Archive for March, 2011

Where things stand now on Georgia tax reform

Here’s what I’m hearing as far as the possibilities for a tax-reform bill this session:

  • Option 1 is the bill I discussed yesterday, which came out of a joint House-Senate committee. House Democrats say this would result in a tax increase for taxpayers earning between $20,000 and $180,000 a year. House Republicans counter that the only increase would be for about one-third of those earning between $80,000 and $140,000 a year.
  • Option 2 is designed to address the Democrats’ criticism by changing the phase-out of itemized deductions that would have led to the tax increases described above. House Republicans say the result would be that 90 percent of those in the $80,000-$140,000 bracket would see no change or a tax cut, and that the overall plan would amount to a tax cut of $150 million to $200 million. As of last night, however, I was hearing different things as far as whether there was a fiscal note to accompany that plan and back up the House Republicans’ claims.
  • Then there’s …

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Keep chipping away at federal budget, save shutdown showdown for higher stakes

The voters who flipped the U.S. House to Republicans last November didn’t spur an electoral wave just to see a series of piddling, two-weeks-at-a-time, a-billion-here-a-billion-there spending cuts.

Or did they?

The most recent “continuing resolution” to keep the federal government running expires next week. Back when it was approved, Democrats and Republicans, senators and House members, vowed to make it the final temporary fix. Instead, they would draft a budget to carry us through this fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.

But subsequent talks between House Republicans and Senate Democrats faltered, threatening to make the long-discussed “government shutdown” come to pass.

I think a shutdown of the federal government could be very useful as a clarifying moment: a time for Americans to see who’s serious about getting our fiscal affairs in order, and who’s digging in to protect a bloated status quo. A time to give a boost to those trying to put Washington’s …

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(Updated) Late-hours tinkering means tax bill needs to wait

UPDATE at 11:55 a.m.: I already mentioned this in the comments, but wanted to put it at the top for those just tuning in:

There are reports that the tax bill is being rewritten yet again. If so, this moves the bill out of the “better than nothing” status I gave it earlier.

First, it’s impossible right now to know what’s in the bill. The legislators doing the rewriting are falling into the same pattern we saw in Washington during the ObamaCare debate: keep rewriting the bill to pick up reluctant legislators, and ask the rest of us to trust us that we’ll like it when we find out what’s in it. Until now, there was at least a minimum amount of transparency and deliberation involved. No more.

Second, there were at least sound economic arguments for the differences between the most recent draft of the bill and the original, broader proposal made by the special council. Now, who knows? But it would appear that the new changes are being made to collect “yes” votes, and not necessarily …

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C’est la vie in the land of the ungoverned

I like to check in on my former home of Belgium from time to time, and it turns out Tuesday was a historic day in the land of good beer and chocolate:

Belgium tied the world record with Iraq for time without a government on Tuesday, but months of political waffling that was once a joke is quickly wearing thin.

Tuesday marks the 289th day the country’s bickering Dutch-speaking and Francophone politicians have failed to form a government after a June 13 election — and there’s no agreement on the horizon.

Early irritation turned into almost giddy celebration as the country broke the European record in January. Then parties were thrown last month as Belgium matched the time it took for an initial agreement to form an Iraqi government two years ago. Iraq then took another month to actually present its government.

On Tuesday, as the real moment came and went, Belgium was subdued.

“Belgium was subdued” — now there’s a line that could be said nearly every day, government or no …

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Can T-SPLOST supporters overcome infighting, unrealistic expectations?

If you think the transportation sales tax is a good idea, you can’t be happy about this report in the AJC today:

On Monday, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed presented 20 transportation projects and city council members balked, claiming the list does not address key issues for the city and they had no input.

Creating more friction, Reed was expected to whittle the 20 projects, which would cost an estimated $6.9 billion obtained from 2012 referendum tax money set aside for transportation needs, to a workable number himself by Wednesday to submit to the state.

“Whoever had the bright idea to circumvent the council may have doomed the council’s support for this; it is just a matter of good form that you would want to have the buy-in of the council,” council president Ceasar C. Mitchell said. “The political risk here is members of the council being more aloof on this project. There has to be a strong push to get people to vote on this. This doesn’t help me in wanting to support …

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What we heard from Obama on Libya (UPDATED)

UPDATED at 8:35 p.m.: I’m not sure we got answers to all, or any, of the questions I originally asked below:

What are our military objectives? — I think President Obama would have you believe the answer to this question is “achieved.” He said we had stepped in “to stop a massacre” at Benghazi. He said NATO was taking the lead, and was at pains to describe our role going forward as limited: “intelligence, logistical support, search and rescue assistance, and capabilities to jam regime communications.”

But the question is: Until when? Until when will we be performing these tasks in Libya? Obama said both that regime change could not be a military objective or else our coalition “would splinter,” and that we would pursue regime change through other means. Does that mean we’ll be providing a military role to complement those other efforts at regime change until regime change does occur?

Bottom line: This was a “mission accomplished” moment sans the banner and aircraft carrier. But …

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Pensions burden on Atlantans comes into sharper focus

If you live within Atlanta’s city limits, as I do, you are by now used to hearing about the $1.3 billion deficit for the pension plans for city employees. But if you read the first installment of the AJC’s series on public pensions in the area, the number that should have jumped out at you is the one for Atlanta Public Schools: $532.5 million more, pushing the total tab for city taxpayers to nearly $2 billion. And that’s on top of our share of Fulton County’s shortfall.

APS serves a student population of around 50,000 students, and its pension plan doesn’t even cover teachers (they’re in the state’s pension system, which is in far better financial shape). Yet, its pension deficit is larger, both in absolute terms and as a percentage of its liabilities, than any of metro Atlanta’s counties.

As bad as the deficits are, there’s a problem with focusing only on the deficits when looking at the pension plans. The more immediate threat is the enormous amount of money each …

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Allen West on growing up in Atlanta, and ladders versus hammocks

A first-term South Florida congressman may seem an odd headliner for one of the year’s biggest fund-raisers for Georgia Republicans. To understand, you have to know Allen West.

West grew up in Atlanta’s Old Fourth Ward and graduated from Grady High School before going on to college and a career in the Army. Last November, he was one of the first two black Republicans elected to Congress since 2000, and already he has become a crowd pleaser among conservatives and a lightning rod for the left.

His speech at Monday’s GOP dinner in downtown Atlanta upheld both reputations. West compared America’s journey to Homer’s “The Odyssey,” with the hero beset by the siren song of “hope and change,” twin monsters of debt and the deficit, and the Calypso-like complacency and dependency of the social-welfare state.

But earlier, West’s theme of “coming home” was personal as the 50-year-old played back-seat tour guide of his old stomping grounds.

He led a small party …

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A week later, Abbott and Costello still in charge of war in Libya

When stories like this one from the New York Times are still cropping up a week after hostilities begin, it cannot be a good sign:

Having largely succeeded in stopping a rout of Libya’s rebels, the inchoate coalition attacking Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s forces remains divided over the ultimate goal — and exit strategy — of what officials acknowledged Thursday would be a military campaign that could last for weeks.

The United States has all but called for Colonel Qaddafi’s overthrow from within — with American commanders on Thursday openly calling on the Libyan military to stop following orders — even as administration officials insist that is not the explicit objective of the bombing, and that their immediate goal is more narrowly defined.

France has gone further, recognizing the Libyan rebels as the country’s legitimate representatives, but other allies, even those opposed to Colonel Qaddafi’s erratic and authoritarian rule, have balked. That has complicated the planning and …

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Georgia has good options on ObamaCare’s first anniversary

A year ago this week, Democrats in Washington gave us ObamaCare, whether we wanted it or not. I would compare it to a big dose of castor oil, if castor oil made you more sick and its price rose nearly every day.

Little about the year-old health law has turned out as promised. A few of its already apparent shortcomings:

  • Just 3 percent of those with pre-existing conditions who were expected to buy insurance thanks to the law have done so.
  • The Obama administration has issued more than 1,000 waivers from the law’s requirements to companies and — especially — labor unions that insure their employees, because the president’s “you can keep the coverage you have” pledge turned out to be wrong.
  • The 10-year cost of the law’s provisions has been revised upward by tens of billions of dollars — even before Congress eschews the Medicare cuts and new taxes on which projected deficit reductions are based.
  • State governments’ health-care costs already are rising by hundreds of …

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