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“Where Is The Outrage”: How States Are Redistributing The Wealth

In 2008, then-candidate Barack Obama was lambasted for supposedly endorsing policies of wealth redistribution. The right feared that under an Obama presidency, Washington would use federal power to take money from some Americans and give it to others. Yet, only a few years later, the most explicit examples of such redistribution are happening in the states, and often at the urging of Republicans.

The most illustrative example began in 2012, when Kansas’ Republican Gov. Sam Brownback signed a landmark bill that delivered big tax cuts to high-income earners and businesses. Less than two years after that tax cut, the state’s income tax revenues plummeted by a quarter-billion dollars — and now Brownback is pushing to use money for public employees’ pensions to instead cover the state’s ensuing budget shortfalls.

Brownback’s proposal: Slash the state’s required pension contribution by $40 million to balance the state budget, even though Kansas already has one of the worst-funded pension systems in the nation.

Brownback defended his proposal to take money from middle-class state workers and use it to effectively finance his tax cuts for the wealthy. He told the Wichita Eagle: “It’s kind of, uh, well where are you going to go for the funds? And I don’t like it, but it’s kind of what’s your other option if you don’t hit K-12 and higher ed with allotments?”

Brownback is not alone. He joins fellow Republican Gov. Chris Christie in coupling large tax breaks with cuts to actuarially required pension payments. In New Jersey, Christie slashed required pension payments while signing legislation expanding tax credits to corporations, and doling out a record amount of taxpayer subsidies to businesses. Many of those subsidies have flowed to firms whose executives have made campaign contributions to Republican political organizations. Earlier this month, New Jersey pension trustees filed a lawsuit against Christie for not making legally required contributions to the state’s pension system.

Both Brownback and Christie promoted their tax cuts as instruments to boost economic growth. Yet, a recent review of federal data by the Kansas City Star found Kansas “trails most other states when it comes to job growth.” Likewise, an investigative series by Gannett newspapers recently found “New Jersey’s job growth rate [is] the second worst in the nation. … New Jersey’s middle class has lost billions in income through layoffs, salary cuts and wage freezes [and] more than 100,000 job seekers have been unemployed for months on end.”

Illinois followed a somewhat similar path. For years, lawmakers did not make the full actuarially required pension payments, causing severe funding shortages in the state’s pension system. While lawmakers said there was little money to meet pension obligations, Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn signed a corporate tax cut in 2011 that is projected to cost the state more than $370 million a year in lost revenue. Two years after signing that bill, as pension funding gaps swelled, Quinn signed legislation slashing public employees’ retirement benefits. An Illinois judge last month ruled that the legislation violated the state’s constitution, though the ruling is being appealed.

The obvious question raised by these episodes is: Where is the outrage? To date, these attempts to use workers’ money to finance massive giveaways to the rich have generated little media coverage or political opposition — and certainly less than the full-fledged frenzy that took place when Obama made his “spread the wealth” comment a few years ago.

The tepid response to this kind of wealth transfer suggests that for all the angry rhetoric about redistribution you might hear on talk radio, cable TV and in the halls of Congress, the political and media class is perfectly fine with redistribution — as long as the cash flows from the 99 percent to the 1 percent, and not the other way around.

 

By: David Sirota, Senior Writer, the International Business Times; The National Memo, December 26, 2014

December 27, 2014 Posted by | Chris Christie, Sam Brownback, State Pension Systems | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“When Democracy Works”: The GOP’s Fear Of Higher Voter Turnout

It is rare for a politician to publicly deride efforts to boost voter turnout. It is seen as a taboo in a country that prides itself on its democratic ideals. Yet, New Jersey governor Chris Christie last week slammed efforts to simplify voter registration.

Referring to Illinois joining other states — including many Republican-led ones — in passing a same-day voter registration law, Christie said: “Same-day registration all of a sudden this year comes to Illinois. Shocking. It’s shocking. I’m sure it was all based on public policy, good public policy to get same-day registration here in Illinois just this year, when the governor is in the toilet and needs as much help as he can get.”

Christie was campaigning for Illinois GOP gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner, who is challenging Democratic incumbent governor Pat Quinn, who signed the same-day registration bill into law in July.

Christie, who chairs the Republican Governors Association, denounced the effort to boost voter turnout as an underhanded Democratic tactic, despite the Illinois State Board of Elections being composed equally of Democrats and Republicans. Referring to the same-day voter initiative, Christie said Quinn “will try every trick in the book,” according to the Chicago Sun-Times. Christie said the program is designed to be a major “obstacle” for the GOP’s gubernatorial candidates.

The trouble with such rhetoric — beyond its anti-democratic themes — is its absurd assertions about partisan motives. After all, many of the 11 states with same-day registration laws currently have Republican governors.

In reality, same-day registration is all about turnout, not partisanship. According to data compiled by the think tank Demos, average voter turnout is more than 10 percent higher in states that allow citizens to register on the same day they vote. Demos also notes that “four of the top five states for voter turnout in the 2012 presidential election all offered same-day registration.” There was some evidence in Wisconsin that same-day registration boosted Democratic turnout, but the Wisconsin State Journal of Madison reports that “Republican areas also saw heavy use of the state’s last-minute registration law.” The registration system been also been adopted by such deeply Republican states as Wyoming, Idaho and Utah.

Unlike Christie, most Republicans who have fought voter turnout efforts like same-day registration have argued that same-day registration would increase voter fraud. This has allowed the GOP to position itself as battling crime — not as trying to block legal voters. But the GOP has been unable to substantiate that voter-fraud claim, and there is overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

Demos, for example, surveyed data from six states with same-day registration and found that “there has been very little voter fraud in [same-day registration] states over the past several election cycles.” In GOP-dominated North Dakota — which requires no voter registration at all — Secretary of State Alvin Jaeger, a Republican, reported that “voter fraud has not been widespread in North Dakota” and that there have been “very few known incidents of voter fraud” in the state.

Those findings confirm a recent analysis of primary, general, special and municipal elections by Loyola University professor Justin Levitt. He found that since 2000, more than a billion ballots have been cast in the United States and there have been just 31 credible incidents of voter fraud.

In light of that data, Republican efforts to prevent same-day registration and preclude voting betray a fear that has nothing to do with voter fraud and everything to do with political power. Essentially, the GOP fears that when more Americans exercise their basic democratic rights, Republicans may have less chance of winning elections.

 

By: David Sirota, Senior Writer, International Business Times; The National Memo, September 5, 2014

 

 

 

September 6, 2014 Posted by | Democracy, GOP, Voter Registration, Voter Suppression | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Different Set Of Rules”: Tax Dodger Running For Governor In Illinois

If you are not in the Chicago media market, you might not know much about Bruce Rauner, the Mitt Romney-like candidate for governor in Illinois, who is running ahead in the polls against Democratic Governor Pat Quinn.

If Rauner wins, Illinois will have a lot more in common with its neighbor, Wisconsin. Politically, Rauner resembles union-basher and school privatizer Scott Walker. Only Rauner is much, much richer.

In an interview with the Chicago Sun Times, Rauner talked about his career at GTCR, the Chicago-based private equity firm he founded.

“I made a ton of money, made a lot of money,” he told Sun Times reporter Natasha Korecki.

When Korecki asked Rauner, a billionaire who owns nine homes and made $53 million last year, if he is part of the 1 percent, he corrected her: “Oh, I’m probably .01 percent.”

Last Sunday, the Sun-Times broke the news that Rauner has made himself even richer by avoiding taxes and hiding a lot of his wealth in the Cayman Islands.

Rauner has not released his current tax returns, so the full value of his offshore accounts is not verifiable, but the Sun Times was able to document five offshore holdings by Rauner in the Caymans.

A detailed analysis by the Chicago Tribune shows that Rauner used many other complicated tax strategies “out of reach for those of more modest means” to cut his tax bill to less than half the rate paid by other earners in the top bracket:

Thanks to one business-tax strategy, Rauner paid no Social Security or Medicare taxes at all in 2010 or 2011, the Trib reports.

Meanwhile, Rauner is campaigning against “government union bosses,” and teachers unions in particular, and is targeting public employee pensions, with a plan to freeze the Illinois pension plan and convert it into a 401(k)-style retirement account, in order, he claims, to save the state billions.

He says he got into the race because he wants to “reform” public education, and is a big charter school advocate.

“I am adamantly, adamantly against raising the minimum wage,” Rauner said in a campaign event captured on video in January.

He has since backed off that position, and says he supports a minimum-wage increase.

Rauner’s campaign has also had to respond to stories about his phone call to Obama’s education secretary Arne Duncan, pulling strings to get his daughter into prestigious Walter Payton College Prep High School, after the school rejected her.

The Sun-Times reported in January that Rauner made a $250,000 contribution to Payton after his daughter was admitted.

Rauner’s story shows what’s behind all that union-bashing and belt-tightening for the poor and middle class–rightwing billionaires like Rauner push these policies, even as they play by an entirely different set of rules, dodging taxes, pulling strings, and get special treatment most people could never afford.

If he is elected, Rauner, like Walker, might support legislation to loosen the rules to help other wealthy investors and corporations avoid taxes by parking their assets abroad–leaving even less revenue for the public sector he and his rightwing billionaire friends love to bash.

 

By: Ruth Conniff, Editor-in-Chief of The Progressive Magazine; Published at The Center for Media and Democracy, August 6, 2014

August 8, 2014 Posted by | Illinois, Tax Evasion, Taxes | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

   

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