Budget

Paul Ryan's "Smoke and Mirrors"

(Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
Paul Ryan, the supposed champion of fiscal restraint among right-wing Republicans, has put his colleagues in an awkward bind. His budget includes a host of unpopular provisions, and if implemented, would eviscerate almost every part of the government except defense, health care, and Social Security by 2050 according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Yesterday, all but 10 House Republicans entered their name in the congressional record as supporters of the bill, providing Democrats with ample material for negative campaigning this fall. Ryan's proposal shows a reckless disregard for the country's less fortunate. Any social safety net for non-senior citizens would disappear, and while the plan would largely maintain Medicare for current retirees, the move to premium support would rob future generations of needed health care coverage, all to achieve lower taxes It might seem like Ryan has never run across a federal program he would like to destroy, but he debunked that...

It Takes an Election

Last year's Save Texas Schools rally produced thousands of people, but education funding was still slashed by $5.4 billion. (Flickr/matthewjuran)
Last year, Save Texas Schools held a rally that wowed most of us covering it. Around 10,000 people came from across the state , traveling hours on buses to demand lawmakers prioritize education funding, and forego the unprecedented cuts the legislature's initial budget had proposed. In a state with little history of organization and few structures for bringing people together, the rally was an impressive success. But here's the thing: Even with the public outcry, lawmakers went ahead and slashed education funding anyway. So perhaps it's not a surprise that this year's rally only had about 1,000 attendees at its height (though organizers say a total of 4,500 people came through at one point or another). Toward the end, the numbers seemed to be in the low hundreds. The speakers each had a different pet cause or complaint —testing, funding, equity—and the overall program ran about 30 minutes longer than it was supposed to. Over at The T exas Observer , I left the program thinking the...

Did Virginia Democrats' Budget Gamble Pay Off?

Smoother roads ahead? (Flickr/401K)
Today the Virginia Senate will likely pass a budget. After weeks of deadlock, that's quite a feat in itself. But for Senate Democrats—who had already voted down two previous budgets and prompted a special session—the latest document is a much bigger victory. For weeks, Senate Democrats had engaged in a risky game of political chicken , demanding both more committee leadership positions and more spending on both state infrastructure and government programs. While the GOP dominates the state House, the upper chamber is divided evenly. However, in split decisions, it falls to Republican Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling to cast the deciding vote—and guess which side he favors. That means that despite a having 50 percent of the seats, the Senate Dems have little committee leadership positions and have been powerless to stop a series of measures, including most famously the state's pre-abortion sonogram measure. When it comes to the budget, though, Bolling can't vote, and Democrats decided...

A GOP Governor Is Pushing Tax Hikes?

(Flickr/soukup)
Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval came into office with tough talk about taxes. Since then, it seems, he's grown disenchanted with Grover Norquist-style governance. For the second time in as many years, he's pushing to extend a group of temporary tax increases, rather than cut public-education funding. What is the world coming to? Nevada's budget crisis last year was among the worst in the country, with a shortfall that amounted to 45 percent of state expenses according to Stateline.org . When courts ruled the state could not draw on local government funds appropriated by a prior legislature to balance the budget, Sandoval opted to maintain tax rates rather than make more core cuts. This year, he's going with the same philosophy it seems. As the Las Vegas Sun reports: “Let me be clear, as I’ve said before, the economy is improving, but I believe we must begin this budgeting process with all the information available,” Sandoval said in a written statement. “In addition to avoiding further...

Minority Parties Get Feisty in Budget Battles

Bumpy roads ahead! (Flickr/401K)
Legislatures in Washington state and Virginia have both garnered plenty of national attention for their fights over culture wars—the push to recognize gay marriage and the controversial debate over requiring pre-abortion sonograms. But with their lawmaking sessions winding down, both states are in the midst of epic budget battles, that will almost definitely force them into special sessions. In both cases, parties out of power are using the budget debates to leverage their positions, gambles with big potential risks and payoffs should they succeed. In Virginia, the state Senate is split evenly, 20-20. However the chamber is run with a tough conservative bent, thanks to a tie-breaking vote from the Republican lieutenant governor. Republicans rule the chamber and have their pick of committee chairs. Senate Democrats argue they're shut out of committee chairmanships and don't have nearly the power they should, given their even numbers. The lieutenant governor cannot vote on the budget,...

Jan Brewer's Case for Government Spending

(Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
It was the finger jab heard round the world. Normally finger jabs do not make noise, but I'm confident that Arizona Governor Jan Brewer got even the air's attention as she stuck her digit at the president when the two met on an airport tarmac in January. Brewer has developed a strong reputation as a conservative—she championed Arizona's controversial immigration bill, among the most extreme in the country. She's pushing for a measure now to give public workers a 5 percent pay increase—so long as they give up their job protections. So far, fairly typical Republican stuff, right? Here's the curveball. In the past, she's pushed for increasing taxes and Tuesday she criticized state Republican lawmakers for offering a budget without enough spending for healthcare and education. Arizona House Republicans offered a state budget Monday with $200 million less than the budget Brewer proposed . As the East Valley Tribune reports , Brewer's spokesman called the plan "short-sighted and reckless."...

Road to Nowhere

Congressional Republicans propose bizarre ways to bring the Highway Trust Fund back from debt.

(Flickr/daBinsi)
The best place in the country to appreciate the marvels of our interstate highway system is heading west out of Denver on I-70 in Colorado. The road climbs and dips at a steep grade, taking cars across the Rockies, a range that includes some of North America’s tallest mountains. Fifty or so miles out of town, the Eisenhower-Johnson Memorial Tunnel, which takes travelers underneath the continental divide, marks the highest point in the entire interstate system, at 11,155 feet. Building the first of the memorial tunnel’s two bores, the one named after Eisenhower, cost more than $100 million, an extraordinary sum at the time. The worst place in the country to appreciate anything at all about the country’s highways system right now is Capitol Hill. The transportation bill the House is working on contains a $260 billion budget. The funds are not for building highways but to maintain them. For years, a gas tax fed the Highway Trust Fund. But that tax has not been adjusted for inflation, and...

A Ride to School, Brought to You by Disney

(Flickr/redjar)
Ah, the old days when school buses were yellow, slow, and smelled funny. With state budget cuts to education around the country, more buses may soon stop being so yellow and instead become traveling billboards. (I'm guessing they're still going slow and smelly.) Legislatures in Florida, Missouri, and Kentucky are all considering bills to allow school buses to sport advertisements on the sides. In all three states, proponents argue that so many cuts to education budgets, the opportunity for more revenue can't be ignored. "My idea of a school bus is a little yellow school bus with happy children riding down a country road with a dog barking at the back," explained a Florida senator sponsoring the bill, according to the Orlando Sentinel . "Unfortunately, we're in times where we have to find every penny we can." Lest you think lawmakers are simply turning children over to the advertisers, the proposals don't allow alcohol and tobacco products to be advertised. But in Missouri, where the...

Greece's Desperate Measures

A budget agreement reduces the minimum wage and cuts pensions.

(AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)
After days of intense negotiations during which its membership in the eurozone seemed to hang by a thread, Greece finally reached an agreement today on the measures that will accompany the new loan package from its European partners and the International Monetary Fund. The measures agreed on are draconian. They include a 22 percent cut in the monthly minimum wage, reducing earnings from 751 euros to 586 euros per month. For people under 25, it will be even lower, down to 511 euros, and any increase before 2016 is ruled out. In addition, further reductions to the minimum wage may take place in July. Meanwhile, all automatic wage increases that are included in collective-bargaining agreements will be frozen until unemployment falls below 10 percent (it is currently at 20.9 percent). Employers are also considerably strengthened in their bargaining position vis-à-vis the unions through changes in arbitration regulations and a contraction of the time period (from six to three months)...

In Case You Were Underestimating ALEC's Role

Florida Representative Rachel Burgin recently filed a pretty typical bill for a conservative Republican, asking the federal government to lower corporate taxes. But there was one thing that made Burgin's measure a little unusual: It began by stating the mission of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). That's likely because Burgin's bill had its origins with the corporate-funded nonprofit. Most Americans have never heard of ALEC. The innocuously named group offers a meeting ground for conservative state legislators and corporations. The organization boasts nearly 2,000 members and partnerships with almost 300 corporations and private nonprofits. The "partnerships" give major businesses the opportunity to shape policy in states around the country. Last year, The Nation embarked on a six-part series called "ALEC Exposed," investigating the group's overwhelming influence on everything from deregulation to privatizing education to killing off unions. But much of the group...

Under Threat of Greek Default

The European Union outlines a budget pact in the shadow of economic disaster.

AP Photo/Virginia Mayo
BRUSSELS, BELGIUM —The specter of Greek default haunted Monday’s informal European Union summit. Despite valiant efforts by EU leaders to focus on promoting growth and jobs, an issue they finally seem to have woken up to, and on finalizing the new fiscal compact agreed on last December, Greece’s debt odyssey hovered menacingly over the proceedings. And, as if the Greek situation were not enough, nerves were further frayed by the evolving Portuguese disaster. As talks were under way in Brussels, ten-year Portuguese bond spreads were reaching euro-era highs of more than 15 percent amid growing fears that the Iberian country would follow in Greece’s footsteps and restructure its debt. The most significant development coming out of the summit was the agreement on the specific terms of the new fiscal compact, which aims to enforce greater budgetary discipline among signatory countries. But the Czech Republic opted out of the new pact during the negotiating process, citing nebulous...

Newt's Final Frontier

JACKSONVILLE, FLORIDA—I'm an avowed space nerd who would love nothing more than to see a human land on Mars during my lifetime. So last night's debate was the most entertaining for me of the unending series in this year's election. Thanks to vapid moderation from CNN's Wolf Blitzer, the majority of the debate was devoted to personal life questions better suited for Oprah's couch than a debate stage. He ended the night by asking the candidates why they were the most electable candidate, essentially requesting each of them to offer a shorter version of their usual stump speeches. One of the few moments where the candidates actually engaged on policy was when the discussion turned to space; specifically the bold vision Newt Gingrich had announced the day before during an event along the Space Coast. Gingrich defended his plan for a lunar colony and a Northwest Ordinance for Space while his opponents harrumphed, claiming it was impractical during a time when Republicans are eager to see...

Has Hell Frozen Over?

Last week, I mentioned California Gov. Jerry Brown's state of the state address , which argued for more moderate approach to education and investments into infrastructure like high-speed rail. Perhaps most shocking, however, is that Brown's plan calls for some slight tax increases. And since California requires voters to approve such increases, Brown is embarking on a campaign around the state to convince people it might not be such a bad idea. In the world of political strategy, this sounds ludicrous. Except that it just might work. A poll from the Public Policy Institute of California shows over 68 percent of California likely voters support Brown's tax proposal. And it's not just Democrats; 65 percent of Republicans favor the governor's plan. According to the LA Times Brown's plan to wallop the well off—individuals earning $250,000, couples making $500,000—pleases the middle class. Raising the sales tax, the governor hopes, will neutralize the business lobby, which mostly fears...

What's the Matter with Kansas, Tax Edition

While around the country, many Republican primary voters are up in arms that Mitt Romney only paid about 13 percent of his income in taxes last year, in Kansas, Governor Sam Brownback is pushing a proposal that would not only benefit wealthy Kansans but raise taxes on the state's poorest residents. A new report released yesterday argues that the plan will benefit some large corporations but fail to create jobs. The plan gets rid of a number of tax deductions—including those for home mortgages and charitable giving. It also takes away the earned-income tax credit and food-sales tax rebate. As the AP noted last week: According to the Department of Revenue's own figures, the only class of taxpayers that would see an increase in its aggregate income tax burden would be the one with people whose incomes are $25,000 or less, while the largest percentage cut would go to the group with incomes exceeding $250,000. As a group, the lowest-income taxpayers actually get a net payment from the...

Look Who's Downgraded Now

The reappraisal of Austria's and France's credit ratings shows that the Greek economic crisis is at high-risk of contagion.

AP Photo/Remy de la Maviniere
Friday was another very bad day for Europe’s crisis managers. Within the space of a few hours, it was revealed that talks between Greece and its international creditors had reached a dead end and were being put on hold and that Standard & Poor’s had downgraded nine eurozone countries, including France and Austria, which formerly held AAA ratings. Both developments are alarming, but the Greek situation is the more immediately pressing. The Institute of International Finance, whose managing director, Charles Dallara—a former high-ranking Treasury official under Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush who has lately made Athens his home away from home—issued a statement Friday afternoon saying that “discussions with Greece and the official sector are paused for reflection on the benefits of a voluntary approach.” The main sticking point, according to people familiar with the talks, is the level of the interest rate to be paid on the new, lower-principal bonds that creditors will get in...

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