Topic: Tax and Budget Policy

Media Bias around the Nation

Here’s the Salem, Oregon, Statesman-Journal’s lead on an election story today:

Oregon’s working poor will have to wait a while longer to get health-care coverage for their children.

Voters easily defeated Measure 50, a plan to raise tobacco taxes to provide universal health care for children after a record-shattering negative ad campaign financed by cigarette companies.

Gee, ya think this journalist supports the tax?

You have to read down to paragraph 11 to find out that it was a massive 85-cent-per-pack increase.

And you’d have to switch to the Oregonian to find a comment from an anti-tax organizer:

Opponents downplayed the amount of money they spent to defeat the measure, saying voters didn’t like sticking a tax in the constitution and weren’t convinced bureaucrats needed the money.

“The primary reason is there’s not an appetite out there for more taxes,” said Russ Walker, Oregon director of the anti-tax group FreedomWorks.

Update on Gisele and the Dollar

Maybe Gisele Bundchen is not bearish on the dollar after all. CNBC is pouring cold water on reports suggesting that the Brazilian supermodel prefers euros:

Anne Nelson, Bundchen’s manager … tells us reports that Gisele wants to be paid in euros are “false.” Nelson’s take: “Some idiot in Brazil reported something just to make news.” Nelson points out that Gisele lives in New York City, and thus needs U.S. dollars for her big-city lifestyle. Of course, anyone who disagrees with Warren Buffett’s investment wisdom does so at their own risk. But we have to think Gisele gets enough U.S. dollars that she can absorb any potential weakness against the Euro.

But this is not just a story about the strength of the dollar. The CNBC story notes that she lives in New York City, which raises the issue of whether she is a resident of the US for tax purposes. This would be a major mistake since America probably has the world’s worst tax system for people with global income. Being a selfless person concerned about the plight of the over-taxed entrepreneur, I want Gisele to know that I am willing to counsel her on how best to protect her earnings from rapacious government, even if it requires many hours and late-night meetings.

Gisele, feel free to contact me at my dmitchell [at] cato.org (Cato email address). I’m here for you in your time of need.

Excellent Story Shows Benefits of Tax Havens

Reporting from London, The Business notes that so-called tax havens are among the world’s richest jurisdictions. But rather than emulating success, high-tax nations attack these free-market outposts — with the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development leading the charge:

Of the 20 wealthiest nations, 13 of them are low-tax territories. …In the past few years, politicians from the developed world have led a determined assault on tax havens. …The Paris-based Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development has led a series of attacks on the world’s tax havens, accusing them of complicity in money laundering and of lacking transparency. At one point the French government advocated an international boycott of tax havens, arguing that EU banks should refuse to deal with them. …Even the Vatican has joined the campaign. Pope Benedict XVI was reported last month to be working on a doctrinal pronouncement that will condemn tax evasion as “socially unjust”, while the planned encyclical — the most authoritative statement a pope can issue — will denounce the use of tax havens and offshore bank accounts by wealthy individuals, on the grounds that they reduce the tax revenues raised for the benefit of society as a whole (although curiously the Vatican hasn’t reacted so well to proposals by the Italian government to curb the Catholic church’s own tax break). But instead of attacking tax havens, other countries should be trying to learn from them. The way they lead the global wealth rankings is testament to the power of lower taxes to raise overall living standards. 

The story explains that the demagoguery against low-tax jurisdictions — particularly regarding charges of money laundering — is false (something that is confirmed by both international bureaucracies and U.S. government sources):

[T]hough money laundering through the Cayman Islands may be a staple of popular fiction, there isn’t much evidence for it in the real world. Most criminals launder the proceeds of the crimes domestically, since they are well aware that moving their money across borders only increases the chances of detection. Terrorists use traditional networks of money changers — not banks in Jersey.

The article closes with an excellent summary of the key issues. Tax competition constrains politicians and it encourages policies that make ordinary people richer, and tax havens play a key role in this process:

Low-tax territories provide an alternative to the high-tax world. They impose some discipline on governments elsewhere, restricting the amount they can raise in taxes by providing an escape route. But more importantly, they demonstrate the ability of lower taxes to consistently raise living standards, even in the most unpromising locations. Maybe it is time to stop hammering the tax havens — and start trying to learn from them instead.

Tax Competition Drives Good Policy in Canada

A National Post report from Canada illustrates how jurisdictional competition pushes policymakers to adopt better tax law. Indeed, both the left and right are fighting over who can make the biggest reduction in the corporate tax rate. As the article notes, this is a remarkable development since politicians used to treat companies as cash cows.

With nations all over the world lowering corporate rates, America’s punitive tax treatment of business is becoming an even bigger obstacle to competitiveness:

Who would have thought federal politics would come to this: Liberals and Conservatives competing over who would lower corporate taxes the most! …That…marks an amazing turn of fortune, an historic reversal of at least half a century of corporate-bashing tax increases, of surtaxes on taxes, of capital taxes piled on surtaxes rolled over from year to year.

…[T]here is certainly much to be said for [Canadian Prime Minister] Flaherty’s corporate tax objectives. First he aims to get the federal tax rate down to 15% by 2012. Then he wants the provinces to join the national corporate tax competition by cutting their rates to 10%, thus lowering Canada’s nationwide corporate tax rate to 25%. That means, said Mr. Flaherty, that “Canada’s corporate tax rate will become the lowest among the major industrialized economies.” It’s a good objective — for the economy, for growth, for innovation — and a sign perhaps that most Canadians have come to appreciate that nations and their citizens get rich by freeing business enterprises rather than by plundering them for instant cash.

…Countries all over the planet are rushing to trim tax rates on business… Jack Mintz, of the University of Toronto, pointed out yesterday that Italy has just slashed that rate by 4.5 percentage points. Other countries are cutting rates in large increments of up to seven percentage points, as in Germany. The new Flaherty cuts are good, says Mr. Mintz, but not good enough. “Why not cut rates right away?” It’s also not clear that 25% is low enough to maximize business activity and attract business investment to Canada. In his recent tax competitiveness study for the C.D. Howe Institute, Mr. Mintz called for a national corporate tax rate of 20%.

…The next needed political transformation: It’s OK to cut taxes on the rich.

Why a Government Spending Freeze is Incomprehensible to Bureaucrats

In today’s Washington Post, columnist David Ignatius takes Congress to task for its failure to pass the appropriations bills – and not just this year but almost every year since 1977.

“The talk among some of my government buddies this week was an obscure term of federal budgeting known as a “continuing resolution.” This is what Congress passes when it hasn’t gotten its act together to pass a real appropriations bill before the start of a new fiscal year. The ‘CR,’ as it’s known, allows agencies to continue operating at the same spending level as the previous year. But it plays havoc with normal management functions such as planning and contracting.”

“[University of Maryland political scientist Roy T. Meyers] summarized the inefficiencies that result from having to run an agency without knowing your budget. ‘When regular appropriations are delayed, uncertainty about final appropriations leads many managers to hoard funds; in some cases, hiring and purchasing stops.’” [Emphasis mine.]

I don’t really have a problem with Congress getting very little done.  And I kinda like CRs, especially if they last all year.  Those sorts of CRs dramatically limit spending, as evidenced by the just-lapsed fiscal year. The budget won’t grow until Congress passes all the appropriations bills.  That’s probably what Ignatius and his “government buddies” don’t like.

When Congress passes a CR, it’s wrong to say that an agency head won’t know what his likely budget will be.  He knows exactly what it will be: last year’s spending level.  This simply means managers have to live within the constraint of a budget that isn’t higher than last year’s.

Of course, businesses have to deal with this sort of thing all the time when their profits dry up.  Perhaps it should be no surprise to the cynical that government bureaucrats – who have a guaranteed “customer base” (read: taxpayers) because anyone who doesn’t “buy” their product (read: tax evaders) can be arrested – don’t like to deal with it.

So Write a Check and Shut Up, Warren

When billionaires piously say that they should pay more taxes, the rest of us should hide our wallets. Warren Buffett, the so-called “Sage of Omaha” says his tax rate is too low. That’s a strange attitude, to be sure, but if Buffett wants to write an extra check to the government, he should go right ahead. Heck, the Treasury Department even has a website with a mailing address for people who are foolish enough to flush more of their money into the Washington sewer. Unfortunately, Buffett’s real agenda is to agitate for higher tax burdens for the rest of us. As the UK-based Guardian reports:

The United States’ second-richest man has delivered a blunt message to the Bush administration: he wants to pay more tax. Warren Buffett, the famous investor known as the “Sage of Omaha”, has complained that he pays a lower rate of tax than any of his staff - including his receptionist. Mr Buffett, who is worth an estimated $52bn (£25bn), said: “The taxation system has tilted towards the rich and away from the middle class in the last 10 years. It’s dramatic; I don’t think it’s appreciated and I think it should be addressed.” … Buffett’s remarks drew a robust response from the US Chamber of Commerce, which said the top 1% of US earners accounted for 39% of tax revenue - and the highest earning 25% of the population delivered 86% of the tax-take.

The Chamber of Commerce correctly notes that the tax code already is heavily biased against rich people, and it certainly is true that higher tax rates will hinder economic performance and make America more like Europe (which would hurt receptionists more than billionaires). But the reporter should have done some simple fact checking and discovered that Buffett has no idea what he’s talking about regarding tax rates. I addressed this issue back in June, in response to another Warren-wants-the-rest-of-us-to-pay-more episode:

It is probably safe to assume that Buffett receives lots of dividend income and that he also declares a considerable amount of capital gains, both of which are subject to a 15 percent tax rate on an individual tax return. What he did not mention, however, is that corporations pay a 35 percent tax before distributing dividends to shareholders, so the actual effective tax rate on that portion of Buffett’s income is closer to 50 percent.

The capital gains tax is another example of double taxation. An increase in the value of a stock is a reflection of an anticipated increase in the future income stream from that stock. Yet that income stream will be taxed (usually two times!) when it occurs. The real effective rate on that portion of Buffett’s income is harder to calculate, but it certainly will be far higher than 15 percent.

Shifting gears, Buffett’s calculations almost surely include Social Security payroll taxes, which only apply to the first $90,000 of income in exchange for not providing huge benefit payments to rich retirees. Indeed, the overall program is highly progressive once benefit payments are added to the equation, so Buffett’s secretary gets a better deal than he does from Social Security (though both would be better off with a system of personal retirement accounts).

Tax-and-Spend or Borrow-and-Spend?

In Virginia,

Pat S. Herrity wants a new elementary school and middle school for southern Fairfax County. Douglas R. Boulter wants to hire more zoning inspectors. Vellie S. Dietrich Hall calls for more and better-paid police. Gary H. Baise promises roads, an expanded auditor’s office and the newly created post of county ethics officer.

And they all pledge to lower property taxes.

Meet the Republicans running for the Board of Supervisors on Nov. 6.

In Virginia, as in Congress, voters get a choice between tax-and-spend Democrats and borrow-and-spend Republicans. As I’ve argued before, there’s a bit of fat in the Fairfax County budget. It’s too bad that voters aren’t offered any candidates who would trim it.