QUOTE OF THE DAY
WSJ: The Coming Battle Over the Ballot Box
When President Obama declared victory last November, you might have missed the way he spun his voter-turnout triumph into a grievance: "I want to thank every American who participated in this election, whether you voted for the very first time or waited in line for a very long time," he said on election night, adding: "By the way, we need to fix that."
He returned to the subject at his inauguration: "Our journey is not complete until no citizen is forced to wait for hours to exercise the right to vote." And in his State of the Union address on Tuesday, the president is expected to call on Congress to enact new voting legislation. Several liberal Democrats have already introduced a bill styled the Voter Empowerment Act of 2013.
The effort is a cynical partisan undertaking, according to election lawyer Hans von Spakovsky. In December, some "three dozen of the most powerful liberal advocacy groups, including union organizations," held a strategy session, he says, citing a report from the liberal magazine Mother Jones. They agreed to "oppose all voter integrity efforts, things like voter ID," to push for federal legislation requiring states to permit voter registration on Election Day, and to institute "automatic" voter registration.
"They basically want to use the government to do Democratic voter outreach and voter registration for them," Mr. von Spakovsky says. "They believe that if they can get, for example, everyone registered to vote who is currently getting government benefits like welfare . . . then that will somehow get them more votes at the polls and make it easier to win elections."
The Voter Empowerment Act would also mandate automatic registration of individuals on motor-vehicle, tax and university rolls, many of whom are aliens or have multiple addresses in different states: "You're basically going to be registering lots of people who are ineligible and leading to many duplicate registrations." The groups pushing such efforts—among them the Brennan Center for Justice, the ACLU and the NAACP—include "the same organizations that have been filing lawsuits over the past few years trying to prevent states from verifying the accuracy and eligibility of people on their voter-registration databases," Mr. von Spakovsky says.
WSJ: Texas v. California
Texas Gov. Rick Perry will be making a head-hunting expedition to the Golden State next week. Which apparently is just fine by California Gov. Jerry Brown. "Everybody with half a brain is coming to California," Mr. Brown quipped. "So Texas, come on over!" The Democratic governor may have been poking fun at his Republican counterpart, but the joke is on him.
California has been losing residents to Texas for the better part of the past two decades, a net of 150,000 in the past five years alone. In the same time span, Texas gained 400,000 jobs while California lost about 640,000. In fact, employment in California is lower than it was 10 years ago. While the Golden State's jobs market has begun to rebound, Texas's rate of job growth last year still outstripped California's by 33%.
In the last three years, California companies such as eBay, Facebook, LegalZoom, Waste Connections, Electronic Arts, Visa and Petco have made major expansions in Texas. Most of the job growth in Texas, however, has been organic—meaning small businesses investing and expanding to meet the demands of a growing population.
"This isn't just Texas versus California," Mr. Perry tells me. "It's a competition of ideologies" with Texas representing freedom and California embodying government's ever-visible hand reaching into taxpayers' back pockets. That said, the Texas governor has "great respect for California." He even wants "California to succeed. It's too important to this country's fate. But you're not going to get better unless you play at a higher level."
Fiscal Times: How the New Tax Law Screws the Upper Middle Class
Two of the lesser known and least understood provisions of the fiscal cliff legislation will raise taxes on high-income taxpayers by phasing out personal exemptions and the amount of itemized deductions wealthy taxpayers are allowed in 2013.
The set of rules, dubbed personal exemption phase-out (PEP) and Pease (named after former Congressman Donald Pease, who helped create it), were originally passed in the early 1990s, and remained in place until the Bush-era tax cuts of 2001 gradually eliminated them. The new fiscal cliff bill restores the limitations in 2013*. By limiting the number of exemptions and deductions a high-income taxpayer is allowed, the taxes effectively raise a filer’s taxable income.
The fiscal cliff deal raised federal income taxes on married households who earn more than $450,000, or single filers who earn more than $400,000, but the new PEP and Pease limits on the value of personal exemptions and itemized deductions apply for married taxpayers who earn $300,000 or $250,000 for single filers.
“It’s a sneaky rate increase once you get above the thresholds,” says Matthew LePley, a tax manager at Brighton Jones LLC.
While taxpayers will not have to deal with the tax changes this filing season, experts recommend planning ahead, as a number of tax-saving strategies can be put into action now.
Chicago Tribune: Pension? No, thanks
A strange thing is happening in Springfield. Some Illinois lawmakers are turning down the opportunity to take your money.
To date, 22 legislators have decided not to accept state-subsidized pension benefits. They've said "no" to one of the sweetest perks of serving in the General Assembly.
If you need to read that paragraph again, we understand. The politicians in Springfield aren't known for passing up a chance to take care of themselves.
The 22 who have declined pensions: Reps. Kelly Burke, John Cabello, Katherine Cloonen, C.D. Davidsmeyer, Scott Drury, Brad Halbrook, Josh Harms, Jeanne Ives, Dwight Kay, Stephanie Kifowit, David McSweeney, Thomas Morrison, Martin Moylan, Pam Roth, Ron Sandack, Sue Scherer and Kathleen Willis, and Sens. Melinda Bush, Thomas Cullerton, David Luechtefeld, Andy Manar and Julie Morrison.
Most of them are freshmen. Had they signed up for pension benefits, they would start contributing 11½ percent of their paychecks toward their retirement accounts. With a minimum eight years served in the Legislature, they could retire between ages 62 and 67 and collect up to 60 percent of their final salary. Their retirement income, on which they don't pay state income taxes, would increase each year by 3 percent or half of the consumer price index, whichever is lower.
The retirement benefits are even more generous for many General Assembly veterans. They can collect up to 85 percent of their final salary, with compounded cost of living increases each year. They can begin collecting as early as age 55. Under that system, former Senate President Emil Jones, who retired in 2008, collected nearly $130,000 last year — more than he ever made when he was in the legislature.
LA Times: California lacks doctors to meet demand of ObamaCare
As the state moves to expand healthcare coverage to millions of Californians under President Obama's healthcare law, it faces a major obstacle: There aren't enough doctors to treat a crush of newly insured patients.
Some lawmakers want to fill the gap by redefining who can provide healthcare.
They are working on proposals that would allow physician assistants to treat more patients and nurse practitioners to set up independent practices. Pharmacists and optometrists could act as primary care providers, diagnosing and managing some chronic illnesses, such as diabetes and high-blood pressure.
"We're going to be mandating that every single person in this state have insurance," said state Sen. Ed Hernandez (D-West Covina), chairman of the Senate Health Committee and leader of the effort to expand professional boundaries. "What good is it if they are going to have a health insurance card but no access to doctors?"
Hernandez's proposed changes, which would dramatically shake up the medical establishment in California, have set off a turf war with physicians that could contribute to the success or failure of the federal Affordable Care Act in California.
Doctors say giving non-physicians more authority and autonomy could jeopardize patient safety. It could also drive up costs, because those workers, who have less medical education and training, tend to order more tests and prescribe more antibiotics, they said.
"Patient safety should always trump access concerns," said Dr. Paul Phinney, president of the California Medical Assn.
Bloomberg: Obama to Propose Spending to Boost Jobs in State of Union
President Barack Obama will use his State of the Union address this week to focus on job creation and the struggles of American families, marking a renewed emphasis on the economic issues that defined his first term.
The president will offer proposals for spending on infrastructure, clean energy and education, according to a senior official briefed on the speech. He will also stress the agenda laid out in his inauguration address, pushing Congress for action on immigration, gun control and climate change.
Obama previewed his Feb. 12 speech in remarks before House Democrats meeting in Virginia last week, where he advocated “an economy that works for everybody.”
“I’m going to be talking about making sure that we’re focused on job creation here in the United States of America,” he said.
Democrats and Republicans are targeting their post-election messages on the economy as the latest unemployment report shows the nation continues to only slowly create jobs. Payrolls rose 157,000 in January after accelerating more than previously estimated at the end of 2012, the Labor Department said on Feb. 1. The jobless rate increased to 7.9 percent from 7.8 percent.
The economy unexpectedly shrank in the fourth quarter at a 0.1 percent annual rate, restrained by a plunge in defense spending and dwindling inventory growth.
Obama is expected to use his address to push for immigration legislation that includes a pathway to citizenship for the country’s estimated 11 million undocumented workers and on gun-control proposals, including a ban on assault weapons and universal background checks for gun buyers.
The Hill: Federal employees' union head: Obama pay raise proposal 'simply not enough'
The president of the American Federation of Government Employees says a one-percent increase is "absolutely unconscionable."
The head of the largest federal employee union said Saturday that President Obama's proposal to increase pay for federal employees by 1 percent was "absolutely unconscionable" and "simply not enough."
"It is not enough to allow federal employees to make up lost ground from two-plus years of frozen pay. It is not enough to allow workers, most of whom earn very modest salaries ranging from $24,000 to $70,000, to maintain living standards. And it is not enough to send a message with any kind of clarity that the administration values the federal workforce and doesn't believe it should continue to bear an enormously disproportionate share of deficit reduction," David Cox Sr., the president of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), said in a statement.
The White House told labor leaders of the proposed increase in the 2014 fiscal year budget in a phone call late Friday night. That raise would come on top of the half-point pay hike, scheduled to take effect in late March, which has been delayed as part of the "fiscal cliff" deal struck last month. Federal salaries have been frozen since 2011.
AFGE pledged in its statement to "work with friends in Congress who truly value the federal workforce," a signal that the union will likely lobby liberal members of Congress to oppose the president's budget.
Reuters: Postal Service tries to get smarter on routing
The Postal Service is soliciting advice on how to create a new, high-technology system for routing mail and packages, in a move that could help close the gap between it and private-sector rivals FedEx and UPS.
The financially struggling mail agency said it wants a "dynamic routing" strategy that can help it offer new products that could boost revenue, such as same-day delivery and pickups at retail locations.
It would also help the agency deliver more efficiently as it moves to five-day delivery of first-class mail. The Postal Service announced on Wednesday that it will phase out Saturday delivery to cut costs.
The U.S. agency has struggled for years to regain financial footing as it grapples with massive payments for future retiree health benefits and as Americans' reliance on online communications drives down mail volume. It lost nearly $16 billion in its last fiscal year.
The mail agency quietly posted last month a "request for information" on a U.S. government website seeking advice from private companies or individuals for a dynamic routing system for delivering individual packages outside its day-to-day routes. It is not offering any compensation for information at this point.
The Postal Service sees an opportunity in the growth of e-commerce, but it lacks a state-of-the-art software or GPS-based system to help the deliverer find individual addresses and the best routes to get there.
CARTOON OF THE DAY