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Neighbors Growing Together | Dec 22, 2014

Views from across Iowa

Aug 07, 2014

Fort Dodge Messenger, Aug. 2

Altering Constitution is wrong move

 

Frustrated that the Constitution enshrines Americans’ freedom of speech, including that in which they spend money to speak out on political candidates, a few members of the U.S. Senate have become so eager to curb that liberty that they are adopting a new strategy: change the Constitution.

Democrats who control the Senate Judiciary Committee have proposed broad new limits on political spending. They are so expansive they would require scrapping part of the First Amendment.

Conservatives say the plan is no more than a political stunt intended to give liberals traction during the current campaign season. Some of them, such as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, already have begun to sound like broken records as they decry political spending by conservative billionaires Charles and David Koch.

For some reason, Reid and company never seem to mention political spending by ultra-rich liberals such as George Soros and Tom Steyer.

Some of those skeptical about the proposed constitutional amendment say it could result in serious limits to freedom of speech far beyond the curbs on big spenders that liberals claim they want.

Fortunately, the nation’s founders anticipated some in government would attempt to use constitutional amendments for transient political purposes. The founders made it very difficult to alter the nation’s basic document of government. It is unlikely the new proposal will go anywhere.

But it is a reminder to Americans that in order to gain advantage, some politicians are willing to chip away at our basic freedoms.

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Telegraph Herald, Aug. 1

What motivates U.S. Congress?

 

By almost any standard, this session of the U.S. Congress has been noteworthy for how little it has accomplished. At virtually every turn, one political party or the other has bottled up even the simplest measures. The goal seems to be making the opposing party look bad, not doing what’s right and necessary for the good of the country. The complicated stuff? Don’t even think about it.

However, just when it appears that Congress can’t agree on anything these days, federal lawmakers let down their partisan ways just enough to take care of a few issues. What is their motivation? Apparently it’s their August vacations.

That’s right. Lawmakers traditionally take off the entire month of August and return to Washington after Labor Day. Their five-week summer vacation is on top of the other time off they give themselves, including two weeks around Easter, a week around Independence Day, and a week for Martin Luther King Day. In fairness, some of this time out of session is labeled “in-district work days” or some such, when many lawmakers meet with constituents (especially when they are up for re-election). And don’t forget the full month from early October through Election Day, which can be unofficially labeled Election Campaign season.

Anyway, this August vacation must be extremely important to our senators and representatives, because in the last several days they have been exhibiting atypical behavior. They have shown signs of bipartisanship. Apparently, they recognize that they have lots of unfinished business, and they need to get some of it addressed before this vacation.

Congressional action is needed to address the problems plaguing the Veterans Administration. (The solution might be hurriedly throwing billions at the problem, but that’s for another editorial.) And what about the immigration crisis -- the flood of unaccompanied children crossing our border? Congress might OK several billion to address that before high-tailing it out of Washington. Confirmation of judges, ambassadors and other officials? Some of those appointments have been languishing for months. Well, that is asking a lot.

It might be cynical to observe that Congress’ pace and bipartisan cooperation spiked just before the summer recess, but can it be attributed to anything else?

We suppose that constituents should be heartened that, after months of political bickering, gridlock and inaction, lawmakers put aside their partisan differences and were able to agree on something — even if it is their summer hiatus.

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The Des Moines Register, Aug. 3

Walgreens turns back on taxpayers

 

“Is ‘the corner of happy and healthy’ somewhere in the Swiss Alps?” — U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., in a letter to Walgreens executives

The senator from Illinois borrowed that line from the nationwide drugstore chain’s advertising campaign to poke fun at the company for considering changing its corporate headquarters address to Switzerland to avoid paying federal taxes.

Kidding aside, Durbin and other critics are not happy with Walgreens’ consideration of planting its corporate flag in a foreign country. And for good reason.

While the company will continue to do its business in the United States, make money from American customers and benefit from the government services paid for by other taxpayers, it will dodge corporate taxes in this country by pretending it is a Swiss company.

Walgreens’ move has gotten a lot of attention because the venerable pharmacy chain, founded 113 years ago by Charles Walgreen in Dixon, Illinois, is such a prominent fixture in so many communities across the United States.

But Walgreens’ tactic of acquiring a smaller company overseas to establish its corporate address there has been used by other companies and may be used by more.

This “tax inversion” — or better yet, “tax aversion” — tactic could cost the U.S. treasury nearly $20 billion over the next decade, according to a congressional committee report.

Walgreens can save $4 billion over the five years in federal taxes by taking advantage of this loophole in U.S. tax law.

Just because it is legal, however, doesn’t mean it is right. And it should not be legal.

Corporate taxes have already shrunk from historic levels as a percentage of total collections. Tax critics point out that corporate taxes are simply passed along to customers, but taxes avoided by businesses are paid by other taxpayers.

Some members of Congress have talked about changing tax law to head off this tax-dodging strategy by Walgreens and other companies, but that should be part of a broader rewriting of the federal tax code.

There is a reason why companies in highly competitive industries are desperate to seek foreign tax havens: It’s because the U.S. rates are high in comparison to other countries’ rates. Congress should deal with that disparity to help U.S. companies be competitive globally, but it should do so in a comprehensive tax reform that results in increased overall tax revenue to deal with budget deficits.

President Obama has rightly called inversion an “unpatriotic tax loophole” and has pressed Congress to pass legislation to stop corporations from effectively renouncing their U.S. citizenship to escape paying their fair share in this country. That is exactly what Congress should do. Maybe the public attention being given to Walgreens will prompt them to finally act.

Businesses like Walgreens benefit from operating in the United States. Public money is used to educate their workers and build the roads leading to their stores. When a customer insured by taxpayer-financed Medicare or Medicaid fills a prescription at Walgreens, the rest of us subsidize or pay the entire bill. In fact, a quarter of Walgreens’ $2.5 billion in profits last year was directly connected to a health insurance program funded with federal money.

Yet the company is seeking to scrimp on paying taxes while leaving the rest of us to pay more to fund essential services that make this country a great place to do business. Such a loss in revenue also contributes to our national deficit and debt. How much profit does a company need? How much is enough? And how much will Walgreens lose if American consumers decide to take their business elsewhere?

When it comes to a high-profile, accessible company like Walgreens, average people hold a lot of power. That isn’t always the case. For example, when a company like Medtronic announces plans to establish its headquarters overseas, a patient probably won’t tell his doctor he doesn’t want a certain pacemaker implanted in his chest because the company isn’t a good corporate citizen. Yet, when the doctor writes him a prescription, he can fill it at another pharmacy down the street from Walgreens.

Iowans don’t have to shop at Walgreens to buy toothpaste, cleaning supplies, cigarettes, milk or school supplies either. There are plenty of other stores with headquarters here in the United States.

And now is the time for Iowans to let Walgreens know that if the company moves its headquarters to Europe and refuses to pay its fair share in taxes, those competitors will be getting new customers.

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Iowa City Press-Citizen, Aug. 3

Changes needed on UI’s tickets-for-tuition contest

 

It all sounds like an almost botched opportunity — one that hopefully still can be salvaged.

A donor couple — Gregory Burt and Suzie Glazer Burt of Des Moines — agrees to provide the University of Iowa with enough money to cover one year’s worth of in-state tuition for five current UI students.

There’s a clear philanthropic motivation at work, yet the couple also likes the idea of awarding those tuition credits to students who have demonstrated their strong commitment to the Hawkeyes by purchasing season football tickets. So the couple makes the donation, with that understanding.

The UI athletics and marketing departments move into action to tie that donation to existing efforts to get more students to attend the home football games.

In their haste, however, the departments don’t have the program properly vetted by UI’s legal staff. Soon after the announcement, the state’s Department of Inspections and Appeals — because there is a required purchase involved with the tuition credit — raises red flags that the program qualifies as a raffle yet doesn’t follow all the state’s regulations for a raffle.

Nor do the departments fully consider how easily such a “buy a season ticket, have a chance to win a year’s tuition” scheme fits into the “Beer and Circus” critique of big money college athletics.

Nor do they fully consider how it looks for Iowa’s flagship university to be raffling off tuition credits at a time when Iowa is without a statewide program for providing needs-based scholarships for students from low-income families.

Nor do they fully consider how such a program might be perceived by UI faculty, staff and students who already worry that their academic units and budgets are under siege by the efficiency consultants hired by the Iowa state Board of Regents.

Within a few days, the athletics department announces a temporary suspension of the program so officials can work with Attorney General’s Office and others to resurrect the program — probably as a “no purchase required” sweepstakes. Under such a framework, students who purchase season tickets would be automatically registered in the sweepstakes, but UI officials would have to come up with a way through which other qualified students could enter as well.

 

As of Friday afternoon, the details of revived program were still being worked out, and it was unclear when any extended deadline for entry would be.

 

Although we’re still not crazy about the idea of giving out $8,000 tuition credits as if they were Bingo prizes, we would support making this proposal fairer by extending it to include all students — not only those who can afford to purchase season tickets.

 

When it comes to finding creative ways to help Iowa families pay for college, however, we’d prefer more systematic approaches — ones that consider actual academic achievement and financial need — rather than ones based solely on the luck of the draw.

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