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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
Medical Liability Compromise a Mixed Bag
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Press Release

Medical Liability Compromise a Mixed Bag

From the Charleston Daily Mail March 6, 2003, Thursday Copyright 2003 Charleston Newspapers The president of the West Virginia State Medical Association said today he believes most physicians in the state are happy about the legislative compromise on a medical liability package. But they are less enthusiastic about the governance structure of what will be a physicians' mutual insurance company that will start in July 2004.

03/06/2003
The Case for Budget Deficits
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Press Release

The Case for Budget Deficits

03/06/2003
This Week on Capitol Hill
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Press Release

This Week on Capitol Hill

The Economic Growth and Jobs Creation Plan Yesterday, the House Ways and Means Committee conducted the first of four hearings on President Bush’s economic growth plan. Treasury Secretary Snow, the first Administration representative called before the committee, deflected Democratic opposition and hammered on the package’s pro-growth and jobs creation features.

03/06/2003
CSE Urges Congress to Reject Gas Tax Increase
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Press Release

CSE Urges Congress to Reject Gas Tax Increase

Today, House Transportation Committee Chairman Don Young (R-Alaska) and ranking member James Oberstar (D-MN) proposed an increase in the gas tax to pay for a bloated $375 billion highway funding bill (TEA-21). Citizens for a Sound Economy (CSE) strongly opposes any attempt to raise taxes on the American people during this critical time and urges leaders in Congress to reject the increase.

03/06/2003
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

DALLAS--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
Statewide Tax on Income May Be Gaining Steam
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Statewide Tax on Income May Be Gaining Steam

BY W. Gardner Selby

AUSTIN - A dozen years ago today, then-Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock made the biggest public miscalculation of his career in declaring Texas ready for a state personal income tax. Bullock, surprising editorial writers and Gov. Ann Richards at an event in the Governor's Mansion, vowed to lead the charge for a 5 percent personal income tax and 8 percent corporate income tax to fund public schools while driving down local property taxes. Saying he personally disliked "any type of new taxes," Bullock continued: "But I also know deep down in my heart, deep down in my heart, that it's the right thing to do for Texas." Few heeded his call, and Bullock's idea died, although he recovered and even won re-election after proposing a constitutional amendment approved in 1993 that requires voter approval before an income tax becomes law. No statewide official has pushed an income tax since, but advocates - and one opponent - say it might be gaining momentum as lawmakers confront escalating property taxes and a projected state revenue shortfall exceeding $10 billion. "No question, there is a growing movement to consider a state income tax," said Peggy Venable, the Texas director of Citizens for a Sound Economy, which favors cutting taxes and spending. "We have more people moving in from outside the state, of people accustomed to paying a state income tax," Venable said. "There is certainly a property tax revolt rumbling. It's the anything but a property tax" crowd. But, she said, "it would be the wrong move." Republican leaders agree, led by Gov. Rick Perry, who said Wednesday: "The vast, vast majority of the people of the state of Texas think like I do. The smartest thing we have never done in this state is pass a state income tax." "The state income tax is dead," agreed Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst. "There's no support for it in the Legislature and throughout the state." Yet Dewhurst has been studying alternative education funding methods to whittle dependence on local property taxes. "I'm working on it daily," Dewhurst said. "It's got to work numerically and then we've got to work the politics. It will require a lot of explaining all around the state." Among 31 senators and 150 House members, two Democrats are urging colleagues to seek voter approval of a personal income tax as the best alternative to the state's reliance on sales taxes, corporate franchise and other taxes, which yield about $26 billion a year. Sen. Eliot Shapleigh, D-El Paso, estimates the state could raise $15 billion more for education by levying a personal income tax of 4.8 percent, while driving down school property taxes 90 percent. "If voters get to see the facts, their minds change," Shapleigh said. "We can't improve the system by increasing taxes on property. More and more people need to see the facts." First-year Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin, plans legislation to progressively tax income at a rate of up to 6 percent, while eliminating local maintenance and operation school property taxes and the corporate franchise tax. "There's no political will to do it," Rodriguez conceded. "We have to create that will." Dallas businessman Albert D. Huddleston has circulated a proposal to fund school facilities and teacher salaries, at an average of $52,000 a year, by replacing local property taxes with either an expanded or increased sales tax, a flat-rate income tax or statewide property tax - or some mix of the three. Huddleston's "Texas Great Teacher Plan," which envisions giving experienced teachers a property tax exemption, would require nearly $19 billion a year, drawing from $11.2 billion in existing state education spending and $7.5 billion generated by the new tax. Few legislators look like they're ready to follow in Bullock's footsteps. Rep. Paul Moreno, D-El Paso, first elected to the House in 1966, cited voters confronting higher property taxes and said: "There's going to be a personal income tax or there's going to be a revolution." More typically, Rep. Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, whose district includes Bullock's boyhood home in Hillsboro, shook his head no. "People wouldn't send me back to Austin if I voted for a state income tax," Pitts said.

03/06/2003
Med-Mal Bill Yields Results
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Press Release

Med-Mal Bill Yields Results

From the Charleston Gazette March 5, 2003, Wednesday Copyright 2003 Charleston Newspapers Bob Gray still remembers the magazine cover - a doctor getting into his car with a West Virginia license plate reading "GOODBYE." That cover of Medical Economics magazine symbolizes the view out-of-state doctors had of West Virginia as "tort hell," said Gray, vice president of Thomas Memorial Hospital in South Charleston. But that image already may be changing, he said, even though the Legislature still hasn't passed a medical malpractice bill.

03/05/2003

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