It is so unfair that some can pay more for faster Internet connections

The FCC has voted to end net neutrality.

It makes you wonder about all those who have been arguing — and you can find dozens of them on the Internet — that it is so unfair to allow some people to pay more to get in the online fast lane while others are stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic. It is so unfair.

 

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Newspaper column: Tax reform debate falls down a rabbit hole

If you are trying to follow the debate in Washington about tax reform in its various and evolving iterations, you are likely to come away muttering: Figures don’t lie, but liars can figure.

This past week the House passed its version of tax reform by a vote of 227-205 with not a single Democrat voting aye. The 13 Republicans who voted nay on the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act are mostly from high tax states such as California, New York and New Jersey, where constituents would no longer be able to deduct high state and local income and sales taxes.

Also this past week and on a party line vote of 14-12, the Senate Finance Committee, where Nevada Republican Sen. Dean Heller is a member, passed a slightly different tax reform bill with the same name.

Nevada’s Democratic delegates to D.C. were all singing from the same hymnal.

Democrat Rep. Ruben Kihuen, who represents northern Clark County and the southern portion of rural Nevada, declared the House bill “nothing more than a handout to big corporations and the wealthiest Americans that unfairly sticks working and middle-class families with the bill.”

Kihuen said the bill also will increase taxes by an average of $680 for 113,000 middle- and low-income Nevada families.

This figure apparently comes from the left-leaning Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP), which calculated that in 2027 about 11 percent of Nevadans in the lowest 60 percent of earners would see taxes increase by $680. Kihuen neglected to mention that in that year 89 percent of those Nevadans in that earning range would still have a tax cut of $490, according to ITEP.

Nor does he mention that ITEP calculates that in 2018 only 3 percent of those lower tier earners would have a tax hike of $460, while 79 percent would see a tax cut of $610. How these number were derived is not explained.

The average tax cut for 84 percent of all Nevadans in 2018 would be $2,670, according to ITEP. Yes, the tax cut for the richest 1 percent would amount to more than $100,000. The poorest 20 percent would only save $270.

Democrat Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto chimed in by claiming the House bill would raise taxes on 36 million working and middle class families, without bothering to mention that in 2017 there were more than 145 million IRS tax returns filed.

Democrat Rep. Dina Titus of Las Vegas lamented, “Of the 50,000 constituents in my district who itemize their taxes, the majority earns less than $75,000 per year.” She failed to note that the standard deduction is being doubled and thus eliminates the need for itemizing for many of them. Nor did she mention that only 25 percent of Nevadans’ tax returns are itemized.

First-term Democrat Rep. Jacky Rosen of Henderson, who has already announced she is a candidate for Heller’s Senate seat, wailed, “This partisan plan adds $1.5 trillion to our deficit and could trigger a $25 billion cut from Medicare as well as further cuts to other programs, unfairly shifting costs onto Nevadans who rely on commonsense tax reliefs policies that help those saddled with high-cost medical expenses, students struggling to pay off their college loans, and teachers trying to buy basic supplies for their classrooms.”

But Republican Rep. Mark Amodei, who represents Northern Nevada, counters that such deficit claims fail to take into account the anticipated growth in GDP that should increase wages and jobs and actually grow federal tax revenue.

“Even a 1% increase in GDP generates about $3 trillion in revenue over 10 years — more than covering the anticipated $1.5 trillion deficit,” Amodei reported in an email. “The accuracy of this projection can be further evidenced by going back to the Clinton Administration where GDP growth was at 3.9% – the highest it’s ever been under the last five administrations – and the government was operating under a surplus.”

The congressman also pointed out that for those in his district with an annual income of around $64,000 the federal tax cut effect is more than $1,200 a year with the new brackets and increased standard deductions.

Amodei and Sen. Heller both cited the calculations by the Tax Foundation which estimates that both the House and Senate bills could bring 8,000 additional jobs to Nevada and boost middle-class income by $2,500 a year.

What are you going to believe? Historic precedence or cherry-picked examples of a handful of outliers?

A version of this column appeared this week in many of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel and the Lincoln County Record — and the Elko Daily Free Press.

News coverage of net neutrality changes reveal nuances in news neutrality

FCC Chair Ajit Pai (AP pix via NYT)

Words can convey considerable nuance, suggesting approval or disapproval without coming right out and saying so. Compare the news flashes this morning from The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal about the Federal Communications Commission’s decision to vote next month to end net neutrality rules. There is a difference in tone and emphasis.

The third paragraph of The Times piece reads:

The clear winners from the move would be telecom giants like AT&T and Comcast that have lobbied for years against regulations of broadband and will now have more control over the online experiences of American consumers. The losers could be internet sites that will have to answer telecom firms to get their content in front of consumers. And consumers may see their bills increase for the best quality of internet service.

The second graph of The Journal article reads:

The changes are expected to be approved at a Federal Communications Commission meeting in mid-December. They would create a range of new opportunities for internet providers, enabling them to form alliances with media and other online firms to offer web services at higher speeds and quality. They also would help clear the way for creative pricing and bundling of services to attract more customers.

The Obama administration imposed the net neutrality rules in 2015. They prohibit internet service providers from charging more for faster connection speed. Sort of like prohibiting a trucking company from charging more for heavier shipments. (No neutrality here, of course.)

The Journal noted that critics argued the rules “stifled investment and innovation in the still-developing broadband industry. Providers also worried the rules could open the door to rate regulation and other new oversight.”

The Times did quote FCC Chairman as saying, “Under my proposal, the federal government will stop micromanaging the internet. Instead, the F.C.C. would simply require internet service providers to be transparent about their practices so that consumers can buy the service plan that’s best for them and entrepreneurs and other small businesses can have the technical information they need to innovate.”

The next graph in The Times states:

The plan to repeal the 2015 net neutrality rules also reverses a hallmark decision by the agency to declare broadband as a service as essential as phones and electricity, a move that created the legal foundation for the net neutrality rules and underscored the importance of high-speed internet service to the nation.

Hallmark. Importance.

The Journal outlined the two sides of the argument:

Many conservatives view the FTC’s case-by-case regulatory approach as more appropriate for the internet economy, to encourage more innovation.

Progressives prefer the FCC’s rule-based approach for the online environment to prevent unfair and anticompetitive practices by internet providers from ever taking root.

The Journal also noted that on Monday the Trump Justice Department filed suit to block a proposed merger of AT&T with Time Warner on antitrust grounds, saying this suggested the administration’s   support for big telecommunications combinations has limits. The Times made no mention of this.

News neutrality is difficult to achieve, too.

 

Nebraska approves Keystone pipeline route

Nebraska’s Public Service Commission today, on a 3-2 vote, approved the construction of the Keystone oil pipeline across the state, though it ruled the pipeline must be routed east of the company’s preferred route in order to skirt the Sandhills region.

In 2015, President Obama shut down the $8 billion, 1,200-mile pipeline construction project intended to carry Canadian shale oil to refineries on the Texas coast, saying, “America is now a global leader when it comes to taking serious action to fight climate change. And, frankly, approving this project would have undercut that global leadership.”

President Trump reversed that decision but Nebraska still had to approve a route.

The oil industry has claimed the project will be an economic boon, saying it will create 20,000 well-paying jobs during construction and increase personal income by $6.5 billion over the lifetime of the project. It also would generate $138.4 million a year in property tax revenue. They also claim it will create 473 jobs in Nevada by 2020.

Of course, there is likely to be litigation that will further delay the project.

 

Newspaper column: Tax reform bill divides Nevada delegation along party lines

Like everything else to come out of Washington, the House tax reform bill introduced this past week has turned into a partisan hissing match in a fact-free zone.

Republicans hail it as an economy stimulating second coming, while Democrats decry it as a sop to the wealthy and a death knell for the middle class.

The bill lowers the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 20 percent, doubles the standard deduction, lowers the individual tax rates for all but millionaires, allows 100 percent expensing of business costs instead of the current 50 percent, eliminates deductions for state and local taxes, except for property taxes, and allows mortgage interest deduction.

Republican Dean Heller said the bill will provide tax relief for middle class families, while Democrat Catherine Cortez Masto said the bill rewards corporations and the rich at the expense of working families, seniors and the poor.

“As a member of the U.S. Senate’s tax-writing committee, I’m waking up each and every day with the sole focus of ensuring that Nevada’s hardworking families and small business owners come out ahead when the Senate passes its final product,” Heller said in a statement, adding, “I’m going to continue fighting for a major tax overhaul that will help my state and push for policies that will create jobs, boost growth, and make it easier for Nevadans to provide a better life for their kids.”

A Cortez Masto press release fulminated, “Republicans in Congress have one priority: ripping off America’s middle class and working families. Rather than transparently writing a bill that puts economic growth and American’s financial security first, the current Republican tax proposal targets Nevada families. The latest Republican proposals would put our country even further in debt, take money out of working families pocketbooks …”

Cortez Masto also claimed, “The average tax increase on families nationwide earning up to $86,100 would be $794.”

But the Washington Post fact checked that claim and found it was based on a report by Democrats on the Joint Economic Committee who actually said, “If enacted, the Republican tax reform proposal would saddle 8 million households that earn up to $86,100 with an average tax increase of $794 …”

But you see, there are 122 million households making less than $86,100. Thus only 6.5 percent of those households would see a tax hike of that amount. The Post reported that more than 97 million, or 80 percent, of that group would get a tax cut averaging about $450.

Republicans say the bill would result in a tax savings of $1,182 for a typical household of four with gross income of $59,000, resulting in their tax bill being only $400.

Las Vegas Democratic Rep. Dina Titus joined the partisan fray by calling the bill “a red herring tax plan that relies on the myth of trickle-down economics in order to give the nation’s top earners a handout.”

Titus said she could not see how working families could save money if the bill removes certain deductions, including the one for state and local sales taxes — ignoring the fact 70 percent of Americans take the standard deduction and do not itemize, nor the fact Nevadans who do itemize can deduct only about 10 percent as much as taxpayers in high-tax states such as California and New York and thus are subsidizing those states.

Democratic Rep. Ruben Kihuen, who represents southern rural Nevada and northern Clark County, used the occasion to solicit contributions while slamming the bill by saying, “We expected Paul Ryan and the Republicans would bend over backwards to make big corporations and the super rich the winners in this plan, and that’s exactly what they did. Meanwhile, it’s all at your expense.”

Republican Congressman Mark Amodei, who represents northern Nevada, took a more nuanced approach, promising in an email to constituents to thoroughly research the 429-page bill, while also saying, “I think we can all agree the American taxpayer would be better off if Congress were to reform our current tax code in favor of a system that is simpler, fairer, and has lower tax rates.”

The bill also eliminates the $7,500 tax credit for purchasing electric cars, such as Teslas, whose batteries are built in Sparks, and drops the tax exemption for municipal bonds to finance sports stadiums, such as the one planned for Las Vegas for the Raiders.

Next, Congress needs to address the runaway federal spending.

A version of this column appeared this week in many of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel and the Lincoln County Record — and the Elko Daily Free Press.

(AP pix)

Editorial: Good riddance to Clean Power Plan

President Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency has pulled the plug on the Obama-era Clean Power Plan, which called for power plants in every state to reduced carbon dioxide emissions by 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030 — a not so thinly veiled plan to destroy the coal industry.

It was a senseless and futile gesture that would have cost Americans dearly while doing nearly nothing to protect the planet from global warming.

The U.S. Supreme Court had already blocked enforcement of the plan after 29 states filed suit saying the plan violated the law and the concept of federalism. Nevada filed an amicus brief with the court agreeing with those claims.

According to a Heritage Foundation report, Obama’s plan by 2030 would have cost an annual average employment shortfall of nearly 300,000 jobs with a peak employment shortfall of more than 1 million jobs. It also would have created a loss of more than $2.5 trillion (inflation-adjusted) in aggregate gross domestic product (GDP) and reduced total income per capita by more than $7,000 (inflation-adjusted).

According to the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, the EPA proposal would increase the price of electricity in Nevada an average of 18 percent between 2020 and 2029.

Nevada’s friend-of-the-court brief noted, “EPA’s expensive economic experiment, imposed by fiat, will increase electricity prices for consumers and may well compromise the reliability of electric power service. The best estimates of how much prices will rise, performed by the NERA (National Economic Research Associates) economic consulting group, projects increases of as much as 14 percent per year costing Americans as much as $79 billion in present dollars.”

Although Obama’s EPA administrator Gina McCarthy insisted those costs were well worth it in order to save the planet, Obama’s own former Assistant Secretary of Energy Charles McConnell said at a congressional hearing in 2016, “The Clean Power Plan has been falsely sold as impactful environmental regulation when it is really an attempt by our primary federal environmental regulator to take over state and federal regulation of energy.”

McConnell told the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology that he estimated the plan would only reduce global carbon dioxide emissions by 0.2 percent, and the rule would only reduce projected warming by 1/100th a degree Celsius and reduce projected sea level rise by 1/100 of an inch.

“We can now assess whether further regulatory action is warranted, and, if so, what is the most appropriate path forward, consistent with the Clean Air Act and principles of cooperative federalism,” said EPA administrator Scott Pruitt in announcing the rescinding of the Clean Power Plan. The previous rule, he added, “ignored states’ concerns and eroded long-standing and important partnerships that are a necessary part of achieving positive environmental outcomes.”

The change will not affect Nevada as much as other states since the state’s lawmakers, at the behest of former Sen. Harry Reid, have already dictated that all coal-fired plants in the state be shuttered prematurely and the ratepayers pick up the tab. The move is expected to destroy 2,630 jobs by 2020 and cut real disposable income by $226 million per year, according to one study.

The EPA rule change should be a boon to the national economy for years to come, and is a welcome breath of regulatory fresh air, so the speak.

A version of this editorial appeared this week in some of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel,  Sparks Tribune and the Lincoln County Record.

Newspaper column: Bill would limit power to create national monuments

Gold Butte National Monument (BLM pix)

The House Committee on Natural Resources this past week approved a bill sponsored by Utah Republican Rep. Rob Bishop to rein in the powers granted by the Antiquities Act of 1906 that allow a president to unilaterally create huge national monuments.

The bill advanced on a party line vote of 27-13, with Democrats in opposition.

The bill, H.R. 3990, the National Monument Creation and Protection Act, amends the Antiquities Act to limit the size of future monuments and specifically grants the sitting president the power to reduce the size of existing monuments — a power Democrats have argued President Trump does not have under current law.

During his administration President Obama created 26 national monuments totaling more than 500 million acres — including the 700,000-acre Basin and Range National Monument on the border of Lincoln and Nye counties and the 300,000-acre Gold Butte National Monument in Clark County.

President Trump ordered Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to review recent monument designations and Zinke sent a memo to the president recommending the reduction in size of six of those, including Gold Butte. The president has not yet acted on those recommendations.

Bishop’s bill would allow the president to unilaterally reduce the size of any monument by 85,000 acres — and by more with the consent of affected counties and states.

The bill would allow a president in the future to create a new monument unilaterally, but only up to 640 acres. Anything larger than that, up to 10,000 acres, would require an environmental review. Anything between 10,000 and 85,000 acres, the apparent size cap on new monuments, would require approval of counties and state officials, as well as the governor.

“Congress never intended to give one individual the power to unilaterally dictate the manner in which all Americans may enjoy enormous swaths of our nation’s public lands,” Bishop was quoted as saying. “Designations are no longer made for scientific reasons or archaeological value but for political purposes. Unfortunately, overreach in recent administrations has brought us to this point and it is Congress’ duty to clarify the law and end the abuse.”

Like the Natural Resources Committee, Nevada’s congressional delegation is divided along party lines when it comes to national monuments. The four Democrats have all objected bitterly and volubly to reducing the size of Nevada’s monuments.

But its two Republican delegates in January introduced legislation that would prevent future designations of monuments in Nevada without the consent of Congress — the Nevada Land Sovereignty Act of 2017 (H.R. 243, S. 22).

The legislation introduced by Sen. Dean Heller and Rep. Mark Amodei is terse and to the point. It basically piggybacks onto current law that reads: “No extension or establishment of national monuments in Wyoming may be undertaken except by express authorization of Congress.” Their bill would amend this by simply adding the phrase “or Nevada” after the word Wyoming.

In response to Bishop’s bill passing the committee, a Heller press aide sent out a comment, “Unilateral federal land grabs in a state like Nevada where the federal government already owns 85 percent of our land should not be permitted. Public input and local support remain critical to the decision-making process of federal land designations, and that is why I’ve introduced legislation that prevents last year’s land grab under the Obama administration from occurring without input from Congress and local officials. I’ll continue working with my colleagues to see that it is signed into law.”

Congressman Amodei said in January before Trump’s inauguration, “I continue to be amazed by the fact that some people hug unilateral, non-transparent monument designations, while at the same time, protesting vehemently over the introduction and public discussion of congressional lands bills proposals. In contrast to the last eight years of this administration’s one-sided approach on major land management decisions in Nevada, our bill simply ensures local stakeholders have a seat at the table going forward.”

Bishop’s proposal also declares that existing water and land rights are to preserved despite a monument designation.

A version of this column appeared this week in many of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel and the Lincoln County Record — and the Elko Daily Free Press.