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Legislature Has Eye of Half-Cent Sales Tax
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Legislature Has Eye of Half-Cent Sales Tax

BY David Rice

When state legislators adopted a half-cent sales tax for the state in 2001, it was supposed to be temporary. "It's not a permanent tax," House Speaker Jim Black said at the time. As a result, the state's half-cent tax is scheduled to expire in June 2003. But as a new legislature prepares to tackle a budget shortfall for 2003-04 that is already projected at $1.8 billion, some are already questioning whether legislators can afford to give up a tax that raises almost $400million a year for the state. One of the first - and most fundamental - questions for the 2003 General Assembly will be whether to lift the "sunset" on the half-cent sales tax. "It's the first thing you have to figure out," said Kim Cartron, an analyst at the nonprofit N.C. Budget & Tax Center, who says that sales taxes place a disproportionate burden on poor and middle-income workers. "We think the sales tax isn't the right tax to use to dig out of a recession," Cartron said. "But obviously you're going to have to have some kind of alternative revenue source. You're not going to be able to cut your way out." Opponents at Citizens for a Sound Economy, an anti-tax group in Raleigh, are already organizing to make sure that legislators understand that the group will consider a vote to extend the tax beyond its scheduled demise a tax increase. "If it doesn't sunset, any way you count it, it's a tax increase," said Jonathan Hill, the group's state director. Though some might argue that extending the tax isn't technically a tax increase because the sales-tax rate won't increase, Hill said, "From our perspective, it means that the tax burden will increase, because it was supposed to go down." In campaigns this year, Citizens for a Sound Economy persuaded 47 members of the new N.C. House and 20 members of the N.C. Senate to sign a pledge that they will not vote to increase taxes. Hill said that his group plans to score any vote to extend the tax as a tax increase on the scorecards that it sends to its voter members. CSE targeted members who broke a similar pledge in 2001, and at least two of those members - Reps. David Redwine, D-Brunswick, and Andy Dedmon, D-Cleveland - lost in November. Hill compared the situation about the "temporary" sales tax to one that developed with a state sales tax on food that was imposed as a "temporary" measure in 1961 but not repealed until the mid-1990s. "The problem I see is that every time you add on a half-cent sales tax, they say they're going to take it away, and then they don't take it away," he said. "If you're going to do that, then nothing they do is real.... You can't do business that way. "Somebody's got to deal with the real problem, which is cutting the size of government." New members say they know about the approaching budget challenge. Rep.-elect Patrick McHenry, a newly elected Republican from Gastonia, said he expects freshmen to resist all tax increases, including the extension of the sales tax. "If you look at the freshmen in the House, our feet are to the fire," McHenry said. "We're in swing districts, and we ran on job creation and no tax increases. We'll resist all tax increases." Rep. Leo Daughtry, R-Johnston, the Republican nominee for speaker of the House, said that few members want to extend the sales tax. But Daughtry stopped short of saying that it won't happen. "I think people are going to try to live by what they said they would do. But whether they can or not remains to be seen," he said. But Cartron said that there might be hope in a recommendation this week from a commission appointed by Gov. Mike Easley that is expected to recommend broadening the sales tax to include services ranging from legal, accounting and consulting services to lawn and diaper services. "We would like to see the sales-tax base broadened to include services, in an attempt to lower the rate," she said. "That seems like a move that would revive a tax that we feel is clearly eroding." Currently, Cartron said, "You wouldn't pay a tax on a diaper service, but you would pay a tax on Pampers."

12/08/2002
Into the Gray Fray
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Into the Gray Fray

BY Julie Kosterlitz

Although they rule both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, Republicans are divided over whether to seize this moment and seek a dramatic overhaul of Social Security or merely to lay the groundwork for action in 2005. The business, libertarian, and fiscal conservatives who lead the "just-do-it" faction believe the midterm elections proved that Social Security is no longer a toxic issue for Republicans and that delay only raises the cost of reform. Their goal: Follow through on the president's vow to let younger workers steer some of their payroll taxes into privately owned investment accounts. Investing through private accounts, they contend, will help solve Social Security's long- term financing problems while raising national savings and retirement incomes, as well as family wealth. But partial privatization will likely continue to be a tough sell on Capitol Hill. Any reform will require politically explosive cuts in traditional benefits, and private accounts would likely entail deeper cuts. Most Democrats are unalterably opposed to private account "carve-outs." Partial privatization, they warn, would doom the promise of guaranteed lifelong benefits, erode subsidies for the poor, women, and the disabled, and squander money on high administrative costs, among other things. If President Bush does decide to make Social Security reform a domestic priority, the sort and level of interest-group activity will depend on whether he aims to corral just enough Democratic votes for passage or seeks a more broadly bipartisan compromise with Democratic leaders. Even if the administration decides to defer action, it has indicated that it is counting on like-minded advocacy groups to help advance the cause over the next two years.

12/07/2002
Agencies
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Agencies

An FCC proposal to require "broadcast flag" copy protection in DTV sets "represents an alarming and illegal reversal of consumer rights to record and watch television programming," a coalition of consumer groups said in a filing on an FCC rulemaking (MB 02-230). More than 1,000 comments were filed in the proceeding, virtually all by individuals, including hundreds via Citizens for a Sound Economy. The consumer groups also said a broadcast flag wouldn't be effective in preventing commercial piracy of digital content and wouldn't significantly speed the DTV transition, which they said also was being slowed by factors such as a lack of cable compatibility and weak consumer awareness. "By reducing functionality, the broadcast flag is much more likely to slow the transition and leave the new digital media far less innovative and consumer friendly than they could be," said Mark Cooper of the Consumer Federation of America. The groups said Hollywood and broadcasters were trying to use the broadcast flag to reverse the freedom consumers have had since VCRs arrived to record programming. They also questioned the FCC's authority to mandate broadcast flag technology. The filing also was signed by 11 state consumer groups and 2 other groups. -- MF ------ Lawrence Livermore National Lab developed network technology that it said could be used to build advanced fiber systems. It seeks potential licensees to commercialize its coarse wave division multiplexing (CWDM) technology, which transmits data using photonic devices. Lab also has developed related technologies "to implement photonic LAN systems," including a CWDM wavelength router as well as an interconnection system, known as Lambdabus, that relies on source routing to provide "wide-bandwidth, single-hop communications for all of the nodes on the network," it said -- 925-422-1072. ------ Information security requirements applicable to contractors would be extended to recipients of grants and cooperative agreements under a proposed NASA rule. NASA acknowledged that such recipients typically didn't "collect, process, transmit, store or disseminate unique agency data of substantial value using information technology." However, the proposed rule would allow the agency in appropriate cases to insert a provision in a grant or cooperative agreement requiring compliance with existing NASA IT security and automated data security procedures. Comments are due Jan. 3 -- 202-358-0481.

12/06/2002
Trade Commission Urged to Focus on Consumers in Taking Action Related to Duties on Canadian Softwood Lumber
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Trade Commission Urged to Focus on Consumers in Taking Action Related to Duties on Canadian Softwood Lumber

- Senate Finance Committee asks ITC to examine building component industry competitiveness, effect of tariffs and other border measures on U.S. home building industry and homebuyers - Hidden federally imposed 27 percent sales tax through duties imposed on lumber from Canada places undue burden on new homebuyers, other users of lumber WASHINGTON, Dec. 5 /PRNewswire/ -- American Consumers for Affordable Homes (ACAH) today called on the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) to focus on how border taxes, quotas, price controls and other trade distorting measures, particularly the 27 percent duties recently imposed on Canadian lumber imports, are hurting consumers. The ITC today held hearings on the competitiveness of the U.S. structural building components industry, which includes structural beams, arches, trusses and other wood products needed for home construction. In response to a request for this assessment by Senators Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) and the Senate Finance Committee, the ITC has surveyed home builders, lumber dealers and other interested parties on the market for U.S. wood for structural building components and non-wood substitutes, and its impact on U.S. production and housing construction. The Senate request for the study was issued under Section 332 of the Tariff Act of 1930. In connection with the study, Senators Baucus and Grassley also directed the ITC to examine the effect of tariffs and other border measures on the domestic home building industry and U.S. homebuyers. The most significant of these is the 27 percent countervailing and anti-dumping duties on Canadian lumber imports imposed by the U.S. Commerce Department last spring "While we believe this study can provide useful information about lumber users, we hope that the ITC also will take into consideration the burden placed on consumers forced to pay the 27 percent duties on Canadian lumber imports," said Susan Petniunas, ACAH spokesperson. "The impacts are not just on lumber users; the current duties amount to a federally imposed sales tax on new home construction, remodeling and other applications for lumber. It is a tax on home buyers and home owners." Petniunas pointed out that even though current lumber costs have dropped, the duties add to the instability and volatility of the housing market. "Without trade-distorting border taxes or other interferences such as quotas, the cost of lumber would be dictated by the free market, allowing for longer term stability," she added. "Removal of border taxes benefits lumber dealers, home builders and, ultimately, consumers and the economy." The review is a new and separate action from the countervailing and anti-dumping duty investigation conducted by the Department of Commerce and the ITC earlier this year. Following the investigation, the Senate Finance Committee will receive a report next April on the impact of imports on the domestic users of lumber, including homebuilders, lumber dealers, and manufactures of building components. The investigation also gives the ITC an opportunity to assess the true impact of the 27 percent tariffs on U.S. consumers. According to Petniunas, these duties are particularly devastating for consumers because the U.S. cannot produce sufficient lumber to meet its needs. Approximately one-third of its lumber for building homes must come from imports, primarily from Canada. "The 27 percent countervailing and anti-dumping duties imposed on finished lumber for framing homes and remodeling, can increase the average cost of a new home by as much as $1,000," she said. "Based on information from the U.S. Census Bureau, that additional $1,000 prevents as many as 300,000 families from qualifying for home mortgages." The impact on workers in the building trades and lumber-using jobs is another important factor that the ITC should consider in its investigation. Approximately six million U.S. workers are involved in lumber-using businesses, including homebuilders, remodelers, lumber dealers, and such industries as window, pallet and bed makers. "Workers associated with the consumers of lumber outnumber lumber-producing workers by 25 to 1 in the United States," Petniunas said. More than 100 members of the U.S. House and Senate have signed resolutions or written letters to President Bush over the past year, indicating their support for free trade in lumber, and urging no new taxes or penalties on consumers. This past summer, the World Trade Organization found that the Department of Commerce action imposing preliminary countervailing duties more than a year ago on Canadian softwood lumber imports was contrary to U.S. obligations under U.S. trade rules and should be overturned. Similar WTO challenges have been made by Canada on the final countervailing and anti-dumping duties imposed last spring. Challenges to the U.S. tariffs are also pending before dispute panels convened under the North American Free Trade Agreement. ACAH is an informal alliance opposed to any border measures or quotas on Canadian lumber imports Its members, who represent more than 95 percent of the domestic consumption of lumber, include American Homeowners Grassroots Alliance, Catamount Pellet Fuel Corporation, CHEP International, Citizens for a Sound Economy, Consumers for World Trade, Free Trade Lumber Council, Fremont Forest Group Corporation, The Home Depot, International Mass Retail Association, International Sleep Products Association, Leggett & Platt Inc., Manufactured Housing Association for Regulatory Reform, Manufactured Housing Institute, National Association of Home Builders, National Black Chamber of Commerce, National Lumber and Building Material Dealers Association, National Retail Federation, and the United States Hispanic Contractors Association.

12/05/2002
CSE Educates LA Voters on Landrieu and Terrell’s Positions on Tax Reform
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Press Release

CSE Educates LA Voters on Landrieu and Terrell’s Positions on Tax Reform

This Saturday, Louisianans will vote to send either Senator Mary Landrieu or Suzanne Terrell to the United States Senate. Citizens for a Sound Economy (CSE) is undertaking an education and mobilization effort to inform Bayou State voters on the significant differences between the two candidates on taxes and the need for fundamental tax reform. CSE President and CEO Paul Beckner commented:

12/05/2002
Riley Announces First Cabinet Pick
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Riley Announces First Cabinet Pick

BY Mike Cason

TUSCALOOSA -- Despite three days of gloomy financial news, Gov.-elect Bob Riley was upbeat when he spoke to lawmakers Wednesday. He named his first Cabinet appointee and asked lawmakers to help him make sure the state competes in education and other areas the way it does in college football. "There is not another Southern state that's as poised to take advantage of what's coming in the next generation as well as Alabama," Riley said. Riley named Toby Roth, 34, of Montgomery as his chief of staff. Roth managed Riley's campaign. Before that, he worked for the Business Council of Alabama and was director of Citizens for a Sound Economy, a pro-business advocacy group. Riley didn't say when he would name more Cabinet members But when asked, Roth said the administration would include women and minorities in prominent positions. "That is certainly a top consideration in putting the Cabinet together," Roth said. Roth said some Siegelman Cabinet members would be considered for the Riley administration. Department of Human Resources Commissioner Bill Fuller and Department of Corrections Commissioner Mike Haley, Siegelman appointees, both have said they would like to keep their jobs. Riley's message capped a three-day orientation for the new Legislature that was dominated by reports of serious budget shortfalls. Some legislators said they were encouraged by Riley's positive speech, but want more specifics on how he'll deal with budget problems, which some have said are the worst they've been in a couple of decades. "I think he made some good statements about wanting to see the state come from the bottom in education," said Sen. Sundra Escott, D-Birmingham. "I think what we've got to do is figure out how he is going to go about doing that." Riley takes office Jan. 20. Alabama's third Republican governor since Reconstruction will submit his proposals to a Democrat-controlled Legislature. Riley said they have a "window of opportunity" to change the state. "Very few times in your life have you been able to make the kind of fundamental, systemic changes you can today," Riley said. Sen. Lowell Barron, D-Fyffe, expected to be president pro tem of the Senate for a second four-year term, pledged to cooperate with Riley. "Gov. Siegelman had at least a two-year honeymoon period," Barron said. "He got most everything he wanted. Riley's got a great window. It could be a year, two years. Hopefully, he could stretch it into four years." The Legislature meets in organizational session Jan. 14 and begins its regular session in March. Democrats hold a 25-10 majority in the Senate and a 64-41 majority in the House. Rep. Johnny Ford, D-Tuskegee, liked Riley's positive messages. "I think Riley is going to give us some new hope and new vision for this state," Ford said. Ford, a former Tuskegee mayor, said he quietly supported Riley during the campaign because of his experience dealing with Riley when Riley represented Macon County in Congress. "Though our county never supported him, he did perhaps more to help Macon County than any other congressman," Ford said. Riley offered few specifics in his speech. He did repeat a campaign proposal that the state should set up a commission to plan highway construction, rather than allow the governor and his appointed director of the Department of Transportation to make road-building decisions. That proposal has been around for years, but has never passed the Legislature. Riley said it would improve efficiency at DOT by taking some of the politics out of the agency. "For too long, we have used that department to buy influence," Riley said. Rep. Frank McDaniel, D-Albertville, said Riley might be able to get that passed. "I think there's more open-mindedness there than a lot of people may realize," McDaniel said.

12/05/2002
Trade Commission Urged to Focus on Consumers in Taking Action Related to Duties on Canadian Softwood Lumber
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Trade Commission Urged to Focus on Consumers in Taking Action Related to Duties on Canadian Softwood Lumber

American Consumers for Affordable Homes (ACAH) today called on the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) to focus on how border taxes, quotas, price controls and other trade distorting measures, particularly the 27 percent duties recently imposed on Canadian

12/05/2002
Riley's Campaign Director Will Be Chief of Staff
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Riley's Campaign Director Will Be Chief of Staff

BY Kim Chandler

TUSCALOOSA - Republican Gov.-elect Bob Riley on Wednesday named his campaign director and former business lobbyist, Toby Roth, as his chief of staff. Roth, 34, had long been considered a contender for a top job in the new administration. He is Riley's first Cabinet appointment. "I have been impressed in everything that he has done for me over the last few months," Riley said Wednesday. "Toby is one of the most capable, dependable and talented individuals that I have had the opportunity to work with, and the people of Al abama will benefit greatly from his service to the state." The chief of staff typically is the hub of any governor's administration, and Roth said he will be involved in the selection of people to fill other Cabinet positions. Though relatively young, Roth has been working in Alabama's political arena for more than six Roth, Page 5B 1B years for conservative groups and candidates. He was the vice president of advancement for the Business Council of Alabama from 2001 to 2002, where he oversaw the group's membership and endowment programs. He was the first director of Citizens for a Sound Economy, a nonprofit or ganization that promotes lower taxes and less government. He also served as BCA's manager of political affairs from 1996 to 1997 and was finance director of Harold See's 1996 campaign for the Alabama Supreme Court. Many business groups were squarely in Riley's corner in the campaign against Gov. Don Siegelman. The BCA broke a longstanding tradition of neutrality to back Riley. Roth has a political science degree from the University of Alabama and a law degree from the College of William & Mary in Virginia. "He's got the background to understand government, the Legislature and all that's involved," former BCA President Bill O'Connor said. "Toby has unquestioned integrity. He's open. He's a pragmatist. He's numbers-oriented, and he's an excellent appointment." Roth, who is white, and Riley said they were trying to make sure the Cabinet is diverse in gender and race. "It is certainly a top consideration," Roth said. Roth said he and Riley were negotiating a salary. Siegelman Chief of Staff Jim Buckalew makes $84,000 a year. Riley said the entire Cabinet would be in place before his Jan. 20 inauguration. For the Department of Human Resources, Roth said the Riley team has talked with current DHR Commissioner Bill Fuller and former Commissioner Tony Petelos, who served under Siegelman and Gov. Fob James. Fuller said Wednesday that he would be interested in remaining at DHR to finish a long-running overhaul of the state's child welfare system. "These are dynamic times at DHR," Fuller said.

12/05/2002
A Miserable Monday Morning
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Press Release

A Miserable Monday Morning

At 7:30 AM on the Monday morning after Thanksgiving, most of us were still shaking off the long holiday weekend. In New York City, they were busy passing a massive tax increase.

12/04/2002
Making Sense of Legal Nonsense
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Press Release

Making Sense of Legal Nonsense

Our legal system is a cornerstone of our economy. Yet in recent years, the courts have been used in ways that drive up costs for consumers while rewarding irresponsibility. The direct cost of the U.S. tort system is over $180 billion annually—roughly 1.8 percent of the nation’s output. That is two and one-half times greater than other industrial nations. These estimates are conservative and do not include the substantial indirect costs of excessive litigation, such as “defensive medicine,” or the foregone benefits of products and services no longer available or never produced due to fear of lawsuits.

12/04/2002

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