Taxes and Oregon’s 2019 legislature: a new low in political shenanigans

powercorrupts

Efforts by Oregon’s Democrats to derail a public vote on a gross receipts tax reveal that, as put by conservative writer Jim Swift, “Being an asshole has now become a feature, not a bug,” in politics.

Setting a new low in political shenanigans in the 2019 session, Democrats began by passing a gross receipts tax on sales inside the state’s borders that exceed $1 million, whether or not the business makes a profit.

The tax, equivalent to a sales tax, is expected to raise $2 billion per biennium. This less than three years after almost 60% of Oregon voters rejected Measure 97, a ballot measure that would have imposed a state gross receipts tax.

In an insulting, arrogant move to protect their revenue-raising blitz, the Democrats then passed a bill (SB 116) setting a particularly inconvenient election date if a tax repeal petition then seeking signatures qualified for the ballot. Rather than having the vote take place during the general election in 2020, when there’s likely to be high interest and participation, the bill provided for a special election on January 21, 2020.

I guess they figured picking Christmas or New Year’s Day for the vote would be too obvious an attempt at manipulation.

Adding insult to injury, the Democrats then passed another bill (HB 2164) which changed the language of the original tax. At the time, The Oregonian reported only that the bill “makes largely technical changes to the new business tax lawmakers passed earlier in the session to fund education.” But it was much more significant than that. If Gov. Brown signs the bill, it will invalidate all the signatures already gathered on a repeal petition referencing the previous language.

“HB 2164 is designed to look like a cosmetic language change to a 40-page tax bill, but it contains poison words designed to murder the voter campaign to pass petition #301 (the repeal petition),” said the Taxpayer Association of Oregon.  “….it is borderline criminal to rob the people of their right to vote on matters they care about. Politicians should not be able to subvert and void the people from using their initiative process to petition their government.”

Having achieved a supermajority in the 2019 Legislative session, the Democrats proceeded to ignore their ethical responsibility to Oregonians and abuse their power, vividly illustrating the observation of Lord Acton, the 19th-century British historian: “Power tends to corrupt. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

As Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, said at the end of the Legislative session, “I thought we were overreaching before we started. I think we did.”

“What kind of fool do you take me for?”, asked one of the Three Stooges in Saved By The Belle. Oregon voters should be asking the same thing of Democratic legislators.

 

 

 

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Despite pledges, politicians fail to shed tainted donations. Surprise!

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) says he’ll offset $7,000 in campaign contributions he’s received from accused sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein by donating an equivalent amount to anti-sex trafficking and anti-violence against women groups.

Don’t count on it.

In 2017, when multiple women went public with accusations that Harvey Weinstein had sexually harassed them, Democratic politicians, including Schumer, leaped to disassociate themselves from him. In particular, they promised to donate Weinstein’s now-tainted campaign contributions to charity.

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Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY)

Schumer was prominent among numerous politicians scurrying to say they would make amends. Federal Election Commission (FEC) records show that Weinstein donated $20,700 to the Friends of Schumer campaign finance committee during 2013-2017.

“Sen. Schumer is donating all of the (Weinstein) contributions to several charities supporting women,” Matt House, a spokesman for Sen. Schumer, told the Washington Post in October 2017.

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Harvey Weinstein

Republican National Committee chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel praised Schumer  for doing the right thing.

She was too quick in her praise.

FEC records reveal that Schumer’s campaign committee didn’t donate one thin dime to charities supporting women in 2017 or 2018.

During that same period, Schumer’s committee also received contributions from the DNC Services Corp (Democratic National Committee), to which Weinstein had donated $203,458.

There’s no evidence that Schumer’s committee re-distributed any of that money to women’s groups either.

To its apparent credit, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) said it would donate $30,000 of the funds it had received from Weinstein to three non-profits:

  • Emily’s List, a political action committee that aims to help elect pro-choice Democratic female candidates to office.
  • Emerge America, an organization that recruits, trains and provides a network to Democratic women who want to run for office, and
  • Higher Heights, a national organization working to elect Black women, influence elections and advance progressive policies.

FEC records of the DNC’s expenditures in 2017-2018 reveal that it lived up to its promise.

On Oct. 30, 2017, the DNC sent Emily’s List $10,290.15.  (The DNC also sent $5,000 to Emily’s List on May 25, 2017, but that was before the Weinstein scandal erupted.)

The DNC also sent $10,290.15 to both Emerge America and Higher Heights on Oct. 30, 2017. It sent $1250 to Higher Heights on Sept. 29.

But there was a hitch. The DNC collected $300,000 in donations from Weinstein, not $30,000. It kept the other $270,000.

Other Democratic politicians, including some who are now running for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination, also had received funds from Weinstein and also made a lot of promises to send the money to deserving non-profits. The announced recipients, however, were largely organizations that would launder the money right back to Democrats and their causes.

Even then, not all the politicians followed through on their commitments.

  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D- MA) said she’d donate $5,000 she received from Weinstein to Casa Myrna, a nonprofit group in Massachusetts. The FEC’s records on expenditures of the Elizabeth Warren Action Fund during 2017-2018 don’t show any payments to Casa Myrna.
  • Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) said she would donate $10,000 received from Weinstein to RAAIN, (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), an anti-sexual violence organization. No such donation is reported in FEC records of expenditures by Gillibrand’s 2017-2018 campaign finance committees.
  • Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) said he’d send Weinstein’s donations to the Minnesota Indian Women’s Resource Center. According to OpenSecrets.org, Weinstein donated a total of $17,300 to Franken and his Midwest Values PAC. None of Franken’s campaign finance committees recorded on FEC.org show a donation to the Minnesota Indian Women’s Resource Center during 2017-2018.
  • Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) said she would give $5,000 she received from Weinstein to a women’s rights nonprofit, Equal Rights Advocates. FEC records on Harris’ campaign finance committees do not show such a donation during 2017-2018.
  • Bob Casey (D-PA) said he’d give $2,190 he received from Weinstein to the Women’s Center and Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh. FEC records on Casey’s campaign finance committees do not show such a donation.
  • The Clinton Foundation’s website says Weinstein has donated between $100,001 – $250,000 to the Foundation. In Oct. 2017, the Foundation announced it had no plans to return Weinstein’s contributions, saying they had already been spent on charitable programs. According to the Foundation’s Form 990 report to the IRS, it had net assets of $323,470,879 at the end of 2017.

Looks like a lot of politicians’ promises are no more than empty public relations gestures.  Surprise!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

More Merkley drama: the Stop Cruelty to Migrant Children Act

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Not one to miss a chance to put himself in the spotlight, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) grandly announced on July 11 that he led a group of 40 senators in introducing the Stop Cruelty to Migrant Children Act.

Merkley was in so much of a hurry to claim leadership on the bill that he has issued a press release, a section-by-section breakdown of the bill (S. 2113) and a one-pagesummary, but the bill hadn’t even been written.  According to Congress.gov, text had still not been received for S.2113 as of July 16, 2019.

Nevertheless, the bill has been referred to the Committee on the Judiciary Committee. Suffice it to say, however, the bill isn’t going anywhere.

One reason – not a single Republican has signed on as a cosponsor. In this, Merkley is continuing to earn his reputation as one of the Senate’s most partisan Members.

The Bipartisan Index measures the frequency with which a Member co-sponsors a bill introduced by the opposite party and the frequency with which a Member’s own bills attract co-sponsors from the opposite party. The Index reflects how well members of opposite parties and ideologies work together.

According to the Bipartisan Index of senators released by The Lugar Center and Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy, Merkley had the third most partisan track record in the entire Senate in the most recent analysis covering the 115th Congress (2017-2018)

That was even worse than Merkley did in the 113th Congress, when he was ranked the 7th most partisan senator.

Another reason Merkley’s migrants bill is already dead in the water — – how many Republicans does Merkley seriously think are going to support a bill demanding that the Administration “Stop Cruelty to Migrant Children”?

Then there’s the expansive scope of the bill.

The bill would create “non-negotiable standards” for the treatment of migrant children, including:

  • Ending family separations except when authorized by a state court or child welfare agency, or when Customs and Border Protection and an independent child welfare specialist agree that a child is a trafficking victim, is not the child of an accompanying adult, or is in danger of abuse or neglect;
  • Setting minimum health and safety standards for children and families in Border Patrol Stations.
    • Requiring access to hygiene products including toothbrushes, diapers, soap and showers, regular nutritious meals, and a prompt medical assessment by trained medical providers.
    • Requiring children receive three meals a day that meet USDA nutrition standards.
    • Ending for-profit contractors from operating new Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) standard shelters or influx facilities.
      • Ensuring that temporary influx facilities are state-licensed, meet Flores standards, and are not used to house children indefinitely.
      • Expanding alternatives to detention and the successful Family Case Management Program.
      • Lowering case manager caseloads, mandating lower staffing ratios, and ending the information sharing agreement between ORR and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
      • Ensuring unaccompanied children have access to legal counsel and continue to be placed in a non-adversarial setting for their initial asylum case review.

Additionally, the legislation would provide resources to non-profit centers that are helping to provide humanitarian assistance.

It all sounds all very high-minded, but it would be onerous. For example, at a time when shelter facilities are bursting at the seams, ending for-profit contractors from operating new Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) standard shelters or influx facilities would mean rapidly securing replacements.

Then there’s the bill’s cost. But you won’t find that in the hastily issued press release, the section-by section breakdown of the bill, the one-page summary or in a text of the bill itself. That’s because as of July 16, 2019, a Congressional Budget Office Cost Estimate for the measure has not been received.

But Merkley and the 39 senators signing on as co-sponsors don’t really care. They know the bill is nothing more than an exercise in stage management, part of legislative theater.

As they sang in Chicago:

Razzle dazzle ’em
Give ’em a show that’s so splendiferous

Row after row will grow vociferous

Give ’em the old flim flam flummox
Fool and fracture ’em

How can they hear the truth above the roar?
_________________

S.2113 is sponsored by Sen. Merkley and co-sponsored by Senators Charles E. Schumer (D-NY), Patty Murray (D-WA), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Bob Menendez (D-NJ),Chris Coons (D-DE), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Jack Reed (D-RI), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Mark Warner (D-VA), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Kamala D. Harris (D-CA), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Tina Smith (D-MN), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Bob Casey (D-PA), Angus King (I-ME), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), and Sherrod Brown (D-OH).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After adjournment, the deluge

stormcoming

I guess it wasn’t enough for Democrats to allow people in the country illegally to get Oregon driver’s licenses, ignoring voters who soundly rejected the practice in 2014. Oregon’s Democrat-controlled 2019 Legislature also voted to bury Oregonians in a deluge of tax increases.

“Only time will tell whether there will be political consequences for Oregon Democrats who enacted this tax hike, Patrick Gleason, Vice President of State Affairs at Americans for Tax Reform, wrote in Forbes. “What is certain is that Oregon lawmakers are making their state a less attractive place to do business, create jobs, invest, and raise a family, and they are doing so at a time when other states are implementing reforms to make their tax and regulatory climates more welcoming.”

 At the top of the 2019 Legislature’s tax list is the gross receipts tax on sales inside the state’s borders that exceed $1 million, whether or not the business makes a profit. The tax, equivalent to a sales tax, is expected to raise $2 billion per biennium. The legislative revenue office says the tax will hit about 40,000 businesses. This less than three years after almost 60% of Oregon voters rejected Measure 97, a ballot measure that would have imposed a state gross receipts tax. 

Adding insult to injury, the Democrats passed SB 116 setting a particularly inconvenient election date if a tax repeal petition now seeking signatures qualifies for the ballot. Rather than having the vote take place during the general election in 2020, when there’s likely to be high interest and participation, the bill provides for a special election on January 21, 2020.

I guess they figured picking Christmas or New Year’s Day for the vote would be too obvious an attempt at manipulation.

Paid Family Leave legislation (HB 2005-B) is going to cost you, too. A 1% payroll tax will fund a paid family leave insurance program (FAMLI) to be administered by the Oregon Employment Department.  The tax will come on top of the business sales tax.

A Revenue Impact statement projected that employers will pay $542.3 million and employees $1,029.6 in 2021-2023. In 2023-2025, employers will pay $ 775.0 million and employees $1,471.5 million.

Then there’s the maneuvering with the kicker.  The collective “kicker” tax rebate Oregonians will likely receive when they file in 2020 is going to be $108 million smaller, thanks to HB 2975, a bill Gov. Kate Brown signed into law in April.

 And don’t forget SB 861, which provides for paying the postage for election ballots. It will cost taxpayers an estimated $1.7 million per election. Gov. Brown pushed for the law, figuring it would increase voter turnout. In a rather bizarre statement, given the widespread availability of stamps, Brown testified that low-income and younger residents don’t always have access to postage stamps.

There’s also HB 2449-B, a 50-cent increase in the emergency communications tax on our phones, which will bring the total to $1.25 per month.

Oregon’s minimum wage law is increasing employer costs, too.

According to the Office of Economic Analysis Department of Administrative Services, the law will result in a slowdown in job growth. “While the impact is small when compared to the size of the Oregon economy, it does result in approximately 40,000 fewer jobs in 2025 than would have been the case absent the legislation,” the office has reported.  “Our office is not predicting outright job losses due to the higher minimum wage; however, we are expecting future growth to be slower as a result.”

And next year, Oregon voters will get a chance to vote on an increase in yet another Oregon tax, this one on tobacco. If approved, the cigarette tax would increase by $2 a pack and E-cigarettes and cigars would be taxed at 65% of their wholesale price.

Whew, what a torrent!

As the humorist Gerald Barzan observed, “Taxation with representation ain’t so hot either.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kamala was ready: that little girl was me

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If you don’t think political campaigns are tightly scripted, consider what Kamala Harris said in last night’s Democratic debate.

Acronym, which analyzes digital strategy and investments across the political spectrum, noted after the debate that the biggest breakout moment was when Harris went after Joe Biden on desegregation. In doing so, she drew on a story of her personal experience as a young girl who was bused to school that became a viral video clip.

Some viewers might have seen that moment as a deeply personal, spontaneous reaction by Harris that revealed her genuineness. Hardly.

As Acronym noted, “Her campaign team seemed *very* ready for the moment, sharing well-designed graphics on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and quickly pushing out related t-shirts with her quote from the stage, “That little girl was me,” for sale.”

To help things along, Harris plugged her website in her closing remarks.

So much for spontaneity.

 

 

 

 

Reparations: paying for the sins of our fathers

Ezekiel 18:19-20

Ezekiel 18:20 / Jeremiah 31:30.

Ezekiel 18:20

On June 19, 2019, a subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee convened a hearing on H.R. 40, a bill that would study the feasibility of and proposals for reparations for descendants of slaves in America.

That was also Juneteenth, a day celebrating the emancipation of black people and “reminding the country of its original debt, and the debts it has since accrued,” Vann R. Newkirk II wrote in The Atlantic.

What, exactly, do current and future generations of Americans owe for the long past transgressions of others against blacks? Have we all inherited our fathers’ guilt?

In Germany, the descendents of a Nazi sympathizer have been gtrappling with a similar question.

Acknowledging their father’s anti-Semitism, his Nazi sympathies and the abuses that took place at a business he owned in Germany during the Nazi era (that is now a multi-billion dollar holding company), Albert Reimann Jr’s children  concluded they needed to make amends.

The New York Times recently reported that the Reimann children are donating to institutions that assist former forced laborers under the Nazis and doubling the budget of the family foundation to fund projects that “honor the memory of the victims of the Holocaust and of Nazi terror.”

“I have to do something,” said Martin Reimann, one of Albert Reimann Jr’s grandchildren.

Do Americans need to “do something,” to make amends for slavery and its ugly aftermath and, if so, should it take the form of reparations?

What should we do because of the sins of our fathers? How much culpability do living Americans have for the persistence of slavery in their country for so many years, for allowing the ideals of reconstruction to be undermined and tolerating racist practices to persist?

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As far back as 1964, Whitney Young, Jr., executive director of the National Urban League, called for reparations of sorts, “a domestic Marshall Plan” for blacks comparable to America’s massive aid to Western Europe after WWII. “Disadvantaged for three centuries,” Young wrote, “American Negroes require compensatory benefits . . . “

Ibram X. Kendi, Director of the Antiracist Research and Policy Center at American University, has argued, “To oppose reparations is to be racist. To support reparations is to be anti-racist. The middle ground is racist ground.”

Dr. Ibram Kendi speaks during Morning Meeting

“To oppose reparations is to be racist.”  – Ibram X. Kendi

 

“Only an expansive and expensive compensation policy for the descendants of the enslaved and relegated of the scale Lincoln proposed for the enslavers and subsidized could prevent the racial wealth gap from compounding and being passed onto another generation,” Kendi wrote.

There’s no question that the evils of slavery left a deep stain on America and that reconstruction and subsequent racist policies have done damage to American blacks. It’s also clear that this country must come to terms with its legacy of slavery.

But as Lance Morrow, a senior Fellow at the Washington, D.C.-based Ethics and Public Policy Center, has said, a full-throated reparations debate in the United States will not be conflated with a positive and healing gesture; all it will do is “push the country to angrier extremes on either side, stimulating fresh antagonisms.”

Coleman Hughes, a black Quillette columnist, took a similar approach in testimony before the House subcommittee on June 19:

“If we were to pay reparations today, we would only divide the country further, making it harder to build the political coalitions required to solve the problems facing black people today; we would insult many black Americans by putting a price on the suffering of their ancestors; and we would turn the relationship between black Americans and white Americans from a coalition into a transaction—from a union between citizens into a lawsuit between plaintiffs and defendants.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-NH, has already taken a similar position.”First of all, its likelihood of getting through Congress is nil.,” he said in 2016. “Second of all, I think it would be very divisive.”

Even Barack Obama has questioned the feasibility and advisability of reparations.

“Theoretically, you can make, obviously, a powerful argument that centuries of slavery, Jim Crow, discrimination are the primary cause for all those gaps,” President Obama said to Ta-Nehisi Coates in an Oct. 19, 2016 interview for The Atlantic. “That those were wrongs done to the black community as a whole, and black families specifically, and that in order to close that gap, a society has a moral obligation to make a large, aggressive investment, even if it’s not in the form of individual reparations checks, but in the form of a Marshall Plan, in order to close those gaps.”

“It is easy to make that theoretical argument,” Obama said. “But as a practical matter, it is hard to think of any society in human history in which a majority population has said that as a consequence of historic wrongs, we are now going to take a big chunk of the nation’s resources over a long period of time to make that right.”

An attempt to decide on the specifics of a reparations program would also be a nightmare. Who would even be eligible? If it’s individuals, who alive today has suffered as a direct result of slavery?

Coleman Hughes accepts the merit of reparations paid to Holocaust survivors, victims of internment during World War II, and victims of the Tuskegee experiments, for example, “but not reparations for “poorly-defined groups containing millions of people whose relationship to the initial crime is several generations removed.”

It’s unfortunate that so many of those competing for the Democratic presidential nomination have chosen to embrace reparations. It may enhance their appeal to the left wing of their party, but it likely alienates many more people. And now that the reparations cat is out of the box, everybody and their brother may demand reparations for past injustices.

An April 2019 Rasmussen poll found that just 21 percent of likely voters think taxpayers should pay reparations to black Americans who can prove they are descended from slaves.

Fox News poll that same month found that 60 percent of Americans oppose paying cash reparations to descendants of slaves and only 32 percent support it.  Even a July 2018 poll by Data For Progress, a progressive think tank, found that 68 percent were opposed.

But some of the Democratic candidates endorsing billions in reparations must figure that African-Americans will embrace the concept, and African-Americans are a good share of likely voters in South Carolina, one of the early primaries, and on Super Tuesday, March 3..

Frankly, buying votes was much cheaper and made more sense when they only handed out free beer at the polls.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cap-and-Trade: Oregon Republicans are blowing it (Just like they did with last walk-out)

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Oregon Senate Republicans stayed away from the Capitol Thursday, preventing a vote on HB 2020, a key bill for Democrats that would cap greenhouse gas emissions. The walk-out is a mistake, just as was another walkout in May.

Resolution of the last Republican walk-out in May 2019 involved an agreement by Democrats to sacrifice a bill that would have tightened vaccine exemptions and a gun reform bill that would have tightened gun restrictions.

The Republicans might have placated some of their anti-vaccine and anti-gun control base, but those voters were never going to switch political sides anyway. Moreover, the anti-vax crowd is actually pretty small. Just 17% of Americans believe that “parents should be able to decide not to vaccinate their children, even if that may create health risks for other children and adults,” according to Pew Research.

Resolution of the May Republican walk-out also involved included a pledge by the Republicans not to walk out again for the rest of the 2019 session. The new walk-out compromises that commitment.

The Republicans claim that the agreement was conditional on them having opportunities to have a meaningful impact on HB 2020 as it moved forward. So much for that..

A key Republican goal is to get an emergency clause in the cap-and-trade bill removed. The clause would allow the bill to go into effect immediately after Gov. Brown signs it, preventing opponents from trying to refer the bill to voters for a costly and contentious fight.

Removal of the emergency clause could mean the Democrats would be facing iffy public votes on two major bills dear to their hearts, the cap-and-trade law and the Student Success Act, which will impose a gross receipts tax on Oregon businesses to fund $2 billion in education spending every two years.

A Senate agreement to remove the emergency clause would also mean sending the bill back to the House for another vote, a potentially time-consuming move that could mean no resolution before the Legislative session is set to end on June 30.

Frankly, the Democrats would be slitting their own throats if they agreed to remove the emergency clause. Oregon has a high environmental profile, but winning a public vote on the cap-and-trade law, with its projected cost of $550 million just in the first year and a sweeping progressive spending agenda, would be a heavy lift. The projected increase in gasoline and residential natural gas prices alone could turn off voters.

Knowing all this, the Democrats are unlikely to capitulate this time around.