- Associated Press - Monday, June 23, 2014

North Platte Telegraph. June 22, 2014.

The meaning of tea? ‘Taxed Enough Already’

A timely reminder came from an unlikely source in Virginia last week.

Eric Cantor, the House Majority Leader who was upset in a primary election by economics professor Dave Brat, appeared at a news conference the day after his defeat - which was the first time in U.S. history that a majority leader was upset in a primary election.

The political pundits chalked up Cantor’s defeat to Tea Party activists. Cantor got crosswise with some conservatives over his support for immigration reform. And he attended a gathering earlier this year at which Republicans discussed how to defeat Tea Party challengers. So, on the surface, there was little love lost between Eric Cantor and those who support the Tea Party movement.

However, at the post election news conference, Cantor said that it is important to remember what the “tea” in Tea Party stands for: Taxed enough already. In answer to a question about the rift in the Republican party between longtime, status quo party leaders and Tea Party activists, Cantor said the vast majority of Republicans believe that we are “taxed enough already.”

And with the “overreach” of Democrats in recent years on issues like health care, taxes and energy policy, Cantor said the differences in the Republican party pale to insignificance when compared to the stark differences between Republicans and Democrats.

If you factor out the partisan rancor and the name calling and the bitterness that combine to divide us today, we submit that most Americans could probably agree that the federal government ought to be able to get along on the revenues it receives today. And while we all have members of political parties and movements that rub us the wrong way, the notion that we are “taxed enough already” is not a particularly outlandish concept.

What, after all, is the alternative? “Not taxed nearly enough?” ”Not even scratching the surface on how much taxes we should pay?” ”Just take it all?”

Anyone who has run a business, from a childhood lemonade stand to a global conglomerate, knows that an unlimited stream of revenue is not the real world. Living within one’s means, and spending based on what you have to spend, is a vital key to any successful endeavor. And yet, we see almost no evidence that such frugality takes place in our federal government, which is currently wallowing in $17.5 trillion in debt.

Cantor’s reminder was important. We suspect that most Americans probably believe, deep down, that we are taxed enough already. And our political “leaders” ought to be able to make it work on the money we’re already paying in taxes.

That belief is at the heart of the movement called the Tea Party and is the reason it’s so hard for many pundits - try as they might - to dismiss it as a political flash in the pan.

Honestly now, can anyone make the argument that we aren’t “taxed enough already?”

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McCook Daily Gazette. June 20, 2014.

Overall climate more effective than targeted business incentives

It’s like a nuclear standoff, one official observes; “Unless everyone stands down, we’ve got to compete.”

State Sen. Galen Hadley of Kearney was referring to the Nebraska Advantage Act, which offers businesses tax breaks for creating new jobs.

The only problem is, the law doesn’t include a mechanism for determining whether it works.

By official counts, it has created about 7,100 jobs since it went into effect in 2006, at a cost of $412 million in tax credits, according to the Nebraska Department of Revenue.

But the state’s Performance Audit Committee concluded in February that, with no way to judge whether tax incentives have succeeded in bringing new businesses, the state is spending anywhere from $43,000 to $235,000 for each new job created by the Advantage Act.

Earlier business incentives have been successful for McCook, helping, for instance to bring one of our largest employers, Valmont, to our community.

Other efforts have proved less successful, and other taxpayers have been forced to pick up the slack when jobs fail to materialize.

Yes, we need to compete with other states when it comes to business incentives. But government has too often proved to be a failure at venture capitalism.

It is far better that we do everything we can to reduce taxes and increase governmental efficiency to reduce the overall drain on economic activity, rather than target specific enterprises that may or may not prove successful.

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Lincoln Journal Star. June 20, 2014.

Weak link in public safety

When it comes to describing the enormity of the mistaken early release of scores of Nebraska prison inmates, many of the applicable adjectives have already been used, aptly, by people with expertise.

“This is a stunner,” Omaha Police Sgt. John Wells told the Omaha World-Herald, which uncovered the mistakes. “What the hell is the state doing?”

“Unbelievable,” said Douglas County District Judge Peter Bataillon.

“It’s befuddling how a colossal mistake of this nature could occur,” said defense attorney Clarence Mock.

The mistakes cut months and years from the sentences given the worst criminals - murderers, rapists, child molesters and the like. For example, in one case a man convicted of killing a 35-year-old Lincoln mother in 2000 was scheduled to be let out in 2016, five years too early.

According to the mistaken calculations done by the Department of Correctional Services, some violent criminals were set to be released from prison before they were even eligible for parole.

The mistakes by corrections officials were made despite rulings issued in 2002 and 2013 by the Nebraska Supreme Court that spelled out how release dates should be calculated in cases involving crimes that called for mandatory prison terms.

On Wednesday, Gov. Dave Heineman promised to hold accountable those responsible for making the errors.

State officials are trying to determine what legal steps are necessary to round up the convicts who got out early. Corrections officials are recalculating the release dates of inmates still in prison.

The Corrections Department already was in the spotlight for several other incidents.

The department released Nikko Jenkins without seeking a civil commitment to a mental institution on the grounds that he was a danger to himself and others - despite Jenkins’ repeated promises in prison that he would commit violent acts when he got out.

Within days of his release, he did just that. Jenkins went on a killing spree, murdering four people before he was locked up again. He is awaiting sentencing for the killings.

The department also allowed Jeremy Dobbe, a man with several driving-related convictions, to hold a prison job requiring him to pick up work-release inmates from their jobs late at night. Last June, Dobbe slammed a state-owned prison van into a minivan driven by 47-year-old Lincoln nurse Joyce Meeks, killing her. He was sentenced this week to an additional 18 to 20 years in prison.

State senators already have increased their scrutiny of the troubled department. The latest revelations indicate they might have to deepen their involvement.

When it comes to protecting public safety, the Corrections Department too often has been a weak link in the system. The governor and Legislature need to work together to restore operational competency before more potentially fatal mistakes are made.

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Kearney Hub. June 20, 2014.

Student debt puts graduates in deep hole

Should college graduates be allowed to refinance their student loans at today’s lower market rates, as other borrowers can do for mortgages and consumer loans? That was the question posed last week in a student loan bill before the U.S. Senate.

Rather than allow overburdened graduates an opportunity to ease their long-term debt, politicians chose to stand in the way, and the modest and narrowly constructed proposal, opposed by all but three Republicans, failed to muster the 60 votes needed to overcome a threatened filibuster.

If put to an up-or-down vote, it might have passed, but instead it went nowhere.

In case you’ve never helped put a child through college, you need to know that today’s students and their parents face a formidable challenge. While it’s difficult enough for most households to keep pace with inflation, the rate at which college costs are increasing is staggering.

Average college tuition increased during the past decade by 79.5 percent between 2003-2013, according to data from the U.S. Labor Department, compared to an increase of only 26.7 percent in the Consumer Price Index.

With educational costs rising so rapidly, it’s nearly impossible for many students to complete college without accumulating some amount of debt. While it would be manageable if young people could graduate with debt of only $5,000 to $10,000, more and more are buried by loans of $50,000 and more.

The result? Almost 40 million Americans are trying to cope with $1.2 trillion in college debt. That sum is nearly twice as much as all credit card debt. Most Americans know what a drag credit cards can be on a family’s income as high interest rates make it extremely difficult to pay off the cards.

If Congress had a heart and advanced the student loan proposal last week, 25 million out of the 40 million graduates with high-interest, long-term debt would have been eligible for refinancing. The student loan proposal would have helped a good many Americans.

Graduates with high debt will not enjoy financial freedom until they dig out, and that will cause ripple effects on our consumer economy as they postpone buying homes, appliances, new cars and other purchases.

Why some lawmakers dug in their heels last week is tough to understand. Just last year, Democrats and Republicans struck a deal with the president to prevent student-loan rates from doubling. It was the right move, if you believe that helping students improve their education represents an investment in America’s future.

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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