Why I Won’t Be Watching the Oscars

I used to love the glitz of Oscar night. I saw all the movies, reviewed them for Liberty, rooted for my favorites, and predicted the winners. I looked forward to Billy Crystal’s opening monologue, the mash-up of Best Picture nominees, the performances of the nominees for Best Songs, Barbara Walters’ pre-show interviews, the schmaltzy in…

Shaming the Blame Game by Jo Ann Skousen

The following post showed up in my Facebook feed the morning after the federal government was shut down. (Again.) It was posted by a young woman whose intelligence and compassion I admire, but whose wisdom and logic are sometimes lacking:

Our “Family Values” President pays off Porn stars he slept with while his 3rd wife was pregnant and Republican controlled Congress shut itself down. I just can’t handle all this winning.

Meanwhile, Puerto Rico still has no power.

Her post is typical of the 21st century grasp on politics and public policy: Someone is to blame, and it isn’t my team. So let me muddy the waters with some non-sequiturs and ad hominem attacks. Because the other side is always wrong, no matter what they do, no matter which team I’m on. Here’s how I responded:

I don’t think he’s ever been a “family values” president (whatever that means) and it was primarily the Democrats who blocked the vote to extend the budget. But other than that….”

What followed was a flurry of comments defending Democrats and blaming Republicans, ending with “Republicans don’t want a deal, they want to blame the other side, same as always.” I found this hilarious, since the post began with my friend blaming the Republicans for everything from infidelity (a bi-partisan issue if ever there was one) to shutting down the government (when 90% of Republicans voted to extend) to the hurricane in Puerto Rico.

I laughed at the irony of how circular and disingenuous a blame game becomes—beginning with my friend implying that people who value marriage and good parenting and integrity would support Trump’s infidelity.

But the federal budget is no laughing matter. Here’s what we could do, instead of looking for someone to blame for this temporary shutdown of the federal government (which has been done many times before, and has always ended in Congress voting to award back pay to those who were temporarily furloughed):

The Real Issues

How about we address the real issue? How about we stop raising the debt ceiling and kicking the can trillions of miles down the road? How about we reduce government spending and live within our means?

If we want to do some blaming, how about we blame business for an economy where two million fewer people are getting food stamps this year than last year, because they’re working now–and paying taxes! Win win for the budget (and I kind of have to share the blame with the Republicans this year, truth be told).

How about we get out of the Middle East and stop dropping expensive bombs on dusty villages? That could reduce the budget by billions and keep a few national parks open. Heck, how about we privatize those national parks?

How about we stop incarcerating people for smoking or selling pot? That could save $70,000 a year per inmate, plus the cost of a lifetime of welfare when they get out because no one wants to hire them, plus the cost of enforcing the war on drugs.

How about we consider an across-the-board spending cut in every federal department? That would motivate bureaucrats to look for places where they’re wasting money, instead of looking for places to “use it or lose it.” That’s what families have to do when they earn less than they want to spend. Balancing the budget is a true “family value” that I could support.

I didn’t vote for Trump (although I was glad Hillary lost). I’m not  defending any politicians here. I just want the blaming and divisive team politics to end. Let’s look for genuine solutions to problems, instead of looking for someone to blame.

Jo Ann Skousen is founding director of the Anthem Libertarian Film Festival and co-producer of FreedomFest, “the world’s largest gathering of free minds,” which meets July 11-14, 2018, in Las Vegas. For information go to 2018.freedomfest.com or call 1855-850-3733 ext 202.

The Sneaky, Dirty, Truth about Those State and Local Taxes

New Jersey State Senate President Steve Sweeney complained to Neil Cavuto in a recent interview that “this new [federal] tax bill is going to hurt New Jersey in a big way.” Acknowledging that “one percent of New Jersey residents pay 42% of the taxes,” he warned, “We have to push the pause button on the millionaires tax” to keep millionaire residents from fleeing the state—and taking their wealth with them. He was referring specifically to the elimination of state and local taxes as a deduction from federal income taxes.

It’s about time they figured this out, because the jig is up.

The sneaky, dirty little truth about the deductibility of state and local taxes is this: High-taxing, high-spending states such as New Jersey, Minnesota, Oregon, New York, and California have been fleecing taxpayers in other states for years. How? By taking the federal taxes paid by Nevadans, Texans, Floridians, etc., and using it to refund their own state and local taxes. They could get away with their high tax rates (as high as 13%!) in part because taxes were deductible. In essence, federal taxes have been funneled into the state and local coffers of high-tax states for years.

Let’s look at a simplified, hypothetical example. Let’s suppose Floridian John Smith has an income of $2,000,000 and is in the 39% federal tax bracket, with an effective rate of about 34%. (We’re talking about the 1% here, the ones who pay 42% of the taxes, according to Sweeney.) He owes the IRS about $672,000.  (Ugh! That’s a huge amount of money!) His cousin, Jane Doe, lives in California and earns exactly the same amount of money. But she pays 13.3% income tax to California, and the real estate taxes on her modest $7 million California home are $25,000 higher than John’s property taxes. Until now, she has been able to deduct those state and local taxes from her net income, reducing her taxable income to $1,709,000. Her bill to the IRS is $615,000, or $57,000 less than John’s. In essence, taxpayers in low-tax-rate states have been carrying the big spenders in the high-tax states for way too long.

For Steve Sweeney, Jerry Brown, and legislators in other high-tax states, the game is over. New Jersey’s newly elected Governor Phil Murphy campaigned heavily to reinstate the “millionaires’ surtax” imposed on the wealthiest citizens—a tax that former Governor Chris Christie had lifted. Now Senate President Sweeney is aghast to realize that the Golden Geese can move to friendlier waters if too many of their eggs are going to be confiscated. “We can’t afford to lose thousands of people who make up a large piece of our tax base,” he admitted to Cavuto. “We have to rethink this millionaire’s tax, because they can leave.”

What a novel realization—people have choices! They can move! They can take their money with them! The besmirched 1% are finally being recognized as valuable. They run businesses, hire employees, buy homes, and pay taxes. Lots of taxes. Even Jerry Brown has suggested that California might have to rethink its budget and pull back on spending because of the new tax bill.

Most Americans are unhappy about losing the deductibility of state, local, and property taxes. At first glance, I was one of them. Why should we pay income taxes on the money we already paid in taxes? Is it “income” if you never even see it in your paycheck? But legislators of high-tax states have bilked the residents of more budget-conscious states long enough. Their sneaky, dirty little secret is out. Losing the deductibility of state and local taxes is putting pressure on legislators to be more frugal and use tax revenues more effectively. Until we can eliminate income taxes completely, that’s a step in the right direction.

Jo Ann Skousen is the founding director of the Anthem Libertarian Film Festival and the co-producer of FreedomFest, “the world’s largest gathering of free minds.” We’ll be talking about tax policy at FreedomFest this July at the Paris Resort, Las Vegas. For information go to 2018.freedomfest.com or call 1855-850-3733 ext 202.