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Profiles in Liberty: John Ridley
Posted By: Dan Barrett - 07/03/14

Ever wonder who designs the graphics for NTUF’s blogs and reports? This summer, Creative Content Intern JR Ridley is in charge of making sure taxpayers are provided with the interesting, understandable, and relatable pictures and graphs that illustrate NTUF’s research. The pictures he’s edited include those of the interns in their Profiles in Liberty posts, as well as this picture NTUF spending study of the 19th Florida special house election, which was included in NTUF’s candidate analyses in the latest Florida special election. He’s also working to prepare graphics for our upcoming BillTally Report.

NTUF Research Intern John Ridley

JR Ridley comes to NTUF from Flagstaff, Arizona by way of Vanderbilt University. He is currently seeking a BA in Political Science along with minors in Computer Science and Managerial Studies. Last summer, JR interned with Young America’s Foundation at the Reagan Ranch Center, where he organized high school and college conferences. This past year, he designed online educational modules for the college’s Medical School as part of his work in Vanderbilt’s IT department.

What have you enjoyed about working at NTUF so far?

JR: The people and the mission of NTUF are what make this internship so enjoyable. My supervisor, Tim Howland (NTUF’s Creative Content Manager) and the rest of the staff and interns are really supportive and motivated; it’s been a fun group to work with. I also feel that our work is making a difference. I’m working to educate taxpayers on very real, tangible problems in our government today. It’s a really fulfilling and rewarding experience.

How did you become interested in politics?

JR: In high school, I had several teachers who encouraged me to start following current events. As I read the news more and more, I started to realize that a lot of what I was reading sounded like completely absurd government policies and programs. I saw government as an impediment to my dreams of being successful, so I started researching policies in order to understand more about this intrusive bureaucracy and how to change it.

Who is your political hero?

JR: I have considered myself a Reaganite since I became interested in politics. I admire Reagan’s fortitude and conviction as President. Regardless of whether he was working on tax cuts, military operations, or horseback riding, President Reagan knew his position and stood by his beliefs. He didn’t yield to special interests or threats, and I admire his courage for that. Beyond that, though, he understood that his role as a national leader meant that people would be looking to him for guidance. He took his influence in stride, and painted an image of hope and optimism throughout his presidency, encouraging people to embrace American Exceptionalism.

What does a standard day at NTUF Headquarters look like for you?

JR: I can’t really describe a “standard day” because no day is really standard as a Creative Content Intern. My main task has been to design and develop different graphics for the BillTally First Session report. Some days, I spend most of the day formatting a single picture, and on other days I’m churning out images and graphs to post online. I also occasionally get to contribute to the BillTally report by scoring introduced bills for changes in spending. It’s a very dynamic and versatile workload.

Why did you choose to work at NTUF this summer?

JR: To develop two of my passions: reforming government spending and developing my computer programming abilities. NTUF offers me the best of both worlds, allowing me to take a very hands-on approach to understanding governmental operations while helping me build skills that will benefit me tremendously in my future professional career. The mission of NTUF is one that drew my attention as soon as I heard about it. I worry about the future of our country if the path of spending we’re on continues, and I’m glad that I have the opportunity to work with an organization which is so committed to providing information about this spending.

What do you enjoy doing in your time outside the office?

JR: Most of my free time is spent playing sports, learning about the exploits of Dr. House on Netflix, or exploring. I’m a rugby and soccer player at school, so I’ve found pickup leagues to stay active while in Washington, D.C.

What have you enjoyed most about living in Washington, D.C. this summer?

JR: I have a deep appreciation for American history so it’s been exciting to be able to explore so many of the museums and exhibits. The monuments at night (especially the World War II Monument) are mesmerizing, and Arlington National Cemetery and the American History Museum have definitely been some of the key highlights from my time here.

What advice do you have for future interns?

JR: Take advantage of your time here. The museums, the staff at your job, the entertainment, and your fellow interns are all part of an incredible opportunity that you may not get to experience again. Learn as much as you can with all the resources you have available, and, most importantly, enjoy the time you spend here.

Be on the look-out for our next interview with Kelly Hastings. If you missed it, be sure to read our conversation with Paul Bartow.

How can you help? Join with thousands of Americans committed to fiscal transparency and sustainable government by making a tax-deductible contribution. The more you give to NTUF, the less you hand over to Uncle Sam.

Thanks to Catherine Fitzhugh for developing the Profiles in Liberty series and interviewing our interns.

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Ohio Budget Surplus Will be Used as Tax Cuts; Tim Pawlenty Urges Corporate Tax Reform – Late Edition, July 3
Posted By: Jihun Han - 07/03/14

Today's Taxpayer News! 

Ohio finished the fiscal year with an $800 million surplus. Governor Kasich says that the money will be used to give tax credits and tax cuts to Ohioans. It will also fund Medicaid costs. Fox Business has the latest! 

Former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty is urging corporate tax reform after it was announced that Medtronic would move its headquarters to Ireland to pay less in taxes. Read his op-ed here!

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Ex-Im Bank: Beyond Reform
Posted By: Michael Liguori - 07/03/14

The Export-Import Bank (Ex-Im) has long been an easy target for critics of cronyism, and rightly so. It’s hard to deny that the government is providing direct benefits to large corporations when a government agency’s entire purpose is artificially stimulating foreign demand for domestic companies. The federal lender looks worse when its main beneficiary is a massive corporation like Boeing, and still worse when four Ex-Im employees were found playing favorites for certain companies in exchange for cash. Such blatant abuse of taxpayer money might initially appear to be a temporary lapse in the bank’s integrity—until one looks at the fact that it is commonplace.

An article by the Heritage Foundation’s Diane Katz indicates more than 74 cases of inquiry into fraud at Ex-Im by the Office of the Inspector General, as well as others that are being processed by the Department of Justice. With new questions being raised about old problems, Congress has an opportunity to allow Ex-Im’s authorization to expire, at which point it would cease all new operations and wind down its outstanding credits and loans over a period of time.

Just a day after news of the Ex-Im employee scandal hit the airwaves, the House Financial Services Committee held a hearing to discuss the bank’s value ahead of the reauthorization deadline. Representative Jeb Hensarling (R-TX), who chairs the Committee, began the hearing with a very clear summation of what Ex-Im does: “Ex-Im effectively taxes you while subsidizing your foreign competitors.” The bank is often said to encourage American exports, but this claim is highly misleading. Less than 2 percent of US exports are affected by the bank’s work, and according to economist and hearing witness Dr. Veronique de Rugy, unsubsidized businesses fail to receive as much investment capital because their Ex-Im subsidized counterparts attract more private investment.

Proponents of Ex-Im, repeatedly claim the bank is profitable and a net gain for the federal government, however even these numbers are suspect according to an MIT study that criticizes the bank’s accounting techniques. According to the study, if Ex-Im used fair value accounting standards, it would be operating at a loss of about $200 million per year. A strong supporter of Ex-Im, Representative Brad Sherman (D-CA) responded in the hearing, derisively referring to the standards as “fairytale value accounting standards.” Representative Sherman’s comments appear to be dismissive of highly credible organizations like MIT and the Congressional Budget Office.

The Committee proceeded to hear from other witnesses as well, including Delta Air Lines CEO Richard Anderson, Captain Lee Moak, President of the Air Line Pilots Association, and Mr. Steve Wilburn, the CEO of FirmGreen, Inc and an Ex-Im customer.

In addition to a rigorous back and forth regarding the future of Ex-Im, witnesses and members of the Committee alike posed the question of reform. However, taxpayers should be wary of new attempts to reform the bank as a sleight-of-hand aimed less at protecting taxpayers than perpetuating corporate welfare. The 2012 Ex-Im reauthorization contained several significant reforms, which were largely ignored.

The news last week of kick-backs and bribes at Ex-Im on top of its numerous other problems that have been well documented by NTU, make it all the more imperative that lawmakers not reauthorize this archaic institution. One after another, the so-called benefits of Ex-Im have been debunked. Given that past attempts at reform went unimplemented, taxpayers should have little confidence the bank is about to change its ways and its days should be numbered. Ex-Im’s brand of cronyism burdens taxpayers and props up many businesses that either can’t succeed on their own or do not need the help at all. The time for de-authorization of this counter-intuitive agency is now and taxpayers will benefit greatly from following this path.

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IRS Announces New Simplistic Application for Tax-exempt Status; Senator Chuck Grassley Targeted by IRS in 2010 – Late Edition, July 2
Posted By: Jihun Han - 07/02/14

Today's Taxpayer News! 

In the midst of the “Lois Lerner e-mail” controversy involving the IRS Tea Party investigation, the agency announced a more simplistic application for organizations to receive a tax-exempt status. Forbes has the latest!

In other IRS related news, Lois Lerner was attempting to audit Senator Chuck Grassley after he blocked President Obama’s nominee for Assistant Attorney General of the Department of Justice Tax Division. The hearings for the DOJ Tax nominee occurred around the same time when the IRS was targeting conservative nonprofit groups.

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Congressional Travel Disclosures Get More Opaque
Posted By: Michael Tasselmyer - 07/02/14

For over three decades, lawmakers in Congress have had to disclose gifts of free travel on an annual financial disclosure form, which many watchdog groups and journalists use to monitor Members' privately-funded trips. Tracking those excursions, however, is likely going to be more difficult after the House Committee on Ethics recently decided to change the form, doing away with the travel report. While Representatives will still be required to report privately-funded travel to the Office of the Clerk of the House, the changes mean that the trips will no longer appear on the same form that notes most of the Members' other expenses.

According to Legistorm, lawmakers took over 1,900 trips in 2013 – over $6 million worth. That's a 60 percent increase in trips since 2008, the first full year after disclosure requirements were tightened in the wake of a scandal involving lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

National Taxpayer's Union Foundation has documented the taxpayer-funded travel of U.S. Presidents for many years, and although Congressional travel differs in some ways, one of the main takeaways from our most recent report is how little information we have regarding government-funded travel of any kind.

Although the House Committee on Ethics stated that the move was intended to streamline the travel disclosure process, taxpayers deserve easier access to travel information as Members of Congress take more privately-funded trips.

Special thanks to Ian Johnson for drafting this post.

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Natural Gas Exports Advance in House
Posted By: Nan Swift - 07/01/14

Last week, H.R. 6, the Domestic Freedom and Global Prosperity Act, passed the House 266 to 150, with 46 Democrats joining the vast majority of Republicans to push the measure over the top. NTU has supported H.R. 6 since its introduction back in the spring because it would “expedite current pending liquefied natural gas (LNG) export applications and streamline the process for future applicants,” as we stated in our endorsement letter.

And the bill passed not a moment too soon. Today, the U.S. is the number one natural gas producer in the world thanks to the shale gas revolution, but as the old saying goes “he who hesitates is lost.” Improved technology has boosted the discovery and development of shale oil and gas reserves the world over, and if we don’t act soon, the window of opportunity could be shut to U.S. exports as other sources from Scotland to India come online.

Here at home, domestic consumption has remained flat even as natural gas production has sky-rocketed. Low-cost energy is a boon for consumers, but as the availability of natural resources continues to expand, it’s clear that there’s plenty of room for the industry to grow and export LNG abroad to other markets. Doing so would ensure the long-term profitability of the natural gas industry and open the doors for even more growth in a sector of the economy with lots of opportunities for new jobs and investment: two essentials our economy is otherwise lacking right now.

The bottom line for taxpayers is that natural gas is an industry with room to grow if we get hurdles like export restrictions out of the way and we need to do so quickly to take advantage of an international appetite for clean-burning, low-cost energy.

Lately it seems that bills pass the House only to die in Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-NV) “do nothing” Senate—and that very well could be the same dismal fate that awaits H.R. 6. Yet, a glimmer of hope remains. Only a day after Rep. Cory Gardner (R-CO) introduced his LNG export legislation, Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO) introduced his own LNG export bill, S. 2083, the “American Job Creation and Strategic Alliances LNG Act.” The legislation closely mirrors H.R. 6 in that it also calls for an expedited application and approval process for LNG exports to World Trade Organization partners, although it stops short of the detailed plan, deadlines, and transparency outlined in H.R. 6. Still, it would be an important step in the right direction were Sen. Reid to allow a vote on S. 2083—practically any compromise bill that emerged from a conference  would be a net gain for energy and job growth in the U.S.

Of course, political considerations could factor into this issue, as Rep. Gardner is running against Sen. Udall. TheHill.com is reporting that “The lack of votes has become a liability for vulnerable Democratic incumbents from conservative states.” Colorado is not considered to be a conservative state, but the Cook Political Report did move the U.S. Senate race from “Lean D” to “Toss Up” in April. This change in the political landscape could force Reid’s hand and help bring the LNG legislation to the floor for a vote.  The same motivation could also work in taxpayers’ favor on another outstanding energy issue, the Keystone Pipeline, which has passed the House in numerous iterations, but still has yet to see the light of day on the Senate floor despite Sen. Mary Landreiu’s (D-LA) sponsorship of the bill. Instead of re-fighting jobs-killing battles, like bringing back the minimum wage hike, Sen. Reid should let bills come to the floor that put America back to work before these opportunities pass us by.  

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Profiles in Liberty: Paul Bartow
Posted By: Dan Barrett - 07/01/14

NTUF’s interns are working hard to get taxpayers the best information available about potential federal spending changes. In the past four weeks at our Headquarters in Alexandria, Virginia, the research interns have looked into over 400 bills from this 113th Congress. They spend each day looking for Congressional Budget Office reports, searching for academic and journal articles related to proposed projects, finding press releases from Capitol Hill, and contacting sponsors’ offices. This multilayered approach helps BillTally stay objective in finding how much Congress proposes to change public spending, and it shows our interns how to properly research measures that range from contentious newsmakers or overlooked program reauthorizations.

NTUF Research Intern Paul Bartow

Paul Bartow, who grew up in Batavia, Illinois, has worked on 93 separate Senate bills. In 2007, he started working at a full service car wash, where he quickly rose to be the Assistant Manager. Then, in 2010, Paul started school at Wheaton College. He graduated this past May with a degree in history, having specialized in Revolutionary American History, Classical Music, the Enlightenment, and German history. He also decided to work towards an International Relations minor along the way. Paul’s senior thesis on Lord Baltimore and the Act Concerning Religion of 1694 won the first place prize in the Jameson Critical Essay Contest at his college.

What was your most interesting job before coming to work at NTUF?

PB: I worked as a Research Intern last summer at the Wheaton College Archives and Special Collections. I spent my days studying Civil War Chaplains, and I compiled my research into a database, where each entry included biographical information, military records, and personal information. It was very interesting work.

What have you enjoyed most about living in the DC area?

PB: I really enjoy all the networking events that are offered in Washington, D.C. I also love seeing all of the sights; there are often concerts on the Capitol steps, there’s a great night life in Washington, and there are so many stately marble buildings and museums to check out. There’s always something to do in the city. I often find myself traveling to Virginia on the weekends with friends, and my favorite sight so far is definitely Monticello.

Who is your political hero?

PB: Hands down, Thomas Jefferson. He was a Renaissance man, a product of the Enlightenment, and my favorite Founding Father. He was not only a politician, but a scientist, a gardener, a statesman, an inventor, a wine connoisseur, and a traveler as well. I love his concept of a limited and responsible government, and I admire his political achievements, as embodied by the Declaration of Independence, the Bill to Establish Religious Freedom, the Louisiana Purchase, and the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

How did you become interested in politics?

PB: My older brother was very influential in introducing me to politics and the liberty movement. I was already pretty passionate about free-market principles, limited government, and reduced federal spending when I entered middle school. I slowly began to realize how inefficient and wasteful government spending is, and that there are better solutions to many of the problems we face as a nation. When I began working in 8th grade, under a workers permit, I became very irritated with the amount of my money that the government was usurping and wasting. I feel that, if money is coming out of my paycheck, I want to make sure that it is being put to excellent use.

What are your career goals?

PB: I am hoping to get involved in lobbying for tax and economic policies. I’m also considering working in development for research and educational organizations. Working at NTUF is a great first step towards accomplishing these goals.

What have you learned while working on the BillTally project that has most interested you?

PB: I’ve learned just how many bills get stuck in committee. Teachers and professors always talk about this in government classes, but, now, I can directly see it for myself. It’s astounding!

What has been the most interesting bill you have researched while at NTUF?

PB: The most interesting bill I’ve researched has to be the “Do Your Job Act.” This bill would require Congress to pass a balanced budget, and Congress would be unable to take their recess if they failed at this. I have my doubts that this bill will make it past committee, but I found it to be a very interesting bill.

What advice do you have for future interns?

PB: Even if no one is available to explore the city with you, don’t hesitate to adventure on your own. My first week here, I didn’t really know anyone yet, but I rented a car a few times and went exploring. Your time here will fly by, so enjoy every minute of it. I would also recommend coming to Washington, D.C. a week before your internship starts, if you can; then, you can learn how to use the metro before your first day of work, and, many of the famous buildings, such as the Supreme Court, only conduct tours Monday-Friday, when you’d normally be at work.

Stay tuned to Government Bytes for an upcoming interview with JR Ridley. Be sure to check out our last interview with Ian Johnson.

How can you help? By supporting NTU Foundation, you help us get our interns the resources they need and your donations are tax-deductible. Contribute to NTUF & cut down on your tax burden!

Thanks to Catherine Fitzhugh for developing the Profiles in Liberty series and interviewing our interns.

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Alaska Bypass: Risk Without the Reward for Taxpayers
Posted By: Samantha Jordan - 06/30/14

For the average consumer, a 12 pack of Coke may cost around $12. For some Alaskans, a 12 pack costs $15.15. But for postage stamp buying taxpayers, the cost for a 12 pack to get to an Alaskan consumer is $21. How can this be? The answer: the Alaska Bypass. 

The Alaska Bypass is a program delegating responsibility for shipping over 100 million pounds a year in consumer items—mostly groceries—to off-road Alaskan villages to the United States Postal Service. Since it’s origins in 1972, the program has cost taxpayers $2.5 Billion.

Though rural Alaskans are paying around $3 more for a can of Coke than consumers in, say, Boston, many Alaskans believe the Alaska Bypass is the only program keeping isolated villages afloat.  Postmaster General Patrick R. Donahoe told the Washington Post on Saturday “If you talk to people in Alaska, they’re very satisfied with this service.” 

And why wouldn’t they be? One pallet that cost the Postal Service nearly $3,200, cost Alaska Commercial only about $485 in postage. The Washington Post explained that “not only is this well below commercial rates, it’s even less expensive—about 20 percent less per pound, postal regulators say—than customers anywhere else in the country pay to send a package via parcel post.”

But the Alaska Bypass isn’t just a treat for hungry Alaskans. The program has also been extremely beneficial to retailers as well. Retailers such as Coke are able to mark up their products by 30 percent or more. This is because the subsidy allows the retailers to pay the USPS roughly half of what it would cost to ship the goods commercially.

While this is all fine and dandy for Alaska and many retailers, the United States Postal Service is clearly suffering from the costs. Last year alone, the Alaska Bypass cost the USPS $77.4 Million. 

With insufficient revenues, unfunded liabilities of nearly $99.3 Billion and debt to the U.S. Treasury of $15 Billion, the Postal Service may ask taxpayers to deliver relief if they can’t cut down on expenses like the Bypass.

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Interns Learn Leadership and Life Skills
Posted By: Dan Barrett - 06/30/14

On Thursday, NTU and Foundation interns traveled to the Leadership Institute in Arlington, Virginia. We joined with a large group of interns from several different organizations in order to take part in the Conservative Intern Workshop. This event provided us with the opportunity to develop skills needed to start a career within the liberty movement, at the national, state, and local levels. For those still in college, these skills were addressed as they related to developing campus organizations as well as finding employment after graduation.

We spent the day listening to and asking questions about several topics, ranging from resume development to dressing for success. We also learned about how to properly manage our personal finances, create a personal brand, and network successfully. Some of the interesting tidbits of our experience included listening to the Vice President of Development, Steven Sutton, and asking questions of a recruitment panel.

Interns also received books to further their knowledge

Perhaps the most intriguing presentation for me, personally, dealt with the proper way in which to create and develop an effective resume. The presentation, entitled "A Cut Above the Rest," taught us how to effectively format our resumes and the appropriate information to include within each section so that potential employers will take notice. This was incredibly useful as I, and most likely many of the other interns in attendance, could be found guilty of committing several "faux pas" in relation to resume building. Furthermore, this particular presentation instructed us on specifically how to improve the chances that our resumes end up in the "short pile" of the mountainous collections that employers receive. All in all, "A Cut Above the Rest" helped to set the incredibly informative and practical tone for the rest of the workshop.

In regards to the Leadership Institute in general, this workshop is just one of the many events the organization hosts on a regular basis. Founded in 1979 by President Morton C. Blackwell, the Institute's mission lies in "training conservative activists, students, and leaders." To accomplish this goal, the organization engages in a multitude of activities including (but not limited to): professional development workshops, training in the establishment/development of conservative student organizations around the country, and several networking events around Washington, D.C. Indeed, the Leadership Institute excels in providing a diverse range of wonderful learning and networking opportunities for young adults.

In addition, they host a two-day Youth Leadership School at various locations around the country throughout the year. Nicknamed the "boot camp of politics," this school is an intensive training program designed to equip young adults with the tools they need "to organize and lead mass-based youth efforts for candidates and causes."

On behalf of my fellow interns, I would like to thank Intern Coordinator Jacqueline Silseth at the Leadership Institute for inviting us to this informative event. Thanks also goes to NTU's Nan Swift for making us aware of the event and of the other services provided at LI.

Thanks to Gordon Miller for writing this summary.

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Latest Taxpayer's Tab: $600 Million EPA Workforce Cut
Posted By: Michael Tasselmyer - 06/29/14

Taxpayer's Tab Update

In 2013, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) spent $2.2 billion providing compensation and benefits to nearly 16,000 employees. In this week's edition of The Taxpayer's Tab, NTUF featured legislation from Congressman Morgan Griffith (R-VA) that would cut the EPA's workforce by 15 percent within three years. The EPA Maximum Achievable Contraction of Technocrats Act would eliminate over 2,300 positions at the EPA, and save about $656 million over three years by doing so.

Also in this week's issue:

  • Most Expensive: Congressman Patrick Maloney's (D-NY) School Modernization and Revitalization Through (SMART) Jobs Act would authorize $6.9 million in appropriations for public school infrastructure improvements. It was introduced as part of the "Make it in America Jobs Plan," a legislative package spearheaded by House Democrats.
  • Wildcard: Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) introduced the Social Security Overpayments Fairness Act, which would prevent the government from collecting Social Security overpayments made more than 10 years old from. The issue was highlighted in a recent blog post by NTUF's Dan Barrett.
  • Florida Special Election: Curt Clawson (R) was elected to represent Florida's 19th District on Tuesday, and NTUF has an analysis of the spending and savings proposals he made on the campaign trail.

For the latest on everything NTUF, check out The Tab online.

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