Saturday, September 21, 2013

Pesky facts

Facts can be funny things.

“Minimum-wage hike = minimum sense”, Jay Ambrose’s  Providence Journal on December 6, 2013, got me thinking about how we react to what we are told are “facts”.  Some “facts” in the article:

   FACT: ”... under 3% of the workforce get the minimum wage”. 

This implies that it really wouldn’t wouldn’t be such a big deal. I think it would be a pretty big deal to those 4.6 million people.

   FACT:... “Hike the minimum wage and some people do get more, but others get fired or get fewer hours a week.”  

Maybe a fact but can’t we do better? Perhaps we could lower the exorbitant executive salary increases somewhat instead of firing the low end workers and moving business offshore.

   FACT:   “In the end, the minimum wage is a charade that interferes with rights of employers and employees to enter into contracts of their own choosing.”

This implies that both employers (Walmart) and employees (minimum-wage workers) can bargain on an equal footing. Does anyone really believe that?

   FACT:  “During the same half century since the March on Washington, more than a score of major studies have verified that basic economic theory is right: The more businesses are forced to pay, the less likely they are to have as many jobs as they used to have.”

Indeed. But they do manage to see that top executives’ pay has never been higher, and even if a CEO is fired he or she often leaves with astronomical benefits packages. Ah, that basic economic theory.

Facts can be funny things.


Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Will we ever get smart?

Shortly after the horrendous Newtown massacre the head of the NRA suggested that the only answer to a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. It’s all too easy to take complex and serious problems and try to solve them will simple minded answers.  Let’s look closely at this almost childish response which has become a mantra among the NRA supporters.

Since 1966 there have been 22 incidents of mass murders.  In no case did the perpetrator escape. In eleven cases the perpetrator committed suicide, in seven cases the perpetrator was killed, and four were either found mentally, incompetent or sentenced to death.

In the seven cases where the “good guys with guns” killed the perpetrator, there were 103 innocents killed.  Sounds like a terrible price to pay for the NRA’s solution of bad guys with guns.  

The answer to bad guys with guns is bad guys with no guns.  Background checks, background checks, background checks.  What's wrong with us?

Friday, May 24, 2013

Is it Any Wonder?

There has been much in the paper about property taxes lately, mostly regarding the impact of revaluations  on tax payers. There's a good reason, and it's not the size of the budgets alone.

Take a moment and follow this scenario:

Town A did NOT increase the tax levy one year.
But it had it's required revaluation, resulting in:
Property Owner Smith's taxes increasing $8,500
Property Owner Jones's taxes decreasing $8,500
The town did NOT receive more taxes.

In effect, owner Smith paid $8,500 to lower Jones' tax bill by $8,500. Can you see that a revaluation creates tax increases (and decreases) for large numbers of tax payers that have nothing to do with budget needs? If you see nothing wrong with this, stop reading.

Is it any wonder the thousands of property owners are upset with property taxes?

Slashing budgets, cutting services, juggling tax rates among owner occupied properties, non owner occupied properties, small businesses, large businesses, using different formulas for revaluations, none of these gets the the root of the problem - the UNFAIR DISTRIBUTION of the tax levy burden.

We do it this way because we have always done it this way.  Is this really the best we can do?

It's way past time to take a hard look at property taxes and to devise a better, less costly, more efficient system where all property owners pay only their fair share of the tax burden, whatever it is.

Please visit the Rhode Island Gets Honorable Taxation website and let your voice be heard.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Guilty and Not guilty

From today's Providence Journal:

"Lawyers for Colorado theater shooting suspect James Holmes formally told a judge Monday that he wants to change his plea to not guilty by reason of insanity after outside experts diagnosed his mental illness."

If everyone agrees that an act was committed (the definition of guilty) by someone does it make any sense to say that the act wasn't committed, yet isn't that what the above verdict says?

I've always thought that instead of Not guilty..., the plea should be "Guilty by reason of insanity", but I'm no legal expert.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The Master Lever

Just a couple of comments about the Providence Journal front page article, "Senate panel holds master-lever bill." Aug 3, Page A1 where lawmakers said it needs more study.

1. Let's be honest. How often are bills actually studied after being dumped into the "further study" bucket? It's just a euphemism for "RIP".

2. If it's really too hard for a person to vote for each candidate on the ballot then maybe that person isn't qualified to vote. In fact it might even be a better qualification test than just having a picture ID or an electric bill to be allowed to vote.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Language can be tricky

Will people ever understand that supporting something is not the same as allowing something to happen?  I doubt that Catholics "support" Judaism or that Jews "support" Catholicism but is there any doubt that each wants the other to have the right to practice their beliefs?

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Revalue Revaluation

Many problems facing Rhode Island taxpayers appear to be self inflicted.  For example, the huge deficits in union pension funds. City officials, taxpayers and union leaders ignored obvious funding deficiencies for many years creating crushing deficits that now threaten to bankrupt local communities.  Everyone loses yet we continue to do it.
One would expect that pocketbook issues producing increasing tax burdens would inspire taxpayers to act in their own best interest, but it doesn't seem to happen.  Why?
Revaluation might be partly to blame.  Revaluation to market values is considered a necessary part of the Property Tax because it is expected that it will distribute taxes fairly. Revaluation does ensure that a new owner will pay a fair tax on the property just purchased but is it also fair for the majority of taxpayers? Perhaps not.
With every revaluation there are many taxpayers who will receive tax increases but also many who will not. Think about it;  this means that just some, not all, taxpayers shoulder the full burden of any tax increase. And they aren't necessarily the owners of the more expensive homes or the wealthiest in the community. Those increases are just as likely to fall on the backs of owners of lower priced homes. That's just how real estate markets work.
Looking more closely at the data we find that the total increase paid by all these taxpayers exceeds the total tax levy increase, often by millions of dollars!  Thus, not only are these taxpayers paying the entire tax increase for their community but they are also paying for the lower taxes enjoyed by the other property owners! And tax roll data show that those with lower bills are just as likely to be owners of the most expensive properties. That's just how real estate markets work.  
In fact, revaluation disconnects our tax bills from the tax levies they are supposed to support. Despite increased local expenses, many thousands of taxpayers get lower bills, and when people don't feel the financial pain, they simply don't care! 
This presents a dilemma for local government: how to combine the fair tax a new owner receives after a revaluation with a fair tax for everyone else that's in harmony with the needs of the community, the tax levy. See one idea to address this problem at
And if we can involve all taxpayers fairly and reasonably it might even lead to better government overall.