America's independent, non-partisan advocate for overburdened taxpayers.

 

Blog Contributors

Brandon Arnold
Vice President of Government Affairs 

Dan Barrett
Research and Outreach Manager 

Demian Brady
Director of Research 

Christina DiSomma
Communications Intern 

Timothy Howland
Creative Content Manager 

Curtis Kalin
Communications Intern 

Ross Kaminsky
Blog Contributor 

David Keating
Blog Contributor 

Douglas Kellogg
Communications Manager 

Sharon Koss
Government Affairs Intern 

Richard Lipman
Director of Development 

Joe Michalowski
Government Affairs Intern 

Diana Oprinescu
Communications Intern 

Austin Peters
Communications Intern 

Kristina Rasmussen
Blog Contributor 

Lee Schalk
State Government Affairs Manager 

Pete Sepp
Executive Vice President  

Nan Swift
Federal Government Affairs Manager 

Government Reform

Video: House Ways and Means Committee’s Tax Reform Goals
Posted By: Dan Barrett - 01/15/14

Today, the committee in charge of the Tax Code released a video on how the system doesn’t work and how they plan to fix it. The Republican-led body presents three solutions:

  1. Make the Tax Code simpler and fairer: “By getting rid of all the junk in the income Tax Code, we could shrink it by 25 percent”
  2. Make the Tax Code more efficient: “By getting rid of special interest handouts and lower tax rates across the board”
  3. Make the Tax Code more accountable to taxpayers: “Whenever a tax loophole gets closed, let’s make sure that money goes back to the people who are paying the taxes in the first place and not to pay for more Washington spending”

Though these are lofty goals for Congress, it's clear from recent legislation like the 2012 American Taxpayer Relief Act that making a meaningful impact on our Tax Code will require extensive reform. Almost everyone agrees that the system is “too complex, too confusing, and too costly” and that is precisely why having a plan makes sense. Still, identifying the problem is just the first step towards fixing it. U.S. businesses -- big and small -- deserve, a fair, effective, and efficient Tax Code and Washington is in the prime position to fix it.

Here’s hoping that Congress can come together to relieve all taxpayers of the dread and stress of the current Tax Code (a system that has been changed “4,400 times over ten years” by both parties).

For more information on how complex our tax system is, check out NTU’s 2013 Tax Complexity study, which will be updated later this year. NTU Foundation also surveyed folks which tax system the U.S. should change to during our annual Milton Friedman Legacy Day event.

How would you change the Tax Code? Streamline the current system? Completely replace it? Leave a comment down below!

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(AUDIO) “Common Ground” Report Finds $500 Billion in Savings Everyone Should Support - Speaking of Taxpayers, Dec. 5
Posted By: Dan Barrett - 12/11/13

NTU and USPIRG have released a new "Toward Common Ground" report with over $500 billion in savings proposals people from both sides of the aisle can support. Plus, a special chat with our fall interns, Tara Riggs and Curtis Kalin, and the Outrage of the Week! 

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Infographic: Where We're at with the Debt Ceiling
Posted By: Dan Barrett - 10/04/13

As Congress continues to play budgetary chicken, prolonging the government shutdown, another debate is brewing that might or might not be fixed with a budget deal: the debt ceiling. The last time we came close to the federal borrowing limit, Congress pushed through the Budget Control Act, which put in place budget caps in exchange for an increase in how much debt the government can issue. However, BCA lacked any real entitlement reform and taxpayers are again looking at a divided and dysfunctional Congress as the debt ceiling deadline ticks down to zero. If the ceiling is not raised, the U.S. could default on our debt, sending shockwaves through the global economy. However, it might be the jump start that the U.S. needs to bring about true reforms and fiscal sanity.

To supplement this week's Taxpayer's Tab, NTUF compiled some information so that folks can get a read on where the government is at on the debt and how we got in this position (hint: entitlements).

Do you think the U.S. should raise the debt ceiling? If not, how would you get the country's finances back in order (especially because a default would likely lower our credit rating)?

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The Late Edition: October 3, 2013
Posted By: Curtis Kalin - 10/03/13

Today’s Taxpayer News!

Shutdown web pages: In what may have been the final pre-government shutdown act by the National Park Service and the Department of Agriculture, the departments used their time to come up with new web site splash pages saying their website was to be inaccessible during a “shutdown”.  More details on the Daily Caller.

Dependant disaster: A Philadelphia County is reeling after the revelation that employees had been committing insurance fraud on a massive scale for over 20 years. The officials were packing their taxpayer funded insurance plans with ineligible dependants, and pocketing the money. The total loss was estimated at $200,000. More details at Phillyburbs.

Duplicate waste: North Carolina’s New Hannover County government is advocating a significant investment in recycling centers.  The issue is private companies have already invested about $60 million into landfills and recycling in and around the community.  Read more at the Star New Online.

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George W Bush's Retirement Benefits
Posted By: Dan Barrett - 09/13/13

Below is the final NTUF infographic on Presidential Perks. Today's focuses on George W. Bush, who has spent $7.1 million of public money (so far) in six years. Like the other Chief Executives, there is no overall cost figure for Secret Service protection and the numbers are based on budgetary requests of the General Services Administration.

Be sure to check out the other Presidents' retirement costs and be on the lookout for more retirement analysis from NTU Foundation!

Other Infographics:

A summary of what former Presidents is available in an edition of The Taxpayer's Tab.

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Bill Clinton's Federal Retirement Benefits, an Infographic
Posted By: Dan Barrett - 09/12/13

How much do you think that former Presidents get from taxpayers each year? Bill Clinton gets an average $1.09 million and that's not including his Secret Service protection or any trips that might come up (like state funerals or any international negotiations that he might be a part of). In this week's third infographic, NTU Foundation took a look at exactly what Clinton spends his retirement perks on and how that compares to the other three former Commanders-In-Chief.

Like our other infographics and a recent edition of The Taxpayer's Tab, we used the budgetary requests from the General Services Administration, which is the agency in charge of disbursing the Presidents' benefits. However, the requests do not necessarily translate to actual spending. GSA does not release the actual figures of how much Presidents really cost taxpayers each year. This is the most complete information that is publicly available.

Do you think that former Presidents need public dollars? Should something be cut or increased? Let us know in the comments!

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Taxpayer Benefits for President George H.W. Bush
Posted By: Dan Barrett - 09/10/13

In this week's second infographic, we look at former President George H.W. Bush's annual office and pension allowances. These benefits are funded by taxpayers and there is still some question on exactly how much America's ex-Commanders-In-Chief are recieving eaxh year. The General Services Administration only releases Presidential retirement spening in the form of budget requests, which are not exact in what eventually is spent.

Taxpayers are also not able to see how much it costs to protect the four former Presidents. While it should not be expected to get detailed information on exactly how they are escorted and guarded by Secret Service personnel, an overall cost figure ought to be available so taxpayers can understand the full costs of Presidents after their tenure in office.

Besides the graphic below, check out a recent Taxpayer's Tab that examined the broad spending points and total costs of ex-Presidents.

Do you think that former Presidents need public dollars? Should something be cut or increased? Let us know in the comments!

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Jimmy Carter's Retirement Perks
Posted By: Dan Barrett - 09/09/13

In an edition of The Taxpayer's Tab, NTU Foundation examined the federal spending associated with the pensions and ofice expenses of former Presidents. In the first of five infographics, we highlight the benefits of President Jimmy Carter that are paid for with tax dollars.

The data was compiled using budget requests of the General Services Administration and analysis by the Congressional Research Service. One thing to remember is that these figures are requests and that actual budgetary outlays (or actual spending) are not available. We understand that a line-by-line costs of a former Commander-In-Chief's Secret Service is classified to protect their safety but taxpayers are in the dark when it comes to seeing what former Presidents actually cost in terms of their pensions, office benefits, and staff salaries.

Do you think that former Presidents need public dollars? Should something be cut or increased? Let us know in the comments!

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Ac-“customed” to Waste?
Posted By: Pete Sepp - 08/05/13

All too many federal agencies can be cited for having budgetary skeletons in their closet, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is no exception. From poorly managing a drone fleet purchase, to making questionable demands for more employees, CBP has raised fears for the security of taxpayers’ wallets in the past. Yet, Congress has an opportunity to ease future fears, over a controversial new CBP project, before it can cause a fiscal fright.

Two years ago, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) concluded a letter of intent with the United Arab Emirates to build a “pre-clearance” facility at Abu Dhabi airport which would allow travelers to the U.S. to clear customs before arriving on American soil. So far, so good: pre-clearance can not only save time and reduce congestion at U.S. points of entry, it can also help ease the way for tourists who contribute to economic activity while visiting here.

Now for the not-so-good:

  • According to Airlines for America statistics, Abu Dhabi airport accounted for less than 600 passenger arrivals per day to the U.S. in 2012, ranking it #80 on the list of top origin points to our country.
  • Right now, no U.S.-based carriers even fly from the Abu Dhabi International Airport back to here.  All other CBP pre-clearance zones in Canada, Ireland, and the Caribbean serve many airlines, including U.S.-flagged ones.
  • The primary beneficiary of the deal would be Etihad Airways, the state-owned airline of UAE. Thanks to this status Etihad enjoys an advantage over private airlines around the world that are subject to corporate profit taxes of their home countries. Which brings us to …
  • Another advantage conferred by the United States under the auspices of the Export-Import Bank (Ex-Im), whose risk-taking and subsidization have long been a concern for taxpayer advocates such as NTU. Etihad snagged $593 million in loan guarantees from Ex-Im last year for aircraft purchases, and could qualify for preferential financing that our own airlines (by definition) can’t get through Ex-Im.
  • Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal is reporting that over the preceding year (before overblown sequester scare tactics), the wait times for getting through customs at stateside airports have “increased dramatically.”

All these drawbacks lead to one long question: Given CBP’s service challenges at existing airports, is it really a good idea to plow ahead with a facility whose use will be comparatively scarce in the near term, and give another leg-up to an airline backed by its own government as well as ours, at the expense of an already overtaxed flying public?

And “overtaxed” is an understatement. As NTU has often noted, the typical overall government tax and fee burden of 20 percent on a $300 domestic airfare is higher than the average effective rate a middle-class American is likely to pay on his or her 1040 income tax return. International air travelers can have it even worse, with impositions such as separate departure and arrival taxes along with a passenger agricultural inspection fee (which the Obama Administration ill-advisedly considered raising in 2009) and a customs fee.

Proponents of the CBP station at Abu Dhabi argue that the investment of U.S. tax dollars will be minimal since UAE will pick up 85 percent of the project’s expense under the current agreement. But that’s little comfort to tax-weary travelers in America (see above), who remain worried that whatever share they will be forced to commit could escalate if construction or operating costs are not contained. Meanwhile, there’s that pesky matter of how best to apply CBP’s fee collections as well as appropriations from general funds – should they be used to expedite higher-priority passenger and cargo entry-exit services?

Many Members of Congress seem to think so. In June, the House of Representatives passed an amended FY 2014 DHS Appropriations Bill specifically blocking the Abu Dhabi pre-clearance scheme. In May, a bi-partisan group of 11 Senators echoed the sentiment of their House colleagues in a separate letter to DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano, questioning whether the agency’s “decision was made as a result of a risk based analysis.”

Alas, earlier this month DHS announced it was moving forward with a data-sharing agreement that could pave the way for the facility’s activation, even as it faces a concerted petition effort from interested industry groups with considerable clout.

Regardless of the politics involved, the taxpayer aspects of the issue deserve further exploration – that goes not only for the Abu Dhabi pact but also the ever-troubling direction of the Ex-Im Bank. Allowing the free market and fiscal responsibility to sort out needs from niceties would provide some badly-needed bone-rattling for those accustomed to budgetary business as usual in Washington.

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Foundation Travel Study Cited on House Floor
Posted By: Dan Barrett - 07/18/13

"When the wheels of Air Force are up, the meter is on, and I'm talking about a heap of taxpayer dollars." – Rep Howard Coble

This morning, Congressman Howard Coble (R-NC) highlighted the travel time and costs of President Obama that were at the heart of NTUF's recent paper Up in the Air: A Study of Presidential Travel and its Uncertain Costs by Policy Analyst Michael Tasselmyer. Rep Coble tied the $179,000 per flight hour of Air Force One to changing the costliness of government in light of the mounting debt and billion-dollar federal deficit. He said "I simply ask the President and his wife to exercise more prudence and discipline regarding their aircraft activities. ... The plague of the soaring debt continues to bother us, and I respectfully request that President Obama and his wife direct more attention at our soaring debt and deficit and less time on Air Force One."

Watch the entire floor statement here (skip to 1:13):

For more information on NTUF's Presidential Travel Study:

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