August 13, 2014
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Sens. Coburn and Obama discussing transparency website legislation (credit: Wikimedia Commons)
If messing up websites was a profession, the federal government would be considered an expert. Last year Healthcare.gov failed to launch amidst great fanfare and promise. And, just last month, the FCC showed exactly why they shouldn’t be taking control of the internet after problems they had on their own web page caused the website to crash. Now, a government website dedicated to providing greater transparency for spending of taxpayer money is proving once again how inefficient the public sector can be when it comes to basic management. According to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, the USASpending.gov site is riddled with problems with both missing data and inaccuracies of data collected. And, it appears that the Obama Administration may be the key reason for the problems. Stephen Dinan of The Washington Times detailed the news that should alarm taxpayers and anyone concerned with accountability in government.
August 11, 2014
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This article appeared in Inside Sources on July 31, 2014
There was a time when appropriations season in Washington was a time for wasteful handouts to special interests of all stripes. Grinning politicians would toss cash like freshly plucked flower pedals, while skipping in the summer sun. Capitol Hill was alive with the sound of earmarking. Fortunately, there is a moratorium on earmarks (even though the House and Senate slipped in billions of dollars worth of earmarks into the Defense Appropriations Bill), but there is still plenty of wasteful spending that needs to be eliminated. One program in particular, the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) catfish inspection program not only epitomizes wasteful spending, it could dismantle an important trade deal thereby hurting economic growth.
August 6, 2014
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The public has been assured that when it comes to US involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan that the “wars are winding down.” Unfortunately it seems that not only is that not the case, there also appears to be a real problem regarding the way in which taxpayer money is being spent. The latest example comes out of Afghanistan (America’s longest war) as the findings from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) released a report about how much taxpayer money has been wasted rebuilding that country. According to John Sopko, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, "Too often we've pushed taxpayer money out the door without considering if the Afghans need it and can sustain it."
August 4, 2014
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This article originally appeared on Townhall.com on July 24, 2014
You can’t help but hand it to them – rooftop solar companies have quite cleverly found their way onto the government’s gravy train. For years Washington has subsidized rooftop solar installations for customersin the form of the Solar Investment Tax Credit, which allows homeowners who install rooftop solar panels to receive a tax credit of up to 30 percent of the cost. The subsidy has been one of the many ongoing ways in which the feds insert themselves into the energy marketplace. And while it has hampered efforts to achieve real energy independence in the U.S., and has therefore caused real harm to our economy, it nevertheless has met a legitimate need for homeowners desperate for some relief from high energy costs. But rooftop solar companies – most of which, like SolarCity, Corp., are political connected and favored – have created a scheme to claim the tax credit for themselves. These companies discovered that if they lease the rooftop solar systems to homeowners, the companies themselves can claim the federal tax credit as well as all state and local incentives.
BREAKING NEWS: Watchdog Group Uncovers Billions in Earmarks in both the House and Senate Defense Appropriations Bills (UPDATED)David Williams and Michi Iljazi on
July 31, 2014
BREAKING NEWS: Watchdog Group Uncovers Billions in Earmarks in both the House and Senate Defense Appropriations Bills
ALEXANDRIA, VA – Today, the Taxpayers Protection Alliance (TPA) uncovered hundreds of earmarks in both the House and Senate versions of the 2015 Defense Appropriations bill. In the House (click here), there were 137 earmarks worth $8,176,255,000. In the Senate (click here), there were 190 earmarks worth $11,718,149,000. All of the earmarks listed were spending items not requested by the Pentagon. This is yet another disappointing example of Washington politicians spending taxpayer money in circumvention of established budgetary procedures. The waste could be seen in such familiar programs like $224,000,000 added by the House for the F-35; $120 million added by both the House and he Senate for the Abrams Tank; and $80 million for the Littoral Combat Ship. For a list of the earmarks that appeared in both chambers, click here!
Click 'read more' below to see the full list of earmarks» Read More
July 29, 2014
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Earlier this month, the Chattanooga Times Free Press reported the city-owned utility system, the Electric Power Board (EPB), wants to expand its gigabit Internet offering beyond the city limits. According to the newspaper, EPB may even move across state lines, into Georgia. Under current Tennessee law, EPB “is only allowed to offer fiber optic service to customers who also get their electricity from EPB.” In other words, the scope is responsibly limited. The EPB can appeal to the Federal Communications Commission to go around that law, and did just that last week. A decision by the FCC to circumvent the law would be bad for taxpayers, could harm the local economy and would also go against state lawmakers’ clear preference that EPB concentrate on providing service to the citizens of Chattanooga. EPB’s plans are the height of hubris. By all accounts, the utility has attracted only a relative handful of subscribers to its gigabit service – perhaps because when it set the original sky-high price of $349.00/month for the service, President Harold DePriest said EPB chose the rate simply “because we can.” So, instead of market studies, business modeling or product testing, EPB just did things because they could. That could very well be the same mentality at play now. Is there any indication that consumers in surrounding cities want EPB’s service or does EPB just want to expand because they think they should be allowed to?
July 28, 2014
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Now is the time of year when a flurry of appropriations bills hit the floor in the House and Senate and marathon voting takes place so that politicians can make quick work of spending taxpayer money before heading out of town for their six-week vacation. TPA has been watching the appropriations process over the last few months and are mindful of the itch that Congress gets to spend more money than they limit themselves in writing. Taking that into account, TPA signed onto a letter sent by National Taxpayers Union, joining 60 Plus Association, American Commitment, Americans for Tax Reform, Campaign for Liberty, Center for Freedom and Prosperity, Coalition to Reduce Spending, Competitive Enterprise Institute, The Conservative Caucus, Inc., Cost of Government Center, Council for Citizens Against Government Waste, DownsizeDC.org, Freedom Action, FreedomWorks, R Street Institute, Republican Liberty Caucus, Restore America’s Mission, Rio Grande Foundation, and Taxpayers for Common Sense calling on both the House and Senate to abide by budgetary limits they set in both Budget Control Act of 2011 (BCA) and subsequently modified by the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013 aka the “Ryan-Murray" deal. It is bad enough that they broke the limits set forth by the BCA once, but to do so again would be yet another insult to taxpayers at a time when they are struggling to limit their own personal spending habits.
Click 'read more' below to see the full letter
July 24, 2014
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This article originally appeared in Human Events on July 23, 2014
It’s often cliché to say that history repeats itself. But when it happens over and over again, cliché becomes reality. History is currently repeating itself when it comes to transportation funding and earmarks. The Transportation Trust Fund is set to run out in August and some members of Congress are anxious to exploit that issue to allow the return of unfettered pork spending. Earlier this year Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) suggested bringing back earmarks. Now former Rep. Todd Tiahrt (R-Kansas), who is vying for his old congressional seat, has joined Sen. Durbin in publicly supporting the return of earmarks, as well. This comes as no surprise considering that Sen. Durbin and former Rep. Tiahrt were major appropriators during the heyday of runway spending. Unfortunately, the transportation bill just may be the vehicle that opens the door to allow the return of earmarks.
July 10, 2014
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Winston Churchill said, “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” That saying is as relevant to Washington today as it was during Churchill’s time. Back in 2009, with the country still in turmoil from the financial crisis, then White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel echoed the notion that when the country is in crisis politicians should use that crisis to do things they may not normally be able to do. This type of cynical and opportunistic approach to politics is probably just one of the many reasons why so many people have so little faith in our political institutions. The problems on the border are shaping up to be another opportunity for the President and Congress to turn a humanitarian crisis on the border into a fiscal crisis. President Obama submitted a $3.7 billion supplemental spending bill for measures that would (according to the Administration) constitute an aggressive approach to this problem. The White House released a statement calling on Congress to approve the spending with the President saying, "I urge the Congress to act expeditiously in considering this important request."
TPA Coalition Letter Urges Congress to Act on Comprehensive Tax Reform Without Shortcuts or GimmicksMichi Iljazi on
July 8, 2014
The clock is running out on the legislative calendar for 2014, with the August recess fast approaching and the midterm elections around the corner there isn’t much time left for Congress to act on important issues facing the country. One such issue is tax reform, but not all the talk has been welcome news for taxpayers. Though leaders on Capitol Hill have had discussions as well as some substantive proposals, including one from House Ways & Means Chairman Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.), there’s still not much taxpayers are seeing out of Congress on comprehensive tax reform. Keeping that in mind, TPA led a coalition in sending this letter to leaders on both the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee urging them that any tax reform Congress decides to do should be done in a way that benefits taxpayers, as opposed to any minimal changes to the tax code (corporate or otherwise) that would be used to pay for special projects. Tax reform shouldn’t be a vessel for politicians to find more ways to spend taxpayer dollars, it should be done to broaden the base and save individual taxpayers money across the board. TPA was joined by American Commitment, Americans for Prosperity, Americans for Tax Reform, Center for Individual Freedom, Council for Citizens Against Government Waste, Frontiers of Freedom, Hispanic Leadership Fund, Independent Women's Forum, Independent Women's Voice, Less Government, Log Cabin Republicans, National Taxpayers Union, R Street Institute, Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council, and Taxpayers for Common Sense in telling Congress to stay away from attempts at tax reform that would simply be done to give Washington more money to spend and we urge all taxpayers to tell their representatives in both chambers of Congress the same.
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July 7, 2014
(Joe Jansen has a decade and a half of experience working as a staff member on Capitol Hill. He has worked in almost every legislative capacity in both the House and Senate. Joe will be a frequent contributor to TPA’s blog.) Late last year, Congress agreed on a two-year budget deal that set overall spending levels for Fiscal Year 2014 and Fiscal Year 2015. Theoretically, this deal should have made it much easier for Congress to pass the twelve annual appropriations bills that fund the federal government before the end of the fiscal year. But, in a sign that the budget process is broken beyond repair, it does not even look like Congress will get close to completing its work on time. To add insult to injury, passing spending bills is a constitutionally mandated job of Congress. Each year, Congress has until September 30 – the end of the fiscal year – to pass twelve appropriations bills and complete the process of funding the federal government. So far this year the House has passed five of the twelve appropriations bills. It is scheduled to be in session just 28 more days this year. The House could possibly pass seven more bills in that 28 days, but there would be no time to go to conference with the Senate and complete work on all the bills prior to the end of the fiscal year.» Read More
July 1, 2014
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The economy is struggling to regain footing after a recent report that gross domestic product fell at a 1% annual rate, vs. the 0.1% increase first estimated earlier in the year. This pain is being felt by the millions of Americans who continue to look for a job and those that have a job try to make ends meet with fewer dollars. Government officials seem oblivious to the dire economic straits as the President proposes new regulations and Congress fails to cut spending. But, probably the most out-of-touch government entity is Amtrak, which continues to lose more money and ask for more from taxpayers. The Taxpayers Protection Alliance uncovered astonishing overtime numbers that show that thousands of employees receive more than $35,000 in overtime compensation. The House Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations (THUD) Bill for fiscal year (FY) 2015 details the alarming overtime figures. In 2013, Amtrak paid out more than $185 million in overtime expenses. Of that amount, $49 million was paid to 1,022 employees who accrued more than $35,000 in overtime. Doing some simple math, that means each employee averaged $47,000 in overtime. With an average salary of more than $80,000, these overtime expenses push those salaries to more than $120,000. This revelation comes at a time when Amtrak is projecting losses and looking for $1.19 billion in operating costs and capital expenses. The deficits Amtrak has been running are nothing to take lightly, the specific numbers should call into question why exactly taxpayers are continuing to subsidize something that loses hundreds of millions of dollars each year
June 27, 2014
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U.S. Navy Tactical Tomahawk launch (courtesy Wikimedia Commons)
The Pentagon is a classic example of a federal agency that spends money on unnecessary programs. Congress is an integral part of the problem as they appropriate money for programs that are duplicative and unnecessary. This problem was highlighted when the Taxpayers Protection Alliance (TPA) exposed that the Omnibus spending bill which was passed earlier this year was filled with more than $7 billion in unrequested earmarks. The debate over earmarks isn’t the only problem that taxpayers must continue to fight, there is also the question of efficiency and how best to spend money when it is actually necessary. Though TPA focuses a great deal on the wasteful spending on projects and programs that are not needed, there is a need to focus on how to make sure that spending is done responsibility when dealing with competing technologies and programs that aim to achieve the same outcomes or serve similar purposes and interests. The F-35 is a glaring example of the Pentagon spending money on a weapons system that is unneeded and overly expensive. Besides the much-publicized problems with the F-35, two weapons systems that put a spotlight on this problem are the Tomahawk Missile program and the Long-Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM) program.
June 23, 2014
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When somebody has a limited amount of time to look at a large, complicated issue, many of the details are bound to escape notice. The number of details missed increases when multiple distractions take away from the limited viewing time. The federal budget is no different. Each year, Congress is required to complete what has become the cumbersome (and expensive) process of funding the federal government. Between the first Monday in February (when the President presents his spending plan to Congress) and the end of the fiscal year on September 30th, Congress must formulate, enact, and execute the federal budget. For many different reasons this process has become an annual exercise in futility. It leads to a mad scramble to keep the government operating through continuing resolutions and ends in the passage of an omnibus spending bill. The result is an almost eight month long spectacle that puts the focus on the big picture, allowing many of the important details to escape notice. For decades, Congress has considered ditching annual budgets for a biennial budget process. While the details of the plans differ, the basic premise is that Congress would use the first year of each Congress to formulate, enact, and execute a budget for the next two years.
June 20, 2014
Recently, TPA wrote about the ridiculous tax increase offered by Gov. Chris Christie on e-cigarettes (click here). This week we continue the series with Ohio, where Republican Governor John Kasich has proposed new taxes on E-Cigarettes. One of the motivating factors for this is that revenue from traditional cigarette taxes is declining. The Taxpayers Protection Alliance has written extensively about how estimated tax revenue from tobacco taxes never materialize (file that under: we told you so!). This type of phenomenon, that TPA calls “Fool’s Gold,” can be seen in several states, and internationally. The Ohio proposal is a part of the Governor’s Mid-Biennium Review (MBR) and Will Upton with Americans for Tax Reform detailed the specific pieces where Kasich is aiming for tobacco and e-cigarettes. The simple fact is that selectively targeting products and industries with tax increases eventually drives consumers out of the market, eventually harming businesses and taxpayers. If prior examples are any indication of what to expect, the revenue generated will not hold up and will not solve the problems that the state may have in filling their budgetary gaps and priorities in the future unless taxes are increased.» Read More
June 19, 2014
Right now in Washington, D.C. there is a great deal of activity in Congress as members rush towards the July 4th holiday break. The last few weeks we've seen a several appropriations bills make their way through committees and onto the House and Senate floors funding Transportation, Education, Housing, Energy, and Defense. Today, as Congress continues work on H.R. 4870, the Department of Defense Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2015 it is important to know that there are a great deal of attempts made by representatives on both sides of the poltiical aisle to use these spending bills as a vehicle to save money for taxpayers. As much waste and unncesary spending as we see during the rush to get appropriations bills through both chambers, there are also examples of smart and reasonable amendments that will cut spending and provide taxpayers with a rare win. Today, in a letter sent to the House by the Project on Government Oversight (POGO), TPA joined with Antiwar.com, Coalition to Reduce Spending, Council for a Livable World, DownsizeDC.org, Friends Committee on National Legislation, Just Foreign Policy, National Priorities Project, National Taxpayers Union, Peace Action, Peace Action West, Progressive Democrats of America (PDA), Taxpayers for Common Sense, United for Peace and Justice, U.S. Labor Against the War (USLAW), Win Without War, and Women’s Action for New Directions to support several taxpayer-friendly amendments that have been put forth in the debate of the 2015 defense spending bill. TPA is hopeful that more amendments saving taxpayer dollars will be put forth as the appropriations process continues in the coming weeks.
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Click 'read more' below to see the full letter
June 16, 2014
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Ask anyone who has had to pay for one recently and they’ll tell you the same thing – the cost of obtaining a college education is soaring. For decades, prices associated with going to college have been rising faster than inflation. So, last week, the Senate put aside its work to ensure that our nation’s veterans have access to the medical care they need to consider legislation to make college more affordable for students who have already graduated. Forty million Americans hold approximately $1.2 trillion in student loan debt currently. According to Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN), undergraduate students account for 85% of all student loan debt, owing an average of $21,600. The typical student who graduated with a four-year degree owes about $27,000. Despite all of this debt, a college education is still one of the best investments an American can make. According to the Census Bureau, a college degree is worth an extra $1 million in salary over an individual’s working lifetime.
June 9, 2014
The government continues to spend and collect taxpayer money at record levels, and the national debt continues to rise. Reform can be key when it comes to finding ways to get spending under control. Spending cuts are important, but in many cases there are programs, agencies, and systems that need structural reform in order to truly realize savings in the long-run. The United States Criminal Justice system is one of the prime examples where spending cuts are just not enough to solve the problem. The Department of Justice’s allotment for the prison system in their budget consumes about 30% today, and taxpayer money continues to be spent while reform continues to linger in Congress. Today, in the Senate, the Smarter Sentencing Act (SSA) can be put up for consideration. SSA is a modest approach to reform that would affect nonviolent drug offenses. The SSA would reduce the length of mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenses by half and in the long run would reduce the cost and growth of prisons to reasonably manageable levels. SSA ensures that any drug offenses resulting in serious bodily injury or death are not impacted, while giving judges “limited, clearly-defined discretion to sentence low-level, nonviolent drug offenders with negligible criminal records below the mandatory minimum term.” Last week, TPA and several other groups including Coalition to Reduce Spending, National Association of Evangelicals, R Street Institute, Heritage Action for America, and Americans for Tax Reform signed a letter urging the Senate to move on the Smarter Sentencing Act.
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June 6, 2014
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This article written by Stephen DeMaura, president of Americans for Job Security, originally appeared in Townhall.com on May 31, 2014
The ancient Roman historian Livy observed that “the unknown always inspires terror.” That was not a novel idea for the Romans – fear of the unknown is as old as humanity itself. Much more recently, former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld reminded us just how many kinds of “unknowns” there were to fear. “There are known knowns,” he famously explained in a 2002 press briefing. “There are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know we don’t know.” That statement is enough to keep a philosophy convention occupied for days. All deeper implications aside, however, one thing is certain: “unknown” is not an answer that Americans should expect to find when looking into the final destination of billions of dollars they are responsible for. Unfortunately, that’s precisely the answer that we get when it comes to $24.3 billion of the funds doled out since 2007 by the Export-Import Bank of the United States. It’s that sort of unknown that should “inspire terror” in every taxpayer.
June 4, 2014
A crowning achievement of President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s legacy was the 47,000 mile Interstate Highway System. The system revolutionized America’s economic and social structure. As Eisenhower noted, the 1956 Highway Revenue Act united a country that existed as an “alliance of many separate parts” and “its impact on the economy…was beyond calculation.” Even though there have been some bumps in the road with congressional earmarking and other questionable policy decisions, for more than sixty years the Highway Trust Fund has financed the maintenance and repair of America’s highways. The trust fund is set to run out of money by August, not good news for the nation’s infrastructure. The current 18.4-cent-per-gallon gasoline tax and 24.4-cent-per-gallon diesel fuel tax will no longer sustain the Fund, which has a projected shortfall of $172 billion over the next ten years. If the Fund fails, more than 700,000 Americans will lose jobs, more than 112,000 projects will stop, and our nation’s deteriorating infrastructure will continue to crumble.» Read More