Bureaucrat Beat: do the right thing, Buffett scolds Congress, and DWP must be joking

inyosups 1-4-11Today, in the Bureaucrat Beat Newsroom we have sad news and a few laughs.  So sad that Inyo Supervisors must take their own constituents to court to try to prove their wish for open government is illegal.  Hey, maybe there are legal issues, but the heart of the matter is the problem.  Inyo citizens feel shut out of their own government.  In fact, they have for some time.

We in the Bureaucrat Beat Newsroom feel that a good statesman could resolve this issue without court fights and bad feelings.  One or more of the members of the Board of Supervisors should call some of the proponents of the ballot measure that would force public projects into open discussion and a public vote.  First, both sides must remove their ego armor and leave it at the door.  Then, like neighbors who really care about each other, the people involved could talk it out – in public.  We bet  that if they lay aside the “us against them” attitude, good government would surface – one that does think first of the citizens and their needs and fears, one that will, hand in hand, find the best way for us to live together.  We hope that Supervisor Chair Susan Cash and any other board member will extend that invitation and find a productive way, outside the courtroom, to govern ourselves.

On to a much uglier arena – Congress.  Mega-billionaire Warren Buffett has laid out the problem.  He wrote an article in The New York Times entitled, “Stop Coddling the Super-Rich.”  Coming from one of the super wealthy, this has meaning.  Buffett writes, “Our leaders have asked for ‘shared sacrifice.’  But when they did the asking, they spared me.  I checked with my mega-rich friends to learn what pain they were expecting.  They, too, were left untouched.”

Buffett went further:  “While the poor and middle class fight for us in Afghanistan, and while most Americans struggle to make ends meet, we mega-rich continue to get our extraordinary tax breaks.”  He goes on to describe unconscionable tax loop holes for the billionaires, and he demystifies the fable that lower tax rates create more jobs.  Not so, says Buffett.  He adds that the super rich pay far lower taxes now than they did 20 years ago and lower payroll taxes, too.  The man with the money says Congress should raise taxes on those who make more than $1 million a year, including dividends and capital gains.  For those who make $10 million or more, Buffett suggests an additional increase in tax rates.  His last line says, “My friends and I have been coddled long enough by a billionaire-friendly Congress.  It’s time for our government to get serious about shared sacrifice.”   That’s what a rich man without greed sounds like.  Listen up, Congress.

And, under the Surely You’re Joking category, we had to chuckle when we read the Department of Water and Power’s excuse for no more clean up on 3 square miles of polluting dust on the Owens Dry Lake.  They pointed to “other sources of  dust”.  What other sources?  Do they think house cleaning in Lone Pine kicks up enough dust to violate federal standards?  Maybe it’s cigarette smoke from outside the Double L and Jake’s.  Geeeesh, DWP.  You need better fairy tales than these.

The poor utility just can’t seem to get on the side of the Angels.  Even when they’re trying to do the right thing, bad Karma catches up.  A recent story in the Los Angeles Times by Louis Sahagun found this: “Federal authorities are investigating the deaths of at least six golden eagles at the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power’s Pine Tree Wind Project in the Tehachapi Mountains, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.”  Seems wind farms have gotten away with bird slaughter by their whirling turbine blades for years.  But when DWP did away with Golden Eagles, those were  birds too far.

How about Tules too far.  The poor Lower Owens River could offer a great boat ride for many miles except for the choking cat tails.  Sahagun wrote a story on that one too.  He pointed to the disappointment of what LA’s Mayor once called a major milestone in river restoration.  Los  Angeles – the City of Soundbites and short-lived triumphs.

With that, this is Benett Kessler signing off for Bureaucrat Beat where we await your word on our lives in the Eastern Sierra and beyond.

 

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22 Responses to Bureaucrat Beat: do the right thing, Buffett scolds Congress, and DWP must be joking

  1. J.H. August 16, 2011 at 8:08 pm #

    Wow, I can’t believe I actually agree with Buffett.

     
    • upthecreek August 17, 2011 at 4:16 pm #

      tell him to step up and write a check to the TAXMAN

      ‘ be a trend setter” instead of a mouth piece

       
  2. Eamon August 16, 2011 at 10:45 pm #

    RE: the Board of Supervisors comment…..while it is odd that this litigation is occuring it is ultimately related to the decision by the AOC in choosing Bishop as the location of the proposed new court slated for Bishop as well as a “county center;” this proposition has been brought by a few “well heeled” residents of Independence who really don’t want to see their bottom line move out of town. Yet, numerous public meetings were held and comments recieved by the AOC along with an extensive study on the suitability of the Court’s location in Inyo County. I’m very happy that an unbiased, factual decision was made by an outside agency choosing Bishop as the logical and most sensible location. I would support this proposition so long as it isn’t retroactive, specifically regarding the new Court.

     
    • Benett Kessler August 17, 2011 at 7:12 am #

      FYI,
      The newly proposed county center has nothing to do with the AOC. It is purely a local project that would house Inyo County government employees. Citizens point out that their officials failed to discuss all of the important details in public.
      Benett Kessler

       
      • Eamon August 17, 2011 at 1:33 pm #

        Thanks for the clarification, Ms. Kessler.

         
    • Charles James August 17, 2011 at 8:37 pm #

      Well-heeled” residents of Independence?!

      I’m guessing anyone who would make such a comment knows very little these people named in the lawsuit or the Town of Independence. These are in fact well-respected, prominent community members from Independence AND Lone Pine.

      Jim Bilyeu is a retired Deputy Sheriff and the former Inyo County Supervisor representing the County District which includes Independence. Mary Roper is the former County Registrar of Voters. The others named in the suit are successful business people.When the County sues people of this stature, with their experience and background with the County, it should invite a closer look by voters and taxpayers.

      I cannot say whether there is a constitutionality issue with the ballot measure, but we should know more after the hearing on the 19th. Its possible the matter may well be resolved by then…or not!

      As to the alleged secrecy, it seems to me that citizens should be keep informed of any major decisions which may encumber the tax payer with large debt such as a capital improvement project that may cost millions of dollars. Is asking that the need for such a project or improvement be openly discussed and clearly justified such a terrible idea? It sounds sort of “democratic”, don’t you think? If confidentiality is required, why isn’t it being better explained?

      It’s true that many of the buildings currently housing County offices in Bishop are inadequate and many are not in very good condition. But that County offices need to be housed into a centralized County government center in a town the size of Bishop is arguable on several fronts..

      What would the impact of the County offices no longer renting or leasing office space have on the town’s economy and commercial real estate market? Does Bishop really need more empty office buildings? Will building a centralized county goverment facility provide significant saving to the county taxpayers or improve service? These would seem to be things that the public should be entitled to know. Frankly, if it saves taxpayers money and provides for better service, I’m all for it! But will it? That’s the question that should be asked and answered.

      Finally, those on both sides of this issue are not feckless or irresponsible people. They have known,e ven worked with each other for many years. To see this dispute devolve into a lawsuit when simple dialogue and greater transparency might have sufficed to address the concerns seems silly, pointless, and completely unnecessary.

       
      • Eamon August 22, 2011 at 8:57 am #

        I say “well-heeled” you say “well-respected, prominent community members”…..point is, they have something to loose if a County center is built in Bishop.

         
      • Eamon August 22, 2011 at 6:34 pm #

        Mr. James, you said “it seems to me that citizens should be kept informed of any major decisions which may encumber the tax payer with large debt such as a capital improvement project that may cost millions of dollars.”

        Yet logic based upon your arguement would also require that County officials should ask the public prior to donating to the State, free land, with no strings attached (other than a Court being built on it) at County expense and loosing the tax revenue as well, It sounds sort of “democratic”, don’t you think?

         
        • Charles James August 23, 2011 at 1:44 pm #

          Eamon,

          How is it the County would be losing tax revenue?

          According to the California Constitution, Article 13: TAXATION: SEC. 3. The following are exempt from property taxation:
          (a) Property owned by the State.
          (b) Property owned by a local government, except as otherwise
          provided in Section 11(a). (Note by self: this section 11(a) does not appear to be applicable to this particular parcel of land.)

          There are no taxes brought in by this property. It is exempt!

          It is your interpretation of my logic in this case that is faulty on several fronts:

          1. Property values, hence property tax revenues, have dropped significantly over the past couple of years, so it is anyone’s guess as to what the actual value of this property is in real world terms but it would be a safe bet it is worth a lot less now than it would have been a few years ago. It might be interesting to know what the value might be, but there are other factors besides the poor economy and real estate market that determine value such as:

          The value of a property is also determined by its potential use or by the restrictions on its use. It’s unlikely anyone is planning on building condominiums or homes on property adjacent to the jail. And again, in this case, there are no property taxes associated with the property whether it be held by the County or by the State so where is the “loss of tax revenues” to which you allude?

          2. It is likely that the only thing that might be built on this property would be government-related to begin with as it is quite literally adjacent to the jail, so the offer to the State is little more than a quid pro quo offer to incentivize the likelihood of new courthouse facilities being built that better meet the needs of county residents. And it may or may not happen.

          3. The building of the courthouse facilities does not incur any public indebtedness to the residents of Inyo County in the form of any large capital expenditures. It is the state that would build the new courthouse facilities and pay for their upkeep and maintenance.

          In truth there really is no county expense, only the possibility of or use with the hope that the residents of the County will be rewarded through the State with much-needed new courthouse facilities in the south end of the County.

          It is a “win-win” for county residents and the Board of Supervisors did exactly the right thing in making the offer.

           
  3. Ken Warner August 17, 2011 at 11:28 am #

    “We bet that if they lay aside the “us against them” attitude, good government would surface –”

    Bennett — what are you smoking?

     
  4. sierragrl August 18, 2011 at 9:13 am #

    Seems to me that many initiatives as proposed are illegal or unworkable, but those initiatives go forward anyway, then are litigated afterwards. A good process, perhaps not, but in theory it’s out weighed by the benefit of being able to bypass the legislators and get something on the ballot.

    many many initiatives are poorly written by people unknowledgeable about the topic they are trying to legislate (not saying this is the case here as I am unknowledgeable on this topic). But they pass because they relate to a current day hot topic and sound good on the outside. I’ve come to the conclusion that almost all initiatives are poorly written and not good bills to be passed. It’s unfortunate that a process that was meant to be a last ditch effort to be used only when absolutely necessary is now used on a whim or to push one’s political views.

     
  5. Greg Young August 18, 2011 at 2:50 pm #

    Regarding your comments on Mr. Buffet, the statistics in his opinion piece gives evidence of the advantage of keeping taxes at the current rate. Here is the quote:
    “Since 1992, the I.R.S. has compiled data from the returns of the 400 Americans reporting the largest income. In 1992, the top 400 had aggregate taxable income of $16.9 billion and paid federal taxes of 29.2 percent on that sum. In 2008, the aggregate income of the highest 400 had soared to $90.9 billion — a staggering $227.4 million on average — but the rate paid had fallen to 21.5 percent.”

    In presenting this information he tries to suggest that because the rich pay less of a percentage of taxes, there is less income to the government. But if you simply analyze the figures you realize that even at 21.5%, the income tax actually collected quadrupled from $4.9 billion to $19.5 billion. That was the affect of both Reagan’s tax cuts and Bush’s tax cuts. Though tax percentages were lowered, income increased because more people made more money to tax.
    Another statistic to consider, since Mr. Buffet is talking about raising taxes, is to look at tax returns in 2009 where there were 8,274 people who earned $10 million or more dollars. Their total reported income was $240 billion; not taxes, but income. If you taxed them 100% and took all their earnings, you could only run the government for less than a month and doesn’t even come close to covering the immediate budget deficit of $1.5 trillion. That is why it is a spending problem, not a taxing problem.

     
  6. upthecreek August 19, 2011 at 9:54 am #

    Not enough money in the world to pay off our governments unfunded debt.
    So just keep spending Mr Uncle Sam

    Maybe we need a few more wars…

     
  7. Ken Warner August 19, 2011 at 8:11 pm #

    Greg Young wrote:

    Regarding your comments on Mr. Buffet, the statistics in his opinion piece gives evidence of the
    advantage of keeping taxes at the current rate. Here is the quote:
    ?Since 1992, the I.R.S. has compiled data from the returns of the 400 Americans reporting the
    largest income. In 1992, the top 400 had aggregate taxable income of $16.9 billion and paid federal
    taxes of 29.2 percent on that sum. In 2008, the aggregate income of the highest 400 had soared to
    $90.9 billion — a staggering $227.4 million on average — but the rate paid had fallen to 21.5 percent.?

    In presenting this information he tries to suggest that because the rich pay less of a percentage of
    taxes, there is less income to the government. But if you simply analyze the figures you realize
    that even at 21.5%, the income tax actually collected quadrupled from $4.9 billion to $19.5 billion.
    That was the affect of both Reagan?s tax cuts and Bush?s tax cuts. Though tax percentages were
    lowered, income increased because more people made more money to tax.

    Another statistic to consider, since Mr. Buffet is talking about raising taxes, is to look at tax
    returns in 2009 where there were 8,274 people who earned $10 million or more dollars. Their total
    reported income was $240 billion; not taxes, but income. If you taxed them 100% and took all their
    earnings, you could only run the government for less than a month and doesn?t even come close to
    covering the immediate budget deficit of $1.5 trillion. That is why it is a spending problem, not a
    taxing problem.

    ========================================================================================

    There’s a lot wrong with Greg Young’s post. Let’s take the first obvious one —

    “the income tax actually collected quadrupled from $4.9 billion to $19.5 billion. That was the
    affect of both Reagan’s tax cuts and Bush?s tax cuts.”

    Regan’s tax cuts had NOTHING to do with this increase in wealth for those 8,274 people who earned
    more than $10 million dollars a year. The time period Buffet explicitly defines runs from 1992 –
    2008. Which includes Clinton’s tax increases. And it was during the Clinton administration where
    the wealthiest 20% saw their wealth increase the most. The argument that the actual taxes collected
    quadrupled conveniently omits the detail that the tax rate under Clinton was about 39% for income over $250,000 when the wealthy had the greatest increase in their income. If you do the research, you’ll see that Clinton’s tax rate was more beneficial for the wealthy than Bush’s 34.6% tax rate.

    Further, the taxes that would have been paid under Clinton’s tax rate would have been closer to $30 billion — not the $19.5 billion that was actually paid. So the wealthy got a $10 billion
    dollar tax break and the country went deeper in debt.

    Young myopically focuses on those earning over $10 million dollars a year as some sort of baseline
    example. But there are 236,883 households earning over $1 million dollars a year. And all those
    households typically pay a smaller percentage of income than the bottom 80%. Wages count for less than 20% of the typical income for those in the highest tax brackets. Most income is from investments which is taxed a 15% capital gains – while the actual effective rate is less than 12%.

    You often hear that half the country pay no income tax at all. The bottom 50% don’t pay any income
    tax largely because they have no job. The bottom 50% control lest than 5% of the wealth of America. The top 1% have almost half the total wealth of this country. Yet people like Young want to balance the budget of the United States entirely by cutting essential services which the bottom 50% depend on.

    That’s not fair.

    Lastly, Young presents a totally fallacious red herring — “If you taxed them 100% and took all
    their earnings, you could only run the government for less than a month”.

    The problem is how do we pay back money that has already been borrowed and spent. Our $14 trillion dollar national debt is money already spent. We borrowed it and we’ve all enjoyed the benefits that resulted from spending all that money. Some have enjoyed it much more than others.

    His argument is that if you can’t get enough from those who earn more than $10 million dollars a
    year to run the government more than a month then it’s not worth the effort. That’s just plain
    insane. We are necessarily talking about the need for long term budget considerations. Yes, we
    need to cut spending — like subsidies for the big oil and fossil fuel industries. Yes, we need to
    cut spending on unnecessary wars. Yes, we need to stop give aways to big pharmaceutical companies
    with Medicare Part D.

    And we also need to raise revenues — by making everybody pay their fair share. You can’t balance
    the budget only by eliminating the social safety nets for the most poor while the top 20% of wealth
    holders get a free ride on the backs of the hard work done by the bottom 60% of wage earners.

    You’ll hear over and over again how the welfare freeloaders are getting a free ride at the expense of the rest of us. What about the free ride the top 20% are getting at the expense of the rest of us?

    http://motherjones.com/politics/2011/02/income-inequality-in-america-chart-graph

    Take a look. Since Reagan, the top 40% of wealth holders have had their wealth increase
    dramatically while the bottom 60% of wealth earners have had their share of the wealth of this
    country decrease. And it’s the bottom 60% of wealth earners that do the awful, hard, dirty jobs
    that enrich the top 40%.

    The argument that the wealthy are the “job creators” is another red herring. The Bush tax cuts have
    been in effect for 10 years. Where are the jobs? And what kind of jobs have actually been created?
    The worst paying service jobs! The average real income has diminished since Reagan.

    That’s not fair and the only advantage to keeping the income tax rates the same as they are now is
    to further enrich the wealthy. The top wealth holders have benefited from low taxes at the expense
    of everybody else. It’s time for them to step up and pay their fair share.

    Read Buffett’s editorial here — it’s simply about fairness:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/15/opinion/stop-coddling-the-super-rich.html

     
  8. Greg Young August 20, 2011 at 7:52 am #

    Ken, thank you for your reply, but you have completely missed the point. When taxes were cut, in the time frame mentioned by Buffet, as well as Kennedy, Reagan, and Bush, income derived from taxes increased, not decreased. I have not proposed increasing taxes now, nor lower them. But I will now suggest that Congress merely needs to commit “long term” to extend the current rate for 4,6, or better, 8 years, not 2 years. Private industry is sitting on over $2 trillion they are not investing because of an uncertain future of more regulations and taxing (Apple has $76 billion in cash right now).
    The second point is government has increased in size and expenditure since 2008. The essential services were being provided with a 2008 budget. We must reduce expenditures. You mention the 236,883 who made more than a million dollars. You could double their tax rate, double it, and you will still fall short of the current budget by $400 billion, based on 2009 tax return. Its a spending problem, not a taxing problem.

     
    • Ken Warner August 20, 2011 at 12:35 pm #

      If by “size of the government” you mean the number of people in government employ — the number of people employed by the government has remained fairly constant since 1945 with a modest increase during Reagan’s administration and a tiny decrease during Obama’s administration.

      The number of people employed by all levels of government has more than tripled but the over all population of the U.S has more than doubled and the country is a lot more complicated now than in 1945 so an increase in the number of people employed at all levels of government has not surprisingly increased.

      With regard to taxes and revenue — the gross national product (GNP) was about $2 trillion at the beginning of the Reagan era. The revenue from that GNP was about 19% of the GNP.

      Since Reagan, the overall revenue as a percentage of the GNP has decrease steadily. Our GNP now is about $14 trillion and the revenue is about 15%. 4% of $14 trillion is a lot of money. In summary, Reagan collected more revenue as a percentage of the GNP than Obama. But you hear all the time how Obama is ruining the country. Doesn’t quite compute if you look at the economic history of the U.S.

      Your claim that revenue goes up with decreasing taxes is true because the overall GDP is increasing. But can you demonstrate a causal relationship between lower taxes and increasing revenue or is it the global economy combined with inflation that is causing the increase in revenue? It’s not a simple calculation like you imply. And if our debt is increasing because we have to continually borrow money to pay for things like wars and health care, maybe we should increase revenue to pay for those things. Or maybe we should stop having wars and health problems.

      Lastly, you are blaming (again) the government for all the troubles in our economy citing regulation as the boogie man du jour. May I suggest that the real reason large American businesses are sitting on capital is that they don’t know if they will be able to sell their products to a population where a large portion of that population increasingly less wealthy.

      Yes, we must reduce expenditures but that is a simplistic solution. We need a more intelligent national policy with regard to domestic and international affairs. There is a lot wrong with our government. Let’s fix them with sensible economics that includes both spending cuts and revenue increase and a more sensible set of national goals like affordable health care for everybody. A healthy population is more productive.

      Revenue increases don’t have to be permanent. But they are needed now because we — as a country — have been foolish with our wealth in the past. It’s time to face our debts and deal with them. And those who benefited the most from our economy should be the group who contributes the most to get us out of our current situation don’t you think?

      The right wing’s simplistic solution is to turn poor people into Soylent Green. That’s not a solution — that’s Grover Norquist’s wet dream.

      References:
      http://www.data360.org/dsg.aspx?Data_Set_Group_Id=228

      http://www.mnforsustain.org/united_states_population_growth_graph.htm

      http://www.google.com/publicdata/explore?ds=d5bncppjof8f9_&met_y=ny_gnp_mktp_pp_cd&idim=country:USA&dl=en&hl=en&q=gross+national+product#ctype=l&strail=false&nselm=h&met_y=ny_gnp_mktp_pp_cd&scale_y=lin&ind_y=false&rdim=country&idim=country:USA&ifdim=country&hl=en&dl=en

      http://www.taxpolicycenter.org/taxfacts/displayafact.cfm?Docid=200

       
  9. esfotoguy August 21, 2011 at 7:34 am #

    Cheeseburger in Paradise….love that song….oh, wait,…… were not talking bout Jimmy Buffet?….Who’s the other guy?

     
  10. Charles James August 21, 2011 at 11:09 am #

    Ken and Greg,

    Bravo! This is exactly the kind of discussion we need more of in the Comments Section. Both of you represent your views well. While I personally lean towards Ken on this issue, I appreciate Greg’s putting forth his argument. We need to keep an open mind on how best to solve our current fiscal situation if for no other reason than the future of our children.

    Simplistic and politically motivated bumper sticker solutions do not advance either side’s arguments. That it is “a spending problem” was only created because one political party in particular has purposefully enlarged government intentionally while deciding to starve it of much-needed revenue. Yet it is only because of the latter that we are finally being forced to acknowledge the growing problem of the gap between revenue and spending. Congress has shown little discipline when it comes to spending under both Republicans and Democrats when in power until recently…and mostly because of political maneuvering.

    Unfunded wars, increased unpaid entitlements, and the lack of criminal prosecutions of irresponsible financial institutions and those that ran them, as well as those regulators who were supposed to be keeping them honest, have all led us into this recession and economic crisis. That and the public’s fantasy that we can have everything from government but don’t want to pay for it.

    There are clearly winners and losers in this debacle. And sadly it has been the interests of our nation and the public that have been ill-served; finding itself the losers in what is nothing more than political gamesmanship by our two major political parties.

     
    • Ken Warner August 21, 2011 at 4:26 pm #

      Back at ya…well said.

       
  11. JeniferCastaneda August 21, 2011 at 8:43 pm #

    Hey and you actually all use your real names! Thank you. I don’t understand those who want to make statements and even argue but hide who they are. Thanks for being real!

     
    • upthecreek August 22, 2011 at 1:09 pm #

      i agree Jennifer
      My real name is Rusty
      thanks

       
  12. Ken Warner August 22, 2011 at 4:03 pm #

    …and do you people want a clue as to what really contributed to our current massive debt and deficit? Just read this:

    http://www.dailykos.com/story/2011/08/22/1009522/-Tracking-the-Feds-$12-trillion-Wall-Street-bailout?detail=hide&via=blog_1

     

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