Center for Free Enterprise
“It is well to be up before daybreak, for such habits contribute to health, wealth, and wisdom.” –Aristotle
Perhaps it was this Aristotelian proverb that led Congress to pass the Standard Time Act of 1918 establishing both a standard time and the practice of clock shifting known as Daylight Saving Time (DST)—or perhaps it was the industrial war effort of World War I instead. Either way, the clock shifting practice has been controversial over the years as it was repealed, vetoed, over-ridden, reinstated temporarily during World War II, observed in select localities, mandated nationwide, extended in duration by months for a brief period, and finally, most recently, extended in duration permanently by a few weeks.
Currently, observance of standard time and Daylight Saving Time is governed by the Uniform Time Act of 1966 as amended by the 2005 Energy Policy Act which extended the saving period by a few weeks starting in 2007. Under the act, individual states are permitted to exempt themselves by state law as have Alaska and Arizona.
Recently, Utah lawmakers passed HB 197 which directed the Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GOED) to conduct a public meeting to gather comments and input on the impact of exempting Utah from daylight saving. The meeting was hosted in the Clarke Planetarium in Salt Lake City where a demonstration of various sun movements could be simulated. GOED has created a website to gather votes and opinions on the issue. Thus far, it seems those individuals most ardently opposed to DST have volunteered their opinions (68%) while many unaware of the issue may not have chimed in yet. Whether you favor or oppose government mandated clock shifting, GOED wants to hear from you.
America has cancer.
I’m not talking about the various forms of deadly and debilitating biological cancer that many American’s suffer and die from, like those often related to years of smoking. No, I am talking about a cancer affecting the impersonal host that is our country, our government, and our economy. We have a cancer just as debilitating and dangerous, and just as difficult to treat, as any form of biological cancer. The cancer I speak of is crony capitalism.
At our recent Liberty Forum, Utah businessman Jonathan Johnson, an executive at Overstock.com, spoke of the debilitating effects of over-regulation and how the burden of compliance with government mandates threatens business at all levels, but is particularly deadly for small businesses.
Too often this debilitating regulation is by design—not the necessary function of government, but rather the tactic of private interests who have captured government power and wield it like a hammer to flatten their competitors. This nefarious use of government power is crony capitalism, a brand of capitalism that is anything but. Instead of free and fair competition in an open and level marketplace, the well connected few curry government favors, subsidies, and regulations to rig the game in favor of the influential.
Plenty of attention has been given in recent years to the newspaper industry, suffering one loss after another as advertisers flee to new markets and new technologies outpace old systems. This market disruption is nothing new, nor confined primarily to one or a few industries. It was satirized 170 years ago by Frédéric Bastiat in his humorous petition whereby candlemakers, whose livelihoods are threatened by the sun, call for its free and abundant light to be shut out.
The same disruption is now occurring in public transit. Enter Lyft and Uber, two young companies bringing the social networking revolution to transportation. These services pair drivers up with those who need a ride using geolocation on their mobile devices.
And because these emerging services pose a threat to longstanding institutions replete with their unionized and politically connected employees, it’s no surprise to see conflict. In Virginia, both companies were served a cease and desist last week by the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles because “the companies are illegal and have not received proper authorization from the DMV to operate in the state.” Both companies are wonderfully defiant of this order. For its part, Uber publicly announced its resistance, providing the following context:
During the recent legislative session, word broke out that the financially failing Swanson Tactical Training Center in Ogden, Utah, was looking for an easy exit. Having appraised the facility for north of $11 million, the Swansons were willing to sell to the county for under $4 million.
The problem facing the county was that they didn’t have the money. So, in unsurprising fashion, they ramped up their lobbying efforts in search of state funds. In late January, a free dinner and shooting event was held at the facility to dazzle legislators and encourage their support of an appropriation of tax dollars to help make the sale a reality.
Senator Allen Christensen, a proponent of the expenditure of tax dollars on the gun range, remarked: “This is a fantastic deal. You’re talking about tens of millions of dollars that have been expended on this whole facility, and we’re getting it for a fraction of that.” (Somehow we’re to believe that a price being discounted is sufficient to justify the government’s acquisition and ownership of something…)
It should also be noted that this wasn’t Swanson’s first attempt at approaching the legislature; in 2008, the Senate unanimously voted for a $2 million appropriation to the Tactical center, laundering our tax dollars through the Division of Housing and Community Development. The appropriation was never considered in the House, and therefore was not approved.
In addition to seeking an increase in the sales tax to help improve its services, the Utah Transit Authority has doubled the amount of bonuses awarded to its managers since last year.
A total of $1.74 million in bonuses was awarded to 389 employees, for an average of $4,473. Of course, most bonuses fell below that average, because many others were substantially higher: $30,000 to the General Manager, General Counsel, Chief Operating Officer, Chief Communications Officer, Chief Capital Development Officer, Chief Safety Officer, and the Chief Planning Officer. Three other managers received bonuses higher than $20,000, and another 21 were awarded bonuses higher than $10,000. All of this is on top of high base salaries.
The Salt Lake Tribune‘s editorial on this issue focused primarily on the public relations problem that such bonuses has generated. But the problem here is fundamental, not superficial. Throwing so much cash at the upper echelons of a bureaucracy is objectionable not only because it’s allegedly excessive or generates bad press—it’s bad because it’s our money.
Today, April 15, is known as “tax day”—the deadline to file one’s income taxes. We are compelled by the government to furnish detailed, personal information regarding our economic activities for the year 2013, 100 years after the passage of the 16th amendment.
That’s right: this country has had a constitutionally authorized federal income tax for less than half the duration of its existence. Despite its now longstanding existence in America, its ideological proponents include folks like Karl Marx who, in his Communist Manifesto, listed “a heavy progressive or graduated income tax” as one of the central planks of his central planning philosophy.
It’s no surprise that his sympathizers in the progressive era of the early 20th century acted earnestly to see this policy adopted in America. It began, like most new government programs, in modest fashion; the income tax was only a small part of total government revenue. That changed after World War I, when the income tax furnished a significant portion of total taxes. Within a matter of years, it became an irreplaceable and largely accepted method of financing the federal government’s operations.
Part One in the “Dollars and Nonsense” Series. Click here for part two.
In a recent op-ed we highlighted the importance of paying attention, pointing out that government’s actions, whether transparent or deceptive, pose a threat to our liberty. Of all the things we should pay attention to, the budgeting and appropriations process is among the most critical. This, of course, is the process whereby your elected representatives spend your money after confiscating it from you through taxes.
Sifting through and understanding the legislative budgeting process can be complicated as all the relevant information is not necessarily in one place. In an effort to help taxpayers make better sense of where their money is being spent outside of core government activities—and to peel back the curtain on the sausage grinder that is the legislature—we have compiled relevant data from multiple sources into the following document:
In addition to the “base” annual budget for recurring and ongoing expenditures, legislators can request appropriations to expend money on specific spending items in either “one-time” or “ongoing” amounts. When dollars are set aside for a very specific purpose or program we call it an earmark because those funds are reserved for that particular purpose, as opposed to general budget funds for an agency or department that might be used on any number of programs at the discretion of the agency.
President Obama has recently decided to make it illegal to buy, sell, or trade ivory that is less than 100 years old. International trade of “blood ivory” has been illegal since 1989. According to unnamed conservationists, illegal poaching and trafficking have exploded in recent years despite scientific studies showing African elephant populations have generally stabilized across the 35 elephant range states in Africa. So, in an attempt to deal a fatal blow to illegal trafficking of ivory, the president decided to take the 1989 restrictions a step further and deal with the contraband at home that feeds a black market internationally. In recent years he has destroyed the supply of all seized ivory and artifacts and is now further restricting its interstate trade.
These sorts of special interest mandates carry wide popular support because they tap into emotion. This is evidenced by the international public outcry over the routine killing of a genetically compromised giraffe at a zoo in Denmark a few weeks ago. It’s the same with Arctic polar bears, tigers, pandas, gorillas, or blue whales. People place higher emotional value on that which is exotic.
Last year’s convention center subsidy proposal is back, and it passed unanimously out of committee yesterday. Remarks made during the discussion make clear our point, once again, that legislators should not be economic developers.
Trained economists who (claim to) understand market trends consistently fail in their predictions. Why, then, do we place any stock in the predictions of politicians who do not have sufficient training and background to even make an educated guess? More importantly, why do we allow them to use the tax base as a slush fund with which to incentivize certain businesses in hopes (yes, mere hope) that their predictions are correct?