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Posts published in December 2011

Deduction on the edge

You could say, in some ways, the pride of the Washington congressional delegation in recent decades has been specific inclusion of provisions that allow residents of the state to deduct sales tax costs from their federal income tax payments, the way income tax tax payments are deducted in most other states.

It makes some rational sense, since there's no income tax in Washington. But it requires a little extra effort and cooperation with other states to get it done. And it matters considerably: In 2009, about 850,000 taxpayers in Washington claimed $1.8 billion through the deduction.

But it has to be regularly re-upped. Will it continue this year, in a time of such extreme conflict over tax provisions?

No one knows right now. A statement out today from Representative Jim McDermott: "As Congress moves closer to adjourning for the year, it has yet to pass critical legislation that affects millions of Washington state residents – extending the state and local sales tax deduction. Today, Congressman Jim McDermott (D-WA) called on the leaders of Ways and Means Committee – the tax-writing committee in the House of Representatives – to include an extension of this deduction in any tax package that is considered in the remaining days of the congressional calendar."

Who else pays no income tax

One of the talking points surfaced in recent months from those defending the low tax rates for the wealthiest is that many people - somewhere close to half - pay no income tax, mainly because income levels are so small and much of what remains is covered by deductions and other tax provisions. That argument overlooks the many other taxes these people do pay, from payroll to sales and (directly or indirectly) property taxes.

Maybe a little more useful is a new report out showing how much the largest corporations pay in federal and state taxes. The report called Corporate Tax Dodging in the Fifty States, 2008-2010 by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy and Citizens for Tax Justice was released yesterday.

In Oregon, the Center for Public Policy did a little localizing. From their statement:

"The report confirms the need for state corporate disclosure laws," said Chuck Sheketoff, executive director of the Oregon Center for Public Policy. "Oregonians have a right to know which large corporations are using accounting gimmicks, special laws and tax loopholes to avoid paying income taxes on their profits."

Of the 265 corporations studied, 68 paid no net state income taxes in at least one of the years from 2008 to 2010 -- even as these companies together reported making almost $117 billion in pre-tax profits in the years when they paid no taxes.

That group included Intel and 19 other Fortune 500 corporations which, when adding up the past three years, paid no net state income taxes. Although Intel paid state income taxes in one of the three years, it had a negative tax rate in the other two years, according to the report. The company, which has large manufacturing facilities in Hillsboro, reported to shareholders $23.3 billion in profits during the three-year period.

International Paper is another Fortune 500 corporation with production facilities in Oregon identified as having paid no net state income taxes over the combined three-year period, though it did pay taxes in one of those years.

The report revealed a wide range of state income tax rates paid by corporations, even among companies in the same industry. For example, Wells Fargo paid state income taxes at a rate of 0.7 percent on $49.7 billion in profits during the three-year period. But another financial services company, J.P. Morgan Chase, had a tax rate of 9.1 percent on $32.7 billion in profits during the same period.

Likewise, McDonald's had a tax rate of 4.8 percent on profits of $8.2 billion, while Yum! Brands (owner of KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell) had a tax rate of -0.4 percent on profits of $1.1 billion.

Such different tax outcomes for profitable corporations in the same line of business underscore the need for disclosure, Sheketoff said.

Carlson: Three strikes?

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Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

Count me as one who voted for Barack Obama in 2008 because he inspired a sense of hope that he could lead this nation towards more comity among its conflicting interest groups, inspire partisans to set aside partisanship for a consensus regarding the national interest, and set a tone for civility and respect that would restore faith in the legislative and executive branches to work together to solve the vexing challenges the future held.

Count me now as disappointed in much of his record, back on the fence and more than willing to see if the Republicans can offer a decent alternative.

There are three major areas where he has fallen below expectations.

First, President Obama has failed most of the fundamental tests of leadership. Specifically, he should have acted swiftly and made clear what he would do as soon as he heard rumblings that the Republicans were going to make an issue out of raising the debt ceiling.

A real leader should have recognized how further damaging to the world economy the mere debate over whether to raise the debt ceiling would be to the marketplace and what a corrosive impact on the fragile recovery such a move would be.

He should have had House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell down to the Oval Office and told them flat out he would invoke the 14th Amendment which he believed gave him the power to raise unilaterally the nation’s debt ceiling, and that if he heard another peep he would do it. And then made good. Push the envelope until someone pushes back hard.

Also under failed “leadership” is his inexcusable failure to put all the prestige of his office behind the well-thought-out, well-crafted set of compromises the Erskine Bowles/Alan Simpson Commission had worked out to address the nation’s spiraling deficits with a balanced plan of spending cuts, entitlement reforms and revenue enhancements. Instead he left a solid, responsible plan dangling in the wind. (more…)

Many flavors, all conservative Republican

Up in the Idaho Panhandle, they've got the Republican Party, in the region's extension of the state organization together with the county organizations. Same as the Democrats.

What isn't the same are all the other conservative Republican organizations.

You got your Rally Right, your Kootenai County Reagan Republicans, your Panhandle Pachyderms, your North Idaho Pachyderms, your Women Republicans, and not to forget the Tea Party (in, evidently, multiple flavors).

Why the need for so many? Well, it takes a lot of work to make sure the local Republican organization - that is, the actual party - isn't infested with RINOs (Republicans In Name Only, which seems to mean anyone who has a difference of opinion with one of the new groups).

Actually, all these apparently aren't quite enough, either, hence the Monday launch in Rathdrum of United Conservatives of North Idaho (which some said was just a reboot of Rally Right, but never mind).

A Huckleberries correspondent, Duane Rasmussen, offered this account:

Yes I was there. It was a very up beat type of program. I saw people from Rally Right, Reagan Republicans, Panhandle Pachyderms, North Idaho Pachyderms, Women Republicans, the Tea Party organizations and most if not all the Republican Central Committees in the five northern counties of Idaho. John Cross who is the Republican Region One Chairman, played a prominent roll as did Representative Phil Hart, Representative Vito Barbieri, Representative Dick Harwood and Kootenai Sheriff candidate, John Green. Mr. Green recited an event when as a young Deputy Sheriff and he was sent to back up two IRS agents who where conducting a seizure of assets. He stated that he should have arrested the agents then and there but did not have the knowledge and courage to do so at the time. He promised that things will be different when he becomes Sheriff. There was significant talk about RINOs and a degree of gloating about the progress Conservatives had made against the Rino’s in the Kootenai County Republican Central Committee.

These are not people who believe in working with, well, other people: If your point of view is different, well, it's survival of the fittest out there. Shoshone County Republican Chair Chuck Reitz said Democrats and moderates should not be negotiated with: “Jesus didn't compromise. He was always straight, and he knew where to go.”

Dave Oliveria's Huckleberries blog has been a great place to follow the minutiae of these developments, which demonstrate that for all the push toward one pure central doctrine, these people have been splintering and re-splintering in dramatic ways.

Consider this statement from Jeff Ward, who leads the Kootenai County Reagan Republicans:

“Many of those who attended [the United Conservatives meeting] last night did so to determine if this new organization was merely a re-branded Rally Right and if the purpose of this organization was to conduct political purges within the Republican Party. It is pure delusion (although a number of speakers alluded to it) that the Republican Central Committee in Kootenai County is infested with moderates and liberals. I challenge anyone to honestly name five active Precinct Committee Chairs who are not conservatives. Previously anyone, regardless of their solid conservatism, who refused to take direction from Rally Right's Mr. Pederson, were slanderously branded as liberals. There was also an element of Obama-like class warfare with attacks on the affluent members of the Central Committee as if financial success somehow invalidated one's conservatism. I sincerely hope this organization will not continue those insidious and destructive tactics.”

Pure, pure, puree ...

Washington border’s liquor market

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The voter-determined Washington state shift of liquor sales from a state-run to a (regulated) private system may have only marginal effects within that state. With some exceptions, prices likely (this is based largely on the California and Nevada experience) won't change too drastically, and the often-ballyhooed social effects aren't likely to amount to much.

Could be that the result of that vote impact Oregon and Idaho just as well as Washington.

Of Oregon, there's already been plenty written, and will be more, if only on these grounds: Washington's political environment is similar enough to Oregon's that a comparable public-to-private shift isn't hard to feature. Especially with private-sales states both to the north and south.

The Oregon Liquor Control Commission evidently takes the idea seriously enough to do some pushback.

You may have heard some say that liquor is cheaper in California. The facts are that only a handful of products are significantly lower, while most products are very competitive. In fact, after you’ve added in the California sales tax, many popular products in Oregon are actually less expensive.

Many retail stores in states like California use a sales tactic called “loss leaders.” This is the practice of drastically marking down a few popular, fast-moving products to entice customers into coming into the store and purchasing other products. But then other products are likely marked higher to make up the cost difference.

The OLCC does not use these techniques to entice people into liquor stores. For public safety reasons, the state does not try to encourage alcohol sales or try to entice people into the stores.

The most common size bottle sold in Oregon is 750 ml also known as "fifths." Most people who purchase alcohol purchase this size - and this is the size where Oregon is the most competitive.

We took the advertised prices from a popular grocery chain and liquor store in California (including their sales tax) and compared them to Oregon. The price comparison showed that the final cost of a "fifth" of Smirnoff Vodka in Oregon was $12.95. In California, the final price (including sales tax) was $15.21. Another popular brand, Bailey’s Irish Cream, was $21.95 in Oregon - the average price, including tax, was $23.92 in California.

In a 2010 study, there were many brands in which the Oregon price was lower than California ’s: Bacardi, Jack Daniels, Seagrams, Jose Cuervo and Hennessy - just to name a few.

Our informal sense (in our household, there are periodic trips between northwest Oregon and northern California) is that, the OLCC notwithstanding, better liquor deals can be had in California. But not by enormous margins.

There's been somewhat less talk about Oregonians heading north to buy liquor. But the talk of northern Idahoans heading west to buy in Washington state has been ramping up.

A Spokesman-Review article out today says that 13 (at least) Idaho liquor stores are within 15 miles of the border with Washington, and they account for about 23% of liquor sales in the state. They have been high producers because Idaho liquor prices have traditionally been lower than in Washington - a situation likely soon to change. Idaho could lose millions in sales profits in Northern Idaho next year. And Idaho doesn't, at present anyway, seem to be making any moves toward sending its liquor sales into private hands.

A point not noted was this: What if Oregon (as seems probable) joins Washington in going private? The impact would likely be less, but Ontario could become as busy with liquor sales as it once was selling lottery tickets.

A Leaching at WSU?

A headline in the Washington Post sports section today says, "Hiring of coach Mike Leach shows Washington State is ready to shed underdog label."

It also seems ready to shed quite a bit else. There are campuses devoted to football and those with a focus on academics. This is usually a choice between the two: The overlap tends not to be large.

In WSU's case, what does this sound like?

WSU's new football coach Mike Leach, less then two years out from his firing at Texas Tech, was hired at a base salary of $2 million a year (plus add-ons that add another half-mill or so to that), which is twice or more the highest salary ever paid before to a WSU coach. This at the PAC-12 institution with the smallest marketplace, the smallest stadium, lowest average attendance and smallest athletics budget. He will be among the top-paid coaches in the PAC-12.

About that firing ... Leach did deliver wins in his Texas Tech years, finishing 84-43. But then in December 2009 he was caught up in an incident involving a player with a concussion, and within one month - from the time of the incident - he was first suspended, then fired. (There were also, in the reasons for the firing, allusions to "other things", which makes you wonder, since in Texas they don't tend to fire winning football coaches lightly.) And he didn't go quietly: There were lawsuits, charges and counter-arguments. Since then he has been a broadcast football analyst, but hasn't been hired back to coach since his firing.

Nor is that all. There are any number of videos circulating now, including the infamous "fat little girlfriends" video embedded here. He may not be the most shining possible ambassador for WSU in the season ahead. (You might also, for additional perspective, check out this one too.)

But at WSU, that's far from all. Athletic Director Bill Moos said (in the Post article) that he "is asking that fans fill the 32,000 seats at Martin Stadium and open their wallets to make bigger donations. ‘I opened my checkbook for you, you open your checkbook for me,” Moos said. Construction started this week on an $80 million project to add premium seating, luxury boxes and a new press box to the stadium. Also on the drawing board is a $60 million football operations building."

Well. This year, the Oregon Ducks haven't been matching their 2010 spectacle. And in the last couple of years the Boise State Broncos have been falling a little shy of their national-attention-getting seasons.

They should count their blessings.