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Concerned that a Good Name is Hard to Find
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Concerned that a Good Name is Hard to Find

BY Reg Henry

Last week, high school students calling themselves the Pittsburgh Association of Peaceful and Proactive Youth rallied outside the headquarters of the city school district in support of peace. Whatever the merits of their cause -- and I am for peace, even if it doesn't do much to boost newspaper circulation -- surely we can all agree that the student group has come up with an inspired name. Given the amount that most teens sleep, most young people could lay claim to being peaceful, at least in calculus class, but being proactive is a greater challenge. In my experience, many kids are not proactive enough to shovel snow off the sidewalk, much less save the world from militarism. As it happens, I have always appreciated good names for groups or organizations promoting a cause or public interest. The best names declare what the groups are about in bold and unambiguous fashion. For example, there's no confusing the Peaceful and Proactive Youth with any group styling itself the Rowdy and Inactive Young People, and that may prove helpful. My love of simple, defining names can be traced to Citizens for a Sound Economy, which has been in business since 1984. At that time, it is not clear what opposition the group faced and whether there was a Citizens for a Screwed-Up Economy from which it needed to differentiate itself. Actually, if memory serves, the person screwing up the economy most in 1984 was Ronald Reagan with his budget deficits, but I am not sure the Citizens had him in mind. I confess to having a soft spot for the term "concerned citizens," which you often hear on the local TV news, as in "Concerned citizens brought a petition to the school board meeting tonight ...." This puts the viewer on notice that the fuss wasn't being made by aliens, or even by citizens who really couldn't give a darn but were just there to raise heck and have some fun. Because so many concerned citizens exist, and they have so many concerns, the political landscape today is adorned with groups and organizations, and many of them have pleasing, no-nonsense names. I have begun to keep a little list of groups to cheer myself up in these depressing times. While I am not sure what the organizations do, when I read the names I know better than to confuse them with anybody else. For example, the Center for Responsive Politics won't be confused with the Association of Unresponsive Politicians, which, if it exists, is likely to have a large membership. Likewise, the Council for Affordable Health Insurance is clearly not the Organization of Expensive Health Insurance. Nor is the Center for Public Integrity in any way linked to the American Association of Crookedness in Public Life, which, in truth, may have another name, and not necessarily the Congress of the United States. By the same token, Accuracy in Media is not related to those rascals from Inaccuracy in Media and the Institute for Peace and Justice is not the Group for War and Injustice. A particular favorite of mine is the Committee of Concerned Journalists. This is a rebuff to many in the profession who, if only they had enough initiative, would organize themselves as the Unconcerned Reporters Who Watch the Clock for the Shift to End. Sometimes a group will have an appealing name that is nevertheless misleading. Take, for example, The Wisdom Fund. At first blush, it seems that it might be a fund to underwrite wisdom, which would be excellent, given that there's so little of it around. Moreover, citizens -- concerned or otherwise -- would know not to confuse The Wisdom Fund with The Stupidity Fund. As it turns out, The Wisdom Fund has been set up to promote an understanding of Islam, which is doubtless a worthy purpose in today's world, but nevertheless a disappointment to people like myself (wise guys looking for a handout). It sounds like a job for the Colorado Center for Chaos & Complexity, which you know better than to confuse with the McKeesport Center for Order & Simplicity. If you have any other examples of aptly named organizations, you could always forward them to me. As it happens, I have re-organized myself as the Pittsburgh Association of Snoozing and Inactive Older Persons, not to be confused with any of the above.

03/11/2003
Next Enron wave: a flood of new rules
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Next Enron wave: a flood of new rules

BY Peter Grier

Washington's response to the collapse of Enron Corp. is moving gradually into a new phase: the search for ways to fix perceived problems revealed by one of the most spectacular bankruptcies of the century. President Bush's new plan for changing corporate rules, unveiled last week, is only one part of this movement. On Capitol Hill, legislators have introduced at least 30 bills that deal with one Enron-related subject or another, from retirement security to the relationship between accounting firms and their customers.

03/11/2003
Andress enters race for GOP nomination for state treasurer
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Andress enters race for GOP nomination for state treasurer

The former executive director of the Alabama Republican Party, Twinkle Andress, is running for state treasurer. Andress, 36, announced Monday from the steps of the Alabama capitol she will be on the ballot in the treasurer's race in the June 4 Republican Primary. "We need conservative leadership in the treasurer's office to manage the money the taxpayers send to Montgomery," Andress said. "I want to serve the people of Alabama and not the large banks."

03/11/2003
Highlights Monday from the Texas Legislature
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Highlights Monday from the Texas Legislature

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst's staff has found as much as $6 billion to help with the budget shortfall, and he says none of the proposals involve new taxes. The ideas range from using the emergency Rainy Day Fund to changing the way the state's gas tax is collected. Dewhurst did not reveal too many details about the ideas. He said he is discussing them with Senate Finance Committee, which must make decisions about how to balance the next state budget despite a shortfall of at least $9.9 billion through 2005. "These are tough times. We've got a budget shortfall, and one of the things that we're all concerned about is making sure that we've got enough funding for all of our core services," Dewhurst said. Dewhurst said until now the focus has been on making cuts to state spending. After weeks of budget hearings where agencies and needy Texans testified about the effects of deep cuts, the lieutenant governor said it's time to begin the discussion about revenue. As long as it doesn't mean new taxes, Dewhurst added. ---

03/10/2003
Highlights Monday from the Texas Legislature
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Highlights Monday from the Texas Legislature

The Texas Senate on Monday signed off on legislation designed to give the State Board of Medical Examiners more power to discipline doctors. The bill strengthens the board's authority to immediately suspend the licenses of doctors who have been convicted of a violent crime. It also requires the board to give priority to complaints about doctors that involve sexual misconduct, quality of care and license holders who currently are under disciplinary order. "This bill gives the board new tools to ensure that the board can take swift and appropriate action on a few bad actors, the 6 percent of Texas doctors who cause 50 percent of all malpractice claims," said Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Lewisville. The bill is part of a package of legislation meant to bring down medical malpractice insurance rates and increase patient access to doctors. Nelson has filed another bill that would cap non-economic damages, such as awards for pain and suffering, in medical malpractice lawsuits at $250,000. A similar bill has been approved by a House committee. ---

03/10/2003
Lawmakers Say Gas Tax May Be Needed
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Lawmakers Say Gas Tax May Be Needed

BY Jim Abrams

House Transportation Committee leaders are thinking about increasing the federal gas tax to sustain the nation's deteriorating highways, but others in the House say that's unlikely with gas prices at near-record highs. Transportation Committee Chairman Don Young, R-Alaska, and top Democratic member James Oberstar of Minnesota say they need $375 billion over the next six years just to maintain and make some improvements to the highway system. They have asked for $50 billion for the 2004 budget year for highway and transit programs, compared with the $36.5 billion President Bush proposed. "The economy cannot continue to grow without a transportation system that moves people and goods efficiently," Young told the House Budget Committee this week. He added that there is no longer a choice between raising or not raising more revenues. "Rather, our choice is between different methods of adjusting them." One method being mulled is indexing the gas tax for inflation, retroactive to the last change in 1993. That would boost the federal tax, currently 18.4 cents a gallon, by about 5.4 cents. State gas taxes average an additional 22 cents per gallon. Other possibilities are raising the tax two cents a year through 2009, taxing ethanol at the same rate as gasoline or stopping the practice of transferring interest from the highway trust fund - money from the gas tax dedicated to highway programs - to the general Treasury fund. The current six-year highway program, which expires this year, was funded at $218 billion, but lawmakers say that spending level falls far short of current needs. A letter to the Budget Committee signed by 74 of the 75 Transportation Committee members cited a Transportation Department report estimating it would require $53 billion a year just to keep highways and transit systems in their current conditions. About $75 billion a year would be needed to improve highway safety and reduce congestion. The only member not to sign was Rep. Jim DeMint, R-S.C. An aide to DeMint, who plans a Senate race next year, said the congressman opposed a tax increase to pay for the jump in spending. Oberstar, in promoting more highway spending to the Budget Committee, said traffic congestion costs the nation close to $100 billion a year. He also said there are now 750,000 unemployed construction workers, up 42 percent from two years ago, and that every $1 billion of federal highway spending creates 47,500 jobs. But Republican leadership aides said the idea of a gas tax increase was not going to fly in a GOP-led Congress trying to cut taxes and in an environment where fuel prices are soaring. The Energy Department predicted Thursday that pump prices would reach a record national high of $1.76 a gallon in April. Wayne Brough, chief economist for the conservative Citizens for a Sound Economy, said talk of a gas tax hike "is ill-timed at best." "A new gas tax does nothing to renew fiscal discipline," he said in a statement. "Rather, it encourages the status quo by ignoring the need to establish new priorities with respect to federal spending." Brough noted that President Franklin Roosevelt signed the gas tax into law as a temporary measure to boost flagging tax revenues during the Depression. Renewing the highway program is likely to be one of the tougher tasks Congress has this year. The Bush administration, trying to steer a massive tax cut plan through Congress while paying for a possible war with Iraq, is expected to recommend a spending figure far less than the $375 billion over six years sought by Young and Oberstar. Many Republicans, while behind the president's tax cuts, see greater highway spending as key to serving their constituents.

03/09/2003
Lawmakers Ponder Pumping Up Gas Tax
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Lawmakers Ponder Pumping Up Gas Tax

BY Jim Abrams

House Transportation Committee leaders are thinking about increasing the federal gas tax to sustain the nation's deteriorating highways, but others in the House say that's unlikely with gas prices at near-record highs. Transportation Committee Chairman Don Young, R-Alaska, and top Democratic member James Oberstar, of Minnesota, say they need $ 375 billion over the next six years just to maintain and make some improvements to the highway system. They have asked for $$ @50 billion for the 2004 budget year for highway and transit programs, compared with the $$ @36.5 billion President Bush proposed. "The economy cannot continue to grow without a transportation system that moves people and goods efficiently," Young told the House Budget Committee last week. He added that there is no longer a choice between raising or not raising more revenues. "Rather, our choice is between different methods of adjusting them." One method being mulled is indexing the gas tax for inflation, retroactive to the last change in 1993. That would boost the federal tax, currently 18.4 cents per gallon, by about 5.4 cents. State gas taxes average an additional 22 cents per gallon. Other possibilities are raising the per-gallon tax two cents each year through 2009 or taxing ethanol at the same rate as gasoline. Still another possibility is stopping the practice of transferring interest from the highway trust fund - money from the gas tax dedicated to highway programs - to the general Treasury fund. The current six-year highway program, which expires this year, was funded at $$ @218 billion, but lawmakers say that spending level falls far short of current needs. A letter to the Budget Committee signed by 74 of the 75 Transportation Committee members cited a Transportation Department report estimating it would require $$ @53 billion per year just to keep highways and transit systems in their current conditions. About $$ @75 billion per year would be needed to improve highway safety and reduce congestion. The only member not to sign was Rep. Jim DeMint, R-S.C. An aide to DeMint, who plans a Senate race next year, said the congressman opposed a tax increase to pay for the jump in spending. Oberstar, in promoting more highway spending to the Budget Committee, said traffic congestion costs the nation close to $$ @100 billion per year. He also said there are now 750,000 unemployed construction workers, up 42 percent from two years ago, and that every $$ @1 billion of federal highway spending creates 47,500 jobs. But Republican leadership aides said the idea of a gas-tax increase was not going to fly in a GOP-led Congress trying to cut taxes and in an environment where fuel prices are soaring. The Energy Department predicted Thursday that pump prices would reach a record national high of $$ @1.76 per gallon in April. Wayne Brough, chief economist for the conservative Citizens for a Sound Economy, said talk of a gas-tax increase "is ill-timed at best." "A new gas tax does nothing to renew fiscal discipline," he said in a statement. "Rather, it encourages the status quo by ignoring the need to establish new priorities with respect to federal spending."

03/09/2003
Transportation Lawmakers Say Gas Tax May Be Needed for Highway Work
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Transportation Lawmakers Say Gas Tax May Be Needed for Highway Work

BY Jim Abrams

House Transportation Committee leaders are thinking about increasing the federal gas tax to sustain the nation's deteriorating highways, but others in the House say that's unlikely with gas prices at near-record highs. Transportation Committee Chairman Don Young, R-Alaska, and top Democratic member James Oberstar of Minnesota say they need $375 billion over the next six years just to maintain and make some improvements to the highway system. They have asked for $50 billion for the 2004 budget year for highway and transit programs, compared with the $36.5 billion President Bush proposed. "The economy cannot continue to grow without a transportation system that moves people and goods efficiently," Young told the House Budget Committee this week. He added that there is no longer a choice between raising or not raising more revenues. "Rather, our choice is between different methods of adjusting them." One method being mulled is indexing the gas tax for inflation, retroactive to the last change in 1993. That would boost the federal tax, currently 18.4 cents a gallon, by about 5.4 cents. State gas taxes average an additional 22 cents per gallon. Other possibilities are raising the tax two cents a year through 2009, taxing ethanol at the same rate as gasoline or stopping the practice of transferring interest from the highway trust fund - money from the gas tax dedicated to highway programs - to the general Treasury fund. The current six-year highway program, which expires this year, was funded at $218 billion, but lawmakers say that spending level falls far short of current needs. A letter to the Budget Committee signed by 74 of the 75 Transportation Committee members cited a Transportation Department report estimating it would require $53 billion a year just to keep highways and transit systems in their current conditions. About $75 billion a year would be needed to improve highway safety and reduce congestion. The only member not to sign was Rep. Jim DeMint, R-S.C. An aide to DeMint, who plans a Senate race next year, said the congressman opposed a tax increase to pay for the jump in spending. Oberstar, in promoting more highway spending to the Budget Committee, said traffic congestion costs the nation close to $100 billion a year. He also said there are now 750,000 unemployed construction workers, up 42 percent from two years ago, and that every $1 billion of federal highway spending creates 47,500 jobs. But Republican leadership aides said the idea of a gas tax increase was not going to fly in a GOP-led Congress trying to cut taxes and in an environment where fuel prices are soaring. The Energy Department predicted Thursday that pump prices would reach a record national high of $1.76 a gallon in April. Wayne Brough, chief economist for the conservative Citizens for a Sound Economy, said talk of a gas tax hike "is ill-timed at best." "A new gas tax does nothing to renew fiscal discipline," he said in a statement. "Rather, it encourages the status quo by ignoring the need to establish new priorities with respect to federal spending." Brough noted that President Franklin Roosevelt signed the gas tax into law as a temporary measure to boost flagging tax revenues during the Depression. Renewing the highway program is likely to be one of the tougher tasks Congress has this year. The Bush administration, trying to steer a massive tax cut plan through Congress while paying for a possible war with Iraq, is expected to recommend a spending figure far less than the $375 billion over six years sought by Young and Oberstar. Many Republicans, while behind the president's tax cuts, see greater highway spending as key to serving their constituents.

03/08/2003
Wasn’t the Plan to Cut Taxes?
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Press Release

Wasn’t the Plan to Cut Taxes?

President Bush has sent his economic package to Congress, and the message is quite clear: America needs a tax break. The $674 billion package provides just that, with lower marginal tax rates, marriage penalty relief, and the elimination of the double taxation of dividends. Unfortunately, Congress may not be listening, too unwilling to give up old tax and spend ways. Not only has congressional spending soared in the last five years, now Congress is considering new taxes to continue to feed its habit. According to recent news reports, Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), Chairman of the Transportation committee, has suggested an increase in the gasoline tax http://www.rollcall.com/pub/48_66/news/759-1.html to fund $375 billion in highway spending.

03/07/2003
Tax-Subsidized Hotels Don't Help Cities, Group's Study Says
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Tax-Subsidized Hotels Don't Help Cities, Group's Study Says

BY Mary Mckee

A tax-subsidized convention center hotel is a bad deal because it will not spur an increased demand for hotel rooms and will take business away from existing hotels, according to a study funded by an Austin-based taxpayer watchdog group. Source Strategies Inc. of San Antonio, which analyzes hotel occupancy rates and taxes for the Texas Department of Commerce, was commissioned by the Texas Citizens for a Sound Economy to research the issue because Fort Worth and Dallas are considering such projects to boost convention business in those cities. An analysis of historical data from 16 convention center-area hotels that opened since 1980 in Dallas, Austin, Houston and San Antonio did not find additional growth in hotel room revenue in those cities despite the claim by supporters that new hotels would generate more business, said Bruce Walker, president of Source Strategies. The study, which cost $25,000, also concluded that a Dallas hotel is not a sound investment. The Dallas Taxpayers Rights Coalition, which opposes a tax-subsidized convention center hotel, helped pay for the study. If a $276 million, 1,200-room hotel were publicly subsidized, Walker estimates that Dallas taxpayers would have to chip in $108 million -- and could lose $10 million or more in lost property taxes if the values of nearby hotels drop because of lost business. He projected that downtown Dallas hotels would lose $450 million in lost revenue and $190 million in net profits during the first five years of operation for a convention center hotel. Occupancy rates, which are now at 53 percent and expected to rise to just over 58 percent during the next several years, are projected to dip to 56 percent if a new convention center hotel opened in 2006, Walker said. "Summing it up, convention center hotels do not generate their own demand," Walker said during a news conference at the Adams Mark Hotel in Dallas. "It's a myth." Mayor Laura Miller questioned the study's findings, saying the city's convention experts believe that a hotel adjacent to the Dallas Convention Center is an integral part of attracting more convention business to Dallas, which in turn would produce more revenue. "All I know is our convention officials who have been working for years to bring conventions to Dallas tell us that without a doubt, not having a hotel attached to our facility hurts our ability to bring in conventions," she said. Miller's husband, state Rep. Steve Wolens, D-Dallas, has filed a bill that would allow the city to use a portion of the hotel-motel tax generated by the new convention center hotel to pay debt issued for the project. The tax would come from the portion allocated to the state. The bill has been assigned to the Economic Development Committee and Wolens has requested a public hearing. In Fort Worth, the city had planned to issue $160 million in debt, through certificates of obligation, to pay for a 600-room facility that would have been managed by the Hilton Hotel Corp. But the city's hotel plans were derailed when a nonprofit group, Citizens for Taxpayers Rights, forced the issue to a public vote by presenting the City Council with a petition signed by more than 15,000 residents. The city has postponed a vote on the issue while a committee studies whether a publicly financed convention center hotel is needed.

03/06/2003

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