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Recent Policy Studies
Budget & TaxationBy Erin Shannon, Washington Policy CenterPolicy Note, 05/16/2012
Washington state’s change in sales tax collection is rooted in the growing battle over whether remote sellers should collect and remit states’ sales taxes. The decision to make local sales tax collection destination based was one step in the national effort to harmonize states’ sales tax and to lobby for passage of a federal law requiring online and mail-order sellers to collect and remit state and local sales taxes. The small business community in Washington is divided over the issue of origin- versus destination-based taxing. While some small business owners say the change to destination-based sales tax is burdensome and unfair, advocates say the benefits will be realized when Congress passes a federal law for all online retailers to collect and remit state sales tax.
Transportation/InfrastructureBy Michael Ennis, Washington Policy CenterPolicy Brief, 05/16/2012
Despite the significant growth in transportation taxes and fee revenue, Washington state officials are now considering another increase. Before they ask voters to pay more, Washington Policy Center offers the following recommendations for state leaders to consider when preparing a final ballot measure: 1) taxes and fees paid by drivers should not subsidize other modes of transportation; 2) do not create a state-level tax or fee to fund local transit agencies; 3) stop diverting existing transportation taxes and fees for non-highway purposes; 4) expand capacity, fix chokepoints and do not restrict new resources to just maintaining the existing system; and 5) reduce unnatural cost drivers that make transportation projects more expensive.
Budget & TaxationBy Deborah D. Thornton, Public Interest InstituteInstitute Brief, 05/16/2012
Tax Increment Financing systems are widely considered a “perfect closed system of self-sustaining finance” because they pay for themselves by “increasing the tax base.” They are sold to homeowners as having no impact on their property taxes, as basically “free money.” In voicing his support for this method of funding, the mayor of Sacramento, California recently called Tax Increment Financings “magical things.” However, as Americans have learned over the past five years – all financial decisions, even magical things, involve risk. Not every project or idea is a success. There is no free money.
Natural Resources, Energy, Environment, & ScienceBy H. Sterling Burnett, National Center for Policy AnalysisIssue Brief, 05/16/2012
The United States can create jobs, reduce reliance on foreign imports and improve national security by encouraging the domestic exploration and production of rare earth elements currently imported from other countries. While supplies of rare earths may not improve for several years, steps should be taken now to develop domestic mining and current policies should be changed to allow this growth.
Budget & TaxationBy Marc Kilmer, Maryland Public Policy InstitutePolicy Report, 05/16/2012
When the Maryland General Assembly adjourned on April 9, legislators had passed a balanced budget without raising taxes or shifting a portion of teachers’ pension costs to local governments. Since Maryland legislators were not able to increase spending as much as they desired, they labeled the balanced budget a “doomsday budget.” The governor, legislators, and special interest groups claimed that this budget posed severe problems for the state and local governments, and that it needed to be “fixed” with a special legislative session. Before legislators meet in their special session to raise taxes and increase spending, Maryland taxpayers need to consider a few myths and facts about this so-called “doomsday budget.”
EducationBy e21 Staff, e21: Economic Policies for the 21st CenturyEditorial, 05/16/2012
Society does not need to subsidize the economic elite. Yet policies to defray the cost of interest rates on student loans do exactly that. Perhaps the policies could be tolerated if the taxes and subsidies netted out to zero, but the net impact is to increase tuition costs and lower completion rates, which leaves many households with added debt but no degree to show for it.
Foreign Policy/International AffairsBy Luke Coffey, The Heritage FoundationBackgrounder, 05/16/2012
The 2012 North Atlantic Treaty Organization Summit in Chicago is an opportunity for the United States to provide much-needed leadership. The United States should push North Atlantic Treaty Organization members to keep their current commitments to Afghanistan and commit to supporting Afghanistan after North Atlantic Treaty Organization forces withdraw. At the Chicago Summit, the Obama Administration also needs to make the cases for transition, enlargement, and more defense investment and, ultimately, the case for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s role in the 21st century. Without American leadership, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization will continue to face an uncertain future.
Health CareBy Douglas Holtz-Eakin, Michael Ramlet, Robert Book, American Action ForumPolicy Study, 05/16/2012
Rewarding quality health plans is an admirable goal for the Medicare Advantage program. Unfortunately, the current system of linking star ratings to bonus payments and rebate adjustments instituted by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (and expanded by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ Quality Bonus Payment Demonstration) fails to achieve that goal, and depending on its specific implementation, may even be counterproductive.
Economic GrowthBy Diana Furchtgott-Roth, Manhattan InstituteIssues, 05/16/2012
Younger workers, not older workers, have borne the brunt of the employment losses during the recession. Since 2000 the labor force participation rates of workers 55 and over have been rising steadily, whereas the labor force participation rates of workers aged 16 to 24 and workers aged 25 to 54 have been declining. The biggest decline in labor force participation rates can be observed for workers aged 16 to 24. Over the past ten years employment has increased among Americans 55 and over by 8.9 million. At the same time, it has declined by 3.1 million in the 25 to 54 age group, and by 313,000 among those aged 20 to 24.
National SecurityBy Jon Kyl, The Heritage FoundationHeritage Lecture, 05/15/2012
As Senator Jesse Helms wrote in his memoir, “Jefferson warned us that ‘the price of liberty is eternal vigilance.’… [T]he lesson of history is that to secure our liberty, America must be constantly on guard, preparing to defend our nation against tomorrow’s adversaries even as we vanquish the enemies of today.” Vigilance must be reinforced by the ability to act. Today, America’s ability to provide for the common defense is threatened by successive rounds of defense cuts. While our fiscal problems demand government restraint, they will not be solved by gutting our forces. Senator Jon Kyl launches The Heritage Foundation’s Protect America Month and explains why the federal government’s constitutional obligation to provide for the common defense must remain a bedrock principle of American governance.
ImmigrationBy Jessica Zuckerman, The Heritage FoundationIssue Brief, 05/15/2012
On May 15, the Congress introduced a revised version of the Jobs Originated through Launching Travel Act. Written in consultation with the Departments of Homeland Security and State, the latest version is an improvement over past legislative proposals for reform. Together with related efforts in the House to reform the United States visa processing system, this revised Senate legislation represents a step in the right direction on the part of Congress in getting much-needed visa reform right. With the considerable decline of the United States share of global travel over the past decade, it is well past time to reduce unnecessary barriers to issuing visas and facilitating travel to the United States. In moving forward with reform, Congress should ensure that expansion of the Visa Waiver Program remain its top priority while also looking to expand the Visa Security Program and do away with the 100 percent visa interview requirement.
National SecurityBy Steven P. Bucci, Baker Spring, The Heritage FoundationIssue Brief, 05/15/2012
The United States House of Representatives showed strong support for national security when it voted through a reconciliation process to override the sequestration cuts scheduled for defense in January 2013. By following the House Armed Services Committee’s lead in raising the top-line budget for defense over the President’s fiscal year 2013 request, Congress can sustain this momentum. This will enable depleted military assets such as the Navy’s fleet to modernize and grow. While legislators should strive to find efficiencies within defense, they should also reinvest savings into national security programs in need, such as the Navy’s perennially underfunded shipbuilding budget.
Budget & TaxationBy Scott Drenkard, Tax FoundationFiscal Facts, 05/15/2012
Maryland’s latest income tax increase proposal fails to meet the criteria of sound tax policy. By opting to raise taxes on high-income earners, the proposal seeks to raise taxes in a politically expedient way, but one which will have distortive long-term effects. If a sales tax increase re-emerges as proposal, this too will make Maryland less competitive among its neighbors and in the nation.
Budget & TaxationBy Joseph Henchman, Jordan King, Tax FoundationFiscal Facts, 05/15/2012
For decades, American schoolchildren have purchased books and other educational materials from Scholastic Book Club, which seeks to foster good reading habits and complement classroom education. However, courts in two states (Connecticut and Tennessee) have ruled this year that Scholastic owes back sales and use taxes, despite the fact that the company has neither property nor employees in those states, potentially disrupting Scholastic’s mission. The Scholastic cases reflect the ongoing debate about state tax authority, and the need for clearer rules on the proper extent of a state’s power to impose tax obligations on out-of-state companies.
Regulation & DeregulationBy Colleen Haight, Derek Thieme, Mercatus CenterWorking Paper, 05/15/2012
The paper and pulp industry is one of the most heavily regulated industries in the United States. This working paper investigates the extent to which environmental and workplace regulations affect the industry and evaluate the impact of these regulations on the industry, its customers, its employees and society in general.
Budget & TaxationBy Josh Barro, Manhattan InstituteCivic Report, 05/15/2012
Indiana’s experience with reform of collective bargaining rules for government employees suggests that similar changes adopted by the administration of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, although uneven in their impact to date, hold the potential to control costs and limit public sector workforce layoffs over time. Indiana abolished collective bargaining for state employees six years ago. According to the most recent data, Indiana has succeeded in limiting cutbacks in public employment, while not raising state taxes. The Indiana experience also contrasts with that of another Wisconsin neighbor, Illinois, which, although it also limited public employment cutbacks, did so only after a significant state tax increase. By contrast, Wisconsin enacted a sharp reduction in aid to municipalities that was effective immediately and led to significant layoffs and other reductions in headcount. Over the next few years, as municipalities are able to take advantage of the bargaining reforms, they will, like Indiana, be better able to afford to retain and hire employees.
Regulation & DeregulationBy Clyde Wayne Crews, Competitive Enterprise InstituteReport, 05/15/2012
The scope of federal government spending and deficits is sobering. Yet the government’s reach extends well beyond the taxes Washington collects and its deficit spending and borrowing. Federal regulations cost hundreds of billions—perhaps trillions—of dollars every year over and above the costs of the official federal outlays that dominate the policy debate. Precise regulatory costs can never be fully known because, unlike taxes, they are unbudgeted and often indirect—even unmeasurable as such. But scattered government and private data exist on scores of regulations and on the agencies that issue them, as well as estimates of regulatory costs and benefits. Compiling some of that information can make the regulatory state somewhat more comprehensible. That is one purpose of the annual Ten Thousand Commandments report.
Transportation/InfrastructureBy Randal O’Toole, Cato InstitutePolicy Analysis, 05/15/2012
Although gasoline taxes have long been the main source of funding for building, maintaining, and operating America’s network of highways, roads, and streets, the tax is at best an imperfect user fee. This paper proposes a transition from gas taxes to more efficient vehicle-mile fees.
Foreign Policy/International Affairs
U.S. Accession to U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea Unnecessary to Develop Oil and Gas ResourcesBy Steven Groves, The Heritage FoundationBackgrounder, 05/15/2012
Proponents of United States accession to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea insist that the United States must join the convention in order to secure title to oil and gas resources located on its extended continental shelf. However, that argument has no basis in fact or law. Under international law and long-standing United States policy and practice, the United States has already established jurisdiction and control over its extended continental shelf and is in the process of delimiting the boundaries of it. The United States as a sovereign nation can accomplish its objectives regarding the extended continental shelf and its resources without acceding to a deeply flawed treaty or seeking the approval of an international commission of experts housed at the United Nations.
Foreign Policy/International AffairsBy Walter Lohman, The Heritage FoundationIssue Brief, 05/15/2012
For a month, the Philippines and the People’s Republic of China have been deadlocked in a sovereignty dispute off the Philippine main island of Luzon, around Scarborough Shoal. The situation, which began with a Philippine warship challenging private Chinese poachers in the waters around the shoal, has evolved into something on which no less than the credibility of America’s commitment to peace and security in the Pacific hinges. The United States has two major interests at stake in the impasse: the security of treaty allies and freedom of navigation. If the Obama Administration mishandles this situation, all the “pivoting” (to the Pacific) in the world will not make up for it.
International Trade/FinanceBy Ariel Cohen, Bryan Riley, The Heritage FoundationBackgrounder, 05/14/2012
Russia’s accession to the World Trade Organization will put United States companies at a disadvantage with their global competitors unless Congress first exempts Russia from the application of the Jackson–Vanik Amendment, a tool from the 1970s designed to promote human rights that no longer advances that goal. Russia admittedly suffers from weak rule of law and pervasive corruption, but Congress should pass new human rights legislation rather than try to uphold Jackson–Vanik beyond its utility. Then, Congress should grant Russia permanent normal trade relations status, which will promote transparency, property rights, and the rule of law in addition to the expected economic benefits for United States companies.
Health CareBy Roger Bate, Aparna Mathur, Ginger Zhe Jin, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.Working Paper, 05/14/2012
Using 1437 samples of Ciprofloxacin from 18 low-to-middle-income countries, this study aims to understand the role that regulation and distribution channel have played in signaling and ensuring drug safety. According to the World Health Organization, some poor quality drugs are deliberately and fraudulently mislabeled with respect to identity or source while others can have incorrect quantities of active ingredient as a result of manufacturing error or poor storage. This study found 9.88% of samples are poor quality and 41.5% of the failures are counterfeits.
Health CareBy J.D. Foster, The Heritage FoundationIssue Brief, 05/14/2012
The release of the annual Medicare trustees report in late April, containing as it did a vast array of very bad news, was immediately greeted with valid dire warnings of fiscal disaster. Little noticed, however, were three important bits of good news: the inevitability of imminent action; a simple key hidden in the report for understanding Medicare’s fiscal problem; and a proven bipartisan solution.
Regulation & DeregulationBy Michael D. LaFaive, Antony Davies, Mackinac Center for Public PolicyPolicy Brief, 05/14/2012
This study examines Michigan’s regulation of alcohol and whether it improves public health. To this end, the authors compare the alcohol-related health and safety outcomes of states with differing degrees of intervention into their wholesale and retail alcohol markets. The authors do not find that regulatory regimes like Michigan’s are associated with fewer alcohol-attributable deaths, alcohol-related traffic fatalities and binge-drinking problems.
Michigan’s Schools of Innovation: Oxford Community Schools, the Great Recession—and the ‘Greatest Gift’By Michael Van Beek, Mackinac Center for Public PolicyPolicy Study, 05/14/2012
In this first installment of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy’s new “Schools of Innovation” series, we begin with Oxford Community School’s experiment with virtual learning. This study examines Oxford Community School’s adoption of web-based learning to deliver and enhance student instruction. The widespread effectiveness, and subsequent increased enrollment, has allowed expansion of school programs unlike many Michigan public school districts struggling during the Recession.
National SecurityBy Peter Brookes, The Heritage FoundationAmerica at Risk Memo, 05/14/2012
A North Korean long-range ballistic missile launch into the Pacific Ocean, Russian threats of a preemptive strike against United States missile defenses in Europe, the Syrian regime’s continuing violence on protestors, and Taliban terrorist attacks in Afghanistan are just a few of the recent events that should serve to remind us that we are living in uncertain times internationally. The unfortunate fact is that the world remains a dangerous place, replete with states and non-state actors that hold—or could hold—America and its global interests at serious risk. It is therefore without question that we ignore these national security challenges at our peril.
Regulation & DeregulationBy Dick M. Carpenter II, et al., Institute for JusticePolicy Study, 05/14/2012
An “occupational license” is, put simply, government permission to work in a particular field. To earn the license, an aspiring worker must clear various hurdles, such as earning a certain amount of education or training or passing an exam. Today in the United States, almost one in three workers needed the government’s permission to pursue their chosen occupation. This study is the first to examine the scope of licensing laws for low- and moderate-income occupations across all 50 states and the District of Columbia, as well as the first to measure how burdensome those laws are for aspiring workers. This report finds that these laws can pose substantial barriers for those seeking work, particularly those most likely to aspire to these occupations—minorities, those of lesser means and those with less education. Moreover, about half the occupations studied offer the possibility of entrepreneurship, suggesting that these laws hinder both job attainment and creation.
National SecurityBy Christopher Ford, Hudson InstituteSpeech, 05/14/2012
What role do nuclear weapons play for the contemporary United States? President Obama seems to be of two minds. On the one hand, he seems to have abolitionist instincts. On the other hand, he has been Chief Executive for some time now, and is no fool; his nuclear policy practice has so far been much more cautious – more alive, one might say, to the realities and challenges of great power leadership in a pretty ugly and uncertain world – than his rhetoric would lead one to expect. So although Obama himself has suggested that he may feel more “flexibility” to indulge his instincts if reelected, we have – so far, at least – ended up with a very modest but conceptually troubled nuclear agenda.
Crime, Justice & the LawBy Willis J. Goldsmith, Jacqueline M. Holmes, Washington Legal FoundationLegal Opinion Letter, 05/11/2012
When exactly does an employer intentionally disregard or act with plain indifference to the requirements of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, such that it can be subjected to the Act’s substantially increased penalties for willful violations? The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit recently answered that question in Dayton Tire v. Secretary of Labor. Employers can move forward with confidence that their good faith construction of the Act’s requirements—whether or not ultimately correct—will not subject them to willful violations. And, assuming the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission takes the court’s rebuke seriously, the decision should prompt it to act with greater efficiency in carrying out its duty to clarify health and safety standards in the future.
Crime, Justice & the LawBy Lawren H. Briscoe, Matthew Savare, Washington Legal FoundationLegal Opinion Letter, 05/11/2012
As the professional use of social media continues to proliferate, it was only a matter of time before this question reached the courts: who owns an employee’s Twitter followers amassed on an account that was created as part of the employee’s job function? That very question is at issue in PhoneDog v. Kravitz. Its outcome may have profound implications on the use of social media in the workplace.
Crime, Justice & the LawBy J. Brady Dugan, Washington Legal FoundationLegal Backgrounder, 05/11/2012
Last year, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit rejected the settlement of a class action antitrust suit brought by alleged victims of a diamond cartel. The three-judge panel put a stake through the heart of these plaintiffs’ so-called “indirect purchaser” claims because, for a number of the plaintiffs, the claims would not be cognizable under either federal or state law. However, an en banc decision by the Third Circuit reanimated the claims of the indirect diamond purchasers. The en banc court held that, in the context of a settlement, the distinction between states that allow indirect purchaser claims and those that do not is irrelevant. All plaintiffs are welcome – these “zombie” indirect purchaser claims live on. The en banc decision may become influential in determining the fate of indirect purchaser plaintiffs in future cases.
Transportation/InfrastructureBy Baruch Feigenbaum, Reason FoundationPolicy Brief, 05/11/2012
In March 2012, the United States Senate approved Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century, its surface transportation reauthorization bill. It contains several provisions intended to discourage and restrict the use of long-term public private partnerships for transportation infrastructure. This brief describes those provisions and explains how and why they would deprive states of a much-needed tool for expanding investment in highways and transit.
Transportation/InfrastructureBy David Hartgen, Thomas A. Rubin, John Locke FoundationPolicy Report, 05/11/2012
The Wake County Transit Plan1 calls for significant expansion of the transit system in Wake County North Carolina, including doubled bus transit service, new commuter rail service between Raleigh and Durham, and a new light rail service between Carey and northeast Raleigh. The cost of this expansion was estimated at $4.6 Billion, to be paid for largely by a 1/2-cent sales tax and other federal, state and local funds over 28 years. The Plan’s details assert a more than doubling of transit ridership as a result. A review by the John Locke Foundation found that the Plan contained numerous optimistic assumptions, errors of fact or omission and calculations at variance with standard industry practice. Therefore, the review found that the Plan was not technically nor financially feasible and was unreliable as the basis for decisions regarding transit investment in Wake County.
Health CareBy Henry I. Miller, Hoover InstitutionDefining Ideas, 05/11/2012
Members of Congress can be astonishingly clueless about the shortcomings of federal agencies and how to correct them. At a press conference in February, United States Senator Barbara Mikulski and several bipartisan colleagues unveiled the Spending Reductions through Innovations in Therapies Act, legislation intended to spur innovation in pharmaceutical research and development for chronic and costly health conditions such as Alzheimer’s Disease, cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. But the legislation fails to address what actually impedes the development of important new medicines.
Crime, Justice & the LawBy Paul J. Larkin Jr., The Heritage FoundationIssue Brief, 05/10/2012
The Freedom from Over-Criminalization and Unjust Seizures Act would amend the Lacey Act by decriminalizing it. The criminal provisions of the Lacey Act are unreasonable because they require an American, on pain of imprisonment, to know the criminal and civil laws of every foreign country, regardless of their number and regardless of their language. It may be necessary to presume that every person knows the laws of this nation, but it is utterly unreasonable to apply that principle—which is less a principle and more a ukase—to every law of every foreign country.
Economic and Political ThoughtBy Arthur C. Brooks, Basic BooksBook, 05/10/2012
Entrepreneurship, personal responsibility, and upward mobility: These traditions are at the heart of the free enterprise system, and have long been central to America’s exceptional culture. In recent years, however, policymakers have dramatically weakened these traditions – by exploding the size of government, propping up their corporate cronies, and trying to reorient our system from rewarding merit to redistributing wealth. In The Road to Freedom, Arthur C. Brooks shows that this trend cannot be reversed through materialistic appeals about the economic efficiency of capitalism. Rather, free enterprise requires a moral defense rooted in the ideals of earned success, equality of opportunity, charity, and basic fairness. Brooks builds this defense and demonstrates how it is central to understanding the major policy issues facing America today.
Economic and Political ThoughtBy Michael J. Lewis, Hillsdale CollegeImprimis, 05/10/2012
For more than a century and a half, America built monuments with spectacular success. We have only been building them badly for a generation. The recent designs are perhaps an honest reflection of our divided and uncertain culture. We can do better once more.
Monetary Policy/Financial RegulationBy Todd J. Zywicki, Nick Tuszynski, Federalist SocietyEngage, 05/10/2012
Regulation of overdraft protection based on unrepresentative anecdote presents the risk of injuring consumers and the safety and soundness of the banking system. As the lessons of history indicate, paternalistic regulation of consumer credit products tends to injure precisely those it is intended to help, by driving them to use less-preferred credit or reducing their access to credit generally, with all of the ancillary consequences.
Foreign Policy/International AffairsBy Ying Ma, Hoover InstitutionDefining Ideas, 05/10/2012
Modern China is a place of incongruity. This incongruity touches every aspect of daily life, and it is evident in the now widely reported case of the blind dissident Chen Guangcheng, who has been persecuted for his advocacy on behalf of women subjected to forced abortions and forced sterilization. China’s incongruity is also apparent in that space between political dissent and silent submission, between open opposition to the regime and fearful acceptance of its edicts. Once, not too long ago, Yu Jie, another Chinese dissident and one of China’s best contemporary writers, wrote about the anger, sadness, resignation, and desperation of this incongruity. Earlier this year, China chased him away.
Economic GrowthBy Morris A. Davis, Cato InstitutePolicy Analysis, 05/10/2012
Policies designed to promote homeownership are ineffective and poorly motivated. They are also expensive: the present value of the cost of homeownership subsidies equals $2.5 trillion. The body of evidence suggests we need to unwind the current set of public policies designed to promote homeownership and rethink whether homeownership is a desirable public policy goal.