We must applaud our current Westchester County Executive Astorino for staying true to his campaign promise to halt tax increases at the county level in Westchester.

However, we need to remind CE Astorino that reigning in tax collections can be done in several ways.

The proposed 2012 Westchester County budget as released by CE Astorino hacks away at the branches of excess.

Unfortunately, CE Astorino has not driven down to the roots of inefficiency and waste.

The public sector at the County level can deliver major savings without affecting frontline services.

Real and sustainable savings will not come from slashing safety net services, such as:
• legal services for low-income residents;
• eviction prevention services;
• financial education and budget intervention for low-income families; or
• community health centers.

A quick look at the staffing levels and budget allocations to the Office of County Executive and the Board of Legislators leaves me wondering:

 What if these 2 divisions were eliminated completely? Or, had their administrative support functions combined?

Then, a further look at the various administrative functions:
• Human Resources;
• Budget;
• Finance;
• Information Technology;
• Acquisition and Contract;
• Law;
• Planning;
• Tax Commission;
• Board of Elections.

This all makes me stop and think:– If this was my company: Would I try to combine all of these functions under one Chief Operations Officer? And look for synergies and cost savings?

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Bill Maher was interviewed for “All Things Considered” which was broadcast on Sunday, November 20, 2011.  Most of the interview centered on his new book, “The New New Rules…..”, and some of his thoughts on current events.

In just 7 minutes, he somehow was able to surface some very disturbing symptoms that seem to be invisible to our elected officials.

Here is an edited excerpt:

“I’m Irish.  The Irish people get mad at anything…  The country is real screwed up…  I think many of us think things are so off track and there are so many greedy selfish people who have hijacked what was good about this country…. Well, you know what’s exceptional about America unfortunately is we are the only advanced nation that doesn’t have Health Care; we are number one in Income Inequality; we are the nation that throws the highest percentage of our own people into prison; we are number one in debt; we are number one in military expenditures; we are number one in meth labs and fat toddlers.

The things we are number one in these days are mostly not good things….”

Here is a link to the entire interview, well worth spending 7 minutes listening to:

http://www.npr.org/player/v2/mediaPlayer.html?action=1&t=1&islist=false&id=142355162&m=142572018

Can we get our friends and neighbors focused on the big picture, and demand that their elected officials stop all of this inane silliness and get focused on real issues that have real potential to destroy our country — permanently?

Americans for Tax Reform

November 5, 2011

I am an American, and I am fully in favor of Tax Reform.

In my view, Tax Reform means removing all of the crazy loopholes that allow certain special interests to avoid paying taxes, or to shelter income under some special rule that allows their income to be taxed at some artificially low rate.

Tax Reform also means capturing federal and state income taxes from the “Shadow Economy.”

Of course, a portion of our shadow economy involves illegal activities such as burglary, robbery and drug dealing, but the lion’s share of our shadow economy is comprised of regular people who don’t seem to want to be obvious criminals.

As our official economy has continued to deteriorate and unemployment hovers in the 9% range, some creative people have found opportunities in the shadow economy.

It is no surprise that in hard economic times, creative people turn to resourceful solutions in order to get by, and Americans are noted for their ingenuity. With high unemployment, informal entrepreneurs — particularly those who don’t pay taxes – have come out of the woodwork.

Unshackled by excessive regulations, license fees, and (yes) various taxes, people work in the shadow, trying to keep their family from becoming a statistic.

Could be a day laborer waiting on a street corner for a construction gig; a single mother running a day care center out of her apartment; an unlicensed street food vendor; a plumber who offers a discount to clients who pay cash; or an auto repair shop that prefers cash over checks or credit cards, and offers an incentive to customers who are willing to pay cash.

Various sources have estimated that the shadow economy makes up a larger portion of the economies of countries like Greece (25 percent) or Mozambique (more than 40 percent) than it does in the U.S. where consensus pegs the shadow economy somewhere between 8 to 10 percent of total GDP — in 2010, an amount equal to around $1.4 trillion That translates to lost federal tax revenue of $280 Billion, assuming a 20% federal tax rate.

Added to this opportunity to increase tax revenues at the individual level, the awful state of our corporate income tax code further exacerbates the problem.

A recently released look at the inefficiency of our corporate tax policy and rules by the nonpartisan research group Citizens for Tax Justice gives us a picture of some simple changes that could be enacted to help create tax equity and to generate significant new revenue at the Federal level. The full report is available at

http://www.ctj.org/corporatetaxdodgers/CorporateTaxDodgersReport.pdf

Here is a brief excerpt:

“The corporate Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) was established in 1986 to ensure that profitable corporations pay some substantial amount in income taxes no matter how many tax breaks they enjoy under the regular corporate tax. The corporate AMT (unlike the much-maligned personal AMT) was particularly designed to curb leasing tax shelters that had allowed corporations such as General Electric to avoid most or all of their regular tax liabilities.

But laws enacted in 1993 and 1997 at the behest of corporate lobbyists sharply weakened the corporate AMT, and now hardly any companies pay the tax. In fact, many are getting rebates for past AMT payments. In late 2001, U.S. House of Representatives leaders attempted to repeal the corporate AMT entirely and give companies instant refunds for any AMT they had paid since 1986. Public outcry stopped that outrageous plan, at least so far, but the AMT remains a shell of its former self that will require substantial reform if it is to once again achieve its goal of curbing corporate tax avoidance.”

So, while the organization known as “Citizens for Tax Reform” makes plenty of noise and strongly encourages candidates for public office to sign a Taxpayer Protection Pledge, the real deal here is that they are perpetuating the loopholes which corporations and wealthy individuals are able to use to avoid the tax bracket they ought to be in.

We don’t need to increase tax rates at all. What we need is real Tax Reform that will eliminate these tax avoidance scams once and forever.