Howard Rich's Blog

July 28, 2009

Arroyo Dismisses Accusations She’s Trying to Extend Term Limits

Filed under: Headlines — howierich @ 4:09 pm
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By Francisco Alcuaz Jr.

July 27 (Bloomberg) — Philippine President Gloria Arroyo dismissed accusations she will attempt to cling to power when her term expires next year by changing the constitution.

“I never expressed the desire to extend myself beyond my term,” Arroyo said in her annual policy statement. “Many of those who accuse me of it tried to cling” to office themselves, she said, without elaborating….

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July 23, 2009

Lake City charter school gains approval

AKE CITY — Lake City will soon be the home to a new charter school.

Dr. Deloris W.B. Brown, director of education for the new Lake City College Preparatory Academy Inc., said in a phone interview July 10 that the school received approval the previous week.

To receive approval for a charter school, she said, you have to establish a planning group of parents, educators and community members. The planning group is comprised of Queen Wallace, Shirley Kennedy, the Rev. Dr. Frank Maddox, the Rev. Ray McAllister, Gloria Tisdale, John Williams, Judy Toney, Vera Elliott, Ruby Jackson and Luvenia Richardson.

July 21, 2009

Obama refuses to rule out surtax for health care

By ERICA WERNER (AP)

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama is declining to take a surtax off the table in the escalating debate over how to pay for a new health care system that would cover millions of uninsured people.

Obama noted in a nationally broadcast interview Tuesday that “the House has put forward a surtax,” but was noncommittal about whether it should actually be part of the reconstituted health care system he is pushing.

The president also said on NBC’s “Today” show that he is pushing hard for legislation before Congress’s August recess because “if you don’t set a deadline in this town, nothing happens. The default in Washington is inaction and inertia.”

He said people who are better off, “like myself,” should step up and help contribute to bankrolling the new system.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.

WASHINGTON (AP) — With his signature health care initiative buffeted from all sides, President Barack Obama is summoning key House Democrats to the White House as he increases pressure on Congress to get the job done.

Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee — the only one of three House panels weighing health overhaul legislation that has yet to pass it — were to meet with the president Tuesday afternoon, the White House announced.

That follows a committee drafting session that lasted past midnight Monday as panel members slogged through numerous amendments, with majority Democrats turning back Republican attempts to change the bill. But Committee Chairman Henry Waxman’s bigger difficulties were with his own party, particularly a bloc of fiscally conservative Democrats who oppose the legislation in its current form over costs and other issues.

Waxman and his aides have been deep in talks with these conservative “Blue Dog” Democrats, and as the panel wrapped up its work in the wee hours Waxman announced he was canceling a drafting session planned for Tuesday so negotiations could continue.

“We’re having conversations with different members to work out some of the issues so we can make this thing move forward,” Waxman, D-Calif., told reporters. He declined to elaborate.

Rep. Mike Ross, D-Ark., who chairs the Blue Dog health care task force, said earlier in the evening that there was still plenty of work to be done. “If you’re wondering if we’ve reached some agreement, the answer is no,” said Ross.

It remained to be seen whether the president’s involvement would change that.

The House bill would, for the first time, require all individuals to have health insurance and all employers to provide it. The poor would get subsidies to buy insurance and insurers would be barred from denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions.

Prior to his meeting with the Energy and Commerce Democrats on Tuesday, Obama planned brief remarks on health care, something that’s become a near-daily occurrence as the president has moved swiftly from hands-off to deeply engaged on his top domestic priority.

Obama’s increased personal involvement comes with Republican criticism sharpening, outside groups growing more strident and sticker shock reverberating around Capitol Hill in the wake of a bleak prognosis from the Congressional Budget Office last week saying lawmakers’ health proposals wouldn’t hold down costs.

Obama has repeatedly cited lowering costs as a top goal of any health overhaul plan, alongside extending coverage to the 50 million uninsured.

Meanwhile the president’s own poll numbers are slipping. And while he’s continuing to say he wants health care legislation to pass this year, he’s grown less insistent about the House and Senate passing bills before leaving Washington for their August recess.

“I want this done now. Now, if there are no deadlines, nothing gets done in this town,” Obama told PBS’s “The NewsHour” on Monday. “If somebody comes to me and says, ‘It’s basically done, it’s going to spill over by a few days or a week,’ you know, that’s different.”

Obama planned a prime-time news conference Wednesday and a town hall in Ohio on Thursday.

On Capitol Hill, the legislation moved forward fitfully after concrete advances last week, when three committees — one in the Senate and two in the House — passed sweeping health overhaul bills. But the bills attracted no GOP support, and in each House committee several Democrats defected and opposed the legislation.

The toughest lift was in Energy and Commerce but there were indications Monday some concerns were being soothed. Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., who with other anti-abortion Democrats had threatened to oppose the bill over concerns it would fund abortions, said a compromise was being worked out that would protect state laws on abortion. Stupak didn’t give details and aides said there was no final deal.

Meanwhile, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is floating an idea that could make proposed tax increases more palatable to the Blue Dogs. She would like to limit income tax increases to couples making more than $1 million a year and individuals making more than $500,000, Pelosi spokesman Brendan Daly said Monday. The bill passed by the House Ways and Means Committee last week would increase taxes on couples making as little as $350,000 a year and individuals annually making as little as $280,000.

In the Senate, negotiators seeking a bipartisan compromise reported progress Monday. Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., said there’s tentative agreement on four big policy issues out of a list of about one dozen. He would not elaborate.

Associated Press writers David Espo, Stephen Ohlemacher, Alan Fram, Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar and Darlene Superville contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

July 20, 2009

Europe Thumps U.S., Again

Filed under: Headlines — willfrable @ 5:08 pm
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From the Wall Street Journal

On present trends, most of Europe will soon have lower income tax rates than most of America. And now the European Union is stealing another competitive march on Washington, this time on a free trade deal with the world’s 13th largest economy, fast-growing South Korea.

Last week Brussels and Seoul finished the outline of a new trade agreement, and the two sides will now write up the technical language to codify it. As for the pending U.S.-Korea trade agreement, Congress has done . . . nothing.

South Korea has made negotiating trade deals a centerpiece of its foreign and economic policy. The U.S. FTA, signed in 2007 but still not ratified, is one example. Negotiations are planned or under way with a long list of countries, including India, Canada and Australia. On the EU side, the Commission is vigorously defending the pact against domestic critics, including the European auto industry. EU approval isn’t a sure thing, but Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt is aiming to finish it by December.

Compare that to the U.S., where the FTA with Korea is bogged down in Big Labor politics. Bashing the deal became de rigueur in the Democratic Party primary before last year’s Presidential election. Candidates Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton both claimed the deal wouldn’t open Korea’s auto market to U.S. imports, all evidence to the contrary. Now, with Democrats running both the White House and Congress, prospects are bleak for any trade deal. Colombia has also been left hanging, even though its goods already enter the U.S. duty free under the Andean preferences program.

Don’t count on progress any time soon. President Obama’s trade representative, Ron Kirk, rose from his slumbers last week to give his first big speech but he failed to mention either South Korea or Colombia. Instead, he focused on “trade enforcement,” by which he seems to mean picking fights with U.S. trading partners. This will include, Mr. Kirk said, investigating “labor violations” inside other countries. “And if they don’t fix their labor problems, we will exercise our legal options,” he said. Just what our friends want to see when global trade is contracting: Another U.S. excuse for protectionism.

Korea’s progress with the EU shows how risky U.S. delays are. The European Commission says the EU-Korea deal will eliminate $2.2 billion in duties Korea currently imposes each year on European goods — and cut duties and eliminate nontariff barriers on imports of European cars. American companies could gain similar benefits if only Congress would approve the U.S.-Korea pact.

Across the globe, countries are moving ahead with similar bilateral trade deals, often giving their own national companies an edge over U.S. competitors. In a perfect world, all countries would be able to benefit from multilateral trade opening under the Doha Round. But for now bilateral deals are better than nothing, and America is leaving itself behind.

July 14, 2009

Obama’s False Choices

Filed under: Headlines — willfrable @ 12:26 pm
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From theWashington Times

President Obama pretends to be a unifying figure while consistently denigrating his opponents. This lowers public discourse and makes it harder for the country to move forward as one.

The latest example of this disturbing pattern came in a column by Mr. Obama published in Sunday’s Washington Post. In the column, Mr. Obama tried to defend his failed economic “stimulus” plan, but he wasn’t content merely to argue for his own policies. Instead, he insisted on misrepresenting the motives of those who disagree with him.

“There are some who say we must wait to meet our greatest challenges,” he wrote. “They … believe that doing nothing is somehow an answer.” And later: “There will continue to be those who argue that we have to put off hard decisions.”

But who are these mysterious people who want to “do nothing” or actually “argue that we have to put off hard decisions?” This is absurd. It is similar to Mr. Obama’s repetitive use of the straw-man argument that George W. Bush administration lawyers tried to assert that we must choose “between our safety and our ideals.” Mr. Obama labeled that a “false choice,” but it was false only because nobody but Mr. Obama asserted it was a choice in the first place….

July 13, 2009

Open Beaches act faces legal challenge

Fifty years ago this week, state lawmakers adopted legislation giving the public free access to all Texas beaches.

Property rights activists and beach-front property owners challenged the Open Beaches Act from the beginning, but until now, none of the cases made it as far as the Texas Supreme Court.

On Nov. 19, the state’s top justices will hear a claim by a Galveston property owner whose West End houses ended up in the public beach easement after Hurricane Rita.

Carol Severance asserts the state’s threat to have her houses demolished in 2006 violated her constitutional protection against unreasonable seizures.

The court’s ruling will either gut the Open Beaches Act, limiting access to the Gulf of Mexico to a few island parks, or uphold the state’s ability to maintain a public beach easement as the coastline moves steadily inland.

Until the late 1950s, Galveston beachgoers could drive off the western end of the seawall onto the beach and travel unheeded all the way to the San Luis Pass.

But by 1959, developers and homeowners were starting to put up fences between their houses and the Gulf of Mexico, carving out a private slice of sand and blocking traffic.

Bob Eckhardt, a state representative from Houston, was determined to keep the beaches open, dedicating himself to a legislative crusade that would eventually end in the passage of the Open Beaches Act on July 16, 1959.

Developers and real estate interests, the same people who oppose the act today, fought Eckhardt tooth and nail, said A.R. “Babe” Schwartz, the former state senator from Galveston who often is credited for the open beaches legislation.

“The self-interested people who don’t give a damn about public rights opposed it,” he said. “They still don’t give a damn about it.”

Eckhardt based his bill on Spanish and English common law, which had held for centuries that beaches were reserved for public use, said Schwartz, who will teach a course on coastal and ocean law at the University of Texas this fall.

A 1958 Texas Supreme Court case established the state’s ownership between the Gulf and the mean higher high-tide line. Eckhardt’s legislation created a public beach easement between state-owned land and the line of vegetation.

Filing Lawsuit

While Galveston’s beaches remained relatively stable, the public easement was easy to maintain.

But as storms and erosion ate away at the shoreline during the next 40 years, the publicly owned beach and the line of vegetation moved inland.

Beach-front houses eventually ended up between the line of vegetation and the Gulf. The Texas General Land Office began ordering property owners to have their houses moved or torn down.

In 2006, Severance, a California resident, was one of 116 coastal property owners who received a letter from the land office notifying her that her houses in Jamaica Beach and on Kennedy Drive were in the easement and could be removed.

Under a program designed by Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson to soften the blow, homeowners were offered $40,000 to move their houses.

But Severance refused the offer, and represented by California-based Pacific Legal Foundation, a property rights advocacy group, she sued in federal court, claiming attempts to take her property violated her constitutional rights.

Rolling Easement

In May 2007, U.S. District Judge Kenneth M. Hoyt dismissed Severance’s claim, but on appeal, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals sent the case to the Texas Supreme Court for clarification of state law.

Before the court could decide whether Severance’s Fourth Amendment protection from “unreasonable seizure” had been violated, it needed to know whether Texas recognizes a “rolling” public beach easement, whether the easement is derived from common law doctrines or the Open Beaches Act, and to what extent a property owner should be entitled to compensation when the easement migrates onto private land.

J. David Breemer, the Pacific Legal Foundation attorney representing Severance, said he was confident the court would rule in his client’s favor because the Open Beaches Act does not talk about a rolling beach easement.

When the act was adopted, its authors never envisioned the amount of erosion the island is experiencing today, so they never considered that the easement boundary would have to be redrawn constantly as the vegetation line moves, he said.

“Where does a rolling easement stop?” he asked. “It’s unworkable in practice when you have development. No one ever intended that the public would acquire areas that it never used before.”

Because the rolling easement is unworkable, the land office constantly comes up with ways to delay enforcement and to set arbitrary lines that allow property owners to keep houses that are on the public beach, Breemer said.

Constantly Changing

After Severance sued, Patterson abandoned threats to pursue houses in the easement and said instead he would focus on the houses seaward of the mean higher high tide line, on public property, or those completely blocking beach access.

Two years later, when Hurricane Ike gobbled up about 25 feet of beach and destroyed the line of vegetation, the land office set a temporary line of elevation at 4.5 feet to indicate where the edge of the public easement likely would be set at the storm’s anniversary in September.

Leaders of the West Galveston Island Property Owners Association estimated 114 houses would end up on the public beach if the 4.5-foot elevation line were adopted.

Patterson initially said he would give the natural vegetation line another year to come back, but this week he said the state might do something different to mark the edge of the public beach easement.

New surveys expected out at the end of July should provide a great deal more information, he said.

“I think folks are going to like it when we publish the information,” he said, hinting few houses actually would end up being subject to the removal action many owners feared.

‘Not Taking’

Although he has tried to calm homeowners’ fears of losing their houses, Patterson said he did not buy Breemer’s argument the state is taking private property when the beach easement moves landward.

“The state is not taking property,” he said. “Mother nature is taking its course.”

When rivers that form international or state boundaries change course, those boundaries change as well, he said, echoing one of Eckhardt’s 50-year-old arguments.

If the Texas Supreme Court rules the public beach easement boundary does not change, it would eliminate the Open Beaches Act, Patterson said.

If the easement doesn’t move landward as the beach erodes and the public doesn’t have access to land that previously was private, the state will no longer have any public access, he said.

A Libertarian Crusade?

Patterson would not make any prediction about the Supreme Court’s decision, saying the justices had surprised him before.

But Schwartz said he was confident the court would rule in favor of Texas case law, all of which has upheld the Open Beaches Act.

The federal court, which now is questioning the state’s law, got involved in the case under false pretenses, Schwartz said, echoing the dissenting opinion of Fifth Circuit Judge Jacques L. Wiener Jr.

In voicing his opposition to his colleagues’ decision to send the case to the Supreme Court, Wiener described Severance’s plea as a “thinly veiled Libertarian crusade.”

“The real alignment between Severance and the Pacific Legal Foundation is not discernible from the record on appeal, but the real object of these Californians’ Cervantian tilting at Texas’s Open Beaches Act (‘OBA’) is clearly not to obtain reasonable compensation for a taking of properties either actually or nominally purchased by Severance, but is to eviscerate the OBA, precisely the kind of legislation that, by its own declaration, the Foundation targets,” he wrote.

‘You Were Deceived’

Severance, a lawyer who holds real estate broker licenses in both California and Texas, obviously knew what she was getting into when she bought her beach-front properties, Schwartz said.

“She can’t claim any ignorance of the law or that she’s not seeking to milk the public of Texas for money,” he said.

But it’s not fair to assume that lawyers are any more careful about reading a stack of real estate documents than the average buyer, Severance said.

She did read the notice all buyers must sign warning the properties could end up on the public beach and might have to be removed, but nothing she read said she could lose them without compensation, she said.

“I never thought they would be able to just come along and remove my house,” she said. “I never thought that would happen.”

Severance also denied accusations that she plotted with the Pacific Legal Foundation to buy the houses because she planned to challenge the Open Beaches Act.

She bought property in Galveston because she loved the city and wanted to have a place she could enjoy visiting, she said.

Severance thought state officials would have to buy her property if they wanted it, which is how other states handle the need to provide the public access to the beach, Breemer said.

“But in Texas, you were deceived into believing you could have it for free.”

July 9, 2009

Not So Fast With Those Electric Cars

From Investor’s Business Daily

Alternative Energy: A government report says reliance on electric cars will do little to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and may merely shift our dependence on foreign sources from one set of dictators to another.

It’s a beautiful theory — highways full of electric cars emitting no greenhouse gases or pollutants after being plugged into an outlet in our garages overnight. The problem, according to a new Government Accountability Office report, is that the effort may only shift the problem somewhere else.

“If you are using coal-fired power plants, and half the country’s electricity comes from coal-powered plants, are you just trading one greenhouse gas emitter for another?” asks Mark Gaffigan, co-author of the GAO report. The report itself notes: “Reductions in CO2 emissions depend on generating electricity used to charge the vehicles from lower-emission sources of energy.”

The GAO report says a plug-in compact car, if recharged at an outlet drawing its power from coal, provides a carbon dioxide savings of only 4% to 5%. If the feeling of saving the environment from driving an electric car causes people to drive more, that small amount of savings vanishes entirely.

It’s much the same effect we saw when the Corporate Fuel Economy Standards were passed in the ’70s. Aside from forcing us into less-safe downsized vehicles that increased highway fatalities, the promise of more miles per gallon caused people to drive more miles. The promised energy independence never materialized as we imported more foreign oil than ever before.

Okay, so how about a zero-emission source of electricity — nuclear power? The administration has done little to promote it beyond lip service. The administration recently killed the safest place on the planet to store what is erroneously called nuclear waste — at the nuclear repository that was being built at Yucca Mountain, Nev.

This “waste” is in the form of spent fuel rods the French and others have safely stored and reprocessed. These rods still contain most of their original energy and reprocessing them makes nuclear power renewable as well as pollution-free. The French get 80% of their electricity from nukes, and nobody in Paris glows in the dark.

They will have a place to plug in their electric cars, but right now we don’t. The government is promoting solar and wind, which is fine if the sun is shining and the wind is blowing. Both have their own environmental drawbacks.

Both require huge amounts of land. Wind turbines tend to slice and dice birds, including endangered species. Solar panels of the size that might be competitive require huge amounts of water to clean. Water is a rare commodity in the areas the sun shines most — the arid land of the West and Southwest.

There are the hazards of the cars themselves. We don’t yet fully comprehend the hazards to drivers, passengers and first responders after, say, a collision between an electric clown car and an 18-wheeler. Then there’s a whole new problem of disposing of a new generation of batteries using lithium.

As for the lithium, Bolivia, under the thumb of its leftist leader Evo Morales, has about half the world’s proven reserves. “The United States has supplies of lithium, but if demand for lithium exceeded domestic supplies,” warns the GAO, “the U.S. could substitute reliance on one foreign source (oil) for another (lithium).”

Then there are environmental consequences. Just as coal and oil must be extracted from the earth, so must lithium. “Extracting lithium from locations where it is abundant, such as South America, could pose environmental challenges that would damage the ecosystem in this area.”

While advertised as “zero emission,” electric cars have their own set of issues. As physicist Amory Lovins once put it, “Zero-emission vehicles are actually ‘elsewhere-emission’ vehicles.”

July 8, 2009

Tax Fiction Sells In Hollywood

From Investor’s Business Daily

Rewriting History: Did Proposition 13 ruin California? Yes, says a now-popular myth, which explains the state’s budget crisis as punishment for keeping taxes too low. But statistics are stubborn things.

There are only two ways to get into a fiscal mess on the scale seen in California right now: You either spend too much or tax too little.


View larger image

Legislative Republicans, now joined by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, have decided that chronic overspending is the problem. They insist that the budget gap be closed with no new taxes.

The state’s Democrats want a tax increase, and they’re being egged on by cheerleaders such as Time magazine, which recently opined that California is paying the price for tax-cutting fever.

At the “root of California’s misery,” says Time, “lies Proposition 13, the anti-tax measure that ignited the Reagan Revolution and the conservative era. In Washington, the Reagan-Bush era is over. But in California, the conservative legacy lives on.”

This sort of argument is emerging now, we’d guess, to help soften voter resistance to higher taxes not just in California but, sooner or later, at the federal level to pay for the spending frenzy of Congress and the Obama administration. Prop. 13, passed in 1978, is being trotted out as Exhibit A in the case against limited-government conservatism.

There’s just one problem: The case against Prop. 13 is factually unsound. The proposition did cut property taxes sharply and did set a high bar — a two-thirds vote in the Legislature — to approve new tax increases. But it did not turn California into a low-tax state, and it did not put state and local governments on a 30-year starvation diet.

Los Angeles County, the state’s and nation’s largest by population, took a big hit in its property-tax take after Prop. 13 (see chart), but that revenue source recovered. It has racked up a 3.7% average annual gain since the mid-1960s, and 7.0% since Prop. 13. Local governments were able to raise other taxes and fees, such as business license taxes, without much opposition. State government rode the tide of prosperity (yes, California boomed through most of the post-Prop. 13 era) and just kept getting bigger.

The net effect of the evolving revenue mix on California’s taxpayers was to leave them very close to where they were before Prop. 13 — near the top in rankings of taxes paid.

The Tax Foundation, which has tracked these statistics since 1977, put California’s total state and local tax burden at 10.5% of per capita income, sixth highest among the 50 states and D.C.

In 1978, the year before Prop. 13 hit, California ranked third, with a burden of 11.7%. Prop. 13 briefly knocked it down to 22nd in 1979, but the next year it was back in ninth place and has been in the top 10 every year since 1995.

Even property taxes in California are above national averages when measured against income — that is, by ability to pay them. Census figures analyzed by the Tax Foundation show that California property taxes on owner-occupied housing in 2007 were 3.4% of the median homeowner income, compared to the national average of 2.9%.

So let’s go back to asking what, in Time’s words, “has brought California to such a perilous state?” One answer, consistent with the facts, is that Prop. 13 didn’t go far enough. It raised barriers to tax increases but did nothing on the spending side.

And other attempts to limit spending (California technically has a cap now) were gutted by ballot initiatives to guarantee spending growth where it was popular, especially on schools.

Another cause was the state’s failure to stand up to public-employee unions. The key year here was 1999, when Gray Davis and the Democrats had just won back the governor’s office from the more fiscally conservative Republicans.

As Schwarzenegger noted last week in a Los Angeles Times op-ed, Davis and the Legislature quickly hiked state employee pensions “to a point where some employees could retire after 30 years, at as young as 50 or 55, and continue to earn 90% of their highest salary plus cost-of-living increases for the rest of their lives.”

Just to give some idea of the magnitude of the obligation the state took on with this one move, Schwarzenegger says rolling back pensions to pre-1999 levels just for new hires would save the state nearly $95 billion by 2040.

All this suggests one answer to the tax counter-revolt: Government in California gets plenty of money. What it lacks is real leadership.

Instead of tax increases, it needs lawmakers and governors who can look their special-interest benefactors in the eye and say, “No, this time we’re putting the taxpayer first.”

July 6, 2009

Commentary: Don’t extend term limits…

From The Detroit News

Tom McMillin

There is yet another attempt afoot by politicians in Lansing to undermine the will of Michigan voters by changing — and extending — term limits.

The arguments of these politicians are usually centered on this notion that “institutional knowledge” is lost when state representatives can “only” stay six years or state senators “only” eight years. Many claim that by the time they figure out how Lansing works, they are term-limited.

Let’s analyze this. If you are fortunate enough to get a new job in this economy, could you in good faith turn to your boss and say, “You know, it may take me a few years to figure out how to do my job?” I don’t think very many would take that risk. But those who do would likely be out of a job pretty quickly.

I can tell you as a freshman state representative that, with a little effort and some God-given knowledge, figuring out “how Lansing works” doesn’t take very long. We need legislators who aren’t looking for excuses to be able to do their job. They just need to make the tough decisions necessary to rightsize our burdensome government. Besides, the “institutional knowledge” excuse makes it appear that legislators are being run by the “institution” known as Lansing bureaucrats. The fact is that the men and women we send to Lansing, our representatives, should tell the bureaucrats how things are going to be done to best serve our citizens, not the other way around. Yes, this takes leadership. Surely that’s not too much to ask of our elected leaders.

Thanks to term limits, the purpose of democracy is preserved. All citizens are assured that a spirited primary and/or general election will regularly give them good alternatives.

Because of term-limits, the days where a few long-serving legislators are powerful kings and princes are gone. Gone are the days when long-serving politicians always get 95 percent of PAC and lobbyist campaign money and get re-elected 99 percent of the time. Very few current legislators would be serving in Lansing if it weren’t for the current term-limits law.

Term limits have helped our state to bring in fresh blood, keep government honest and allow for the free flow of new ideas. It would be a shame to change that now, when new ideas are needed most. Term limits keep Lansing a “citizen’s Legislature,” and I firmly believe that we need to keep our current term-limits law in place.

State Rep. Tom McMillin, R- Rochester Hills, is in his first term representing Michigan’s 45th Legislative district.

July 2, 2009

Obama can’t delay breaking tax pledge

From the Washington Examiner:

Telling voters about a tax increase is like telling your spouse you strayed — there’s no good time or way to do it. But, as the governor of South Carolina continues to ably prove, some options are worse than others.

It’s no longer a question of if President Barack Obama will have to come clean about breaking his campaign promise not to raise taxes on families who make less than $250,000.

The president once believed he had a slick way to pay for universal coverage. First, he would lower the tax deductions for rich people who donate money to charities. Then, he could add the proceeds from global warming fees to cover the more than $600 billion he said his plan would cost.

But his cap-and-trade plan went from a revenue source to another expense as Democrats gave away the legislative farm to prevent an embarrassing defeat. Some 85 percent of the carbon credits will be giveaways to start. Plus, goodies like a $1 billion “green jobs” program to appease Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., made their way into the 3 a.m. version of the bill that the House passed like a kidney stone last week.

Making charitable giving less appealing has proven to be unpopular in Congress, and even if it could get through, there just wouldn’t be enough money.

And with each passing day, the need for money grows.

The cheap health plan in Congress costs about $300 billion more than Obama’s initial estimate. The expensive plan that has the benefits the president likes costs more than twice as much as his original pitch.

Sen. Ted Kennedy’s health committee is trying to save the day with a government-run insurance plan that allegedly won’t cost the taxpayers. The until-recently secret strategy would have the first three years of free premiums for users be given as loans to be paid back over subsequent years. Kennedy’s proxy in the Senate, Chris Dodd of Connecticut, knows something about subprime lending so he must realize how silly it all sounds.

It seems the only way to pay for any plan is to tax the health benefits of workers — a proposal so terrifying to politicians that they will only talk about it in whispers, coming forward to say publicly that they are “open” to the idea, as if they were all trying to work up the courage to go skinny dipping.

Unlike the pass-along costs from charging companies fees for carbon emissions — perhaps $800 dollars a year per family — there is no way to avoid the tax label for the health plan. Obama, in a plug for his favorite bankrupt car company, says that he is only “open” to the idea of taxing “Cadillac” health plans valued at $17,000 or more a year. Since most families spend about $14,000 a year on care, the difference between a Chevy and a Caddy when it comes to health care isn’t so big.

But to get a plan generous enough to get the likes of Bobby Rush on board may cost even more than taxing middle-class health benefits can extract. There are other options — a national food tax or a value-added tax — that terrify lawmakers even more. They are so terrifying, in fact, that Democrats are even considering cutting Medicare.

If a member of Congress is talking about cutting a health program for elderly voters he is either scared, drunk, or Tom Coburn.

What only a canny few on Capitol Hill realize right now, though, is that health care plan or not, there will have to be more taxes. The deficit estimates continue to climb with each passing Congressional Budget Office report. The debt load is unsustainable. The Federal Reserve could devalue the currency to pay back foreign obligations with cheaper dollars, but that would destroy the economy even more than a new tax.

So a tax being inevitable, then, the question is when is the most politically advantageous time to drop the hammer.
A tax increase during an election year would be pure poison and all those but the far-Left in Congress would buck Obama, so it needs to happen soon.

Press secretary Robert Gibbs said this week: “We are going to let the process work its way through” when it comes to the effect of health care on new taxes. But that process will be a quick one.

As Mark Sanford has proven, the longer you wait to deliver the bad news, the worse it sounds.

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