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Recent Policy Studies
Budget & TaxationBy Mark Robyn, Tax FoundationFiscal Facts, 02/16/2012
At the request of the North Dakota Taxpayers Association, the Tax Foundation offers a list of recommendations to improve North Dakota’s business tax climate. The recommendations are derived from the State Business Tax Climate Index, which the Tax Foundation produces annually to enable business leaders, government policymakers, and taxpayers to gauge how their states’ tax systems compare according to the economic principles of simplicity, neutrality, and broad tax bases with low tax rates.
Budget & TaxationBy Scott Drenkard, Tax FoundationFiscal Facts, 02/16/2012
Retail sales taxes are a transparent way to collect tax revenue. While graduated income tax rates and brackets are complex and confusing to many taxpayers, the sales tax is easier to understand: people can reach into their pocket and see the rate printed on a receipt. Less known, however, are the local sales taxes collected in 36 states. These rates can be substantial, so a state with a moderate state sales tax rate could actually have a very high combined state-local rate compared to other states. This report provides a population-weighted average of local sales taxes in each state in an attempt to give a sense of the statutory local rate for each state.
Health CareBy Laura Lieberman, Joseph Henchman, Tax FoundationAmicus Brief, 02/16/2012
The health care individual mandate is properly considered a penalty and not a tax for purposes of the United States Constitution’s Taxing Power and for purposes of the Anti-Injunction Act. Holding otherwise jeopardizes a widely-used, long-standing, working definitional construct, which would have severe implications for taxpayer protections and revenue statutes across the country.
LaborBy James Sherk, The Heritage FoundationIssue Brief, 02/16/2012
Congressional leaders have agreed to maintain extended unemployment insurance benefits while reducing maximum benefit duration to one-and-a-half years. The legislation moves in the right direction, but in an improving labor market, Congress should go further. Extending unemployment insurance has helped some workers in difficult circumstances at the cost of increasing unemployment and the deficit. While there are valid humanitarian reasons to extend benefits in a recession, two years of benefits was excessive. Unemployment has now fallen to a three-year low, and new unemployment insurance claims have fallen to a four-year low. Sixty weeks of benefits would be more appropriate at this stage of the recovery.
LaborBy Andrew C. Spiropoulos, Oklahoma Council of Public AffairsPolicy Study, 02/16/2012
As observers of Oklahoma’s public-policy scene are keenly aware, the field of workers’ compensation reform is littered with the remains of failed reforms of years past. Why do our efforts to reform the workers’ compensation system repeatedly disappoint? Because we refuse to address the chief structural feature of our system—its conception and organization as a judicial system. Conceiving of workers’ compensation claims as legal causes of action, rather than employee benefits administered by the administrative branch of state government, places excessive control of the administration of the system in the hands of the judiciary. Oklahoma will not succeed in implementing the reforms necessary to reduce costs until it does what every state except Oklahoma and one other has done—transforms its system to one that is primarily administrative, with a more limited role for the judiciary.
Budget & TaxationBy Jeffrey Miron, Robert Sarvis, Mercatus CenterMercatus on Policy, 02/16/2012
The troubled condition of the federal budget has overshadowed the poor fiscal health of the 50 states. State debts are underreported, and state budgets are on an unsustainable long-term path. If current spending patterns continue, the ratio of state debt to output will increase without bound. While the states have varying levels of officially reported debt, all share two worrisome characteristics: an understatement of unfunded pension liabilities and ever-increasing expenditures, driven primarily by health-care costs.
Regulation & DeregulationBy Richard Williams, Mark Adams, Mercatus CenterMercatus on Policy, 02/16/2012
Regulators try to reduce risks by creating a more prescriptive and growing regulatory code. The evidence suggests, however, that the difficulty of complying with such complex regulation may actually be making Americans less safe. To reverse this trend, regulators need to prioritize the most effective rules, eliminate those that are not needed, and define outcomes, leaving businesses to work out the details.
Health CareBy Scott Beaulier, Brandon Pizzola, Mercatus CenterWorking Paper, 02/16/2012
This paper explores recent state-level Medicaid reforms and the effects of these reforms on individuals and on state budgets. The five featured states explicitly reformed their Medicaid programs with an eye toward cost savings for taxpayers. Two of the states—Rhode Island and Washington—are probably in the too soon to tell category when it comes to cost savings, but it is nonetheless useful to examine how they implemented their reforms. The other three states—Florida, Idaho, and Tennessee—all developed innovative programs to save money and ensure quality care. Other states can benefit from imitating the successes and avoiding the pitfalls that earlier reformers encountered.
WelfareBy Elizabeth Stelle, Commonwealth Foundation for Public Policy AlternativesPolicy Report, 02/16/2012
Government welfare, with its goal to provide a helping hand to those in need, has instead become a vast series of programs that fall far short of the good intentions behind them. Welfare spending in the Keystone State consumes a growing share of the state budget, and is projected to crowd out spending on other government programs in the near future. In addition to being costly, too many welfare programs frequently provide low-quality care to recipients. The result is that Pennsylvania’s welfare system promotes greater dependence on government – instead of independence and personal responsibility – resulting in higher, rather than reduced poverty. This doesn’t have to be the case. Pennsylvania lawmakers must take on the task of overhauling the welfare system to ensure more efficient spending of tax dollars and to promote the economic independence of those now trapped in poverty.
Foreign Policy/International AffairsBy Luke Coffey, The Heritage FoundationIssue Brief, 02/16/2012
President Obama will host British Prime Minister David Cameron at the White House on March 13–14. The official visit will be dominated by the eurozone crisis, developments in Syria, Iran’s nuclear program, and Afghanistan. For the United Kingdom, the Falkland Islands will also be an important agenda item. In addition, this visit will be an important opportunity for the two leaders to discuss the United States–United Kingdom defense relationship in light of recent defense cuts on both sides of the Atlantic. It is in America’s interest to have a strong British military partner. On the military level, the desire to increase cooperation is there. President Obama and Prime Minister Cameron need to help facilitate this cooperation. Like all relationships, the United States–United Kingdom defense relationship needs nurturing and direction. Both leaders should use this visit as an opportunity to expand military cooperation.
Information TechnologyBy Randolph J. May, Free State FoundationPerspectives from FSF Scholars, 02/16/2012
The current debate concerning the extent to which Congress, in authorizing the Federal Communications Commission to conduct new spectrum incentive auctions, should prevent the Federal Communications Commission from encumbering such auctions in various ways is instructive. And the debate is instructive beyond the immediate implications it has for the proposed auctions. More broadly, the debate has important implications for the future direction of communications law and policy reform.
Budget & TaxationBy Kevin Munger, Michael Sanera, John Locke FoundationRegional Brief, 02/16/2012
Raleigh Convention Center staff continues to provide favored organizations deep discounts for the use of meeting rooms and convention space. Taxpayers need to be aware that Raleigh Convention Center staff have broad discretionary power to award discounts, including granting free use of Raleigh Convention Center space. Organizations receiving deep discounts are not the only beneficiaries. The taxes that subsidize these discounts unfairly subsidize a very small group of downtown businesses and property owners.
Natural Resources, Energy, Environment, & ScienceBy B. Delworth Gardner, Randy T. Simmons, Independent InstituteBook, 02/16/2012
Is water facing a crisis? Yes and no. On the one hand, declining water quality is a serious problem in many parts of the world; and if recent usage trends continue, shortages are inevitable. On the other hand, water quality has improved in many economically advanced countries, and in some regions institutions and policies have been adopted that would postpone, or even avoid, the onset of “water crises.” These policies include establishing secure and transferable water rights and extending these rights to enhance ecosystems. Aquanomics: Water Markets and the Environment discusses many examples of such policies—particularly water markets and market-like exchanges—and makes recommendations designed to improve their effectiveness.
Budget & TaxationBy Anthony Ryan Gonzalez, Independence InstituteIssue Paper, 02/16/2012
Residents of Colorado should know how their tax burden compares with Americans throughout the nation. Colorado ranks 26th nationally, compared to all other states for the combined state and local tax burden, on a per capita basis.
Foreign Policy/International AffairsBy Paul Marshall, Hudson InstituteTestimony, 02/16/2012
The Iranian government is one of the world’s worst religious persecutors. All religious groups suffer—Baha’is, Christians, Mandeans, Jews, and Zoroastrians—as well as Sunnis, Sufis, and dissenting Shia. Many minorities are dwindling; the ancient Assyrians and Mandeans have almost disappeared. Genuine religious (or political) pluralism is deemed unacceptable and, where required by international agreements, senior Iranian leaders denounce it as a Western aberration, though Iran is a signatory to United Nations conventions.
Budget & TaxationBy E.J. McMahon, Empire Center for New York State PolicySpecial Report, 02/16/2012
Defined-contribution plans are personal retirement accounts supported by employer and employee contributions. In contrast to traditional pensions, they can follow employees if they change jobs, and the pension account is usually not wiped out if an employee dies before retirement. The State University of New York and City University of New York have offered a defined-contribution retirement option since the 1960s, and large majorities of professional employees in both systems have chosen it over the standard pension mandated for other public employees. The creation of a universal defined-contribution option for new state and local government employees in New York is a golden opportunity to create a national model for pension reform.
Foreign Policy/International AffairsBy Victor Davis Hanson, Hoover InstitutionDefining Ideas, 02/16/2012
The role of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization—and America’s participation in it—is now more critical than ever, both to protect a relatively disarmed and insolvent Europe from foreign pressures—but, even more importantly, to help protect twenty-first-century Europeans from themselves.
EducationBy Koret Task Force, Hoover InstitutionPolicy Report, 02/16/2012
The Hoover Institution’s Koret Task Force on K–12 Education recommends moving away from the top-down approach and fully embracing policies (which may mean abandoning some old practices) that promote parental choice of all hues.
EducationBy Russell Muirhead, Hoover InstitutionDefining Ideas, 02/16/2012
The key to improving civic education is to equip students with the tools to sort out the political life unfolding around them. The problem today is not merely that students don’t “know enough” facts. It’s that they lack the basis for forming and holding opinions. And without opinions—ultimately, opinions about the common good—politics will always seem a distant chore best left to others. Good citizens do things: they speak out, they vote, they volunteer, they organize. But to do those things well, citizens need to know things. Civic action requires civic knowledge.
Health CareBy Goldwater Institute, Goldwater InstituteAmicus Brief, 02/16/2012
Fourteen states have enacted or adopted “Health Care Freedom Laws” that protect individual freedom of choice in health care plans. In these “Health Care Freedom States,” the Minimum Coverage provision of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act threatens to quash a traditional exercise of state sovereignty that directly serves the structural purpose of federalism in our compound republic – the protection of individual liberty and decentralized local governance guaranteed by the Bill of Rights. Such federal overreaching must be rejected if the vertical separation of powers established by our Constitution means anything at all.
Crime, Justice & the LawBy Marc A. Levin, Vikrant P. Reddy, Georgia Public Policy FoundationIssue Analysis, 02/16/2012
Georgia’s fiscal situation requires renewed policy strategies to ensure that the state’s limited corrections dollars are spent properly. If Georgia follows the recommendations of the Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform for Georgians, the savings could be significant.
Foreign Policy/International AffairsBy Brett D. Schaefer, The Heritage FoundationIssue Brief, 02/16/2012
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization funding prohibition has little impact on America’s policies and priorities, so it is an excellent vehicle for sending a signal to the rest of the United Nations that the United States considers Israel’s peace and security a top priority—one that supersedes the more ambiguous value of United States funding of programs and projects overseen by organizations like the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.
Health CareBy Robert F. Coulam, Roger Feldman, Bryan E. Dowd, American Enterprise InstituteHealth Policy Outlook, 02/16/2012
A major reason Medicare faces a severe fiscal crisis is because it pays too much for basic benefits. But chronic overpayment can be cured by harnessing market forces in the form of competitive bidding. It uses bids from private Medicare Advantage plans and the traditional fee-for-service Medicare program to set the payment rate for all Medicare health plans. Research shows that competitive bidding—a key feature of the Wyden-Ryan plan—could save Medicare $339 billion over ten years while maintaining basic benefits and without raising taxes. Crucially, the elderly would not be exposed to the risk of higher health care costs, as in approaches that would set fixed voucher payments toward the purchase of medical insurance.
Foreign Policy/International AffairsBy Roger Bate, American Enterprise InstituteSpeech, 02/16/2012
For a bankrupt country in the middle of hyperinflation, the discovery of a major diamond deposit in Zimbabwe in June 2006 should have been good news. Instead it has provided sustenance to a volatile and violent political elite that suppresses the majority. With elections likely within a year, it has to be hoped that the diamond wealth will not finance a new wave of violence, and plunge Zimbabwe back into the dark days of the middle of the last decade. That is the hope, but the likelihood is that mayhem will return come the next election.
Monetary Policy/Financial RegulationBy John H. Makin, American Enterprise InstituteEconomic Outlook, 02/16/2012
The current economic environment of low—virtually zero—interest rates has hit savers hard, but abruptly raising interest rates could harm economic growth and the housing market. Until the economy stabilizes and the Federal Reserve begins raising interest rates again, savers have few options: they can adjust their lifestyles, dip into their savings, or take on riskier investments such as gold and stocks.
National SecurityBy James Jay Carafano, Paul Rosenzweig, Jessica Zuckerman, The Heritage FoundationIssue Brief, 02/16/2012
In January, the White House released its long-awaited National Strategy for Global Supply Chain Security. The six-page report, however, does little to lay out a comprehensive strategic plan for supply chains security, instead providing a basic vision for future planning and implementation. While the basic goals of the strategy are sound, more should be done to work with international and private-sector partners in taking a risk-based approach to supply chain security that respects the complexities of the United States supply chain.
Budget & TaxationBy Jason Richwine, James Sherk, Andrew G. Biggs, The Heritage FoundationBackgrounder, 02/16/2012
A January 2012 report by the Congressional Budget Office shows that federal government employees receive substantially higher compensation than similarly skilled workers in the private sector. The report’s methodology and conclusions are broadly similar to previous studies from both The Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute. This Q&A discusses the Congressional Budget Office’s findings, highlighting the similarities and differences among the three approaches. Three studies, three approaches, three similar results—make a strong case for reforming federal wages and benefits.
Foreign Policy/International AffairsBy James Phillips, The Heritage FoundationIssue Brief, 02/16/2012
The United States can play a constructive role in the Syrian conflict by supporting efforts to deliver humanitarian aid. The United States should also be working closely with regional partners, especially Turkey, both to help speed the transition to a new, legitimate government and to continue diplomatic pressure and international sanctions against the Assad regime. Direct United States military intervention, however, is not warranted. At this point, an outside “peacekeeping” force would only become embroiled in the conflict as a combatant. That might increase the suffering of the Syrian people, which is sure to continue as long as Assad remains in power.
Economic GrowthBy Curtis Dubay, The Heritage FoundationIssue Brief, 02/15/2012
President Obama’s tax policies in his Startup America Initiative do nothing more than nibble around the edge of the serious burden that taxes put on job creation. Only fundamental tax reform that lowers marginal tax rates for all individuals and businesses, removes existing distortions and inequities, and eliminates taxes on saving and investment can completely lift that burden.
Budget & TaxationBy David B. Muhlhausen, The Heritage FoundationIssue Brief, 02/15/2012
Senator Joseph Lieberman filed an amendment to reauthorize the ineffective fire grant program to the federal transportation bill, apply named the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act. The amendment is a revised version of the Fire Grants Reauthorization Act of 2011, and it reauthorizes a grant program that has significant shortcomings. It continues a grant program that has failed to reduce fire-related deaths and injuries of firefighters and civilians. It is specifically designed to encourage local fire departments to become increasingly dependent on federal funding. As currently drafted, the legislation fails to reorient the fire grants toward fulfilling a federal homeland security function. Instead, fire grants would continue being almost solely focused on subsidizing the routine operations of basic fire services.
Economic GrowthBy James Sherk, The Heritage FoundationBackgrounder, 02/15/2012
In his third State of the Union address, President Obama, pointing to two years of job growth and the fastest job creation since 2005, argued that America’s economy is roaring back. These positive numbers lack context: In normal economic times they would represent healthy growth, but in the aftermath of the worst recession in two generations they represent a historically slow recovery. New jobs have been created—but not nearly enough. Businesses remain hamstrung by government over-regulation—which directly affects the amount of employees they hire. Congress must remove artificial barriers to entrepreneurship and job creation, so that Americans will not have to suffer through high unemployment for years to come.
National SecurityBy Matt A. Mayer, The Heritage FoundationIssue Brief, 02/14/2012
The Obama Administration’s adoption of much of the previous Administration’s policies on fighting the war against terrorists is well known. Less well known is the increasing move toward other homeland security grant policies formulated in 2005 and early 2006. These moves, including the adoption of a risk and need model for allocating homeland security grants, are to be rightly applauded, as these reforms ultimately increase the security of America.
National SecurityBy James Jay Carafano, Jessica Zuckerman, The Heritage FoundationIssue Brief, 02/14/2012
The President’s fiscal year 2013 budget proposal, released earlier today, makes important changes in the Department of Homeland Security’s capacity to lead a national homeland security enterprise. Contained within the budget proposal was a call to remove the Office for State and Local Law Enforcement, the Office of International Affairs, and the Private Sector Office out of the Office of Policy and into the Office of the Secretary and Executive Management, making them direct reports to the Secretary of Homeland Security. As Members of Congress begins their deliberations on President Obama’s fiscal year 2013 budget request this week, they should carefully examine these changes.
Foreign Policy/International AffairsBy Ray Walser, The Heritage FoundationIssue Brief, 02/14/2012
On February 12, nearly 3 million Venezuelans voted in the nation’s first genuine presidential primary. Voters selected a single candidate—Henrique Capriles Radonski—to face Venezuela’s authoritarian populist leader Hugo Chavez in a presidential contest on October 7. For the moment, the Chavez drive for re-election will be formidable, and the opposition has a great distance to cover. However, the impressive response of voters on February 12 makes a change of leadership appear more possible. As Capriles observed, Chavez “believes he is God. He thinks he can’t lose, and that’s very good for us.”
Foreign Policy/International AffairsBy Ted R. Bromund, The Heritage FoundationIssue Brief, 02/14/2012
The final Preparatory Committee for the United Nations Arms Trade Treaty will be held February 13–17. The purpose of this Preparatory Committee is to determine the rules of procedure for the United Nations Conference on the Arms Trade Treaty, which will be held in New York from July 2–27. This conference is intended to complete the negotiation of the Arms Trade Treaty and thus open the treaty for signature and ratification. The United States should not allow a United Nations Arms Trade Treaty to go forward unless it is ruled by consensus decision-making.
EducationBy Colin A. Knapp, James Madison InstituteBackgrounder, 02/13/2012
Bright Futures was envisioned as a merit-based program to help provide Florida’s employers with highly qualified employees. The number of students served annually has quadrupled, and expenditures have increased six-fold. For most of its history, these increases hardly posed a problem for lawmakers. Tough choices could be avoided because the funding source, the Florida Lottery, could always be expected to absorb the growing needs of the program. That changed with the 2007 economic crisis. Continued economic weakness and the lack of a strong recovery are likely to place more strain on the program, making the need for further changes likely. The program does not need to be scrapped or overhauled in its entirety. In fact, doing either may exacerbate many of the problems in higher education, including student indebtedness, affordability questions, the lack of accountability and measurable effectiveness. Tightening standards could ensure a truly merit-based program that produces the type of highly skilled employees who could propel the state’s economy.
Retirement/Social SecurityBy Michael D. Tanner, Cato InstitutePolicy Analysis, 02/13/2012
Opponents of allowing younger workers to privately invest a portion of their Social Security taxes through personal accounts have long pointed to the supposed riskiness of private investment. The volatility of private capital markets over the past several years, and especially recent declines in the stock market, have seemed to bolster their argument. However, private capital investment remains remarkably safe over the long term. Despite recent declines in the stock market, a worker who had invested privately over the past 40 years would have still earned an average yearly return of 6.85 percent investing in the S&P 500, 3.46 percent from corporate bonds, and 2.44 percent from government bonds. If workers who retired in 2011 had been allowed to invest the employee half of the Social Security payroll tax over their working lifetime, they would retire with more income than if they relied on Social Security. Indeed, even in the worst-case scenario—a low-wage worker who invested entirely in bonds—the benefits from private investment would equal those from traditional Social Security.
Budget & TaxationBy David C. John, The Heritage FoundationIssue Brief, 02/13/2012
As with earlier versions, the newest Obama home refinancing plan is more hype than substance. This version also requires several features, including a new tax on financial institutions, that are bad policy and would do nothing to help revive housing. The fact remains that there is no magic government solution that will make the current housing mess go away. The industry will have to grow out of the current slump over time.
National SecurityBy James Jay Carafano, The Heritage FoundationWebMemo, 02/13/2012
The United States lacks adequate capacity to respond to a maritime catastrophe. Congress ought to take a more proactive role in assessing and addressing this shortfall. Congress should: kill the Jones Act and other “Buy American” provisions; demand an update from the Administration on the recommendations of the federal Maritime Infrastructure Recovery Plan; and identify, assess, and address legal and regulatory obstacles that limit effective salvage response to maritime catastrophes.
The Constitution/Civil LibertiesBy Charles Stimson, The Heritage FoundationWebMemo, 02/13/2012
The National Defense Authorization Act detainee provisions do not create or expand the government’s ability to detain United States citizens. In no way does the National Defense Authorization Act negatively impact or change the constitutional rights of United States citizens. Instead, it strengthens the military’s authority to detain individuals who are members of or substantially supporting al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and associated forces.
Economic and Political ThoughtBy Allen Guelzo, The Heritage FoundationSpecial Report, 02/13/2012
Early Progressives co-opted Abraham Lincoln’s legacy to justify their program of expansive government powers over American life. In so doing, they obscured how their philosophy of government broke with Lincoln and the Founding to which he was heir. Nevertheless, much conservative and libertarian thinking today has assumed, at once and without serious reflection, that the Progressives’ appropriation of Lincoln (and the continued appropriation of Lincoln by the American Left) was legitimate—rather like mistaking a hostage taken by terrorists to be one of the terrorists himself. But Abraham Lincoln is not, and nor was his Administration, any model for what today seems so objectionable in the modern welfare state. His unwavering commitment to natural rights and the Constitution’s framework of limited government, as well as the comparatively limited forces he called into the defense of the nation during the Civil War, not only place him in philosophical opposition to the Left, but dispel any notions that he set the stage for the expansion of government in the 20th century.
Budget & TaxationBy Patrick Louis Knudsen, The Heritage FoundationWebMemo, 02/13/2012
The President’s post-debt-ceiling, election-year budget will provide a good test of whether he is serious about facing up to the country’s looming fiscal crisis and driving spending down. If his budget for fiscal year 2013 is to be a credible policy document—not just a public relations pitch—it should: show specific proposals for reforming entitlements and reducing other spending not just for the next 10 years but over the long term as well; prevent the devastating cuts in defense that are looming because of the debt-reduction Budget Control Act; offer permanent solutions to the large spending and tax policies that keep vexing lawmakers and the public; and reject phony budget savings and other gimmicks.
Foreign Policy/International AffairsBy James Phillips, Helle C. Dale, The Heritage FoundationWebMemo, 02/13/2012
The Obama Administration should firmly warn Egypt’s transitional leaders that they will pay a heavy price for their crackdown on Non-Governmental Organizations that support freedom, human rights, and the rule of law in Egypt. The prospective loss of $1.5 billion in annual assistance and American opposition to new loans from international lending institutions may exert a powerful influence in persuading Egypt’s new leaders to discontinue their politically motivated prosecutions.