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The Durango Herald, Dec. 27, on tax reform:

Tax legislation passed by the Republicans last week does not significantly simplify tax filing, nor does it provide tax reductions for everyone. Lower and moderate income payers will have about twice the standard deduction and child tax credit, which are reductions and simplifications, while some individuals’ tax bills will decline depending on how income is earned and where they live.

The wealthiest will save money with a reduction in their tax rate, as will the small number who inherit very large estates.

What the tax bill does do in a grand way is to give Republicans a chance to prove that reducing federal business taxes will lead to business expansion, employee hiring and increases in wages.

Most business-related reductions are permanent, while some of the individual benefits have an eight-year life in order not to exceed the mandated $1.5 trillion maximum impact to the deficit.

Plenty of economists, not just members of the other political party, are skeptical of those expectations. And, they doubt that the business tax changes will sufficiently energize the economy to offset more than a third of the $1.5 trillion total cost over 10 years of the tax reductions.

The legislation’s headliners are reducing the corporate tax rate of 35 percent to 21 percent, and lowering taxes on businesses which pass income and expenses through to their owners. There is a cap on just how big those businesses can be, but expect accounting firms and lawyers to be busy shaping “pass through” ownership structures perhaps in imaginative ways. The reward eliminates 20 percent of income from taxation.

The new pass through benefit will likely be embraced, while the reduction in the corporate rate may have only a limited effect. Corporations have on average been paying about 28 percent, and some much lower. Many corporations already have plenty of cash (a few have been borrowing at the low interest rates) which could have been used for expansion and wage increases; lower taxes is only one factor in business decisions.

Expect the larger post-tax profits to go to shareholders.

To partially pay for the tax reductions, there will be a cap on the amount of local taxes which can be deducted. Combine that with the larger standard deductions and voters may be less likely to support local tax increases. That favors the Republican less-taxation ideology, but voters tend to be more accepting of local taxes, being more apt to see how their tax money is spent and knowing local decision makers. Fewer taxpayers who itemize may reduce charitable giving somewhat, as well. That can be considered a price of simplification.

Other income will come from a more conservative cost of living index, reducing the mortgage interest deduction from amounts up to $1 million to $750,000, and eliminating moving expense deductions. Some are small, and the tax code continues to be broad and detailed.

The U.S. economy has been growing steadily since the 2008 recession, with a low and going lower employment rate and a soaring stock market. Will the tax changes, which so heavily benefit business, result in an even stronger economy which benefits workers, and not instead add to the deficit? Republicans are now even more closely linked to that expectation.



The (Grand Junction) Daily Sentinel, Dec. 26, on one-party rule being no way to run a country:

Criticism of the Republican tax overhaul — focused largely on partisanship and process — obscures its most significant benefit, which is a more competitive footing for U.S. corporations in a global marketplace.

Even former President Barack Obama thought it was important to lower corporate tax rates to make the United States a more attractive place for entrepreneurship and growth. He proposed a top rate of 28 percent rate in 2012, down from 35 percent (where it remained until President Trump signed the tax bill last week).

Leaders of both parties have acknowledged the need for reforms that keep more investment and jobs in the United States. But instead of using the corporate rate as a starting point for bipartisan negotiations about reforming the entire U.S. tax code, Republicans rammed their plan through Congress without a single Democrat voting for it.

The tax bill is deeply unpopular. We’ll get to why in a moment. But by getting the top corporate income-tax rate down to 21 percent — putting the U.S. roughly on par with top marginal rates in European countries — U.S.-based corporations will have less incentive to use offshore havens for their earnings and foreign companies will have more incentive to locate some of their operations here. This “reshoring” of capital to America should have been a goal of any tax reform effort.

But, by not taking a revenue-neutral approach, the new tax bill adds an estimated $1.4 trillion to the national debt over 10 years, with most of the tax relief going to corporations and the wealthy. Maybe that’s why two-thirds of Americans polled don’t support it, even though the vast majority of Americans will indeed pay fewer federal taxes initially.

But the middle-class tax relief is temporary, with taxes scheduled to increase unless Congress extends the cuts beyond the mid-2020s. The corporate tax rate cuts, however, are permanent, worsening the optics for the GOP. When Republicans announced they were making tax reform their priority, they were promoting middle-class tax relief that wouldn’t add to the national debt and would make the tax code simpler.

The way things turned out, the middle class comes off as an afterthought to the GOP’s donor base. If the bill doesn’t electrify the economy, raise wages and create upward mobility among middle-class households, the GOP is going to have a nightmare of its own making — much as Democrats have had with “Obamacare.”

What’s startling — to us, anyway — is how casually Republicans overlooked the lessons of Obamacare. Especially how the public’s initial perceptions about legislation gain permanence over time.

As the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank observed recently, “Obamacare did much of what was advertised, and its popularity grew. But it didn’t do everything that was promised, and anything Americans didn’t like about the health-care system became the fault of Obamacare, even if unrelated to the law.”

The tax bill has to deliver appreciable improvement to the working class — a tall order for an already strong economy. Otherwise the giveaway label will stick and the politics of division will be perpetuated further.

When will we learn that one-party rule is no way to run a country?



The Denver Post, Dec. 23, on Denver hosting the Winter Olympics:

Continued interest among Colorado’s movers and shakers to host an Olympic Winter Games can seem truly odd.

This is the state whose voters infamously stunned the world in 1972 by voting to reject the 1976 Winter Games after the International Olympics Committee accepted Denver’s bid to host them. It’s the state where many continue to decry the steady stream of newcomers and resulting development that challenges our quality of life.

It’s a state, too, chronically unable to pay for the basics, like K-12 education and adequate transportation and transit infrastructure. Folks are plain angry about the traffic in Denver. And then there is the drive up Interstate 70 to the mountains. Do we really want to bring more attention to the awesome slopes the I-70 parking lot eventually leads to?

Denver struggles with critics furious about rapidly increasing housing and rental costs. Debates about how to handle gentrification rage, even as civic leaders are preparing to give away taxpayer dollars to lure the second Amazon headquarters to our state.

Yet here we are. The U.S. Olympic Committee is interested in seeing what Denver can come up with, and Mayor Michael Hancock has assembled a statewide panel of bright lights to explore the feasibility of presenting a bid, most likely for the 2030 Winter Games and Paralympics.

It’s an ambitious bunch already hard at work, and we hope the court of public opinion gives them a chance to make their case. It would be a shame not to showcase Colorado’s world-class mountains on the Olympic stage, and Denver is far better poised than it was in the ’70s to absorb the crowds after massive public investment in its sporting venues and convention center, its transit system and the in-the-works National Western redevelopment.

Rob Cohen — a longtime fan of the games, CEO of insurance and wealth management company IMA Financial Group, and chair of the exploratory committee — argues that Denver likely could host the games with a mix of private money, insurance instruments and proceeds from ticket sales. Though Russia spent $50 billion to host the Winter Games in Sochi in 2014, he sets the Colorado price tag at $2 billion.

To make his argument, Cohen points to recent changes in the Olympic bid process meant to greatly rein in the runaway spending seen in Sochi. Olympic officials would be willing to accept existing infrastructure and facilities, and drop past requirements that precluded temporary structures. What’s more, Denver could expect to receive about $1 billion from Olympic coffers.

For a little perspective, consider that, for all the concern, our city’s hosting of the Democratic National Convention in 2008 wasn’t such a heavy lift after all.

Count us skeptical, but also solidly among those curious to see the exploratory committee’s findings. Colorado’s status as a winter sports capital is without question. The state is home to many past, present and future Olympians. It is deeply committed to parathletes. Our active lifestyle and passion for sport only add to the desire to see just what Colorado could do to put its stamp on these storied international contests.

Former Gov. Dick Lamm, who led the charge against the games in 1972, tells us he also wishes to keep an open mind this time around, adding: “Is it possible that Colorado could run a cost-effective Olympics? I suppose the answer is yes. They should have the chance to make their case.”

Colorado offers a wondrous opportunity for the Winter Games, and the games could offer Colorado much in return.

It would be foolish not to seriously consider another bid.



The (Cortez) Journal, Dec. 21, on the politics of “winning” leaving little room for the voices of ordinary people:

In theory, the United States has a government of, by and for its people. Lately, though, the opinions of most people seem to matter very little.

Despite bipartisan opposition from nearly everybody — technical experts, the public and even Congress — and with the exception of whoever was responsible for the hacking campaign that left hundreds of thousands of anti-neutrality comments on the Federal Communications Commission website, the FCC voted last Thursday to repeal net neutrality rules that prevent internet providers from differentiating in speed, cost and even availability between types of content. The change does not benefit consumers, and the potential for censorship is clear.

Despite opposition by many recreational users, scientists, environmentalists and a coalition of Native American tribes, President Donald Trump has given a big gift to energy companies by decimating the new Bears Ears National Monument. Public comment was ignored. Lawsuits will follow.

Despite polls that showed more Americans supporting the Affordable Care Act than opposing it, the president and Republican Congress have repeatedly attempted to “repeal and replace” it. During the last go-round, Sen. Cory Gardner refused to tell constituents how he intended to vote, and those who tried to contact him found that his voicemail wasn’t accepting messages. Many, many members of Congress avoided town halls where they knew worried constituents would ask hard questions. That’s not right.

House and Senate tax reform bills passed quickly with little time to gather or tally public comment. Both versions benefit campaign contributors more than they help constituents. Neither is a straightforward tax cut for ordinary taxpayers. Public opposition has been fierce and largely futile.

The initial Senate bill passed with all Republicans except the renegade Bob Corker voting for it, and all Democrats voting against it. What can that mean? That it benefits only Republicans and harms only Democrats? That’s unlikely, but it’s equally unlikely is the idea that Democratic senators had no constituents who favored reform and Republican senators had none who expressed concerns. The most probable explanation is that a whole lot of public comment was dismissed.

Perhaps most disturbing is the president’s attitude toward those who do not agree with him. He is not only dismissive but often contemptuous.

Governing has become more about winning than about representation. It’s important to remind elected officials that those who lose – lose insurance coverage, lose ancestral lands to energy development, lose their voice in Washington while they pay more taxes – are constituents as well. As the recent Alabama vote demonstrated, ignoring them has painful consequences, as it should.

Americans cannot be neatly divided into political parties and ignored when their party is not in power. Listening to and learning from public input should be an integral part of governing.

Shame on those who think they know better than the people who have elected them to serve.