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Latest Taxpayers Tab: Budget Alternatives
Posted By: Michael Tasselmyer - 04/09/14

Taxpayer's Tab Update

As tax day approaches, lawmakers in various Congressional caucuses have been unveiling their own alternatives to the President's Fiscal Year 2015 budget proposal. In this week's edition of The Taxpayer's Tab, NTUF looked at proposals from the Republican Study Commission (RSC), House Republicans, House Democrats, the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC), and the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) -- in addition to President Obama's own budget -- to see what their policy priorities could mean for taxpayers.

  • RSC: The RSC budget attempts to balance the federal budget within four years by offering lower spending caps than the ones currently on the books, as well as freezing discretionary spending at $950 billion in every year that the budget does not balance. The RSC budget also calls for a simpler tax code and cuts to non-defense discretionary programs.
  • House Republicans: The Path to Prosperity put forth by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) and the GOP House Budget Committee would also balance the budget, but within ten years instead of four. It would defund President Obama's signature Affordable Care Act and attempt structural reform of several mandatory entitlement programs.
  • House Democrats: The Democrats' alternative represents a renewed focus on economic stimulus, offering additional funding for infrastructure & education projects as well as expanded unemployment benefits. The new spending would be offset by additional taxes.
  • CPC: The CPC's Better Off Budget increases discretionary spending in order to achieve its goal of creating 8.8 million jobs by 2017. The budget would discontinue Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) funding, and expand long-term unemployment benefits, education grants, and public works projects.
  • CBC: The CBC budget emphasizes social welfare programs and anti-poverty initiatives with $3.4 trillion in budget authority for FY 2015. It would also discontinue OCO funding, and provides significant investment in community development and job training programs.

For more on these alternative budget proposals and how they compare to each other and the President's proposals, check out the online edition of The Taxpayer's Tab.

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Senate Advances Ukraine Aid Package - What's Really in the Bill May Surprise You!
Posted By: Nan Swift - 03/25/14

Yesterday, the Senate moved forward with S. 2124, the “Support for the Sovereignty, Integrity, Democracy, and Economic Stability of Ukraine Act of 2014.” As the name suggests, S. 2124 is an aid package for embattled Ukraine that includes measures legislating loan guarantees, sanctions, security assistance.  But that’s not the whole story.

S. 2124 also contains some significant changes in the U.S. relationship with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Under the misnomer “reform” the changes were first announced in 2010 by the IMF, but until now, Congress has declined to enact the modifications that the Obama Administration supports. The so-called reforms call for a doubling of our annual funding quota along with a major change in the rules for election of the IMF executive board.

Currently, the U.S. appoints our own representative to the executive board (the group tasked with day to day IMF decisions). Under the 2010 proposal, all members of executive board would be elected by the Board of Governors, which is comprised of representatives of each IMF member country, making it harder for the U.S. to protect our interests. Having a U.S. representative at the table is an important accountability tool for American taxpayers who provide the majority of IMF’s funds, $64.5 billion annually.

 The U.S. also contributes the lion’s share of funds to an IMF account called the New Arrangements to Borrow (NAB). So far, taxpayers have committed $106 billion (18.7 percent of total NAB) to what was supposed to be a temporary, emergency program. Under the proposed 2010 plan, that would be half-true. NAB is going away, but the high price tag is here to say - shifted back under our overall IMF quota and putting taxpayers on the hook for an additional $63 billion a year.  In addition, subsuming NAB funds into the general quota eliminates our veto on crucial IMF decisions

For taxpayers, the IMF reforms mean a lot more money for a lot less influence in how that money is spent. Any way you split it, that’s a terrible deal. Unfortunately, with the focus on Ukraine, the IMF changes aren’t getting the consideration they warrant.

Before agreeing to give billions more to the IMF, lawmakers should be mindful of some big picture concerns.  For instance, the IMF suffers from severe democratic deficiency, not unlike the U.N. and other global entities the U.S. is involved with. Without the ability to vote on IMF decisions, taxpayers and U.S. lawmakers alike have little influence on IMF decisions. Taxpayers should have a say if their funds are to be used to bail out sovereign states such as Greece and Ireland. As it stands, the hundreds of billions of dollars taxpayers have entrusted to the IMF over the years have funded Communist regimes, contributed to fiscal irresponsibility, and increased moral hazard.  By doling out credit at rock-bottom prices, the IMF provides little incentive for recipient countries to the reforms they need to avoid economic catastrophe.

Then there is our own national balance sheet with a debt to GDP ratio of 73 percent and on track to hit 100 percent in the next 25 years unless Congress takes action to address out of control entitlement spending and enacts pro-growth policies.  In light of our ongoing economic challenges and poor fiscal outlook, lawmakers should prioritize funding domestic needs.

Finally, it’s unnecessary to logroll IMF reform with Ukrainian aid. With an estimated $400 billion available, the IMF doesn’t need a new injection of taxpayer backed dollars to meet global needs and commitments. Our relationship with the IMF is one that deserves reexamination and the close scrutiny of stand-alone legislation debated on its own merit.

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Deroy Murdock Talks Clear and Present Debt Danger, GOP Failures on Spending
Posted By: Douglas Kellogg - 03/21/14

"Speaking of Taxpayers" has a special guest this week! Fox News Contributor & syndicated columnist Deroy Murdock joins the podcast to talk about his latest piece in National Review on the importance of shifting the debt debate to the present, and not pretending it is a problem that we can wait to handle in the future. Pete & Doug update you on the latest news from around the country, & we have an update on a Taxpayer's Tab redesign. Plus, the Outrage of the Week!

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Florida’s Special Election: Taxpayers Need Details
Posted By: Dan Barrett - 02/21/14

With the passing of Congressman Bill Young (R-FL), residents of the 13th Congressional District of Florida have a special election coming up on March 11th to decide who will represent them for the remainder of the 113th Congress. Three candidates are viewed as the frontrunners: former general counsel to Bill Young David Jolly (R), activist and commercial diver Lucas Overby (L), and former Chief Financial Officer of Florida Alex Sink (D). Each candidate offers different general solutions to America’s fiscal ills but few details have been released by any campaign as to what specific policies that he or she would support as Florida’s newest Representative.

National Taxpayers Union Foundation (NTUF) has long been analyzing what candidates would specifically do if elected to federal office. We take the direct quotes and campaign materials of candidates in contentious races and match those statements, goals, and affirmations to show the public what kind of a budget candidates are really calling for. The cost estimates and sources used in the studies are similar to those used in the BillTally project.

Since the election in has a shortened campaign period and because each of the three campaigns supplied few budgetary platform items, NTUF was able to compile a limited number of proposals but was unable to release a full study, such as the special election in New Jersey between now-Senator Cory Booker and former Mayor Steve Lonegan.

Remember, all of the figures highlighted in this post and in our line-by-line analysis of the three candidates are annualized and only include changes in current spending (or outlays). They do not include changes in revenue or costs outside of the federal government. For more information on NTUF’s Methodology, go here.

David Jolly (R) has three (out of ten) quantifiable policies that NTUF was able to score. One would decrease annual spending by $63.9 billion and two would increase outlays by $3.86 billion for a net $60.04 billion reduction in federal expenditures each year. His proposal with the largest impact on the federal budget is to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

  • Index the Minimum Wage: Unknown
  • Prevent National Flood Insurance Premium Rate Hike: $180 million
  • Block Medicaid Expansion Without Federal Guarantee: Unknown
  • Purchase Insurance Across State Lines: Unknown
  • Repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act: -$63.9 billion (savings)
  • Secure the Border: $3.68 billion
  • Ensure the Military is Properly Equipped: Unknown
  • Fight for Local and Regional Military Installations: Unknown
  • Strengthen America’s Foreign Policy: Unknown
  • Protect Veterans Programs and Funding: Unknown

Lucas Overby (L) has proposed two (out of eight) policy items that NTUF could fiscally score. Combined, they would grow annual federal spending for a total of $191 million. His largest quantifiable measure would extend current federally-subsidized flood insurance premiums by four years.

  • Prevent National Flood Insurance Premium Rate Hike: $180 million
  • Tie Academic Performance with Financial Aid: Unknown
  • Permit States to Decide on Offshore Drilling: Unknown
  • Use Block Grants to Diversify Energy Sources: Unknown
  • Expand Federal Employee Benefits to Domestic Partners: $11 million
  • Reform the Health Care Sector: Unknown
  • Reform the Immigration System: Unknown
  • Revamp America’s Foreign Policy: Unknown

Alex Sink (D) has proposed three (out of nine) measures that NTUF could match with current cost estimates. All three would increase spending by a combined $20.391 billion each year. The largest budget-influencing item she supports is passing the comprehensive immigration reform bill that passed the Senate.

  • Build a Light Rail System in Pinellas County: Unknown
  • Increase the Minimum Wage: Unknown
  • Prevent National Flood Insurance Premium Rate Hike: $180 million
  • Use New Technologies and Streamline Costs: Unknown
  • Expand Federal Employee Benefits to Domestic Partners: $11 million
  • Allow for Prescription Drug Price Negotiation: Unknown
  • Delay Parts of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act if Necessary: Unknown
  • Pass Comprehensive Immigration Reform: $20.2 billion
  • Ensure Veterans Access to Benefits and Employment: Unknown

While candidates have a number of conflicting platform items, they all share some common themes or goals. All three would vote to increase current spending by $180 million per year to delay a scheduled rate increase for the National Flood Insurance Program. The lower current rate would be in effect for four years and would allow officials to reexamine the maps and formulas used to determine price levels (more information can be found in a recent edition of The Taxpayer’s Tab). They would also, in varying ways, aim to secure the southern border. Jolly and Sink would use existing methods to do so, using federal resouces, while Overby would seek to utilize state resources. 

Overall, taxpayers should take note of the many and large gaps in each candidates’ agendas. The lack of budgetary details is a concern all Americans have when deciding who to send to their statehouse and Washington, DC. As the days tick down to March 11th, campaigns need to offer taxpayers clear details of what they would do with not only the tax dollars from the 13th District but from all of the Districts in America.

Note: National Taxpayers Union Foundation is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization. Our research efforts are intended only to educate Americans on how their tax dollars are being or will be spent by those in office, seeking office, or in appointed positions. For more information on NTUF go here.

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The Debt Ceiling Deal & Bad Budgeting w/ GenOpp’s Evan Feinberg - Speaking of Taxpayers, February 14
Posted By: Douglas Kellogg - 02/14/14

Subscribe to NTU's podcast via iTunes!

Happy Valentine's Day! Evan Feinberg from Generation Opportunity joins this episode to talk about the debt ceiling and how "kick the can down the road" budgeting affects young Americans. Plus the Outrage of the Week!

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What Will it Take for Taxpayers to get a Modicum of Fiscal Responsibility on the Hill?
Posted By: Douglas Kellogg - 02/11/14

Seemingly right after the “sequester” spending caps were scrapped in the end-of-year budget agreement, we have the House passing a “clean” debt ceiling increase – rather than one with spending reductions to offset the additional debt.

Let’s be clear about how significant this is… In 2011 the first big fight over the debt ceiling led to the Budget Control act, and the aforementioned spending caps. This was not ideal in light of the rapid increase in federal spending we saw in 2009-10 (and the general rise during the preceding decade). However, it was the only tangible example of spending restraint America had seen in over a decade!

Now, this current Congress has effectively gotten rid of those spending cuts, and now raised the debt ceiling without any real attempt at attaching budget reductions, in a span of under three months.

Yes, it’s hard dealing with a party who has majority control and remains obstinate toward any fiscal discipline (outside of some defense savings). Which means it’s probably a good idea to value whatever spending cuts you get out of them, rather than throw them away.

NTU’s Vice President Brandon Arnold explained in The Hill last week how to proceed with a debt ceiling deal that included savings, citing U.S. PIRG and NTU’s latest joint report with $500 billion in bipartisan cut options.

Working for fiscal responsibility is no doubt difficult, but it’s best for the country.

The easy option of throwing America’s current and future taxpayers to the debt dogs is a temporary Washington solution, or more accurately, a passing of the problem on to someone else. 

Unless Senator Obama from 2006 shows up, it looks like tonight’s vote means the debt ceiling is going up with little resistance once again – and right after that same Congress undermined the last victory for taxpayers on this issue.

“The fact that we are here today to debate raising America's debt limit is a sign of leadership failure. It is a sign that the U.S. Government can't pay its own bills. It is a sign that we now depend on ongoing financial assistance from foreign countries to finance our Government's reckless fiscal policies.” 

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NTU Study on Water, Sewer Bidding Leaves Critics All Wet
Posted By: Pete Sepp - 02/11/14

After nearly 45 years on the job protecting taxpayers, NTU has encountered several eternal truths in politics, one of which is: if you rile up entrenched interests enough to lash out against you, you’re likely succeeding. So it is with an article in a recent edition of the journal published by the prestigious American Water Works Association (a group representing professionals of many disciplines in the water and wastewater sector).

It all began with a four-paragraph mention in AWWA’s September 2013 journal (subscription-based) outlining the main findings of NTU’s report, Reforming Our Nation’s Approach to the Infrastructure Crisis. There we recommended a more transparent, accountable, and fiscally responsible system of management for the nation’s water and sewer systems, which included more life-cycle cost analysis and competitive bidding in selection of piping materials.

Apparently that article yanked one chain too many, so to speak. The November 2013 journal contained a “Perspective” from AWWA’s Kenneth Mercer that claimed a “review” of NTU’s report “confirmed” the “concerned responses from some Journal readers who claimed it presented an incomplete picture in advocating for one pipe material over another.” The article actually makes many points with which NTU would agree; yet, its implication of bias was something we had to answer.

But before we could do that, we needed another answer – whether AWWA’s journal would print our response – and it was a polite “no.” Fortunately, Government Bytes is willing to provide a forum instead. Here in its entirety is the text of our response which AWWA did not print:

“December 17, 2013

To the Editor:

The reaction from an unidentified number of AWWA Journal readers (as well as the Journal itself) to National Taxpayers Union’s (NTU’s) report, “Reforming Our Nation’s Approach to the Infrastructure Crisis,” only illustrates NTU’s point: industry interests should avoid entrenching themselves in positions that are too deeply rooted to fear and orthodoxy (“Choosing the Right Pipe,” November 2013). The information we presented demonstrates that there are better strategies to attacking the $1 trillion liability that AWWA itself has identified in its “Buried No Longer” report.

The original article that prompted Mr. Mercer’s response (from the September 2013 Journal) actually cited not only a study from NTU, which has 362,000 members nationwide, but also a report from the U.S. Mayors Water Council,  which represents all mayors of cities over a population of 30,000.  These are diverse voices, but they are speaking from one common source: they’re using AWWA’s pipe data and cost data.

So why should AWWA, which highlighted this trillion-dollar liability in the first place, be surprised that a nationally-known organization would offer more cost-effective solutions than the federally-funded infrastructure bank that AWWA seems to prefer? How does this possibly answer the two major problems behind the future cost spiral, that pipes are failing from corrosion rather than age, and pipe thicknesses for DI are declining?

 

We sought some constructive answers. That’s why both NTU and the Mayors Water Council reports use the comparison of the two leading water pipes as examples, and then applied open procurement, asset management practices and financial analysis to recommend reforms.  

For the record, NTU is not involved in this issue to take sides within an industry. AWWA may represent a collective of water utilities, but in the case of public water systems, the “owners” (rate payers and taxpayers) are on the hook for all utility financial management decisions, including pipes. That’s why we’re engaging on this and other infrastructure issues at every level, every day.

In fact, AWWA’s “review” of our report, which essentially accuses NTU of being biased in favor of one pipe material, seems to have skipped over an important detail – the language of the report itself. Namely, the following, balanced assessment from the author:

The issue at hand is not really the selection of one pipe over another, but the ability for a utility to take advantage of all materials, processes, technologies and products that create the  most cost-effective solution while meeting sustainable performance goals. In fact, every pipe has its best use, but no single pipe is best in every situation. Open competition …will really reach the objectives of elected officials, rate payers and developers concerned with the rising costs of water infrastructure capital programs.

If we as a nation are to address the very real challenges facing water and sewer system replacements, organizations like AWWA need to lead the way by providing an open forum to discuss issues such as optimal consultative procedures for pipe selection; or, how the concepts of longevity and reliability are affected by corrosion and water main breaks; or, why AWWA standards and the National Association of Corrosion Engineers (NACE) are in disagreement over wrapping iron pipe in plastic.

In the absence of this vital dialogue, organizations like my own have to step in and develop a set of criteria, such as the 25-part “Yardstick” that utility rate payers can use to interact with elected officials. Journal readers deserve to know about all of them, but here are just five of those points:

8. Does the utility consider sustainability policies and life-cycle costs in the procurement process?

12. Has every fee and charge been reviewed as to its accuracy in the last 3 years?

16. Does the utility use a computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) to schedule all work orders?

21. Does the utility track and forecast the affordability impacts of current and future rate increases for each major demographic group within the utility’s boundaries?

24. Has the utility posted information pertaining to capital improvement plans, master plans, mitigation studies, cost-of-service studies, allocation studies, asset management issues, fee structures, and other key documents of interest to rate payers in an easy-to-understand format on the Internet? 

Who can argue with principles like these? Hopefully, no one who reads AWWA Journal. After all, even underground, there ought to be a way to reach common ground.”

Perhaps this blog post will be a start in the direction of that “common ground.”

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Latest Taxpayer's Tab: CBO's Economic Outlook
Posted By: Michael Tasselmyer - 02/09/14

Tab Insert

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released its annual Budget and Economic Outlook report this week, and their projections for the next ten years won't inspire much confidence for those concerned with the country's debt and deficits. In the latest edition of The Taxpayer's Tab, NTUF delves into the CBO's report and offers an analysis of the long-term trends they predict, which include steadily increasing deficits after next year and a publicly-held debt topping 79 percent of GDP by the end of the next decade.

Also featured this week:

  • Most Expensive: Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) introduced the Small Business Innovation Act of 2013. S. 1285 would provide $1 billion over the next five years ($200 million annually) to various financial stimulus programs within the Small Business Administration.
  • Least Expensive: Senator Dean Heller (R-NV) introduced the Steps Toward Access and Reform (STAR) Act of 2013 in order to reform the current medical malpractice system. S. 1860 would save $18 billion over the next five years by capping the amount that doctors can be sued for over noneconomic damages and limiting the timeframe during which a lawsuit can be filed.
  • Most Friended: In order to address concerns over whether Healthcare.gov offers adequate protection of users' personal information, Congressman Joseph Pitts (R-PA) drafted the Health Exchange Security and Transparency Act of 2014. H.R. 3811 would require the Department of Health and Human Services to notify users of any security breach within two days.

The full issue, with more information on these bills and the CBO report, is available online.

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Whoever Said “Talk is Cheap”? A State of the Union Analysis - Speaking of Taxpayers, Jan. 31 (AUDIO)
Posted By: Dan Barrett - 02/03/14

$40 BILLION is the cost of President Obama's State of the Union, and that's just what can be quantified - NTUF's Demian Brady explains. Plus, Pete talks Obama's hypocrisy on energy; and the Outrage of the Week goes to the Super Bowl (sort of)! 

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