The GOP's Populist Messaging on Tax Cuts for the Ultra Wealthy

The GOP's Populist Messaging on Tax Cuts for the Ultra Wealthy

GOP messaging on tax reform has been interesting to say the least. Tax cuts for the wealthy are very unpopular, except among the GOP donor class. 'Trickle Down' economic theory, which asserts that low taxes on corporations and wealthy individuals spurs economic growth that ultimately benefits everyone in society, is also a tough sell. Empirical studies have shown that in reality, such cuts do the opposite of what trickle down theory says they should; they increase budget deficits (which Republicans supposedly care about), and even diminish economic growth. The abject failure of high tax cuts in Kansas serves as a recent warning of just how damaging these policies can be to the economy.

At the end of the day, the GOP donors want their tax cuts though, so it is up to the GOP to pitch them to the American people. They have set up a website fairandsimple.gop to make their case. Read the whole site if you have time, it is truly fascinating, and the way they talk about elimination of various tax deductions is particularly interesting. Elimination of certain itemized deductions are discussed under the heading: "Eliminates loopholes for the wealthy, protects bedrock provisions for middle class."

This clearly invokes some of the populist messaging that has been used by various candidates that appeals to the sense that many have that the wealthy in the country do not pay their fair share in taxes. Combine that with the fact that the GOP plan doubles the standard deduction, which lowers the tax liability for those who do not have very many itemized deductions, and it seems like perhaps the GOP is really making an honest effort to lower taxes for the middle class.

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Congressional Abstention Catch-22

Congressional Abstention Catch-22

We recently started exploring patterns in voter turnout in New Jersey, with an eye towards putting together data and analyses that will hopefully be of use to advocates who are interested in improving voter turnout and access. In the last post in this series, we took a look at the relationship between voter turnout and income in New Jersey municipalities. The idea was to see if there were any trends in turnout at the county level that emerged after accounting for the trend of lower turnout in municipalities with lower incomes.

Here we will look at the 2016 congressional turnout, but in a slightly different way than we did before. First, instead of using the number of ballots cast as a fraction of the number of registered voters as the measure of turnout, we'll use the number of votes cast in the congressional race as a fraction of ballots cast. This generally represents the congressional abstention rate, or the rate at which voters cast a presidential ballot but left the congressional question blank. This measure also eliminates difficulty or deterrence in casting a ballot as a factor on turnout, since by definition there are at least as many ballots cast as votes cast in the congressional race.

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Rodney Frelinghuysen's Voters Take A Lot of SALT Deductions

Rodney Frelinghuysen's Voters Take A Lot of SALT Deductions

The GOP controlled House of Representatives recently passed a budget resolution, which is regarded as one of the first steps toward passing a proposed overhaul of the U.S. tax code. The Republicans have not released a complete version of their plan, which seems to be a fairly transparent ploy to dismiss critics by saying that the plan is incomplete and will be modified later. Additionally, since there are winners and losers in any reform of the tax code, floating a partial plan lets republicans test the waters to see what kind of pushback they get and from where. As the plan stands now, the federal income tax deduction for State and Local Tax (SALT) paid is to be eliminated. This will potentially increase the tax liability for middle to upper middle class families, especially in blue states where State and Local Taxes are relatively high. A recent analysis by NJ Spotlight computed estimates of the how much in SALT deductions New Jersey residents stand to lose by zip code, using data compiled from individual tax returns by the IRS.

Among the Yea votes for the budget resolution was Congressman Rodney Frelinghuysen of New Jersey's 11th district, whose constituents, and in particular his voter base, take a lot of state and local tax deductions. The plan is incomplete and elimination of SALT deductions is only one among many changes of the tax code. Therefore estimating the change in someones tax liability is very complex, and critics such as ourselves can't claim that elimination of someones SALT deductions means their taxes will go up. However, being a grown adult and an experienced legislator, if Congressman Frelinghuysen believes that a GOP tax plan that includes elimination of SALT deductions will be a net benefit to his constituents, then it is up to him to make his case. We have a feeling that a many of his constituents, and even many of his lifelong supporters will want these details about the changes in their tax liability clarified as soon as possible.

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2016 Voter Turnout in NJ Municipalities was Strongly Correlated with Income

Voter turnout in the US is pretty low compared to other democracies. There are many reasons for this but among them is the fact that voting isn't as convenient as it could be in many parts of the country, in addition to overt efforts to suppress the vote by placing overly burdensome requirements on voting. Voting isn't always at the forefront of many people's minds and it can be easy to miss a registration deadline or to not realize that you don't have the proper ID to vote before it's too late. There is also some evidence that consolidation of polling places can lead to reduced turnout by making polling places more difficult to find and get to.

Election days are during the workweek. This makes it more difficult for anyone with a job to get to the polls, particularly if they use public transportation or are unable to find time during to workday to get away from work. These seemingly small deterrents to voting can add up to thousands of people not casting a ballot when they otherwise would have if it was more convenient. Over the next few months, we'll be doing several posts on trends in voter turnout in recent elections. It seems unlikely that we'll uncover any trend that is not already well known to political scientists or campaign strategists, but that isn't the point. Instead, the goal is to gradually build up data sets and analysis tools that can help citizens communicate with their local legislators and election administrators to improve voting access and voting rights. If this project ends up making it easier for advocates to address access issues in chronically underserved communities, promote voting by mail, or lobby their state legislators to pass same day or automatic voter registration, then we'll call that a win.

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Trump Campaign Billed the Trump Corporation 90k for Legal Consulting in June 2017

Trump Campaign Billed the Trump Corporation 90k for Legal Consulting in June 2017

We have been keeping track of the payments made by the Trump campaign to Trump owned businesses as each FEC filing becomes available. In the second quarter of 2017, there was a highly unusual payment of about $90 thousand to the Trump corporation for legal consulting. Our friend, who practices law in New York, breaks down how this payment may run afoul of the law and professional ethics rules.

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