Monday, June 30, 2008

General Richard Meyers- War Criminal

An investigation into the systematic use of torture as an interrogation technique has found that Gen. Richard Meyers, while acting as Head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, quashed legal review of the approved techniques. From an article by Mark Benjamin of Salon,

"In late 2002, documents show, officials from the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps all complained that harsh interrogation tactics under consideration for use at the prison in Guantánamo Bay might be against the law. Those military officials called for further legal scrutiny of the tactics. The chief of the Army's international law division, for example, said in a memo that some of the tactics, such as stress positions and sensory deprivation, "cross the line of 'humane treatment'" and "may violate the torture statute."

However, General Myers put an end to the legal debate. When all four branches of the military have reservations, I would think, that maybe the commanding General would as well.

I remember watching the series Battlefied: Stalingrad, Prelude to Battle. The narrator said something to effect, "that German soldiers would descend to a level of barbarism, that soldiers of previous generation would have considered unthinkable." And so it is with our Secretary of Defense, and top military officer, that they would authorize actions that would descend to a level of barbarism, that the previous generation would have considered "unthinkable." And it seems that only a bunch of left-wing liberal bloggers could actually care less. That is very worrisome.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Frontline- Bush's War I, II- Some Thoughts

First of all, I find it embarrassing that it takes public television to really look at what has happened in Iraq and Afganistan. Even so, the wonderful documentary they put together has it's flaws. I would suggest that anyone who watches it also go to and read the extended interviews to get the whole picture because PBS kind of picks and chooses among the quotes to use in the documentary, to generally support certain theses regarding what went wrong in Iraq and who was responsible.

Clearly, L. Paul Bremer, Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, and arguably the most incompetent nincompoop who ever had a high position in government, Douglas Feith, look pretty bad in this documentary. The lack of a strong President to reel in and focus the strong countervailing personalities of Cheney/Rumsfeld and Powell/Tenet shows Bush to be clearly over his head as an executive. Never having the intellect to ask the right questions, he was easily led, and made one bad decision after another. There are many people who really think Bush is a good person, who means well. That may be, but I'm not convinced. At best you can say he has been incompetent. At worst, you can argue that he is a war criminal. But it surprises me to this day, how few Utahns see it. I think some of it is, a refusal to admit a mistake. People who buy bad cars, often stick by them, even though they empty their wallets paying for repairs. Just as Bush would never admit that he was easily led, Utahns seem incapable of admitting the same.

But for those who have not watched the documentary, I suggest they do. It is still available to be viewed online. It interviews people who were close to the action, who were major players. It dissects both the decision to go to war, as well as the lack of a coherent strategy for reconstruction and dealing with the insurgencies in Iraq. To some extent, it extolls the virtues of the surge, a surge I actually supported. Though I opposed going into Iraq, once there, I have always argued that we need to succeed or the consequences would be dire. Past posts regarding Iraq out me in that regard. My biggest concern has been that the surge may be too little and too late, and without a significant increase in the size of our military, that we are overextending the military we have. I've also argued that we need to reinstitute the draft so that if we are truly committed to this war, the burden should be shared. I have also argued, that we should increase taxes to pay for the additional divisions and to increase the pay and benefits of our men and women who serve in harms way. Going into debt to fight a war just doesn't make sense. If we as citizens of this country truly support this thing, we need to pay for it.

I also have argued for more counter-insurgency training in U.S. troops. Obviously, the Rumsfeldian military view of going in small, mobile and with great air support, though good at overthrowing a government, is insufficient for maintaining or re-establishing order. The PBS documentary provides a much better analysis of military strategy, than seems to have occured in the back rooms of the Bush Administration.

Who looks good in the documentary? General Thomas Keane, retired, Colonel H.R. McMaster (who begs the question of how in the hell did General Sanchez make general and McMaster remains a Colonel) also looks good as he does in Thomas Rick's book "Fiasco". The CIA looks like victims of Cheney's strong-armed tactics to market a case for war in Iraq. Richard Armitage covers his arse rather well in the Frontline documentary and makes a plug for his old boss Colin Powell.

In the end, I find it a remarkable documentary. But what I find even more remarkable, is that none of the major news networks put together anything as informative as this documentary. We as a democratic society are dependent upon our press, and it takes public broadcasting to even let us glimpse what went on in our government at the highest levels in the most important issue of our nation at war. The press in our country has failed us. There is no other conclusion that I can come to. However, a few courageous journalists such as Thomas Ricks, Ron Suskind and others did provide us some valuable information. But we all had to search for it. Hannity and Colmes never really touched the subject, nor did Anderson 360.

My thanks to PBS for their Frontline documentary on Bush's War I and II. I recommend everyone watch it online, and just as important, read the extended interviews of the important players.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Incumbents Going Down

The election yesterday will hopefully be a portent of things to come in ways Republicans can't imagine. Three Republican County Commissioners, two Republican house members and a long-termed Republican Congressman all went down to defeat. Admittedly, Chaffetz isn't the brightest star in the galaxy, in fact, after watching him debate Chris Cannon, I've concluded he's barely a meteor. But voters were restless and ready for change. The question will be in Utah, does that desire for change include voting for more Democrats and restoring accountability to our government? At this point, I don't know. Chaffetz postured himself as a more pure right-wing ideologue, and that message resonated with the Republicans who vote in that district. So Chris Cannon isn't conservative enough for that district? If that is the case, the collective lobotomy of the people of that district is likely irreparable. However, I'm still holding out hope, that the people of Utah, and the people of this country are hungry for appropriate changes, which includes electing more Democrats.

I guess we'll see in November.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Profiles of Cowardice- Yep, I'm still Pissed

Finally, we have Democratic leaders who will stand up to the Bush Administration's grasping for unfettered executive powers. NOT!!!!! Our first female Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi gave in without dinner, a movie or even a little hand-holding. And our brave and valiant Majority Leader, Steney Hoyer, certainly, this brave foot soldier from Maryland would defend our Constitutional values. Certainly, he has the testosterone to say to Bush and his cronies "Don't even think about it, bucko!." Well then again, maybe not.
Steney would have taken on the schoolyard bully, but hey, he was late for debate class and by giving in, he would look like someone who genuinely likes a peaceful schoolyard.

Certainly, Utah's lone brave Democratic Congressman, Jim Matheson, will have the intestinal fortitude to atleast yell at the bully and tell him "you've gone too far this time." Nope, just crickets. Blue-belly Matheson was in the boy's room hiding in a stall with his feet in the air, hoping no one would notice him.

Alright, so our House Speaker, Majority Leader and local blue-belly warrior won't do anything, certainly we can call upon our presumptive Presidential candidate to, how shall we say, "act Presidential." He's even made a public commitment to filibuster telecom amnesty. Now we've got ya, Repug totalitarians.
What you say? So acting Presidential is acting bi-partisan now? Not new leadership, just old appeasement to the Bush Administration? Sigh. And we're the party of Harry Truman?

I give up. Who's next in this legislative appeasement policy?

Oh yeah. I forgot.

For the Love of the Sales Tax

In general, Utah’s legislature loves the sales tax. The reasons are fairly simple to understand. First, the sales tax is a tax on consumption and is therefore inherently regressive. In other words, the higher your income, the less of a percentage of that income goes to consumption, and therefore, to sales tax. Utah’s political leaders have generally had the idea that the way you gain economic growth, is by taxing the poor and exempting the wealthy, therefore freeing up money from the wealthy that can be invested in Utah’s economy. The obvious flaw in this logic is that investment capital is highly mobile. Savings from reduced tax burdens on the wealthy can just as easily flow out of the country to fund Chinese manufacturing as they can to home-grown businesses. Investment capital may also go to fund government bonds, used to cover the deficits created by reduced taxes on the wealthy. So I’ve made my point, back to the sales tax.

The sales tax from a political perspective is popular with lawmakers for the same reason fees are. It is because you pay a lot of them out, but you do so piecemeal and therefore don’t really internalize exactly what your tax burden is. People don’t adequately quantify how much they pay in taxes and fees that are taxed piecemeal, whereas they see quite clearly what their property tax and income tax burden is for the year.

Now there are some good things about the sales tax and consumption taxes. If your state or locality that assesses a sales tax is dependent upon the tourism industry, the sales tax is a great way of harvesting into this industry to pay for roads, infrastructure, parks and other things that reinvest back into tourism or to your citizen’s quality of life. It is no coincidence that states, such as Hawaii, which rely heavily on tourism, also use the sales tax as a major funding source. Even states with a modest tourism industry will often put extra taxes on hotels and other forms of lodging. Utah is one such state that imposes that kind of tax.
In Utah, the sales tax is a “staturory tax” which means exemptions to the sales tax can be passed through a simple bill through the legislative process, signed by the Governor. As a result, exemptions are constantly being bandied about for whatever interest group approaches the legislature. In Utah, the “manufacturers” exemption is one of the big exemptions which alleviates investment in business plant and equipment from facing a sales tax. There are a bunch of other exemptions, that every once in a while, a brave reformer will seek to repeal, but will usually find that the political will behind the repeal isn’t as great as the donations that come to those who support the exemption. As usual, farmers don’t pay any sales tax on farm equipment. As mentioned before, farmers don’t pay taxes, they receive them.
That being said, the Utah Legislature in a surprise move, did eliminate 50% of the sales tax on food (not food bought in a restaurant) which makes the sales tax less regressive than it had previously been. Though still slightly regressive, half of the most regressive aspect of the sales tax was statutorially eliminated by the legislature.

There are a couple of hazards from relying too much on the sales tax. First of all, consumption can be highly variable, and as a result, dependence upon the sales tax can create budgetary problems for governments which depend upon them. The sales tax is generally not deductible on your federal income tax as is the property tax and state income tax. Over-reliance upon the sales tax therefore increases the tax burden of Utahns to the federal government. Utah’s moving away from property tax on vehicles to fees on vehicles had pretty much the same effect, a decrease or increase in state burden (depending on whether you own a Mercedes or a Hyundai), and an increase in federal income tax (assuming you itemize deductions on a schedule A). When I address Utah’s income tax, I will address this further and in greater detail.

The sales tax, and particularly a local jurisdiction's dependence upon it, gives retailers a very strong bargaining chip when dealing with local government. That Walmart you may not want in your neighborhood, brings with it tax revenue that may be critical for your city. The location of that Home Depot, plus or minus 1/4 of a mile may determine where those tax revenues go. Reliance on the sales tax by local entities can skew the relationship commercial developers have with local government in ways that are unhealthy and imbalanced. Something to think about in the trade-off between development and having quiet neighborhoods.

Monday, June 23, 2008

My Letter to Rep. Matheson

I need some justification for your vote to provide Telecom amnesty for unlawful surveillance of Americans done by the Bush Administration.

To eviscerate the Fourth Amendment to our Constitution on a bi-partisan basis has caused me to wonder to what advantage is there to have a Democrat in Congress, if their devotion to Constitutional principles is on par with their Republican colleagues?

Please provide me with some justification for this bill. If there is some sound justification, perhaps I will reconsider my position. I would appreciate some clarification.

Insert Obi's IRL name here-

Trying to Make Sense of the FISA Capitulation

First of all, I decided not to write about this bill this weekend because I was too hopping mad. When I write when I'm that bent out of shape, who knows who I'm going to tear into. As I've sat back and contemplated, "why would Democratic leaders do this?" I've come to this conclusion. "They were complicit in the whole thing." It to me is the only explanation that makes sense. Democrats were made aware of what the Bush Administration was doing, and complicitly said, "do it." I know it sounds conspiratorial, but it is the only plausible explanation I can think of for their actions. This wasn't about spinelessly going with a corrupt executive, this was about covering their own misdeeds.

A traumatized nation magnified the Al Qaeda victories over us on 9/11 by surrendering many of our most prescious liberties. Democrats were complicit in that surrender. They didn't have the moral courage to stand up and protest and reign in an executive which took on unconstitutional powers in order to "protect us." And outside of a few outspoken liberal bloggers, the public has been silent. Let's admit it, outside of the liberal blogosphere, all I hear are the chirps of crickets. In fact, I found it hard to find a local news outlet to adequately report on what had happened.

The fourth amendment only matters to us liberal bloggers and maybe half of the Democratic Congressional delegation. And we are not a coalition, that is going to preserve our Constitution. This reminds me of a scene from Star Wars episode three: "So this is how democracy ends, with rapturous applause."

Friday, June 20, 2008

293 Yea 129 Nay- Democratic Capitulation of our Constitution

What an embarrassing day for our Republic and for the political party I belong to. Authoritarian conservatives, lockstep support lawlessness, while the best that can be said of Democrats, is that around half of them still believe in the rule of law and in our rights under the Fourth Amendment to our constitution.

The absence of strong principled leadership within my party is truly disconcerting. What this vote may also suggest, is that Democrats were complicit with the Bush Administration in their violating the law, and therefore sought to cover their own tracks through the granting of telecom immunity. The checks and balances our constitution's framers sought to put into place, have disintegrated. Future law-breakers can just have laws passed that retro-actively legalize their actions.

In the words of my mentor Yoda, "how embarrassing."

Blue-belly Democrats- Support the Rule of Law

The time has come for Democrats to actually stand for something. Jim Matheson has that opportunity. Blue-belly Democrats who refer to themselves as "blue dogs" are primed to surrender our Constitutional freedoms under the fourth amendment and grant a corrupt and imperial President, unprecedented powers. They are also primed to grant immunity to telecoms whose complicity in our executive branch's lawbreaking has created a serious Constitutional crisis.

I have no doubt, that Utah's authoritarian conservatives, namely, Hatch, Bennett, Bishop and Cannon will support telecom amnesty and a statutory rape of our freedom from unlawful surveillance. All of them are partisan hacks and respect the constitution as much as they respect the bacon they had for breakfast and just defecated prior to dinner. Bush asks them to jump, and they say how high on their way up. But Matheson, has the freedom to show principle and resolve. He has the truth, and he has the basic and fundamental intent of our founders on his side. If he wishes to oppose the tragic surrender of our civil rights under the Bush Administration's grasping for a FISA bill which grants retro-active immunity for law-breakers, he will show the sort of resolve that Wayne Owens showed when he voted for impeachment of a law-breaking President in Richard M. Nixon.

This issue is so fundamental to our Republic. Will our Congress decide to legitimize law-breaking by statute? Congress, which has oversight responsibilities on the actions of the executive branch cannot abrogate that responsibility without diminishing our Republic to imperial precedent. Will Jim Matheson have the courage and wherewithal to stand for fundamental constitutional principles. Or will he sell out to a fear-mongering executive which uses our fear of terrorism to grant to Al Qaeda further victories by surrendering our collective soul out of basic fear?

The law is the law. If you disagree with the law, change the law. But retro-actively legalizing illegal actions is reprehensible to the principles of the rule of law. What would Scott Matheson jr., a law professor think, of his brother enabling illegal actions by retroactively making them legal? What would his father think? Surrendering to the worst enabling of illegality out of political prudence?

Jim, grow some stones, and Scott, call your brother and set him straight. We are a nation of laws, not of men. Jim can show whether he supports the constitution and the rule of law. Or he can surrender to pragmatic politics.

I'm not a fan of the late Gordon B. Hinckley, but I agree that each of us, must "Stand for Something." Jim Matheson. Stand for the rule of law and oppose the evil and unprecedented FISA law that will come before the U.S. Congress. Show the resolve your predecessor, Wayne Owens showed when he voted for impeachment and probably doomed his ambitions to replace Wallace Bennett in the U.S. Senate. The time has come to show whether a future replica of John F. Kennedy will write of you in their 21st Century version of "Profiles of Courage."

If you read this, please forward this post to Matheson's office.


Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Assault on Reason- A Book Review

This book by Al Gore is a masterpiece. Gore begins to put together a case for what went wrong and why in our Republic. He starts with the decline in discourse and reason within our nation. The evolution of television and radio as news mediums are discussed at length in Gore’s book, in that those mediums are one-way and non-interactive. He attributes much of the troubles we face in our Republic to the relative decline of the print media, which requires more of the reader than just to be entertained.

At that point, Gore gets out a scalpel and dissects the many missteps of the Bush Administration. And thankfully, he does a thorough and persuasive job of it. He contrasts the role the Republic’s founders had for the Presidency with the unilateral, unaccountable, and highly secretive administration of George W. Bush. He pulls no punches and articulates the degree to which this administration has violated the law , dismembered the U.S. Constitution, pursued aggressive pre-emptive war, engaged in the promotion of torture and illegal detainment of people without recourse, sought world domination rather than cooperation, etc.

Gore doesn’t pull any punches on a complicit Republican Congress, and on Democrats who have also bathed in the same sewage infested waters. Gore also goes into just how the pervasive use of fear was used to encourage Americans to give up more and more of their personal liberties in the name of national security. Replacing reason with fear rarely results in good policies and Gore contrasts rightly how America’s great leaders have in the past sought to help America’s citizens overcome their fears with resolve, not to magnify them in a callous and corrupt way to grasp additional powers.

Gore goes on to articulate the conservative assault on an independent judiciary and its implications for our Republic. Reading the book at the same time as watching a 5-4 vote on habeaus corpus underscored Gore’s point, and how fragile and at risk our Constitution is currently. You can tell that Gore has a deep affection for the judiciary and the role they play in preventing abuse of power. He also has a deep appreciation for the brave members of the judiciary and legislative branch that stepped in during Watergate to reign in an imperial President, and laments the lack of current will to do the same in our current Congress.

Gore does touch on one of his most favorite topics, climate change, and likens the role played by Exxon/Mobil with the Tobacco Company propagandists who so successfully argued the lack of link between tobacco smoke and cancer despite the overwhelming evidence.

Surprisingly, much about Gore’s book is hopeful. What Gore ultimately argues for is not agreement with Al Gore, but open and free discussion and careful reasoning. Gore’s solution isn’t more politics, but more discussion between leaders and the public. He sees the internet, blogs, and other modern communication means as positive developments which have the potential to help us undo the damage the Bush Administration has done to our Republic. He also plugs his own current project "CurrentTV."

Gore’s optimism in the face of the rise of American conservative authoritarianism is the kind of hopeful thing you expect from our leaders. Gore showed that he still is a force to be reckoned in our national debate about the future of our country. The fact that a former Vice President and a man who nearly ascended to the Presidency has so articulately addressed our most pressing national crises is refreshing and overdue.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Tim Russert was a good guy

The accolades his peers have poured upon him as he tragically passed away shows that he was a truly good guy. He was thoughtful, and considerate. He treated public officials with respect and gave them the benefit of the doubt on many things. How history will treat him is perhaps more circumspect.

As the person who asked the questions of public officials on the most widely viewed Sunday morning TV show, the question that will ultimately define his tenure will be, "did he ask the right questions." Tim was in a most priviledged spot. He was the point man on the nation's most significant TV news show. He had access to the real "players." He was unique in his position to ask the "hard questions." And those questions were never asked.

Most organizations fail, not because they have bad people, but because good people fail to ask the right questions. Tim Russert failed to ask the right questions. He was a good guy, miscast when our country seriously needed a lion, not a lamb. Tim was a good guy. I lament his death, but I hope that our mainstream press will wake up from their slumber, and DO THEIR JOB. I'm not holding my breath.

Tim, rest in peace. You truly were a good guy.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

General Tax Structure in Utah

Utah has traditionally relied upon what is oftened referred to as a "three-legged stool." The legs consist of the property, sales and income taxes. In Utah, as in many other states, fees have sort of become the fourth stool, or atleast the book you use to make up for a decline in property taxes relative to the other legs of the stool.

The reasons for reliance upon these taxes are sort of two-fold. One, everyone pays into the kitty for government services. Sales tax is a tax on consumption, as is, in much the same way, fees imposed upon the "consumption" of government services. Income is a tax upon, income of course, while the property tax is upon ownership of taxable properties not exempted by Utah's Constitution. The property tax is a "constitutional tax, in that all exemptions from the tax must be articulated in the Constitution under Article XIII. Exemptions for sales tax are statutory, (and as a result, quite numerous), and only require bills passed by the legislature and signed by the Governor.

Utah's Income tax has relied as it's basis the federal income tax. Income is defined for the most part based upon federal statute. Utah does deviate from federal statute in that the personal exemption for dependents is different, and there is exemptions for 1/2 of the federal income tax you pay, etc. However, the same deductions you would get from your 1040 form Schedule A or from your standard deduction carries over to your state income tax.

In subsequent posts, I hope to atleast address certain issues relative to the state income tax and sales tax, as I've already touched upon the property tax. As the trailer from the Johny Carson show used to say, "more to come."

Friday, June 13, 2008

The Habeas Vote and It's Implications

While the U.S. Constitution was hanging by a thread, four justices held the scissors waiting to clip away one of the Constitution's most fundamental rights. Though relieved and proud that our system managed to roll back just one of Bush's tyrannical policies, one should look with alarm at the implications of this year's elections.

Regardless what your opinion is on the right to choose, universal health care, tax cuts, etal., there is nothing more dangerous to our Republic at this point than the election of John McCain. Admitting that the kind of justices he would appoint are of the type of Thomas and Alito, this election will determine whether future executives will have any substantial check upon their power by the judiciary.

Scalia in his dissenting opinion broadened the definition of war to the point, that we will always be in one. Can you imagine such an opinion becoming legal precedent? The implications it sets forth are greatly disturbing. The Yoo doctrine, that the commander in cheif has unchecked power during war time, incents a power hungry executive into on-going conflicts, and defining them as war.

Will Utahns, seeing the Constitution hanging from a thread, decide to preserve it by supporting Barak Obama, or will they collectively hold their scissors and give the go ahead, to "clip away."

Thursday, June 12, 2008

More on Utah's Property Tax

As mentioned in my previous post, Utah’s truth in taxation ensures that increases in the value of real estate will not result in a windfall to the county or other entities funded by the property tax. However, that does not mean that someone’s taxes can’t go up. Property taxes can go up for a variety of reasons. I will list the most common.

1- Your house was part of a reappraisal process that only affected a percentage of the residential properties in your county. Since the tax rates are calculated by dividing the total budgets by the total taxable value. Say a county has a budget of 200K and total taxable value of property in the county of 20 mill, the tax rate would be 200,000/20,000,000 or .0100. Let’s say that reappraisal of 10% of the properties resulted in a 20% increase in taxable value for that 10% of the county that was reappraised. Your 100,000 property is now reappraised at 120,000. Overall, the total taxable value of the county increases by 10% of 20 million multiplied by 20%. This equation results in a total increase in county taxable value of 400,000 to 20,400,000. This would reduce the tax rate (200,000/20,400,000) to .009804. However, your property increased from 100,000 to 120,000 so your tax bill would have gone from $1,000 (.01x100,000) to (.009804*120,000) at $1,176.50. This is a simplified example not taking into account increases in other property values such as personal property, but I hope it illustrates the point.

2- Another way your property tax can increase is by increasing the budget figure. If a local entity holds a public hearing, and goes through certain steps, they can increase their budget. It is a politically unpopular thing to do, but some counties face certain budget crises for a variety of reasons. In the above example, let’s say that the county approves a 20,000 budget increase. On top of that the reappraisal talked about in example one goes through. You now have a budget of 220k being funded by a taxable value of 20.4 mill. The new tax rate would be 220,000/20,400,000 at .010784. That reappraised property of yours now faces a tax bill of 120,000 x .010784= $1,294, a nearly $300 difference from last year.

3- Another way that your property taxes may go up is through losing a major business or your county (or Tax Commission for that matter) reducing the value of a major business property by a large amount in an appeal. Let’s say that Energy Solutions, which may represent 20% of Tooele County’s tax base decides to pull out and close their operation. In the case above, 20% of the original $20 mill is off the books meaning that the new taxable value is 20.4 mill less 20%x20 mill=4 mill. The new tax rate in this scenario is 20.4 million less 4 million at 16.4 million. The new tax rate is now 220K/16.4 million or .013415 resulting in a property tax on your property of (120K x .013415) of 1,610.

When all of these major factors come to bear at the same time, property taxes can increase considerably, even under truth in taxation. On average however, Utah’s property tax is small comparatively to other states. The Senate Site has a good post regarding this. As mentioned in my previous post, because there is no indexing of the budgets under truth in taxation for inflation, counties and cities are constantly trying to provide the same services with a funding source that declines in real terms. As a result, Utahns tend to get fee’d rather heavily. Utahns tend to get nickled and dimed out of $120 rather than see a $100 increase in their property tax. Though making our tax burden more invisible makes some political sense, we should keep in mind that transparent disclosure of citizen’s true tax burden keeps governments, both state and local, in check.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Tax Policy in Utah #1- Property Tax

Property tax is a significant funding source for a wide variety of local government services. From your school district, to killing mosquitos, from building local roads, to providing meals on wheels, the property tax is a much used tax. One of the benefits of the property tax from a governmental level is that it is typically more stable than consumption taxes such as the sales tax, or the income tax, which quickly responds to economic conditions.

Utah's property tax faces what is actually something that works quite well. It is called "truth in taxation." What truth in taxation means is that, increases in property values cannot be used by the government as a windfall. New property tax revenues must come from "new growth", not merely a re-appraisal of the value of property. Property tax rates are based upon the budgets of local entities, not upon the values of property. If you receive an increase in property tax, it is more likely that it is based upon a reappraisal of the value of your property, not upon the tax rate charged to you.

Now there are some peculiarities to Utah's property tax structure. One of those is what is referred to as the "residential exemption." Every Utahn's primary residence is granted an exemption of 45% of the value of their residential property. This means that someone with more than modest means and owns a $20 million mansion will recieve a $900,000 exemption from property tax. Some states have decided upon a lump sum exemption for residential property which makes the property tax much more progressive, but Utah values it's mansions and those who occupy them.

Other interesting things about Utah's property tax, is that it is not gauged for inflation. The tax rate setting process allows no increase for the increases in cost. Local government is then required to provide the same services as last year with the same resources, but have to pay their staff additional wages to compensate for increases in the cost of living. The result is that local governments often have to resort in increasing various fees to make up the difference. And fees are inherently regressive.

Also of note is the fact that secondary residential properties receive no residential exemption. As a result, someone who owns a $150,000 home in Murray who also owns a $85,000 cabin east of Kamas, may find themselves paying more property tax for their cabin than for their primary residence.

Another interesting aspect of the property tax process is that small and large business, without any exemptions, pay full property tax on their personal property (equipment, furniture and fixtures, etc.) and are required to keep track of what equipment they keep, and what equipment they discard on "personal property affidavits" that they file with their country assessors. However, influential companies often approach their county assessors or the Tax Commission and seek special consideration. County Commissions, operating as the county's "board of equalization" is often likely to give special favors to businesses with "clout" in their county. In this regard, there are some significant inequities in Utah's property tax administration. Utahns are rarely aware of the degree to which their own county commissioners have the power to reduce the tax burden upon prominent businesses and push that burden upon the other property owners living in their county. And their local press is rarely aware of these decisions and provide adequate oversight.

There are exemptions from property tax that are significant and notable. Farmers pay virtually no property tax. Their equipment is exempt from property tax as is their livestock. The value of their land is appraised on the basis of it's agricultural production value, referred to as "greenbelt." Whenever I hear farmers or ranchers complain about taxes, I pretty much roll my eyes because they are exempt from just about every tax imaginable, and even receive federal subsidies. Pay taxes, and then you have a right to complain about the government. However, what the exemption farmers receive regarding greenbelt (land values) creates a situation where if that land is developed and used for non-agricultural purposes, back taxes are due and is a major irritant to developers and farmers seeking to cash in on the value of their land. It is referred to as roll-back taxes and it is a deterrent to development, but also keeps land ihn agricultural use long after it is feasible.

Property tax is a "constitutional tax" in Utah, which means that it is based upon Article XIII of the Utah State Constitution. Exemptions to the property tax therefore cannot be based upon statutory provision but must require an amendment to Utah's Constitution. The variance from this is an exemption given to the blind that is based upon statute. If that statute was ever challenged, it would certainly be viewed as unconstitutional. Howevand er, no one so far has seen property the most economical use of property. Holding property for mere speculative purposes becomes expensive. Hoardng land comes with a cost. Major corporations like Kennecott find it in their interests to lease their land to farmers adjacent to their operations and have them as buffer zones occupied in agriculture. This aspect of Utah's property tax laws encourages "green space" which many of us find valuable.

Anyway, these are some of my thoughts and analysis regarding Utah's property tax. I welcome the input of other bloggers.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

And the Winner Is?

Everyone who didn't have the last name Clinton, could see the writing on the wall. Hillary's monumental sense of entitlement may have shown that she is a fighter, but it also showed how little political savvy she has. The only rational explanation for her behavior, is that she wished to harm Barak Obama's campaign in hopes that she would defeat an aged President McCain in 2012. Atleast that is my take.

There have been several things that have puzzled me with the latter stages of the nomination process.

1)Why do people give a rat's patootie what someone's religious leader has to say on something? We willingingly accept people who believe that there was a worldwide flood, who believe a Godman born to a virgin saves people from the sin committed by some ancient ancestor. Let's listen to what the candidates claim they believe, not focus on what the religious nuts they've hanged with believe.

2)What do blue collar whites and hispanics see in Hillary that they don't in Obama? This was and is a puzzling phenoma I haven't figured out. Is racism among the so-called blue-collar Reagan democrats so pronounced that our Republic isn't ready for a person who is 50% of African descent? And what message resonated with hispanics with Hillary. I truly would welcome some enlightenment there, because on that one, I have no clue.

3)Hillary is no gentleman. No really. There was a gentleman's agreement that candidates would take their names off of the Michigan ballot. Gentleman's agreements don't apply to Hillary, because I suppose, she's no gentleman. But she wants a full delegation sat in proportion to the votes of this illegal primary. And don't get me started on Florida.

4)And being first lady makes you a foreign policy expert? I'm assuming that if John McCain gets elected, we can look forward to Laura Bush being our next Secretary of State. Sure.

5)I never realized just how polarized we are. Barak Obama talks about a new type of inclusive politics. He's got his work cut out for him. I'm guilty of it too. It's us against them. Out politically charged social apparatus both in the media and in cyber-space creates alot of heat, and little light. Changing the focus of our collective energy as a country will be a difficult thing to accomplish.

As a finishing note, I'm encouraged to know that the reign of error that is the legacy of George W. Bush is coming to an end. McCain doesn't appear to be much better, but I really don't know what he believes. He's changed his tune many times. But I can't believe that he could be worse than George W. Bush. I don't know too many people who would be.

Of the things I am most proud, I can say emphatically, that I had the honor twice in my lifetime, of voting against George W. Bush. And I look forward to voting for Barak Obama in November.