Food: A New Sin Tax For Utah?

That’s right. I’m going to say it again: Food is perfectly eligible as a sin tax.

…and by sin, I’m referring to the politician’s and crony organizations’ sin.

Utah legislators are contemplating raising taxes on food because they’re worried about a budget shortfall. It’s funny how that may be the case after we’ve spent, bonded and redirected who knows how many millions or billions on crap outside the proper role of government. I guess all those cute ‘it only costs a tenth/half percent of the budget or it’s just a few dollars a day’ projects add up and you start to fall short for important stuff…like more useless projects government shouldn’t be involved with.

Rather than just slapping everyone with another tax hike, maybe they should look at cutting some of the crony capital junk (UTA, Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce front group boondoggles come to mind, among others). How about also ditching wasteful incremental budgeting with all it’s skunks, while your at it?

On the local level, we keep hearing that RDAs for a new, unnecessary city hall building won’t raise taxes. As I said in the past, it’s robing Peter to pay Paul and the piper will come calling when taxing entities find they’ve fallen short of money because the RDA etc. ate some of it up. The above is another example of the fallacy of the city council’s argument.

Finally, politicians don’t own all the guilt. The public (you and I) will band together to form groups demanding stuff like recreation centers, theaters, RAP taxes which impose on budgets and, ultimately, on families. Hopefully, we’ll consider the propriety and whether it’s a core governmental function or not next time we want something, else we’re our own worst enemy.

Utah’s Secret Sweetheart Deal With Amazon (Update)

Prior to Christmas, Governor Herbert announced a deal with Amazon.com that would have the site collect Utah taxes. Amazon is known to support requiring all online retailers to collect tax (in part to provide Amazon a competitive advantage) and the Utah Legislature has also been making forays for such. At the time, I wondered why Amazon had agreed to do this and figure it had to have some benefit (I was thinking Herbert had assured them he would get the tax bill through the legislature). Evidently, we won’t know much about the deal – Herbert refuses to release the details: Advocacy group wants copy of secret Utah-Amazon tax deal.

Libertas Institute, a Utah group that advocates for personal liberty, was denied a request for a copy of the tax deal struck by internet retailer Amazon and the state of Utah.

They justify the secrecy by saying it is “protected information”. It seems very dubious that government can make such things secret that have no national security value. The only thing we know right now is Amazon is collecting the tax and is getting a kickback that I don’t believe any brick-and-mortar or Utah online company receives:

The State of Utah made an agreement with Amazon where the company gets a 1.3 percent cut of the tax collected.

So it looks like more crony capitalism from the Herbert Administration.

I’m done with it and will actively avoid directly buying from Amazon too (not that I buy much from them anyway). They have plenty of third party sellers who don’t collect the tax (and Amazon doesn’t get the kickback). I’ve also noticed that third party sellers also have their own websites and tend to sell the same product for less thereon. As an added bonus, buying directly from the little guy also allows you to better support small business.

UPDATE: Just checked my messages and low and behold, Libertas Institute is going to follow up on this. Hope they’re successful. Here’s the alert they sent out:

Despite failed efforts to (unconstitutionally) require out-of-state companies to collect and remit the Utah sales tax, the executive branch hasn’t given up its insatiable appetite for tax revenue.

The Utah State Tax Commission entered into a secret agreement with Amazon whereby the e-commerce website would voluntarily do it. The question is, what were they given in return?

We don’t know—and the state doesn’t want us to know.

We requested the document that has those details, but were denied. Many are outraged by that, and the Standard-Examiner and Salt Lake Tribune have editorialized in opposition.

Next week we’ll be appealing the decision, fighting for transparency—fighting against our own government that refuses to let taxpayers know basic information about secret deals with out-of-state companies.

Edit for transparency: I had initially written that I won’t use Amazon anymore but changed that to “actively avoid”. I got thinking about it and if I am given an Amazon gift card, I’m not just going to give Amazon the money and not use it. Nevertheless, I can use it for a third party purchase on the site and also use something like camelcamelcamel.com to get a sale or best price for an item.

Trump Wins And The Work Begins

I was not in the #NeverTrump camp, quite the contrary. Am I happy he won? Sure, we have temporarily dodged a bullet. I’m not going to rain on anyone’s parade so despite writing this the day Trump became President-elect, I held off posting this until today.

Let’s start with the good. Trump’s election shows that the electorate (particularly the blue-collar middle class) has soundly rejected:

  • Crony capital schemes (on a national level, at least) – Enough with the sweetheart deals for the politically connected. Nobody has ever liked them and everyone is sick of getting them shoved down their throats by the political class.
  • Obamacare – Trump was clear on this and people have been clear on it for years after everyone was forced to eat that crap sandwich via unconstitutional and unethical congressional maneuvers. Much of this goes hand-in-hand with the point on crony capital schemes.
  • Political correctness and the politically correct despots (“Social Justice Warriors”) – I never bought into the SJW tyrants and their ‘good for thee not for me’ rules. That includes their media enforcers.
    Certainly, SJWs and their main stream media enforcers will continue to try to personally destroy anyone who opposes their absurd rules. They’ll also continue to try and extort businesses into capitulation. But maybe this indicates a turning point of people finally telling them to pound sand and returning to the capability to vehemently disagree and understanding that being offended isn’t a crime. I also hope this will indicate a willingness to take people on their intents (everyone misspeaks and says stuff they regret in the heat of a moment) rather than solely seeking to set traps and savage them with innuendo and effectively strangle free-speech* (critical to a nation’s health).
  • The elite and their double standards – People are tired of the ivory tower dwellers telling us they know how to run our lives better than we do. Basically, see the above for starters. Glaring examples include exemptions from laws that affect others (eg insider trading) and all the crony back-room deals and preferential treatment in economics and media. The incestuous Washington DC cabal needs to end. Succinctly, Drain The Swamp!
  • Open borders – People are not at all interested in open borders. While Americans are compassionate, we aren’t foolish and willing to trash the nation. If you kill the goose, you have no golden eggs to be compassionate with. Both illegal and legal immigration need to be addressed (including “anchor baby” rules – no more birth tourism and auto citizenship for those illegally here). Build the wall (and pass E-verify) and improve the entry process!
  • Oligarchy – People want a real rule of law. They want Lady Justice blind. Hillary represented oligarchy with the obvious capricious application (exemption) of laws that would have any other person in prison.

Ok. Now for the rain on the parade. I don’t trust Trump. I have hopes but I don’t trust him and that’s a good thing. As Hamilton said in Federalist 25:

For it is a truth, which the experience of ages has attested, that the people are always most in danger when the means of injuring their rights are in the possession of those of whom they entertain the least suspicion.

Trump’s died-in-the-wool supporters and those who voted for him can’t be naive and think the above rejections are on autopilot. Not even close and I don’t trust Trump to fully follow through. SJWs, the media, entrenched politicians and corny capitalists are going to fight like hell so you better plan on doing so as well. Furthermore, I also implore people to not give into the expediency of getting something they want but gauge such through the filter of Constitutional propriety. I plan on fighting Trump if he blows off constitutional bounds ala Obama. Mike Lee and Ted Cruz I hope will also help beat the drum on this as well. Again, this is only the beginning.

The first and most crucial step to national restoration is to repent and turn to God. We need to pray for a return to divine values and righteousness as a nation. Certainly this includes praying for Trump to do so as well but the course of a nation and it’s acceptance of God’s grace and blessings is the duty of the people, not just their leaders. This starts with you.

Along with a return to God, we need a return to constitutional values and respect. The two really goes hand-in-hand. Please read the Constitution, read the Federalist Papers, discuss them with your children, friends and co-workers and press for them to be taught in schools.

Now, let’s go Make America Great Again.

*If unfiltered free speech floats your boat, look at Gab.ai as an alternative to Twitter. Twitter and Facebook have shown themselves to be SJW-dominated (including site ownership/admin) tyrants. Gab gives you the power to set your own filters (rather than being imposed on you by big brother Jack) and engage as wide or limited points-of-view you desire. And, no, I’m not affiliated with Gab other than just being a user.

Another Hillary-Media Lie: The 2008 Financial Collapse

This is just a quickie to point out a lie that Hillary uttered in the debate and Democrat allies (eg the mainstream media) continue to parrot. She tried to pin the 2008 meltdown on tax policy. It is absolutely absurd. As noted in 2008, she only needs to look in the mirror. I’m not the only one who caught her lie:

In fact, tax policies had almost nothing to do with the recession of 2008. What caused the market crash was the collapse of the subprime market. If that collapse had an architect-in-chief, his name was Bill Clinton. This is not a speculation. It is an easily documented fact…

The article goes on to discuss Fanny Mae and Freddy Mac, Franklin Raines, Community Reinvestment Act, and arm twisting banks under thread of ‘racism’. Funny thing is all of that should sound very familiar. Here’s a blast from the 2008 past:

Burning Down the House: The Financial Fiasco in Under Ten Minutes (Updates)

Here’s the video I posted back then:

Ah, good times, indeed. If you want more on the bailout, use the bailout tag and scroll down to the 2008-2009 time frame.

Never Stop: Bountiful City Council Continues Using City Hall As Wasteful Spending Spearhead

Bountiful City is making another foray into getting a new city hall. This marks the third time in about four years. See my posts on the city hall issue for their prior attempts and tactics. Evidently, again, city hall simply isn’t good enough and is considered “blighted” for their RDA scheme. By that standard, if you live in a 39+ year old home, time to demo that blight and rebuild, forget remodeling!

In a letter* penned by Councilman Pitt, he explains that they absolutely listened to citizens who asked that no new city hall be built. After they listened, they just chose to ignore citizens’ plea.

…The multi-city, multi-agency committee showed its approval and confidence in the proposal by voting to extend Bountiful’s Redevelopment Agency, thus investing $21.7 million of tax payer money in downtown over the next several years.

The letter lists off some additional non-core government pet projects that will be funded  including “Assistance with a future education center on site of the old city hall”. I believe this is code speak for the art center/museum that was rejected by citizens last time they tried this (EDIT: I re-read the faq and I think he’s referring to the UofU using the old building but that may still include the art/museum as well) . Back then, I ran the numbers and noted that the museum was supposed to cost $1.5 Million with half coming from the private sector…cost overruns indeed. Now, entire project costs are about $8 Million higher. They sure listened…

…The projected cost to build the new city hall is $13 million. Not $20 million as claimed by Better Bountiful. That represents a net cost of $6.5 million over what it would cost to remodel the current site as advocated by Better Bountiful.

In 2013, the new city hall cost was $9.5-10.5 million, now we’re up to $13 million**, an approximate 30% increase. Plus, add another $8.7 million for the other items they want to fund. So yeah, Better Bountiful has a point – this overall projected is being spearheaded by the city hall issue and has now ballooned from an initial $10 million to $21.7 million.

Once upon a time, private donations were to help pay for the museum etc. Now that’s not the case and costs continue to climb. I wish interest groups and politicians would stop to consider people aren’t interested in paying for their pet projects and these things take money by governmental force from young families, fixed income elderly, and public schools (RDA funding = forgone tax revenue). It would be courteous if they would stick to their original (partial) plan to raise private funds for some of this stuff instead of defaulting to forcing others to pay.

Finally, remember how desperate our roads needed help so local politicians and city councils passed resolutions in support of a tax increase (which gave them a kickback for bailing out UTA)? The Bountiful City Council passed the resolution on June 23, 2015. Taxes were increased but as one Clipper commenter noted, the city council seems to have other priorities:

It would seem that the council would rather build an edifice to themselves rather than make due with what they have, and get the roads fixed…

*As an aside: note the humorous title of the letter…gotta love thinly veiled attempts at localized propaganda.
** On Mr. Pitt’s confusing numbers: renovations are an already expensive $6.5 million, new building is $13 million – a net increase in project cost of $6.5 million. The way he phrased this may lead folks to think the new building is $6.5 million when it is actually $13 million. I have no idea if that is intentional salesman spin or poor clarity in writing on his part but if he penned the city’s faq (see Bountiful City website), then it may be the former:
In the faq, the author attempts to justify a new city hall as an economic driver for Main Street. I’m sorry, a new city hall is not a tourist attraction. The same clients coming for permits are not going to all-of-a-sudden start burning cash on Main St. because city hall has a new car smell. Private business is an economic driver, not pretty new government buildings with no additional service.
Other justifications for the spending include a plaza for chalk art and a car show. Both of these already have perfectly adequate venues and interest groups are welcome to fund improvements (if they actually even want any in the first place) rather than tapping taxpayers/schools.

Financial STD: Citigroup Continues Bailout Cronyism Binge With Costco Card Win

Don’t ask me how I ran into this topic…clicking links on credit cards sometimes leads you to things you never thought of looking into (or caring about).

Apparently Costco is switching their card carrier to Citibank and Visa. Big whoop, right? The only thing that intrigued me was that it appears that Citi may have buyers remorse unless a lot of card holders decide to carry a balance on their card and thereby pay ridiculous interest and fees:

How Much Citibank and Visa Actually Overpaid to Win the Costco Business Away from Amex

Costco to Pay Almost Zero to Accept Credit Cards

Discover CEO Defends AmEx’s Decision to ‘Walk Away’ From Costco

Citigroup and other Visa-issuing banks may profit from the new arrangement as people use their cards more and carry interest-earning balances.

I was obviously interested enough to click a few links on the issue. Anyway, somehow in my clicking I stumbled on this:

Citigroup’s past losses may have helped it win Costco business

Citigroup Inc had at least one advantage in its successful bid for the exclusive right to issue credit cards for Costco Wholesale Corp, rivals and tax specialists say: it lost so much money during the financial crisis that it has billions of dollars of tax credits.

…”The deferred tax assets would be quite a dramatic advantage,” said Robert Willens, an independent accounting and taxation consultant. Citigroup, he said, may well have won the deal by being able to offer far better terms to Costco than banks that pay more in taxes…

…To competitors, the bank’s tax credits are an irritant. A big chunk of the bank’s deferred tax assets stem from the billions of dollars of losses it generated during the financial crisis. Citigroup was rescued three times by the U.S. government between 2008 and 2009, and one of the rescues threatened to wipe out some of the bank’s deferred tax assets.

Much like an STD, the bailout keeps on giving. Well, that and when Treasury “relaxed the rules governing such assets”.  Political cronyism certainly has its advantages.

If this kind of stuff grates you and you happen to shop at Costco it sounds like you have two options:
a) Refuse to use or cancel the Citi Visa card (per comments, Costco will accept any Visa or cash/check) or
b) Use Citibank’s Costco Card at Costco and never carry a balance* (per the articles: the rewards program is a money loser for them due to the low interchange rates – please comment/use contact form if they can still make money when consumers don’t carry a balance).

If you don’t shop at Costco, the only thing you can do is switch cards to another provider (they all have rewards or cute cards if you’re into that kind of thing).

*Something you should do anyway unless you like paying 20% more for every product you buy. If you are going to use a card, be smart and pay the balance off – set up an auto pay also to avoid late fees (c’mon the whole card thing really is a gimmick to suck you into overpaying for stuff, don’t fall for it).

Prop 1: Funding The UTA Money Pit With Government Kickbacks

Back in June, I warned that I would be surprised if city and county governments didn’t put the UTA tax on ballots because of the “incentive” the legislature gave them. It’s a fiscal incentive better known as a ‘kickback’ which would normally be highly unethical if not illegal but since the legislature did it, it’s ok…  Please read the above linked post for details on the kickback along with a list of the other tax increases this year and links to UTA’s bad financial audits. You can also go directly to the 2014 audit here or read a related article from the Salt Lake Tribute here “Audit blasts UTA, says it gave millions in sweetheart deals

Rather than reinvent the wheel and post my own summary on why we should oppose Proposition 1, let me paste in an excellent summary I was sent in an email (original author is Heather Williamson):

…Also, we are concerned that another tax is being considered against us. And I mean against, not FOR us. Taxes take more dollars out of our pockets which we can simply can not afford. Governments should be expected to work within their existing budgets just like my family and I have to.

However, I am equally concerned with where our tax dollars are going. Almost half of the tax proposal will go to the Utah Transit Authority. UTA has been less than frugal with their funds. I find it offensive that I am being asked to be more frugal with my money, so UTA doesn’t have to be with theirs.

At the end of 2010, UTA was millions of dollars in debt, and the debt continues to rise. The following year over $600,000 was spent on international travel, which an audit released called these ‘work trips’ unnecessary and a misuse of public funds. UTA also signed a deal with a contractor in Draper, which according to another audit, lacked the proper legal documentation and defied UTA’s own rules and regulations. After the deal experienced failure after failure, UTA lost roughly $2 million dollars and did not seek compensation. The auditors concluded that this put “tax dollars at an unnecessary risk.” According to the same audit, UTA legal counsel advised to recover the $2 million, however the executive board decided that the loss was acceptable.

UTA executive bonuses have totaled close to $2 million dollars a year, and that is not including the bonuses that UTA is withholding to report on. According to the same audit, UTA has not reported all compensation to Utah’s state transparency website. Two years ago, General Manager of UTA made over $400,000; General Counsel made over $350,000; and the Chief Operating Officer made over $300,000 and their compensation continues to rise. This government entity is asking for more money, because it has paid itself into debt. And now they are asking me and the other county residents to restrain our budgets even more to pay for their lack of basic budgeting skills. This sales tax, if approved, will increase UTA revenue by millions a year. However, when does it stop?

I have nothing further to add other than to ask you to please vote NO on Prop 1.