Thursday, February 9, 2012

Say no to the payroll tax cuts

The payroll tax cut is coming up again. If you remember, at the end of the last year an agreement was reached to push the extension of the tax cuts for the wage earner 60 days down the road. It was hoped that at that time, which by the way is now, both sides of the aisle and the president would be in a more cooperative mood. But, it appears that they still aren’t ready to make a deal.

But, for me, there should be no deal.

If you don’t know, you should, the few extra dollars in you paycheck are coming at a high cost. The payroll tax cut is really a reduction in the Social Security tax that each of us pay. That means for as long as the tax cut is in place, Social Security is getting less money. Less money for a fund that needs every cent it can get right now to stay balanced. (Some may say that the fund is broke. While I don’t believe it, that is for economists, not this blog. But, if we don’t fund it like it should be, it will be broke and we don’t need an economist to tell us that.)

Also, at the same time all of this is going on, we are asking those that make more money than 99% of us to pay more taxes to help out. I think it is a good idea. We have a budget issue, we have a down economy and we need to help those that are in need get through this. We can’t do it if we are afraid to ask those that can help for little more.

Why is it that we that are earning wages are asking for a tax cut when we are asking others to pay more in taxes? It shouldn’t be that way because we are all in this together. To ask one side to help and not expect it from ourselves is, well, selfish.

With that said, I say we should let the payroll tax cut expire for wage earners. Take the few dollars more to help the overall budget and keep funding Social Security. Also, let the high income tax cuts expire. We can’t keep asking others to pay more in taxes when we are giving ourselves a tax cut.

This is our community and we are all in this together. Let’s start thinking that way.

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Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Institutional rights don't trump individual rights

In a speech to supporters in Colorado, presidential candidate Mitt Romney blasted President Barack Obama over his administration’s decision to force religious organizations to provide birth control pills and other related drugs in the health plans they offer. The Catholic Church doesn’t believe that the use of birth control is moral. Other Christian organizations and churches believe the use of most birth control pills is actually abortion. The religious organizations believe that by offering the drugs in the health plan they are supporting an immoral act.

Romney says that if he was president, he would allow the exemption on religious grounds. In the speech he accused Obama of restricting religious freedom. While Romney was governor of Massachusetts, he tried to exempt religious institutions from providing the drugs in the health care mandate in the state. But, the legislature overruled his policy.

Romney is making the choice between an institution (that does have deep religious concerns with birth control) and the individual’s right to make those choices. His belief is that groups, in this case the Catholic Church, are equal in status with individuals. Keep in mind, Romney is the same man that said corporations are people too.

A pillar of conservatism is that the individual holds all the power and the responsibly. It is the individual’s choices that determine his responsibility. Apparently, that is true up to the point that the individual is covered under a health plan.

By allowing the Catholic Church to be exempt from offering birth control in their health plan, it limits the individual's choice and personal freedom. Just because the church provide the drugs doesn’t mean they are suggesting anyone should use them. The church can use their freedom of speech to express their concerns about birth control.

If it was allowed, it could create many other divisions, not even just in the birth control issue. Should a church have health insurance policies rewritten that restrict what clinics, hospitals and doctors can receive payments from the health plan because they offer birth control and abortion? This, even though the health of the woman may dictate that she goes to one of them?

President Obama made the right decision on the birth control issues. The individual’s right to make choices must be greater than the group’s ability to control those choices.

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Monday, February 6, 2012

Kindergarten funding in Michigan

The good news is, Michigan “encourages” local school districts to offer all-day kindergarten. The bad news is school districts will lose money if they do or if they don’t.

Last year, the Michigan legislature, with Governor Rick Snyder’s approval, passed a measure that will continue to fully fund kindergarten for those school districts that offer it as a full day, rather than a half day as it is now. School districts that don’t will only receive half of the state’s grant for each child that participates in half day kindergarten.

Expanding the amount of time that students are in the classroom is a great idea. They will be much better prepared for first grade and the rest of elementary school. The trouble is that school districts will lose money no matter what they do. If they opt to expand kindergarten to full day, there will be the extra expenses of more classrooms, more teachers and all the other things that go along with children in school longer. But, the districts will continue to receive only the current funding levels. If the districts don’t expand to full day, they will only receive half of the current funding, so they lose money.

The Berkley school district, as reported in local newspapers, might be an example. It will cost the district $700,000 more to add full day. But, they won’t receive any additional money to cover the costs. If they don’t and save the money, the school aid to the district will drop by a million dollars.

Kindergarten should be expanded to a full day. There is no reason to keep it at a half day. It will be a better use of the resources and better prepare the children for elementary. But, the way the legislature did it was foolish and doesn’t recognize the issues on the local level. First, the school aid budget was already chopped by about $470 on average for each child. This means districts are already fighting rising costs and lower funding. This is not a naive complaint that doesn’t realize that tax revenues are down because of the economy. But, the school aid budget had a surplus that equaled about $430 per child, the Governor borrowed money to balance the budget. This could have made a big difference to school districts.

More importantly, there is a gap between what the political rhetoric is and what we are willing to pay. If education is such a high priority in the state, (as it should be) why aren’t we willing to properly fund the budget? We have made cuts in the amount of taxes that businesses pay without seeking new sources of income to make up for the loss. Then, to balance the budget, the state takes a surplus the state has in the school aid fund to make up the difference.

Education is the second most important function of a community, just behind law enforcement. Let’s fund it properly.

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