Monday, May 3, 2021

The government might try to hide inflation


Talk to any farmer, manufacturer, or general contractor. They will all tell you that prices are through the roof on everything. Everything. Inflation is totally out of control.


Consumers began to feel that earlier this year. They’ll be feeling it in earnest in the coming months.


But, the government and the Federal Reserve don’t want you to know that. They want you to believe that inflation isn’t that strong. Over the past month or so, they’ve been hitting the talk and news show circuit to downplay the issue.  


If they admitted it existed it would call into question lockdowns, ramped-up government spending, various forms of economic stimuli, and hopes for a strong economic rebound. After all, what good is all this “free” money if you can’t buy anything with it?

To further advance their narrative, don’t be surprised if sometime this year the Biden Administration says we should go all-in with the Chained Consumer Price Index.


The Obama Administration toyed with applying it to Social Security in 2013 and 2014. The GOP Congress attached it to federal tax reform in 2017, applying its use to personal and corporate taxes for the first time ever.


Now, from a power broker’s standpoint, there’s a real need for it as a means to manipulate the numbers.  

In the traditional CPI method, the cost of a fixed basket of goods and services is tracked over time and that growth in value represents the inflation rate.


The Chained CPI takes that straightforward calculation and turn it on its head, making it subjective and something of a fantasy. Economists adjust the basket for assumed changes in buying behavior; no longer is it a designated collection of items. In their eyes, if a shopper won’t buy a beef roast because it went up X dollars, he would buy a replacement meat, like chicken. So, the Chained CPI adjusts for the modified basket, as theoretical as it may be, and tracks the price of the chicken, noting its price variance instead of the roast that used to be in its place.

Since the modified basket will feature lower-priced replacements, the Chained CPI will produce an inflation rate that is lower than the standard CPI. On average, in times of “normal” inflation, it cuts the accepted inflation rate by a third of a percentage point per year.


But, these aren’t normal time. What will the difference be in a wild inflationary era like this? We could be talking about multiple percentage points. Just look back at 2018, for example. Then, inflation was pegged at 2.44%. The Chained CPI brings that down to 1.5% percent.


Going to Chained CPI is more than just a marketing gimmick. It will also yield big fiscal results for Washington.


It’s been said that over the first decade alone, a fully-integrated Chained CPI (one applied to both revenues and expenses) would save $390 billion on federal spending. It would reduce the deficit by a trillion dollars in its second decade. That all comes from increased revenues and lower expenses.  

Those new revenues will be achieved by sticking it to those who pay income taxes.


Since wages will in many cases rise at a rate greater than what will be a much smaller inflation rate under Chained CPI, more people will jump into higher tax brackets – more quickly, too - since those brackets are continually adjusted for inflation. At the same time, personal tax loopholes will grow at an equally smaller rate, preventing people from deducting higher dollar amounts that would have tracked the CPI previously in place. We’re not talking peanuts: According to federal studies published a few years back, over the first 10 years of a Chained CPI the tax burden for a lower-income family will be 15 percent higher.

If the chained CPI is extended to Social Security the feds will see significant cost savings gleaned from those who rely on the government for a retirement income.


Social Security beneficiaries count on their benefits growing at a rate in step with inflation. In recent years the calculated rate of inflation has not been high enough to warrant a significant cost-of-living adjustment (COLA), if one at all. 2018’s COLA was 2.8%, the second highest over the 2010s -- and there were no COLAs in 2010 and 2015 and 2016 came in at a paltry 0.3%. Last year’s was 1.3%.  


Seniors have been really feeling that. For 10 years now, their retirement income hasn’t been growing in step with what they’ve been seeing at the grocery store or, especially, in their property tax bills. Imagine that for the long haul, but worse, under Chained CPI. Someone collecting Social Security will receive $560 less per year after 10 years and almost $1,000 less per year after 20 years.

The weight of the Chained CPI will bring a good many people down – taxpayers and beneficiaries alike. It’s an unscientific manner to calculate one of our economy’s most important statistics and an easy, almost clandestine way for Washington to earn and save money – and save face -- without making the hard, important decisions that they should.




From the 03 May 2021 Greater Niagara Newspapers and Batavia Daily News

Monday, April 26, 2021

Governor Cuomo must veto the HERO Act


Last week, both houses of the state legislature approved the New York Health and Essentials Rights Act, also known as the HERO Act.


Were this to become law, it would require the Departments of Labor and Health to implement standards to prevent occupational exposure to airborne infectious disease. The Act dictates that such regulations must include protocols on testing, personal protective equipment, social distancing, hand hygiene, disinfection, and engineering controls.


This begs the question: Where have these lawmakers been?


They must have they been hiding at home for the entire pandemic because had they gone out into their communities and met with their constituents they would have gotten a feel for how the private sector, under public sector guidance, is battling coronavirus.


For the past 14 months, retailers, restaurants, factories, and farms have been doing all those things called out in the Act, using and, in many cases, augmenting the detailed workplace rules developed by Governor Cuomo’s administration very early in the crisis.


Being totally oblivious to current workplace protections is highly unlikely so it might just be that those in the legislative chambers were suffering from jealousy knowing that the Governor and employers were successful in keeping Covid at bay in workplaces without their input. They want the spotlight. Their careers depend on it.


So, along those lines, while the HERO acronym was used to identify frontline and essential workers as heroes, it also likely insinuated that the legislators are heroes, too, because they protected the workers by making workplaces safe.


And, not to be outdone, those who developed the bill, led by Senator Michael Gianaris, added a couple of nuances to virus management that don’t bode well for the future: Permanency and legal action.


Though supposedly intended to fight coronavirus, the bill opens the door for the protocols in use now to be used indefinitely. It doesn’t discuss Covid singularly; instead, it identifies airborne infectious disease as “a highly-contagious communicable disease by the commissioner of health that presents a serious risk of harm to the public health.”


That means that once we’ve nipped Covid in the bud you could potentially see masks and social distancing deployed for 3 to 4 months of every year because influenza, in the eye of the beholder, could be designated as harmful to public health. After all, the 5 flu seasons prior to the Covid pandemic averaged 34.4 million cases, just under a half million hospitalizations, and 36,000 deaths in the United States.  


What was once believed to be temporary measures could be the new norm.


As if that’s not transformative enough, consider how the HERO Act would totally change how workplace safety is managed.


For as long as most of us have been working, specific protections have been afforded to employees and employers alike. If something is amiss with safety, workers and businesses talk about it -- if that doesn’t work out the Department of Labor and/or the Occupational Safety and Health Administration get involved. Similarly, the workers compensation system has existed to ensure equitable or just settlements between parties.


You can throw that away with the HERO Act. It allows employees to forgo those outlets and go right to the courts if the person alleges that the employer violated the airborne infectious disease exposure prevention plan “in a manner that creates a substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result from a condition which exists.” So, for fear of coronavirus or the flu, if someone feels threatened by a system, coworker, or customer, they can sue the employer for up to $20,000 under this legislation and have their lawyer’s fees covered by that company if victorious (meaning industrious lawyers could charge astronomical fees).


It’s not coincidental that a good number of state legislators are lawyers because this will lead to some significant economic activity for their partners and peers. I can just hear the radio and television ads now: “Down with Covid? Out with the flu? We will make your employer pay!”


It’s also not coincidental that government is protected by the HERO Act. The legislators know it will be burdensome and lead to a bevy of lawsuits. So, the bill specifically excludes the state, public authorities, and any other governmental agency or instrumentality. If all workplaces must be safe and offer recourse as necessary, shouldn’t it be that what’s good for the goose is good for the gander?


There’s little that’s heroic about the HERO Act.


That’s why I encourage the Governor -- the last line of dense with bad legislation -- to veto the bill.


Since March of 2020, he, his administration, and every one of us who owns or manages a business have gone to great lengths to protect workers.


We can’t let attention-seekers come to the Covid fray 14 months too late, dismissing all those efforts, and re-inventing the wheel, badly.



From the 26 April 2021 Greater Niagara Newspapers and Batavia Daily News

Friday, April 16, 2021

Authorize more people to use EpiPens


Forest rangers are the first responders in the most remote places of New York. Miles from roads, back in the wilds, they are the souls who trudge through forests, streams, mud and snow to administer first aid, console those in crisis, and bring out the injured. They are the first in and the last out.


In order to succeed in that job, no, that calling, they need the tools that are required for saving lives.


Surprisingly, something not afforded them, not even authorized for them, is a simple device that is at once necessary and portable: The EpiPen.


The well-known epinephrine auto-injector is administered to persons appearing to experience anaphylactic symptoms. Anaphylaxis is, in layman’s terms, a severe, even deadly, allergic reaction that can develop in minutes, sometimes seconds.


You’ve likely heard about EpiPens being important assets to those who could face life-or-death consequences if exposed to peanuts or stung by bees.


Similarly, that makes them critical parts of a first aid kit for organizations and individuals who may find themselves responding to an event in their community or workplace.


State law allows for only a select set of eligible entities and people to inventory and deploy EpiPens that includes ambulance services, EMTs, overnight camps, schools, restaurants, and amusement parks. Oddly enough, public health law didn’t extend such powers to police or firefighters until December of 2019. Even odder than that, forest rangers weren’t include in that uniformed expansion.


That lifesaving power is an absolute necessity for them in normal times, but it carries even greater meaning now in the pandemic when more people are experiencing the outdoors in ways they never have before.


Think of the hikers and campers who hail from cities or suburbs, who may have never seen a bee up close, and possible even at all, in their life. Up in the Adirondacks’ High Peaks is not where one wants to discover for the first time that they are allergic to bees. They won’t have an auto-injector with them, your average hiker nearby won’t, either. That would leave the Rangers – the backwoods first responders -- as their best hope, their only hope, to survive an adverse reaction in that remote terrain.


In response to this, Senator Jim Tedisco and Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara put together a timely bipartisan bill (S.4375/A.4652) to right this wrong and allow the nearly 700 forest rangers, conservation officers, and park police employed in the state to carry and administer epinephrine.


Introduced in early February, the bills are languishing in committee in their respective houses. Their fellow legislators need to move more quickly on passage. Get it through the process, voted upon, and then signed by the Governor…soon. The law would go into effect 30 days after it is signed into law, which means time is of the essence: If it does not cross the Governor’s desk for another month or so, that means rangers and officers won’t be trained or equipped until the summer rush is on in the mountains and parks, the latter of which open May 21st. By then, it could be too late for someone.   


This bill is very important, but at its core it begs the question: Why not empower more of us?


I travel with a first aid bag and a NarCan kit in my truck in the event I have to help others in need, wherever we may be. If I can be approved to deliver Naloxone to save someone’s life from an overdose why can’t I be granted the power to do the same for another who’s suffering from an allergic event?


You’ll often hear people cite this as a moral issue, one of priorities. They ask why medical equipment is provided for and allowed to save a drug addict but it isn’t when needed to save an innocent child.


While that’s a powerful way to put it, I don’t look at it that way. All life is precious. I’ll revive the addict. I’ll protect the child.


Just give me the stamp of approval to do so, to be there for everyone.


I’ll take the training. I’ll invest in an EpiPen. I’ll keep it with me and use it as needed.


I might never save a life, but what if I have the chance? The Grim Reaper comes calling when it is least expected. Give me the okay to keep him away. I might save your loved one or mine. I might save your life or mine.


I encourage the Senator and Assemblyman to apply significant pressure to make their backcountry first responders bill a reality.


And, I hope Mr. Tedisco and Mr. Santabarbara consider expanding the law yet again in the next legislative session, to make the lifesaving power of the EpiPen more accessible to all of us.


From the 19 April 2021 Greater Niagara Newspapers and Batavia Daily News