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Archive for the ‘New Jersey’ Category

Back in the 1980s and 1990s, there was a widespread consensus that high tax rates were economically misguided. Many Democrats, for instance, supported the 1986 Tax Reform Act that lowered the top tax rate from 50 percent to 28 percent (albeit offset by increased double taxation and more punitive depreciation rules).

And even in the 1990s, many on the left at least paid lip service to the notion that lower tax rates were better for prosperity than higher tax rates. Perhaps that’s because the overwhelming evidence of lower tax rates on the rich leading to higher revenue was fresh in their minds.

The modern left, however, seems completely fixated on class-warfare tax policy. Some of them want higher tax rates even if the government doesn’t collect more revenue!

I’ve already shared a bunch of data and evidence on the importance of low tax rates.

A review of the academic evidence by the Tax Foundation found overwhelming support for the notion that lower tax rates are good for growth.

An economist from Cornell found lower tax rates boost GDP.

Other economists found lower tax rates boost job creation, savings, and output.

Even economists at the Paris-based OECD have determined that high tax rates undermine economic performance.

Today, we’re going to augment this list with some fresh and powerful evidence.

Lots of new evidence. So grab a cup of coffee.

The New York Times, for instance, is noticing that high taxes drive away productive people. At least in France.

Here are some excerpts from a remarkable story.

A year earlier, Mr. Santacruz, who has two degrees in finance, was living in Paris near the Place de la Madeleine, working in a boutique finance firm. He had taken that job after his attempt to start a business in Marseille foundered under a pile of government regulations and a seemingly endless parade of taxes. The episode left him wary of starting any new projects in France. Yet he still hungered to be his own boss. He decided that he would try again. Just not in his own country.

What pushed him over the edge? Taxes, taxes, and more taxes.

…he returned to France to work with a friend’s father to open dental clinics in Marseille. “But the French administration turned it into a herculean effort,” he said. A one-month wait for a license turned into three months, then six. They tried simplifying the corporate structure but were stymied by regulatory hurdles. Hiring was delayed, partly because of social taxes that companies pay on salaries. In France, the share of nonwage costs for employers to fund unemployment benefits, education, health care and pensions is more than 33 percent. In Britain, it is around 20 percent. “Every week, more tax letters would come,” Mr. Santacruz recalled.

Monsieur Santacruz has lots of company.

…France has been losing talented citizens to other countries for decades, but the current exodus of entrepreneurs and young people is happening at a moment when France can ill afford it. The nation has had low-to-stagnant economic growth for the last five years and a generally climbing unemployment rate — now about 11 percent — and analysts warn that it risks sliding into economic sclerosis. …This month, the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Paris, which represents 800,000 businesses, published a report saying that French executives were more worried than ever that “unemployment and moroseness are pushing young people to leave” the country, bleeding France of energetic workers. As the Pew Research Center put it last year, “no European country is becoming more dispirited and disillusioned faster than France.”

But it’s not just young entrepreneurs. It’s also those who already have achieved some level of success.

Some wealthy businesspeople have also been packing their bags. While entrepreneurs fret about the difficulties of getting a business off the ground, those who have succeeded in doing so say that society stigmatizes financial success. …Hand-wringing articles in French newspapers — including a three-page spread in Le Monde, have examined the implications of “les exilés.” …around 1.6 million of France’s 63 million citizens live outside the country. That is not a huge share, but it is up 60 percent from 2000, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Thousands are heading to Hong Kong, Mexico City, New York, Shanghai and other cities. About 50,000 French nationals live in Silicon Valley alone. But for the most part, they have fled across the English Channel, just a two-hour Eurostar ride from Paris. Around 350,000 French nationals are now rooted in Britain, about the same population as Nice, France’s fifth-largest city. …Diane Segalen, an executive recruiter for many of France’s biggest companies who recently moved most of her practice, Segalen & Associés, to London from Paris, says the competitiveness gap is easy to see just by reading the newspapers. “In Britain, you read about all the deals going on here,” Ms. Segalen said. “In the French papers, you read about taxes, more taxes, economic problems and the state’s involvement in everything.”

Let’s now check out another story, this time from the pages of the UK-based Daily Mail. We have some more news from France, where another successful French entrepreneur is escaping Monsieur Hollande’s 75 percent tax rate.

François-Henri Pinault, France’s third richest man, is relocating his family to London.  Pinault, the chief executive of Kering, a luxury goods group, has an estimated fortune of £9 billion.  The capital has recently become a popular destination for wealthy French, who are seeking to avoid a 75 per cent supertax introduced by increasingly unpopular Socialist President François Hollande. …It has been claimed that London has become the sixth largest ‘French city’ in the world, with more than 300,000 French people living there.

But it’s not just England. Other high-income French citizens, such as Gerard Depardieu and Bernard Arnault, are escaping to Belgium (which is an absurdly statist nation, but at least doesn’t impose a capital gains tax).

But let’s get back to the story. The billionaire’s actress wife, perhaps having learned from all the opprobrium heaped on Phil Mickelson when he said he might leave California after voters foolishly voted for a class-warfare tax hike, is pretending that taxes are not a motivating factor.

But despite the recent exodus of millionaires from France, Ms Hayek insisted that her family were moving to London for career reasons and not for tax purposes.  …Speaking about the move in an interview with The Times Magazine, the actress said: ‘I want to clarify, it’s not for tax purposes. We are still paying taxes here in France.  ‘We think that London has a lot more to offer than just a better tax situation.

And if you believe that, I have a bridge in Brooklyn that I’m willing to sell for a very good price.

Speaking of New York bridges, let’s go to the other side of Manhattan and cross into New Jersey.

It seems that class-warfare tax policy isn’t working any better in the Garden State than it is in France.

Here are some passages from a story in the Washington Free Beacon.

New Jersey’s high taxes may be costing the state billions of dollars a year in lost revenue as high-earning residents flee, according to a recent study. The study, Exodus on the Parkway, was completed by Regent Atlantic last year… The study shows the state has been steadily losing high-net-worth residents since 2004, when Democratic Gov. Jim McGreevey signed the millionaire’s tax into law. The law raised the state income tax 41 percent on those earning $500,000 or more a year. “The inception of this tax, coupled with New Jersey’s already high property and estate taxes, leaves no mystery about why the term ‘tax migration’ has become a buzzword among state residents and financial, legal, and political professionals,” the study, conducted by Regent states. …tax hikes are driving residents to states with lower tax rates: In 2010 alone, New Jersey lost taxable income of $5.5 billion because residents changed their state of domicile.

No wonder people are moving. New Jersey is one of the most over-taxed jurisdictions in America – and it has a dismal long-run outlook.

And when they move, they take lots of money with them.

“The sad reality is our residents are suffering because politicians talk a good game, but no one is willing to step up to the plate,” Americans for Prosperity New Jersey state director Daryn Iwicki said. The “oppressive tax climate is driving people out.” …One certified public accountant quoted in the study said he lost 95 percent of his high net worth clients. Other tax attorneys report similar results. …Michael Grohman, a tax attorney with Duane Morris, LLP, claimed his wealthy clients are “leaving [New Jersey] as fast as they can.” …If the current trend is not reversed, the consequences could be dire. “Essentially, we’ll find ourselves much like the city of Detroit, broke and without jobs,” Iwicki said.

By the way, make sure you don’t die in New Jersey.

The one bit of good news, for what it’s worth, is that Governor Christie is trying to keep matters from moving further in the wrong direction.

Here’s another interesting bit of evidence. The Wall Street Journal asked the folks at Allied Van Lines where wealthy people are moving. Here’s some of the report on that research.

Spread Sheet asked Allied to determine where wealthy households were moving, based on heavy-weight, high-value moves. According to the data, Texas saw the largest influx of well-heeled households moving into the state last year, consistent with move trends overall. South Carolina and Florida also posted net gains. On the flip side, Illinois and Pennsylvania saw more high-value households move out of state than in, according to the data. California saw the biggest net loss of heavy-weight moves. Last year, California had a net loss of 49,259 people to other states, according to the U.S. Census. …Texas had the highest net gain in terms of domestic migration—113,528 more people moved into the state than out last year, census data show. Job opportunities are home-buyers’ top reason for relocating to Texas, according to a Redfin survey last month of 1,909 customers and website users.

The upshot is that Texas has thumped California, which echoes what I’ve been saying for years.

One can only imagine what will happen over the next few years given the punitive impact of the higher tax rate imposed on the “rich” by spiteful California voters.

If I haven’t totally exhausted your interest in this topic, let’s close by reviewing some of the research included in John Hood’s recent article in Reason.

Over the past three decades, America’s state and local governments have experienced a large and underappreciated divergence. …Some political scientists call it the Big Sort. …Think of it as a vast natural experiment in economic policy. Because states have a lot otherwise in common-cultural values, economic integration, the institutions and actions of the federal government-testing the effects of different economic policies within America can be easier than testing them across countries. …And scholars have been studying the results. …t present our database contains 528 articles published between 1992 and 2013. On balance, their findings offer strong empirical support for the idea that limited government is good for economic progress.

And what do these studies say?

Of the 112 academic studies we found on overall state or local tax burdens, for example, 72 of them-64 percent-showed a negative association with economic performance. Only two studies linked higher overall tax burdens with stronger growth, while the rest yielded mixed or statistically insignificant findings. …There was a negative association between economic growth and higher personal income taxes in 67 percent of the studies. The proportion rose to 74 percent for higher marginal tax rates or tax code progressivity, and 69 percent for higher business or corporate taxes.

Here are some of the specific findings in the academic research.

James Hines of the University of Michigan found that “state taxes significantly influence the pattern of foreign direct investment in the U.S.” A 1 percent change in the tax rate was associated with an 8 percent change in the share of manufacturing investment from taxed investors. Another study, published in Public Finance Review in 2004, zeroed in on counties that lie along state borders. …Studying 30 years of data, the authors concluded that states that raised their income tax rates more than their neighbors had significantly slower growth rates in per-capita income. …economists Brian Goff, Alex Lebedinsky, and Stephen Lile of Western Kentucky University grouped pairs of states together based on common characteristics of geography and culture. …Writing in the April 2011 issue of Contemporary Economic Policy, the authors found “strong support for the idea that lower tax burdens tend to lead to higher levels of economic growth.”

By the way, even though this post is about tax policy, I can’t resist sharing some of Hood’s analysis of the impact of government spending.

Of the 43 studies testing the relationship between total state or local spending and economic growth, only five concluded that it was positive. Sixteen studies found that higher state spending was associated with weaker economic growth; the other 22 were inconclusive. …a few Keynesian bitter-enders insist that transfer programs such as Medicaid boost the economy via multiplier effects… Nearly three-quarters of the relevant studies found that welfare, health care subsidies, and other transfer spending are bad for economic growth.

And as I’ve repeatedly noted, it’s important to have good policy in all regards. And Hood shares some important data showing that laissez-faire states out-perform their neighbors.

…economists Lauren Heller and Frank Stephenson of Berry College used the Fraser Institute’s Economic Freedom of North America index to explore state economic growth from 1981 to 2009. They found that if a state adopted fiscal and regulatory policies sufficient to improve its economic freedom score by one point, it could expect unemployment to drop by 1.3 percentage points and labor-force participation to rise by 1.9 percentage points by the end of the period studied.

If you’ve made it this far, you deserve a reward. We have some amusing cartoons on class-warfare tax policy here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

And here’s a funny bit from Penn and Teller on class warfare.

P.S. Higher tax rates also encourage corruption.

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If you’re a libertarian, you generally don’t act and think like other people. Most folks, when they heard about Governor Christie’s bridge-closing scandal, focused on the potential political ramifications.

But not me. My immediate reaction was to think that the problem could have been avoided if the bridge and its various entry points were privately owned. Sort of like the Ambassador Bridge between Canada and Michigan, which is the busiest border crossing in North America. Or the Progreso International Bridge, a major transportation link between Mexico and Texas.

If the George Washington Bridge also had private owners, they would want to maximize the flow of traffic, not arbitrarily close lanes for petty political purposes. So while others may speculate about Chris Christie and the 2016 presidential race, I daydreamed about how privatized bridges would improve transportation (just as I couldn’t stop myself from pontificating about private fire departments when sharing some libertarian humor).

All that being said, I’m digressing before I even get started. The purpose of today’s column is to focus on the real scandal in New Jersey.

New research from the Mercatus Center looks at cash solvency, budget solvency, long-run solvency, and service-level solvency to show which states are fiscally responsible and which states face serious long-run problems.

And while Chris Christie may have taken a few steps to rein in excessive compensation for state bureaucrats (causing me to become giddy with infatuation), he still has a long way to go because the Garden State is in last place in this comprehensive new ranking of fiscal responsibility.

And that means New Jersey is even behind fiscal hell holes such as California, New York, and Illinois.

Here are the key takeaways from the study, which ranks all 50 states.

This paper contributes to that stream of research by applying models of fiscal condition to create indices measuring cash, budget, long-run, and service-level solvency as well as overall fiscal condition at the state level. It also discusses the relative strengths and weaknesses of each solvency index and provides a ranking — based on these indices and using fiscal year 2012 data — of the 50 US states. …Table 9…shows the state rankings based on fiscal condition with all four dimensions taken into account. …the states at the bottom are there due to years of poor financial management decisions, bad economic conditions, or a combination of both. New Jersey and Illinois face similar problems of tax revenues that have not kept up with expenditures, use of budget practices that only appeared to balance their annual budgets, and significant debt levels as a result of decades of using bonds without being able to pay for them. In addition, both states have underfunded their pension systems, resulting in   billions in unfunded liabilities.

Now let’s take a look at the main chart from the study, showing the ranking for all 50 states.

And I want to focus on the bottom 10, which are a rogue’s gallery of big-government basket cases. New Jersey, as already noted, is in last place, but the next-worst state is Connecticut, which has become a fiscal mess ever since making the horrible mistake of adopting an income tax more than two decades ago.

Mercatus State Fiscal Ranking

Illinois is in 48th place, which is not surprising since the state is infamous for tax-and-spend fiscal policy. Massachusetts is number 47, making it the fourth-worst state…just as it is the fourth-worst state in the Tax Freedom Day rankings.

California is number 46, and I was surprised (given Jerry Brown’s attempts to drive successful people from the state) to read in the study that its fiscal condition actually has gotten better in recent years. And no rating of fiscal irresponsibility is complete without New York, which is in 45th place.

Indeed, you’ll notice that there’s a good bit of overlap between the states at the bottom of the Mercatus study and the “death spiral” states that I shared last year. No wonder taxpayers are fleeing these oppressive jurisdictions.

Likewise, you’ll see that there’s also overlap between the highest-ranking states and the states that have avoided the mistake of imposing an income tax.

And since we’re on the topic of top-ranked states, it is worth noting that five of the top 10 don’t have an income tax, but we should issue a caveat. Both Alaska and Wyoming have a lot of natural resources, so politicians in those states have lots of revenue to spend. Indeed, too much if we believe these numbers showing state debt in Alaska.

And the same is true for North Dakota, which makes the mistake of maintaining an income tax while also collecting a flood of severance tax revenue.

P.S. If you want to further explore state fiscal performance, here are four additional rankings.

P.P.S. I have a confession to make. I’m currently on vacation in Nevis with the PotL. Nevis 3Sounds like an idyllic (albeit very temporary) lifestyle, particularly since it’s cold back in Washington. But every night has been a battle because I can’t figure out how to operate the bloody thermostat. It’s automatically set for 64 degrees, which is far too cold for my tastes, but I don’t know how to change the temperature. It’s a digital device and when I move the temperature up or down, the word “set” starts blinking on the screen, but with no indication of how to actually implement that command. Nevis TempSo I have to get up in the middle of the night and turn the device to “on” or “off” depending on whether I’m too cold or too hot. You may be asking yourself why I don’t inquire with the hotel staff, but that’s not an option. A friend on the island arranged for me to rent a private condo, so there’s nobody I can contact. Sort of reminds me of the time in Slovakia when I couldn’t figure out how to operate a shower, or the time in Switzerland when I was baffled by a toilet. And if I can’t figure out how to operate household fixtures, how on earth will I ever figure out how to shrink the size and scope of the federal government.

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Look, up in the sky! It’s a bird, it’s a plane…no it’s Super Bureaucrat!

Actually, look to New Jersey, because you’re going to see a taxpayer ripoff that will get your blood boiling. Depending on your perspective, this may be worse that the toll collector on the New Jersey Turnpike who pocketed more than $300,000 in a single year.

Because today’s super bureaucrat isn’t getting overpaid for one job. He’s getting overpaid for six jobs!

Here are some excerpts from a local news report in New Jersey (h/t: Reason).

Patrick DeBlasio was hired Wednesday as Highlands’ chief financial officer — his sixth concurrent public job and ranking him among the highest-paid public employees in New Jersey. Highlands will pay DeBlasio a $40,000 annual salary on a part-time basis… DeBlasio will not have to work a minimum number of hours, said Administrator Tim Hill, or be required to go into the office.

Maybe one day I can get one of these $40,000 no-show jobs that don’t require any work. But I don’t know if I could juggle several of them, and this is what makes DeBlasio special.

DeBlasio has a full-time job as Carteret’s CFO and part-time gigs in Keansburg, North Plainfield and the Carteret School District, the report said. He is also currently Highland’s tax collector.

It’s rather convenient that he also serves as a tax collector since it takes a lot of money to finance all his government salaries.

In 2012, DeBlasio’s annual compensation totaled $244,606, more than Gov. Chris Christie or state Treasurer Andrew P. Sidamon-Eristoff, who earn $175,000 and $141,000, respectively.

As the old saying goes, nice work if you can get it.

Maybe it’s time to start a Bureaucrat Hall of Fame, sort of like our Moocher Hall of Fame. In addition to Mr. DeBlasio (and the toll collector mentioned above), charter members could include the following.

When you read these stories, it’s easy to understand why so many states are in fiscal trouble.

And it also makes sense that state and local bureaucrats are far less likely to quit their jobs than folks in the productive sector of the economy. After all, how many people leave positions when they’re being overpaid?

But don’t forget that federal bureaucrats enjoy an even bigger pay advantage over private sector workers. Indeed, my Cato colleague Chris Edwards reports that they get twice as much average compensation as the serfs in the productive sector of the economy who pay their bills.

This video has the unhappy details.

P.S. Super Bureaucrat joins a list of other “super heroes,” including Government Man, and also two caped crusaders inspired by President Obama. Thanks to Michael Ramirez, we have “Stupor Man.” And there’s also Super-President-Constitutional-Law-Professor.

P.P.S. Is there some hidden strand of DNA that causes people named de Blasio to be burdens to taxpayers?

P.P.P.S. Shifting gears, remember our story about ten days ago featuring the little kid who was suspended from school for firing an imaginary bow and arrow? Well, we have another example showing that government schools could be considered a form of child abuse.

A 5-year-old boy was reportedly suspended from school after making a gun gesture with his hand on the playground. His father, David Hendrix, was furious when he found out his son was issued a suspension for the gesture. “He was playing army on the playground,” Hendrix told WBTV.

Yet another argument for school choice.

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Never let it be said I back down from a fight, even when it’s the other team’s game, played by the other team’s rules, and for the benefit of the wrong person.

And that definitely went through my mind when U.S. News & World Report asked me to contribute to their “Debate Club” on the topic of “Should Mitt Romney pay higher taxes?”

I’m not a Romney fan, and it irks me to defend good tax policy on behalf of someone who is incapable and/or unwilling to make the same principled arguments.

But my job is to do the right thing and bring truth to the economic heathens, so I agreed to participate. And I’m glad I did, because it gave me a chance to try out a new argument that I hope will educate more people about the perverse impact of double taxation.

Let me know what you think of this approach, which asks people whether they would think it would be fair if they couldn’t take credit for withheld taxes when filling out their 1040 tax return.

Capital gains taxes and dividend taxes are both forms of double taxation. That income already is hit by the 35 percent corporate income tax. So the real tax rate for people like Mitt Romney is closer to 45 percent. And if you add the death tax to the equation, the effective tax rate begins to approach 60 percent.  Here’s a simply analogy. Imagine you make $50,000 per year and your employer withholds $5,000 for personal income tax. How would you feel if the IRS then told you that your income was $45,000 and you had to pay full tax on that amount, and that you weren’t allowed to count the $5,000 withholding when you filled out your 1040 form? You would be outraged, correctly yelling and screaming that you should be allowed to count those withheld tax payments.  Welcome to the world of double taxation.

By the way, if you like my argument, feel free to vote for my entry, which you can do on this page.

I won my previous debate for U.S. News, so I’m hoping the keep a good thing going. As they say in Chicago, vote early and vote often.

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New Jersey gets abused by comedians as being some sort of dump, but there are some scenic parts of the state.

So it actually can be a nice place to live. That being said, it’s not a good place to die. Here’s a chart from the American Family Business Foundation that was featured in a recent Wall Street Journal editorial.

As you can see, New Jersey has the nation’s most punitive death tax. Most of the blame belongs to the 35 percent federal tax, but successful residents of the Garden State lose an additional 19 percent of their assets when they die. As the WSJ opined:

Here’s some free financial advice: Don’t die in New Jersey any time soon. If you have more than $675,000 to your name and you die in the Garden State, about 54% may go to the IRS and the tax collectors in Trenton. Better not take your last breath in Maryland either. The tax penalty for dying there is half of a lifetime’s savings. That’s the combined tab from the new federal estate tax rate of 35% and Maryland’s inheritance and death taxes. Maybe they should rename it the Not-So-Free State. …Family business owners, ranchers, farmers and wealthy retirees can avoid that tax by relocating to Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, South Carolina and other states that don’t impose inheritance taxes. There are plenty of attractive places to go. New research indicates that high state death taxes may be financially self-defeating. A 2011 study by the Ocean State Policy Research Institute, a think tank in Rhode Island, examined Census Bureau migration data and discovered that “from 1995 to 2007 Rhode Island collected $341.3 million from the estate tax while it lost $540 million in other taxes due to out-migration.” Not all of those people left because of taxes, but the study found evidence that “the most significant driver of out-migration is the estate tax.” After Florida eliminated its estate tax in 2004, there was a significant acceleration of exiles from Rhode Island to Florida.

At the risk of stating the obvious, the correct death tax rate is zero, as I’ve explained for USA Today. Indeed, I also cited evidence from Australia and the United States about how people will take extraordinary steps to avoid this wretched form of double taxation.

New Jersey has lots of problems. All of those problems will be easier to fix if successful people don’t leave the state. Sounds like another issue for Governor Christie to address.

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I’m not saying he’s the next Ronald Reagan. Some of his views on global warming/climate change are very troubling. And he’s apparently hopelessly bad on 2nd Amendment rights.

But I’m incredibly impressed at his ability to fight back against spoiled, pampered, over-compensated government bureaucrats. I wish other Republicans could think and talk on their feet like Christie. Watch and enjoy.

Correction - the original youtube video has been removed, but in the comments section, Adrian helpfully draw our attention to this link where you can still Christie in action.

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While I think of myself as being in favor of harsh punishment for criminals, I try to restrain this bloodthirsty impulse by remembering that many laws are unjust, all governments are incompetent, and prosecutors often place personal ambition above justice.

And the last point is why I worry about electing people like Rudy Giuliani to high office. There were several reasons why I wasn’t a big fan of the former New York City Mayor, but high on the list was his apparent disregard for the rights of the individual. And I suspect most people who served as prosecutors/district attorneys/U.S. attorneys/etc have a what-could-possibly-go-wrong attitude about proposals to expand the power of government.

With this in mind, I was happy to read that Governor Christie of New Jersey (a former U.S. attorney) has freed a man who was unjustly convicted and imprisoned for a gun offense. My happiness is tempered by the fact that he commuted the sentence of Brian Aitken rather than pardoning him, which is why the governor gets two cheers rather than three.

The important news, though, is that an injustice has been addressed and Aitken is now a free man. Here’s a blurb from a Fox News report.

A man given seven years in prison after being found with two guns he purchased legally in Colorado has had his sentence commuted, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie announced Monday. The case of Brian Aitken, 27, had become a cause célèbre among gun-rights advocates. …Aitken had purchased the guns legally in Colorado, and he passed an FBI background check when he bought them, according to his father, Larry Aitken. Brian also contacted New Jersey State Police before moving back back to the Garden State to discuss how to properly transport his weapons. But despite those good-faith efforts, Larry Aitken said, Brian was convicted on weapons charges and sent to prison in August. Judge James Morley would not allow the argument in trial earlier this year and Christie later declined to reappoint the judge due to an unrelated case.

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When politicians and bureaucrats spend our money, they rarely demonstrate any concern about waste and fraud. Why be conscientious, after all, if you’re spending other people’s money – especially if your real goal is to buy votes and get campaign contributions by providing unearned wealth to well-connected insiders?

I’ve always been more concerned about the negative economic impact of government spending and the failure of Keynesian fiscal policy, but it’s also important to focus on waste and fraud. The average taxpayer may not want to get into the weeds of economic theory, but you don’t need an advanced degree to get upset about $27 light bulbs.

Fortunately, auditors caught this example of waste and fraud, but one can only imagine all the nonsense that’s slipping through the net. Here’s an excerpt from a Bloomberg story:

Contractors billed New Jersey $27 for light bulbs, and ran up tens of thousands of dollars in other “unreasonable costs” on a $119 million weatherization program funded with U.S. stimulus money, the state auditor said. …One contractor sought $27 for light bulbs, while another billed $1.50 for similar items, according to the report and Assistant Auditor Thomas Meseroll. Another vendor charged $75 for carbon-monoxide detectors that it had provided to a different program for $22, the report said. Eells also cited $32,700 in auditing fees when “no services had been performed” and $69,000 in construction costs that couldn’t be verified.

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This definitely belongs in the OMG category. Bureaucrats at the New Jersey Turnpike Authority are ripping off taxpayer is a spectacular fashion. Here are some stunning details.

Auditors say the New Jersey Turnpike Authority wasted $43 million on unneeded perks and bonuses.  In one case, an employee with a base salary of $73,469 earned $321,985 when all payouts and bonuses were included. The audit says that toll dollars From the New Jersey Turnpike and the Garden State Parkway were spent on items ranging from an employee bowling league to employee bonuses for working on birthdays and holidays. It took place as tolls were being increased. The biggest expense uncovered in the audit was $30 million in unjustified bonuses to employees and management in 2008 and 2009 without consideration of performance. One example was paying employees overtime for removing snow and working holidays and then giving additional “snow removal bonuses” and “holiday bonuses.” …Among the questionable legal expenses was a billing for $111,840 for a law firm’s weekly internal status meetings that were generally attended by 10 to 15 of the firm’s attorneys and two to three of its paralegals.

P.S. I’m getting rid of the “Part XLIII” part of the “Taxpayers vs Bureaucrats” series. In the beginning, I figured it was a good way of emphasizing the scope of the problem, but now it’s become a bit of a pain (especially since I started having to go online to figure out how to translate numbers into roman numerals).

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I wish GOPers in DC could make persuasive arguments like this. One has to wonder whether Governor Christie will be a player in 2012.

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I ran across two interesting lists showing how politicians at the state and local level are often just as bad as the ones in Washington, DC. First, Forbes has an article identifying the 10 states with the highest income tax rates. The top rate is a big deterrent to entrepreneurs and investors, but it’s also important to look at the income level where the top tax rate takes effect. Yes, Hawaii, Oregon, and California have terrible tax policy, but Iowa, Maine, and Washington, DC, deserve special scorn for raping the middle class.

Hawaii:                       11% (income over $400,000 (couple), $200,000 (single))
Oregon:                      11% (income over $500,000 (couple), $250,000 (single))
California:                   10.55% (income over $1 million)
Rhode Island:             9.9% (income over $373,650)
Iowa:                          8.98% (income over $64,261)
New Jersey                 8.97% (income over $500,000)
New York:                   8.97% (income over $500,000)
Vermont:                     8.95% (income over $373,650)
Maine:                        8.5% (income over $39,549 (couple), $19,749 (single))
Washington, D.C.:      8.5% (income over $40,000)

Looking at the other major source of revenue for state and local governments, the Tax Foundation identifies the cities with the highest total sales tax rate - a number that often includes three separate levies by state, county, and city governments. Here are the top 10. Or should I say worst 10?

Birmingham AL              10.000%
Montgomery AL             10.000%
Long Beach CA                9.750%
Los Angeles CA               9.750%
Oakland CA                    9.750%
Fremont CA                     9.750%
Chicago IL                     9.750%
Glendale AZ                    9.600%
Seattle WA                     9.500%
San Francisco CA           9.500%

One thing that stands out is that California is on both lists, which helps explain why the state is such a basket case. Seattle deserves a special mention because at least there is no state income tax in Washington.

Last but not least, it’s worth mentioning that there’s no sales tax or income tax in New Hampshire. Live Free or Die!

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My default assumption is that all politicians will do the wrong thing when they have to choose between defending freedom and appeasing special interests. Even the ones that spout good rhetoric often do the wrong thing, particularly after a couple of years in office (sort of like being assimilated by the Borg, for you Star Trek fans). So I did not hold out much hope that Chris Christie would have any positive impact on New Jersey. I’m glad to report that (at least so far) I was wrong. Here’s a excerpt from a National Review article about what he’s accomplished. The excerpt is long, but the details are important. And since I obviously had to summarize, you should read the entire article to more fully appreciate how Christie seems to be the real deal.
…on February 11, Christie addressed a special joint session of the state legislature, replacing the vague promises of the campaign trail with first principles, and elaborating the constraints under which he was determined to govern: “Our constitution requires a balanced budget. Our commitment requires us to begin the next fiscal year with a prudent opening balance. Our conscience and common sense require us to fix the problem in a way that does not raise taxes on the most overtaxed citizens in America. Our love for our children requires that we do not shove today’s problems under the rug only to be discovered again tomorrow. Our sense of decency must require that we stop using tricks that will make next year’s budget problem even worse.” And in an extraordinary move, he then declared a fiscal state of emergency, announcing that by executive order he would impound $2.2 billion in appropriations from a fiscal year that was already seven months gone. That figure represented virtually every dollar the state was not legally obligated to pay out for the remainder of the year. In Bagger’s words, it was “everything that wasn’t nailed down.” “By doing that so quickly and so dramatically, and by executive action, it really set the stage,” Bagger says. “It was just a very clear declaration that there’s a new reality.” There was much wailing and teeth-gnashing about the cuts among Democrats. Sweeney accused Christie of “pick[ing] someone else’s pocket,” and senate majority leader Barbara Buono went so far as to say the executive order had “declare[d] martial law” in New Jersey. This raised the stakes significantly for the FY 2011 budget battle, which was then only beginning. In the year to come, the state would face an $11 billion deficit that made the previous shortfall look like a gratuity. It was a big hole, and Christie needed Democratic votes to close it. But he had no intention of mollycoddling the other side. On March 16, the governor went back before a joint session of the legislature and introduced a $29.3 billion budget that doubled down on his most controversial measures, trimming fat — and muscle, and sinew — from virtually every department and every entitlement in the state. The budget did small things, like reducing overtime hours, shrinking the state’s fleet of official vehicles, replacing paper with digital filing, and consolidating government office space. It cut the pay and pension eligibility for members of a number of state boards and commissions, many of whose duties required them to do little more than attend once-monthly meetings. It saved $216 million by eliminating a number of wasteful programs, and another $50 million by privatizing others. But the budget did big things as well. It shrank the state’s major spending programs — including many that were, the governor admitted, not without merit — by reducing base appropriations and either scaling back or eliminating scheduled funding increases. It converted the state’s property-tax rebate system — long funded by borrowing, at interest, to cut checks to homeowners — with tax credits. It cut $466 million in local aid, against Trenton’s trend of corralling more and more municipal tax dollars for the purposes of redistribution, while pushing a constitutional amendment that would limit towns’ ability to raise property taxes in the future. And like Corzine before him, Christie deferred payments to the state’s pension program to secure $3.1 billion in savings, under the justification that it was imprudent to sink more money into a failing system. But unlike Corzine, Christie pushed through tough pension reforms that rolled back overgenerous payment increases, limited payouts for unused sick leave, and enrolled new workers into 401(k)s. He’d also signed a law requiring public employees to pay at least 1.5 percent of their salaries toward their health benefits, which would save the state and local governments hundreds of millions each year. But what caused the first and most strident wave of opposition to Christie’s agenda was his decision to slash funding for public education, by some $820 million. …A near-pristine version of Christie’s budget passed at 1:13 a.m. on June 29, less than 24 hours before the constitutional deadline. …But as significant as his early victories have been, Christie must now turn to pushing the structural reforms that will institutionalize his vision of leaner, meaner state government. …Even as he was fighting the budget battle, the governor was barnstorming the state to talk up perhaps the most significant of these reforms: his “Cap 2.5” initiative, which would constitutionally limit the ability of municipalities to raise property taxes. The cap is popular among residents, most of whom pay the preponderance of their non-federal tax liability in property taxes. …But Christie’s amendment is at the mercy of the Democratic legislature, whose assent is required for a popular referendum on it. …Christie has vowed not to give up the fight. Other battles loom wherein the governor’s chances for success are highly uncertain. He has promised yet more pension and compensation reforms, moves that could break his tenuous alliance with the reformist elements in the Democratic party and push his openly hostile relationship with labor beyond Thunderdome. …Senator Kean, who hopes to move from minority to majority leader, has confidence that Christie will continue to stick to his guns. “The governor has an internally strong constitution — that’s who Chris is — and he has an externally strong constitution in the constitution of the State of New Jersey,” Kean says. “I think he is absolutely the genuine article. That’s why we won’t ever go back to the status quo, at least not under Chris Christie’s governorship.”

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Chris Christie of New Jersey has done a remarkable job so far, but his biggest battles are still ahead of him. A key fight is whether the state will impose a cap on property taxes. As the Wall Street Journal opines, this reform has worked very well in Massachusetts and is critical to curtailiing the greed of government employee unions in the Garden State.
The Governor wants to cap annual property tax increases at 2.5%, on the model of the successful cap that Massachusetts imposed in 1980. Over the next 27 years, property taxes in the Bay State rose 22% compared to 68% nationwide and 102% in New Jersey. The cap is crucial to preventing local Garden State school districts, which are dominated by teachers unions, from raising taxes and thus defeating whatever spending restraint Mr. Christie can impose on Trenton. The unions know this, which is why they’ve spent some $7 million in TV ads portraying Mr. Christie as the scourge of police, firefighters and children. The Governor’s approval rating has held up well despite the onslaught, which may reflect that voters understand the state’s new fiscal reality. New Jersey’s property taxes and its overall state and local tax burden are the nation’s highest, and the state hasn’t created a single net new private job in a decade. Democrats who run the state legislature have counter-offered with a 2.9% cap, but with so many spending exceptions that it’s more fig leaf than cap. Their bill would allow lawmakers to raise property taxes above the cap to pay for pensions, health care and utility costs and, here’s the kicker, even in order to promote the health, safety or welfare of the municipality. …This showdown is worth watching because Mr. Christie has shown admirable political grit so far, and success in New Jersey would bolster the nerve of other reform governors. One temptation for Mr. Christie would be to settle for too little reform when his political capital is at its highest, which was Arnold Schwarzenegger’s original mistake in California. …Mr. Christie’s best reform opportunity is now, and taxpayers everywhere should hope he succeeds.

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I may as well confess that I have a man-crush on Governor Christie. It’s not nearly as bad as Andrew Sullivan’s fixation on Obama (and it certainly hasn’t involved me changing my views), but this video and the excerpt below are two examples of a politician actually doing the right thing and giving intelligent and coherent explanations to justify his actions. The video shows him taking on the teacher unions and the story is about his veto of a class-warfare tax bill.

Christie may wind up “growing in office” and becoming a squish, but so far he is the nation’s most impressive Republican politician. That’s normally damning with faint praise, but not in this case.

It took about two minutes from the time Senate President Steve Sweeney certified the passage of the millionaires tax package for Gov. Chris Christie to veto the bills at his desk. “While I have little doubt that the sponsors and supporters of this bill sincerely believe that the state can tax its way out of this financial crisis, I believe that this bill does nothing more than repeat the failed, irresponsible and unsustainable fiscal policies of the past,” wrote Christie in his veto statement. “Now is not the time for more of the same. Ultimately, another tax increase will punish the state’s struggling small businesses and set our economy further back from recovery.”

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He’s only been Governor for a couple of months, and we have seen other elected officials start strong and then get captured by the special interests, but it certainly appears that Governor Christie of New Jersey genuinely intends to rescue his state from becoming the Greece of America. Here’s an excerpt of what George Will just wrote, which included some spot-on analysis of the role of tax competition as a tool for constraining greedy politicians:

At the Pennsylvania end of the bridge, cigarette shops cluster: New Jersey’s per-pack tax is double Pennsylvania’s. In late afternoon, Gov. Chris Christie says, the bridge is congested with New Jersey government employees heading home to Pennsylvania, where the income tax rate is 3 percent, compared with New Jersey’s top rate of 9 percent. There are 700,000 more Democrats than Republicans in New Jersey, but in November Christie flattened the Democratic incumbent, Jon Corzine. Christie is built like a burly baseball catcher, and since his inauguration just 13 weeks ago, he has earned the name of the local minor-league team — the Trenton Thunder. He inherited a $2.2 billion deficit, and next year’s projected deficit of $10.7 billion is, relative to the state’s $29.3 billion budget, the nation’s worst. Democrats, with the verbal tic — “Tax the rich!” — that passes for progressive thinking, demanded that he reinstate the “millionaire’s tax,” which hit “millionaires” earning $400,000 until it expired Dec. 31. Instead, Christie noted that between 2004 and 2008 there was a net outflow of $70 billion in wealth as “the rich,” including small businesses, fled. And he said previous administrations had “raised taxes 115 times in the last eight years alone.” …New Jersey’s governors are the nation’s strongest — American Caesars, really — who can veto line items and even rewrite legislative language. Christie is using his power to remind New Jersey that wealth goes where it is welcome and stays where it is well-treated. Prosperous states are practicing, at the expense of slow learners like New Jersey, “entrepreneurial federalism” …competing to have the most enticing business climate.

Meanwhile, a column from the Wall Street Journal makes some of the same points, noting that productive people will move across borders when they reach a tipping point. This underscores the value of tax competition – which is made possible by federalism, and also shows the Laffer Curve in action:

Mr. Christie has started spreading the news that the Garden State aims to compete once again for businesses, jobs and residents. He notes that for years the state offered a better tax environment than New York, which encouraged city dwellers to discover New Jersey’s beautiful suburbs. Mr. Christie says that he recently bumped into former New York Gov. George Pataki, who noted that he’d been shocked to learn that New Jersey now has an even higher burden than its tax-crazy neighbor. “See what happens when you’re not looking?” he said to Mr. Pataki. “Snuck right up on ya.” The governor aims to move tax rates back to the glory days before 2004, when politicians lifted the top income tax rate to its current level of almost 9% from roughly 6%. Piled on top of the country’s highest property taxes, as well as sales and business income taxes, the increase brought the state to a tipping point where the affluent started to flee in droves. A Boston College study recently noted the outflow of wealthy people from the state in the period 2004-2008. The state has lately been in a vicious spiral of new taxes and fees to make up for the lost revenue, which in turn causes more high-income residents to leave, further reducing tax revenues.

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With Intrade.com showing an 83 percent chance that Obamacare will be approved, let’s console ourselves by looking at a bit of good news. The Wall Street Journal has a good editorial today lauding the new Republicans governors of New Jersey and Virginia, both of whom are reducing spending. But unlike in Washington, where a spending cut is so loosely defined that politicians can increase spending and simultaneously claim to be cutting spending (so long as they increase spending by less than previously planned), Governors Christie and McDonnell actually are proposing to spend less next year than is being spent this year. That hasn’t happened in Washington since 1965 – and it certainly won’t happen under Obama’s phony spending freeze:

Republicans Chris Christie (New Jersey) and Bob McDonnell (Virginia) were elected in November in states that had seen years of tax increases and explosive spending growth. Mr. Christie inherited a $2.2 billion deficit in 2010 and it is expected to grow to $11 billion in 2011. Mr. McDonnell is confronting the largest deficit in Virginia history—$4.2 billion for fiscal years 2011 and 2012, out of a $32 billion two-year general fund. This week Mr. Christie proposed his first budget, calling for a 9% cut in the state’s $32 billion annual general fund. He is not talking about phony Washington-style “cuts” against a baseline that automatically increases each year. The governor is asking Trenton to spend $2.9 billion less in 2011 than it did in 2009, shrinking the budget to $29.3 billion, which he admits will be “painful, but what other choice do we have?” …Mr. Christie deserves special applause for his willingness to battle government employee unions. His office calculates that New Jersey’s unionized employees have carved out health-care benefits that are 41% higher than the typical Fortune 500 company offers. A teacher who has contributed $62,000 toward her pension, and nothing toward medical benefits, can retire and receive over her lifetime a $1.4 million retirement package and an additional $215,000 in health-care payments. …Meanwhile, Mr. McDonnell is preparing to sign a 2011-12 budget of $14.5 billion that will reduce state spending below 2006 levels ($14.8 billion). The $2.3 billion in cuts include a reduction in state employee pay, halving arts funding, selling off state-owned liquor stores, and cutting Medicaid payments by $300 million and aid to school districts by $700 million. Mr. McDonnell argues the cuts are fair because school spending has risen 60% in the last decade, while Medicaid is up more than 75%. He has already signed legislation to allow off-shore oil drilling, which the state says could raise $5 billion in revenues over the next 30 years. (Are you listening, California?) Both governors are under attack from liberal interest groups and the media for not raising taxes, but the public wants government to restrain itself the way families have already had to do. New Jersey’s property tax rates are the nation’s highest and its top income tax rate is close to the highest at 8.97%. Mr. Christie will have to negotiate his way through a legislature that is dominated by Democrats who answer to the public unions, but as he told them: This “is what the people sent me here to do.” Virginia Democrats raised taxes twice in six years and should consider New Jersey’s punishing rates and fleeing taxpayers an example not to emulate.

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Barack Obama wants higher tax rates on the so-called rich, including steeper levies on income, capital gains, dividends, and even death! Along with other greedy politicians in Washington, he acts as if successful taxpayers are like sheep meekly awaiting slaughter. In reality, class-warfare tax policies generally backfire because of the five reasons outlined in this video:

A new study from Boston College provides additional evidence about the consequences of hate-and-envy tax policy. The research reveals that high tax rates in New Jersey have helped cause wealthy people to leave the state, leading to a net wealth reduction of $70 billion between 2004 and 2008. Wealth and income are different, of course, so it is worth pointing out that another study from 2007 estimated that the state lost $8 billion of gross income in 2005. That’s a huge amount of income that is now beyond the reach of the state’s greedy politicians. Here’s a report from the New Jersey Business News:

More than $70 billion in wealth left New Jersey between 2004 and 2008 as affluent residents moved elsewhere, according to a report released Wednesday that marks a swift reversal of fortune for a state once considered the nation’s wealthiest. Conducted by the Center on Wealth and Philanthropy at Boston College, the report found wealthy households in New Jersey were leaving for other states — mainly Florida, Pennsylvania and New York — at a faster rate than they were being replaced. …The study – the first on interstate wealth migration in the country — noted the state actually saw an influx of $98 billion in the five years preceding 2004. The exodus of wealth, then, local experts and economists concluded, was a reaction to a series of changes in the state’s tax structure — including increases in the income, sales, property and “millionaire” taxes. “This study makes it crystal clear that New Jersey’s tax policies are resulting in a significant decline in the state’s wealth,” said Dennis Bone, chairman of the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce and president of Verizon New Jersey. …In New Jersey, the top 1 percent of taxpayers pay more than 40 percent of the state’s income tax, he said. “That’s probably why we have these massive income shortfalls in the state budget, especially this year,” he said. Until the tax structure is improved, he said, “we’ll probably see a continuation of the trend, until there are no more high-wealth individuals left.” He added the report reinforces findings from a similar study he conducted in 2007 with fellow Rutgers professor Joseph Seneca, which found a sharp acceleration in residents leaving the state. That report, which focused on income rather than wealth, found the state lost nearly $8 billion in gross income in 2005. …Ken Hydock, a certified public accountant with Sobel and Company in Livingston, said in this 30-year-career he’s never seen so many of his wealthy clients leave for “purely tax reasons” for states like Florida, where property taxes are lower and there is no personal income or estate tax. In New Jersey, residents pay an estate tax if their assets amount to more than $675,000. That’s compared to a $3.5 million federal exemption for 2009. Several years ago, he recalled, one of his clients stood to make $60 million from stock options in a company that was being acquired by another. Before he cashed out, however, the client put his home up for sale, moved to Las Vegas, and “never stepped foot back in New Jersey again,” Hydock said. “He avoided paying about $6 million in taxes,” he said. “He passed away two years later and also saved a huge estate tax, so he probably saved $7 million.”

Still not convinced that high tax rates are causing wealth and income to escape from New Jersey? The Wall Street Journal wrote a very powerful editorial about the Boston College study, noting that New Jersey “…was once a fast-growing state but has now joined California and New York as high-tax, high-debt states with budget crises.” But the most powerful part of the editorial was this simple image. Prior to 1976, there was no state income tax in New Jersey. Now, by contrast, highly-productive people are getting fleeced by a 10.75 percent tax rate. No wonder so many of them are leaving.

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Yesterday’s elections were almost a complete disaster for the White House. In the races for governor, the GOP won a huge landslide in Virginia and knocked off the Democratic incumbent in New Jersey. The only silver lining to Obama’s dark cloud came in upstate New York, where the collectivist Republican nominee apparently was successful in helping the Democratic candidate beat the Conservative Party candidate in the race to fill a seat in the House of Representatives.

But this was a 99 percent defeat for the Obama Administration. Especially New Jersey.

From a policy perspective, it will make Democrats on Capitol Hill much more nervous about supporting government-run health care. This does not guarantee the defeat of Obamacare, but it is much less likely now than it was 24 hours ago.

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