Friday, April 24, 2009

Tax Freedom Day

From the 27 April 2009 Greater Niagara Newspapers

By Bob Confer

Last Saturday, April 25, was a big day for the workingperson. A holiday of sorts, it was Tax Freedom Day in New York. That was the day in 2009 that you could finally go about working for your own interests like feeding your family, saving for your retirement, or helping to put your kid get through college. Prior to that, every day that you worked this year was dedicated only to the government.

Tax Freedom Day is the brainchild of the Tax Foundation, a nonpartisan educational organization that focuses on tax policy and the burdens they impose on Americans. It is an annual study that determines when personal financial freedom is achieved. The Foundation analyzes the entire federal and state tax load fronted by a state’s residents, looking at all of them, big and small, from income to property to sales to excise taxes. That bundle is then applied to the average wage for that state and from there the number of workdays required to meet that burden is calculated.

The study is a good gauge for the competitiveness and quality of life for each state. New Yorkers, long known as some of the highest-taxed in the US, have the third-latest Tax Freedom Day in the US. The only two that fall later are New Jersey (April 29) and Connecticut (April 30). The average American spends less time working for the government than we do and, not surprisingly, some states have nearly a month on us. Alaska is the best-performer, seeing freedom on March 23. Three other states (Louisiana, Mississippi, and South Dakota) have the chains removed prior to April. This perfectly exemplifies what we’ve been saying for years, that New York’s status as “the Empire State” is long gone.

To some (specifically government officials) the Tax Foundation’s study may be a gimmick. It’s not. It’s a rather unique way of demonstrating just how much effort goes into making one’s annual payments to the government. With payroll deductions, escrow, and the brainwashing gimmick know as tax returns, very few people really know how much they pay into the system. There’s a lot of numbers for them to contend with and track. This helpful study makes it easy for the layman to understand his contribution.

Think about its findings. For the past four months, every hour that you’ve spent at work, sweating or stressing while dealing with customers, coworkers, or machines - not to mention the economy – has not been for to the money that you need to pay the bills or set aside as discretionary income. Every one of those hours, 640 of them if you work a 40 hour week, 800 of them if you work 50 hours, has been dedicated to the bureaucracies that manage your town, your school, your state, and your nation, and who, more often than not, recklessly spend your hard-earned dollars on social and corporate welfare, bloated public-sector payrolls, low-return infrastructure, and wasteful pork. Nearly four months of your life were toiled away, just to make sure you paid the price of being a “good citizen” in 2009, four months spent working not for you and your family but for everybody else, whether they deserved it or not.

Four months is bad enough, but if it weren’t for the recession Tax Freedom Day would be even later in the year for us. Back in 2007, when the economy was still relatively strong, it fell on May 16. With incomes shrinking, homes foreclosing, and purchases decreasing, the tax burden on a per capita basis has become significantly less, because we have failed to pull the trigger on things that create tax obligations. But, there’s a very good chance that 2010’s study will show a return to mid-May for New Yorkers, even with a deepening recession, because the state legislature has introduced countless new taxes and user fees – while strengthening existing ones – at the same time municipalities and schools have been spending like it’s 2007. And, there’s the issue of the growing national debt and higher federal spending that we’ll have to contend with.

For now, with a third of the year behind us, you can find what comfort you can in knowing that you’re finally done working for the government this year. Your next 8 months on the job can be dedicated to you and your family. But then, the vicious cycle starts all over again. It kind of make you hunger for real tax freedom, doesn’t it?

Friday, April 17, 2009

Charity is no easy task

From the 20 April 2009 Greater Niagara Newspapers

By Bob Confer

We’ve heard time and time again that giving back to the community is such an easy task. It may be for some folks somewhere. But, it’s definitely not that easy in New York State. My friend Todd Sheridan knows that too well.

Todd is a junior at the College at Brockport where he is the starting goaltender on the hockey team. For the third season in a row, Todd has set the school’s record for goals-against-average. That’s quite the amazing achievement because Todd was never supposed to be one of the best goalies in Division III. As a matter of fact, he was never supposed to play college hockey at all.

In 2005 Todd noticed a painful lump in his neck. It was diagnosed as cancer and the doctors thought the prognosis was grim. But they engineered a successful surgery in which they cut him from ear to shoulder, removing 72 lymph nodes in the process. After the surgery the doctors upped his chance of survival to 70 percent. Because of his loss of weight and the damage that the surgery unleashed on the muscles of his upper body, he was given a 100 percent chance of never playing hockey again.

Todd beat cancer then he beat the odds, proving that he could remain successful on the ice. That story is remarkable in itself, but it’s what Todd is doing off the ice that matters most.

While in hospital, Todd grew attached to the young children at the clinic, all of whom were battling cancer. He found sadness in their plight. Some of his young friends passed away and were never able to experience the teen years and adulthood that many of us take for granted. But, Todd also found strength for his own recovery by watching other children beat their cancer. He often relates stories of how these little troopers maintained their composure and lived life with as much vigor as they could, never giving in and always looking forward, doing what they could to comfort their heartbroken moms and dads.

It is to those children and all those like them that Todd has dedicated his second chance at life. Using his hockey success as the backdrop, he devised a charity called “Saves For A Cure” (SFAC) that would collect from businesses and other donors $1 for every save that Brockport goalies make over the course of a season. Proceeds would be used to buy TV’s, toys, and other comforts for the children’s cancer clinic in Rochester, helping the youngsters weather the most difficult days of their lives. It is a brilliant concept and, more importantly, one that is worthwhile and touching.

Sadly, the path to making this a reality has been strewn with obstacles.

In March of 2008 Todd signed the Certificate of Incorporation for SFAC. Over a year has passed and SFAC is no further along. The application process is still ongoing. That may sound unbelievable to some, but remember, this is NY we’re talking about.

The original application said, among other things, that SFAC would educate the public about cancer and promote research in beating the disease. Last May the Department of State announced that the Department of Education would not give consent for the organization to have those as corporate purposes, believing SFAC was unfit to educate the masses. Yes, the State actually thought that someone who had and beat cancer, and experienced its harsh reality, was ill-prepared to speak of it and advance its study!

That language was struck from the application and months went on with no word from the State. So, in September I wrote the Governor’s office which then awakened the slumbering process. The document was forwarded to the Department of Health whose legal department found fault with SFAC donating money and equipment to hospitals. Yes, the State actually thinks it wrong that someone would be charitable to cancer patients!

Here it is, April of 2009, and Todd is still waiting for NY to incorporate SFAC. The hockey season has come and gone and Todd’s junior year is nearly over. Because of the bureaucracy, he was unable to proceed with fundraising as he hoped. His senior year - his final season - starts this Fall, which really isn’t as far away as it sounds. He’s hoping to get the okay from NY soon, so, in his last year, he can lay the groundwork for SFAC so when his college career is over and he has moved away it can thrive and make a significant difference on the lives of Upstate’s youngest cancer patients. But, alas, NY’s continued silence speaks volumes about what it thinks of his dream.

Who said being charitable was easy?

Thursday, April 9, 2009

The Tenth Amendment Movement

From the 13 April 2009 Greater Niagara Newspapers

By Bob Confer

I always keep a copy of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution in my pocket. You could say that it’s my Bible.

It never ceases to amaze me that these documents, which clearly define what our federal government is supposed to be, can so neatly fit into a small, unobtrusive booklet. Our Founding Fathers knew full well that an oversized government would do us in. They were fearful that a federal entity of any real size would bring to American soil the very ills they tried to escape from. Before freedom was declared, Great Britain’s oppressive governance stripped them of their liberty, stifled their prosperity and robbed from them their hard-earned money. So, they carefully outlined a federal system quite small in scope, yet, at once, vast and restricted in its importance.

The founders believed that proper rule begins locally as that is the only way that power can truly be vested in the people. In their plan the state was supposed to be the most powerful ruling force, each state being, in theory, its own nation. The purpose of the federal system was limited to only three tasks: managing the unity of those states, overseeing the trade between them, and providing for their collective defense.

Much has changed since the 1700’s. My Bible has become but an afterthought. Local rule is near-powerless and the states – and therefore, we - are subjects of our federal government. Thousands of agencies and departments have sprung up over the years, each assuming ultimate power and dictating to the states and citizens what we can and cannot do. Related to that, laws and regulations created and enforced by a federal system that has become non-representative are virtually without limit, and a million documents the size of the Constitution could not contain them. It can be said that the Founding Fathers’ greatest nightmares have been realized…the USA is the Great Britain of old, and then some.

The time has come to take back our rights. We should have done that many decades ago, but now, more so than ever, it has become evident to the layman that the US has turned into a rabid beast, uncoordinated but deadly. We see the economy falling apart around us, a collapse that was based on excesses. Yet, in some perverted fashion, the government in its effort to “save” us finds it necessary to unleash unprecedented excesses in the form of trillions of dollars in loans, giveaways, spending, corporate and social welfare, and things misnamed as stimulus packages, all such tasks weakening our dollar, our economy, and our prosperity. If anything, the USA is only driving another nail into our coffin.

Before the next nail can be set, we must weaken the beast. To do so, power must be returned to us. And, there is a movement afoot to do just that. The grassroots effort called the Tenth Amendment Movement focuses on getting back to the basics of the Constitution which so succinctly and effectively says: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

When you read that amendment you become aware that over the years our entire system has become unconstitutional – illegal – because of a flip in power: Rule was supposed to go from the bottom up, and, now, it goes from the top down. The Movement hopes to flip it once again.

Quite a few elected officials have seen the well-founded logic behind the Movement’s efforts to return a semblance of legality to our nation and they have introduced bills reclaiming their state’s sovereignty. Such legislation has been brought to the Capitol floor in nearly two-dozen states (New York is not one of them). In two of them victory has been achieved: Just last month, sovereignty resolutions were signed by both houses in Oklahoma and South Dakota.

It would behoove every state to follow suit and take back that which was once theirs. It is in the best interest of the people. Trillions of dollars are wasted annually on the redundancy and bloat that is the federal government and if that money were in our hands, the economy would be on the fast track to recovery. But, more important than the financial rewards of the Tenth Amendment are the rewards of Liberty that it grants us: If power was wrested from the government and put back into our hands, we’d be able to live the life we want, the life we deserve and the life our Founding Fathers had intended for us. Then, maybe, just maybe, my “Bible” might once again mean something.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Erin's Law would hurt families

From the 06 April 2009 Greater Niagara Newspapers

By Bob Confer

Fear is one of the government’s greatest weapons. Those in power use it to manipulate the masses, scaring them into finding value in the unjust expansion of government’s powers. Look at the moxie with which this tool has been used in just the past seven years alone. Using the fear of terrorism to its advantage, the Bush Administration easily persuaded Congress to pass legislation like the Patriot Act, stripping us of our rights to privacy and due process of law. Their successors in the Obama Administration have used our fear of depression to sully the wonders of capitalism and institute the greatest federal controls ever exerted on the free market.

Similarly, it’s fear that drives many pieces of odious legislation at the state level. One such bill is currently a topic of discussion in the Assembly, feeding on concerns for children’s safety. Erin’s Law was introduced by Assemblywoman Joan Christensen and has over three dozen cosponsors and multi-sponsors (among them Niagara Falls’ Francine DelMonte). It is in memory of 11-year-old Erin Maxwell who was found dead in her Oswego County home last August, the victim of sexual assault and strangulation, her stepbrother the suspect. The law was proposed in hopes of guaranteeing that the needless death of a child would never occur again. It would make up for supposed inefficiencies in child protection that appeared during the investigation of Erin’s death. Social Services visited the home a few times in the years prior to her murder and never found just cause to remove her from the home.

To the na├»ve, there’s nothing wrong with this bill. In their mind, who wouldn’t want to protect our children and ensure that they live in a healthy home? But, like most fear-mongering bills, the end result of what the legislation will impose far outweighs what is the actual risk of recurrence under current practices. In reality, Erin’s Law will probably do nothing to prevent the abuse or murder of a child and will do plenty to tear apart some pretty good families.

It all comes down to interpretation.

The bill sponsors want to change the definition of what constitutes a “neglected child” under the Family Court Act. Currently, neglect occurs when a child’s physical, mental or emotional condition is impaired or in danger of becoming so. That language is more than sufficient. But, even so, they would like to alter it to be more specific and, interestingly, more nebulous. Under guidelines proposed in Erin’s Law, a parent or guardian would be required to, among other things, provide the child with a warm living environment while ensuring that he is kept free of disease and given the psychological and psychiatric care he needs.

Let’s look at how the government could – and will - abuse that law.

First of all, what are the parameters for a warm environment? Hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers are unemployed right now and those of us who still have a job are saddled with high taxes and worry for the economy. In such times, all of us are looking to save money any way we can. In most homes, that means turning down the thermostat to 65 degrees or below. Does that mean that any parent who does this in order to put food on the table is guilty of neglect for failure to keep a child warm?

Secondly, what is disease-free living? Many parents, through no fault of their own, have raised kids who were chronically sick in their younger years. They may have been battling asthma and allergies or were susceptible to the cornucopia of disease present in elementary schools. At what time does their regular absence from school - or struggle with ailments – signal neglect? Is it really the parents’ fault?

The last point (psychiatrics) is just as tricky, if not more so. We have heard countless reports of how school administrators and teachers have over-stepped their bounds and, despite not being doctors, have demanded that a parent medicate her child for hyperactivity or lack of attentiveness. In most cases this is unwarranted - for it’s kids being kids - and, in all cases, it is completely wrong for schools to force the parent’s hand in this matter. Were Erin’s Law to pass, a school could turn-in unwilling parents to Social Services who would then be required – by law – to exert medicinal mind control on their children. Failure to do so would be classified as neglect.

Flaws like these are often overlooked by those intent on passing laws of fear. In many cases, though, they are known to exist, but the government sees them as being fit, a means to an end. In the case of Erin’s Law, it might mean an end to a good family.