are higher than most of the surrounding cities. You also get dinged by Platte County's sky high sales tax rates, which include not only the half cent general revenue sales tax, but also another half cent for the parks sales tax and three-eighths cent sales tax for roads. And, to add insult to injury, Zona Rosa has an extra one cent sales tax for everything you buy there as a result of its Transportation Development District sales tax. Ouch!
Is the end here? Maybe. Any time the super-liberal editorial board of the Kansas City Star and a faithful conservative like me agree on something, the end must be near.
(James Thomas is a veteran of local Republican politics. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org)
CONGRESSIONAL REPUBLICANS NEED TO FIND BETTER SPOKESPEOPLE
Last week I saw clips on TV of President Obama out telling anyone that would listen that “the sky is falling” or “the world will come to and end” as a result of the sequester. (Okay. A slight exaggeration, but if you watch the video clips you will see that this is only a slight exaggeration.)
It is dumb that we have to have a sequester to cause mandatory spending cuts by the federal government. We really just need Congress (particularly the U.S. Senate) and the President to act like grown- ups and adopt a budget that sets spending priorities. The only reason we have the sequester is that Congress and the president were incapable of cutting 2% from federal spending.
There are those that talk about how reducing the spending by the federal government will have cataclysmic effects. They complain that the sequester will trigger “draconian” cuts.
There has also been a great deal of concern that Republicans will be made out to be the “bad guys” on the whole spending cuts scenario. Many folks remember how responsible Republicans in the mid-90s tried to “draw a line in the sand” to curb then-President Clinton's out of control spending, but ended up getting seen negatively for the government shut down created by Clinton's refusal to set a responsible budget.
It is true the Congressional Republicans will be criticized for the desire to stop the out of control deficit spending. However, maybe instead of cowering under rocks because they are afraid of such criticism, the Congressional Republicans should just find better spokespeople.
A caller to a talk radio show last week did a great job of explaining why all the bellyaching by the Democrats is laughable. He noted that the cuts were supposed to be 2%, but since the effective date of the sequester has been postponed until midway through the federal government's current fiscal year, the cuts are really only 1%.
Democrats keep talking about how devastating these cuts of 1% well be. Well, those of us who work for a pay check just saw our FICA tax increase from 4.2% to 6.2%. The federal government didn't seem to have any sensitivity to the burden this 2% reduction in household incomes caused for working Americans. Working families just had to modify their household budgets to absorb this 2% cut in take home pay. The federal government just needs to do the same thing and find ways to trim their budgets to absorb the 2%, really 1%, cuts. Congressional Republicans should make this caller the guy that needs to be in charge of messaging for the Republicans in Congress.
I'm sure that over the next few weeks the Obama Administration will try to structure the cuts in a way to try to create as much inconvenience for Americans as possible. I'm sure that the Democrats will try to paint the Republicans as evil for not wanting the federal government to spend money it doesn't have. However, Congressional Republicans need to remember this. The American people gave Congress back to the Democrats in 2006 because Republicans started acting like Democrats – albeit watered-down Democrats. If Republicans want to remain in control of Congress in 2014, they need to do what Americans elected them to do in 2010 – STOP SPENDING MONEY WE DON'T HAVE.
(James Thomas has long been active in local Republican politics. Reach him at email@example.com)
OBAMA TRYING TO PAINT
REPUBLICANS AS THE EVIL
ONES IN SEQUESTER PROCESS
The current fight in Washington over the sequester is exactly what I hate about politics. President Obama and the “tax and spend” Congresspeople agreed to it and now want to demonize it.
A little background is in order. The sequester was part of the compromise reached when the federal government was hurdling towards a financial meltdown in 2011. This financial meltdown was the result of the federal government approaching the maximum debt level authorized by Congress. Conservative Republicans wanted to hold the line on spending and not let the government spend more money than it takes in. Democrats and “squishy” Republicans wanted to just let the government keep spending money it doesn't really have.
The sequester was proposed as a compromise. The federal government's debt level would be allowed to rise, but President Obama and the “tax and spend” Congresspeople in both parties agreed that if Congress could not negotiate spending cuts over the next few months, there would be automatic spending cuts. These spending cuts became known as the sequester. These automatic cuts were designed to be unpleasant to both Democrats and Republicans because they include both social program and defense cuts.
All the sequester really did was “kick the can down the road.” Instead of dealing with the problem, the sequester said that the out of control spending would be dealt with in the future. Then, if no spending cuts can be agreed to, then certain automatic cuts would happen. Of course, the cuts themselves are essentially meaningless. Since Obama came into office the federal government has been spending more than a trillion dollars (with a T!!!!!) more than it takes in. The “cuts” of the sequester are really only about $100 billion a year which is only about a tenth of the cuts that are really necessary to get spending under control
Now for the outrage. President Obama and the Democrats are now crying about how terrible the cuts in the sequester will be. They want Congress to just spend even more money and just pretend that the agreed sequester never happened. They are trying – with the help of their friends in the media – to paint Republicans as the evil ones in this whole sequester process. Of course, they seem to forget that the sequester was something that they agreed to just a few months ago.
Obama and the Democrats cry about all the evil that will happen if the sequester takes place. The FBI will be shut down. School children will starve. People will be thrown into the streets with no food or shelter.
Wait a second! There is a solution. Obama and Congress can just adopt a budget. (Something they haven't bothered to do since Obama took office.) This budget can then set priorities on what the government will spend its money on. And, the bottom line is that this budget should NOT spend more money than the government takes in. Just set some priorities. We do it with our household spending. We can't spend 50% more than we take in for five consecutive years like Obama has done and not face personal financial ruin. Just make some hard choices. However, instead of making these choices, Obama and the “tax and spend” crowd will just call for even higher taxes and more spending and blame Republicans for the Democrats not adopting a budget.
(James Thomas is a veteran of local Republican politics. Email firstname.lastname@example.org)
THE GOVERNMENT SHOULDN'T BE PICKING WINNERS AND LOSERS
Now that the Missouri General Assembly is back in session there are a number of proposals to reign in Missouri's tax credit programs. One of those proposals is Senate Bill 5 proposed by Senator Brad Lager to place a $50 million cap on the low income housing and the historic preservation tax credits. Currently Missouri is awarding about $150 million per year in these sorts of credits.
Missouri's tax credit system creates a way where the government is picking winners or losers by deciding who gets the tax credits. You just don't get the credit if you meet certain criteria. You have to meet certain criteria and be one of the “lucky” ones that gets awarded the credits.
Whether it's a fair statement or not, there was certainly a great of speculation that the dramatic expansion of the tax credit system in the early 90s was a mechanism to skirt the tax limitations of the Hancock Amendment while awarding “cookies” to the friends of the Democrats who were in control at the time. When Carnahan first took office in 1993, he pushed through a massive tax increase. This massive tax increase triggered provisions of the Hancock Amendment that required refunds to all income tax paying taxpayers in Missouri. One of the ways to avoid these refunds to all of Missouri's income tax paying taxpayers was to create new tax deductions, exemptions or credits. One of the exemptions that was created was the exemption of Missouri sales tax on groceries. Several tax credits were also expanded at this time.
The idea of using tax deductions, exemptions and credits to encourage certain behaviors is not necessarily a bad or evil idea. However, there is clearly the risk of corruption. If no one pays Missouri sales taxes on groceries, then everyone who buys groceries is treated the same. It is a fair approach. However, with tax credits for low income housing or historic preservation, not everyone who builds a low income housing project or makes improvements to preserve a historic structure qualifies for these tax credits. You have to fight through a politically-controlled bureaucracy to be awarded credits.
So far, there have been no charges filed for political corruption for elected officials or political appointees handing out “cookies” (i.e., tax credits) to their political friends. However, regardless of whether there has been any wrong doing, it still looks “fishy.” Furthermore, this is also a system where only certain “chosen” taxpayers get the credits instead of all the taxpayers who meet the criteria receiving the same treatment. So, the government is picking winners and losers. That isn't right.
Tax credits can be a useful tool for government to use to encourage certain behaviors. I have even received some state income tax credits. As a partner in a mega-law firm, I was allocated a few dollars every year (and I really mean very few dollars) for the firm's share of certain tax credits. I have also made a few charitable contributions to charities knowing that those contributions also qualified for certain tax credits. So, I'm not entirely opposed to the use of tax credits. However, it is very important that government manage the size of the tax credits it offers and use great caution that any tax credit system treats all similarly-situated citizens fairly instead of picking winners and losers.
(James Thomas has long been active in local Republican politics. Email email@example.com)
NOW A STATEWIDE SALES TAX FOR ROADS IS BEING DISCUSSED
While Platte County is putting forth its own road sales tax, there is a discussion going on in Jefferson City for a statewide sales tax for roads.
The Missouri Department of Transportation gets the bulk of its funding from three sources. First, there is a gasoline tax that is assessed not on a price per gallon, but rather on a specific number of cents per gallon. Second, the motor vehicle sales taxes go the MoDOT. (These used to be split between general revenue and MoDOT before Amendment 3 was adopted a few years ago.) Third, MoDOT gets a substantial portion of its funding from the federal government. Of course, the federal government gets this money by imposing its own taxes on each gallon of gasoline. So, this is really money from Missouri taxpayers coming back to Missouri.
A proposal is currently being discussed to impose a new statewide sales tax that will be dedicated to roads. This has been attempted before on multiple occasions. I am quite familiar with the discussion of this issue when a statewide sales tax was proposed in 2002. This 2002 effort failed overwhelmingly for a couple of reasons.
One factor in the failure of this proposal was that MoDOT had failed to keep some of its earlier promises. In 1992, a six cent per gallon fuel tax increase was approved. This fuel tax increase was coupled with something called the “15-Year Plan” under which MoDOT promised to build certain roads. Within a few years it became clear that the folks who were running MoDOT at the time had no intention of keeping the promises made as part of the 15-year plan. This dramatically hurt the credibility of MoDOT.
Another factor in the failure of the 2002 statewide sales tax proposal was that the cities and counties viewed the sales tax as their funding mechanism. Many civic and local government leaders expressed objections to MoDOT starting to rely on a state-wide sales tax because it would cut into their funding mechanism.
I have some concerns about adding on any more sales taxes. If you buy something in the Kansas City portion of Platte County, you are already looking at a 10% tax. If you happen to buy something in Zona Rosa or somewhere else with a Transportation Development District Tax, you will pay an extra 1%. These sales taxes are becoming a hefty burden.
In the late 90s and into the early 2000s, I was one of those people who were mad that MoDOT had essentially lied about its commitment to the 15-Year Plan. I didn't want to give them another nickel as a result of their treachery. Of course, by now, all the bad actors at MoDOT who lied about the 15-Year Plan are long gone. MoDOT has new leadership that seems to be trying hard to provide quality transportation improvements. However, I am still reluctant to create any additional sales taxes. I have a different idea.
Missouri has a lower cents per gallon fuel tax than all the surrounding states. What if instead of a sales tax, this cents per gallon fuel tax is increased to something close to the average of our neighbors so we aren't the highest and we aren't the lowest? I, of course, don't want to pay any more taxes. However, if more taxes are on the table, I would encourage an evaluation of the fuel tax as the place to have this discussion.
(James Thomas is active in local Republican politics. Email firstname.lastname@example.org)
POST-DISPATCH DOESN'T UNDERSTAND BENEFITS OF INCOME TAX BREAK
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorial board is absolutely clueless. Yes. I know it sounds like a broken record, but they just keep pumping out editorials that keep re-emphasizing how uninformed they are.
On Saturday the editorial board released their latest masterpiece, “What's the matter with Kansas? Rex Sinquefield's theories.” The editorial was commenting on new legislation proposed in Missouri to cut the state income tax for individuals and businesses. This legislation is aimed at combating a very real threat to the economy in western Missouri that is presented by a recent Kansas tax law change.
Effective Jan. 1, 2013, small businesses will essentially pay no state income tax in Kansas. Although federal income taxes are the big tax bite that we all face, eliminating this state income tax can still be significant. Let's say you have a sole proprietorship where you earn $200,000 a year. Assuming the 6% marginal rate of Missouri state income tax, you would pay $12,000 in state income tax. However, if you could operate your sole proprietorship in Kansas and were willing to pick up and move there, you would not have to pay this $12,000. And, this isn't just a one-time thing. You could keep the $12,000 each year for every year you are in business. Wow!
The practical aspect is that this is going to be a huge hit to Kansas' state income tax. However, Kansas is gambling on something else. They are gambling that the elimination of state income tax for small business owners will prompt small business owners to relocate to Kansas. These small business owners will then be paying property taxes and sales tax to the state of Kansas instead of the state of their former location. The idea is that these taxes will offset the loss of state income tax.
There is some potential short term pain that Kansas will endure. In the first year or two, they can expect their state revenues to drop without new revenue coming in from relocated small business owners. However, eventually Kansas should succeed in attracting the kind of citizens they want.
The real foolishness of the St. Louis Post Dispatch is not just their failure to understand the math of these tax law changes. They also fail to understand the other benefits Kansas has to offer. They think better schools are the only reason for the migration to Kansas and that less money in the state coffers will cause a decline in the quality of Kansas schools. Yes. Many folks ran away from the Kansas City School District. Some went to Kansas. Others came north. However, Kansas has a multitude of other benefits. They have better protections for doctors. Their bankruptcy exemptions protect the full equity in your home rather than just a few thousand dollars of equity. If you are professional or a business owner there are a lot of reasons to move to Kansas.
Will many business owners cross the border? I have many clients already considering it. I know the potential tax savings is enough to get me to contemplate moving to the “state we hate.” (Yes. I'm still mad about Kansas citizens “invading” Missouri and murdering our citizens in the prelude to the Civil War.) But can I save enough money to make me willing to live among all those Jayhawkers? Maybe.
(James Thomas is active in local Republican politics. Email email@example.com)
ROPER-SOPER ACTIONS DRAWING COMPARISONS TO FEDERAL LEVEL
It was so exciting to see Republicans gain control of every Platte County office to start 2013. However, will this be a short-lived experience to have a Republican-only club at the Platte County Administration Building?
The early developments at the county-level remind me somewhat of what occurred at the federal level in early 2000s. Republicans had the presidency and control of Congress. Republicans truly had the opportunity to operate the federal government in a fiscally responsible manner.
What did Republicans do with this opportunity? They passed an incredibly expensive prescription drug benefit. They dramatically increased federal spending on elementary and secondary education. Republicans spent money the federal government didn't have.
The last year when the Republicans were in control of Congress and the presidency (i.e., 2006), they adopted a budget with a $400 billion deficit. This pales in comparison to Obama's deficits in excess of $1 trillion a year. Also, a large part of this deficit was driven by the fact that we were still engaged in a shooting war in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, Republican spending during this time made them look like Democrats – albeit “watered-down” Democrats.
Our new county commissioners seem to be off to a similar start. They are increasing spending, proposing to renew an otherwise expiring tax and talking about proposing even more taxes.
I know it isn't possible to operate county government without increasing spending at least a little bit in most years. The biggest expense of county government is payroll. It isn't fair that county employees are expected to go forever with no pay raises. It isn't even fair that elected county officials should be expected to go for years without any pay raise. (I know my wife did not have to worry about this during her time as a county official, but not every county official has a second income to cover cost of living increases – like rising grocery and car gas prices – while serving in such a position.)
Over the last few years, the county commission might have leaned a little too much toward austerity measures. However, the economy really was – and still is -- very uncertain. So, financial prudence is necessary. Folks who work hard at the county do need to get cost of living increases to be able to take care of their bills. (Yes. There are always some freeloaders in government, but most of the county employees do work hard to do their jobs efficiently and correctly.) So, some growth in spending is legitimate.
However, even acknowledging that some pay raises are necessary and appropriate, I am very concerned about the apparent attitude of the current county commission. They sure seemed to be adopting a “tax and spend” attitude. I'm not surprised about Commissioner Roper. She spent time in the “tax and spend” federal bureaucracy. This approach would fit with her other life experiences. However, I was not aware that Commissioner Soper had these sorts of tendencies.
It is a long time until Roper and Soper are up for re-election. By then the voters may forget their early “tax and spend” attitudes. However, Republicans lost control of Congress in 2006. In part this was due to it being the mid-term of a second term presidency. In part it was because the war had drug on. However, I think the main reason so many Republicans were “sent home” by their constituents is that they quit acting like conservatives. Will Roper and Soper have the same fate?
(James Thomas has been a leader in local Republican politics. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org)
THE GOVERNMENT'S BANKRUPTCY IS CLOSER THAN EVER
The fiscal cliff has been averted! Well . . . not really. It is true that the impact of higher tax rates for everyone was avoided and that the mandatory spending cuts were postponed, but we are still looking into the abyss even if we haven't actually fallen off the cliff. The federal government still does not have its spending under control.
A close political friend of mine sent me an e-mail that does a better job than I could to describe the real fiscal cliff. Here is what it said:
“Fiscal Cliff” put in a much better perspective.
* U.S. Tax revenue: $2,170,000,000,000
* Fed budget: $3,820,000,000,000
* New debt: $ 1,650,000,000,000
* National debt: $14,271,000,000,000
* Recent budget cuts: $ 38,500,000,000
Let's now remove eight zeros and pretend it's a household budget:
* Annual family income: $21,700
* Money the family spent: $38,200
* New debt on the credit card: $16,500
* Outstanding balance on the credit card: $142,710
* Total budget cuts so far: $38.50
Do you get it?
This isn't complicated. It's just math. A family with credit card debt of nearly seven times the size of its annual income is in big trouble. That is made even worse when that family is borrowing nearly 75% more than it is taking in every year. The same is true of a government that has similar portions of debt and annual over spending.
Dave Ramsey, the consumer financial advice guy from the radio, helps families with these problems every day. His starting point -- develop a budget. Of course, Congress hasn't adopted a budget in more than three years. They just spend money willy nilly without setting priorities of how to spend the money they do have.
The hypothetical family described above will end up in bankruptcy. The same is true for a government that operates in the same fashion. And with 75% annual over-spending, the government's bankruptcy is closer than ever.
(James Thomas has long been active in local Republican politics. Reach him at email@example.com)
TWO INTERESTING TAX ISSUES ON THE LOCAL BALLOT IN 2013
I found my “crystal ball” and it is time to predict the political future for 2013. As far as candidate elections go, 2013 will be a relatively quiet year. There are no county-wide or state-wide candidates up for election in 2013. However, there will be tax issues on the ballot in 2013.
Residents of Kansas City, which includes a large percentage of Platte Countians, will be facing a City Health Care Tax in April. Kansas City has had a health care tax for decades. However, in 2005 the city council pushed an additional property tax of $0.22 per $100 of assessed value to supplement the basic health care tax. This supplemental tax is set to sunset, but the City Council wants to extend the tax for another nine years. Kansas City's Health Director says that even after ObamaCare is fully implemented that there will be many people who will remain uninsured or underinsured. The bottom line is that those that live in Kansas City get to pay three times: first for themselves, second through new ObamaCare taxes and third through city taxes.
Another tax issue that Platte Countians will likely see in 2013 is the renewal of the county roads sales tax. The 3/8 cent roads sales tax was adopted in 2003. The tax is set to expire within a year. The roads sales tax was originally proposed to primarily address critical maintenance issues with roads and bridges in unincorporated Platte County. However, in order to get county-wide support, much of the road sales tax was spent on projects in different municipalities, particularly Kansas City.
This “sharing” of the roads sales tax has been a great thing at least with respect to “sharing” with Kansas City. Platte County and Kansas City have cooperated on several projects. Two things have happened from this. First, the Platte County projects have made it higher on Kansas City's priority list because Kansas City's contribution was leveraged with outside money. Second, but even more importantly, Platte County has actually managed these projects under cooperative agreements with Kansas City so the projects have been done much more quickly and much more affordably than if Kansas City was managing the project.
The good news is the county does not have to renew the roads sales tax because it needs the corresponding un-earmarked use tax. When the roads sales tax was passed the estimated use tax created as a result of the roads sales tax was set aside to fund the bond payments on the Platte County Resource Center. These bonds should be paid off this year. Before the county commission finds non-roads ways to spend this use tax, I strongly suggest that the public demand that the use tax generated by the roads sales tax also be dedicated to roads.
One thing that will be humorous to watch is whether any of the roads sales tax will be diverted as a dedicated law enforcement tax. There was much “weeping and gnashing of teeth” at the beginning of 2012 over whether there should be a dedicated law enforcement tax and whether some of the parks sales tax should have been dedicated in this manner. Of course, the prosecutor and sheriff were both silent on this issue when the parks sales tax was proposed for renewal. We'll have to see if the prosecutor and sheriff have anything to say as the roads sales tax is debated.
(James Thomas has long been active in local Republican politics. Email firstname.lastname@example.org)
DEAR CONGRESS: STOP SPENDING MONEY YOU DON'T HAVE
The fiscal cliff has been averted! Well . . . not really. It is true that the impact of higher tax rates for everyone was avoided and that the mandatory spending cuts were postponed, but we are still looking into the abyss even if we haven't actually fallen off the cliff.
The tax code is still a mess. However, things are much better than they could have been.
Bill Clinton campaigned on a “middle class tax cut” in 1992. However, between winning election and taking the oath of office, Clinton set the stage for what at the time was labeled as “the biggest tax increase in history.” We already had 15% and 28% brackets dating back to the 1986 Tax Reform Act and George H. W. Bush's 31% tax bracket that led to his defeat by Clinton. But, Clinton added on a 36% bracket and a 39.6% bracket starting at $250,000. (This extra 3.6% was deemed to be a “millionaire's 10% surtax,” but for some reason Clinton pushed for it to start at $250,000 instead of $1,000,000.)
In 2000 George W. Bush campaigned on an across the board tax cut. After taking office in 2001 Bush pushed through a new 10% tax bracket that cut the tax burden of those in this bracket by one-third. He also led the charge for ratcheting down the brackets to 25%, 28%, 33% and 35%. Yes. Those who paid the most taxes received the largest dollar amount of a tax cut, but those in the lower brackets received a much higher percentage of a tax cut.
The problem was that all of the Bush cuts to the Clinton tax rates were implemented with a ten year sunset. Obama outsmarted Republicans in 2010 and extended this sunset for two years so he could get re-elected. If the Clinton tax rates had returned at the start of 2011, we would be inaugurating a Republican president this month. Of course, that Republican president would be inheriting an economy that was much worse off than the economy is today. So, from a “what's good for America” standpoint, the two year extension made sense even if it did keep a Republican from knocking out Obama in 2012.
The Clinton tax rates were set to return on January 1, 2013, but early in the morning on January 1, a modified version of the Bush tax rates was adopted. This kept the Bush tax rates for the lower brackets, but allowed the top Clinton rate of 39.6% to return for incomes over $400,000, which happens to be almost exactly where Clinton's 39.6% bracket kicked in if you adjust the $250,000 dollar amount for 20 years of inflation.
While this AFTER the eleventh hour tax law is flawed on many fronts, one very good thing is that the new rates are NOT subject to sunset. The rates might be amended at some point, but there is no automatic amendment due to the expiration of the rate structure. Congress also gave us an inflation adjustment fix for the Alternative Minimum Tax. Unfortunately, we get back the phase out of itemized deductions and personal exemptions and a bunch of other silly provisions. However, at least we have some degree of certainty to allow businesses and individuals to do some real planning.
Now Congress needs to fix its real problem: STOP SPENDING MONEY IT DOESN'T HAVE!
(James Thomas has long been active in Republican politics. Reach him at email@example.com)
ANALYZING THE PREDICTIONS THAT WERE MADE IN 2012
As we start a new year, I often “look in my crystal ball” and predict the future political events of the upcoming year, but before I started writing my first column of 2013 I decided to look back and see what I predicted for 2012.
There were two predictions that I stated a year ago that “I felt really good about.” I predicted that “Sam Graves would win in a landslide and local Republicans will win solidly in Platte County.” Yeah. I know. Not exactly going out on a limb on either of these, but those were my predictions and I was right.
At the start of 2012 I hoped and even thought that Claire McCaskill would be defeated in the U.S. Senate race. However, at that time I also stated that “since none of the Republican candidates have shown that they can raise money, I'm not very hopeful.” Boy did that prove true! None of our U.S. Senate candidates showed much ability to raise money. We did have one huge self-funding candidate, but he certainly did not put up big fund raising numbers if you didn't count his own money. Akin probably would have still won despite his inability to raise money if he hadn't put his foot (or more accurately his whole leg) in his mouth. That's what happens when you combine an unpolished candidate with a campaign staff of family members and no professional campaign advisors.
I also noted that I was “not so enthusiastic” about Republicans chances in the 2012 presidential race. I noted how Republicans have often nominated the wrong candidate (e.g., Ford, Dole and McCain). Romney also proved to be the wrong candidate. Yes. He certainly appears to be a good man and a successful businessman. Yes. He was the “tallest of the dwarfs” that threw their hat in the ring for the Republican nomination. Romney had a strong national organization and had the ability to raise money. There were other candidates who had some good ideas, but none of them could put together a successful organization to run a national campaign. And the other candidates kept making mistakes that caused their campaigns to implode. So Romney was the last man standing.
Romney did a lot of things right, but three things really hurt Romney. First, although Obama is a terrible president, he is an awesome campaigner and strategist. Second, 47% of Americans pay no federal income taxes. Nearly half of the country is freeloading off of those of us who work for a living. Obama turned these people out on Election Day to get re-elected.
The thing that really killed Romney is the ineptness of Congress. Obama outsmarted the Republican Congressional leadership at the end of 2010 by negotiating a two year extension of the Bush tax rates. Obama knew that a massive tax increase at the beginning of 2011 would have devastated his chances for re-election. So, he negotiated a two year extension that would get him past the 2012 election cycle. Similarly, Obama negotiated an increase in the debt ceiling that also “kicked the can down the road” on the out of control spending to allow him to win re-election.
So here we are. What do we have to start off 2013? Six more years of Claire. And four more years of Obama.
It sure stinks to be right!
(Local Republican James Thomas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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