PA Shouldn’t Miss a Real Opportunity to Close Loopholes

By Michael Wood, Third and State

In the coming days, the Pennsylvania Legislature will be hammering out a deal to balance the 2013-14 state budget. One piece of the package will be a budget-related tax plan that may include a provision designed to close corporate tax loopholes.

Specifically, lawmakers are discussing the creation of a so-called “addback” rule. Such rules require corporations to add back interest and intangible expenses (such as for copyrights and patents) paid to related companies – often affiliates in Delaware or Nevada where the income is not taxed.

The House has already passed a budget-related tax plan (HB 440) that included the addback rule; however, the plan left much to be desired when it comes to effectively closing the Delaware loophole. Still, it was a first step – which for Pennsylvania is saying something. 

The tax bill is now before the Senate, and apparently changes are being made to the addback rule to make it a bit more effective. The latest word is that addback language based on Virginia’s law, but weaker, will be replacing the language in HB 440. While a Virginia-lite version might be an upgrade from HB 440, it could easily be made stronger, as the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center explains in a new policy brief.

Legislators have an opportunity – and an obligation – do the right thing for Pennsylvanians and enact a strong addback law.  A weak rule will do little to stop corporations from sheltering profits in other states to avoid Pennsylvania taxes, and the commonwealth will continue to be shortchanged.

The state has been grappling with how to deal with corporate tax loopholes for more than a decade, but little progress has been made – until now. In 2004, Governor Ed Rendell’s business tax reform commission recommended adopting combined reporting, a more comprehensive approach to closing loopholes, in exchange for a number of tax changes long sought by the business community. Since then, it has largely been a one-way street. Businesses got the shift to single sales factor and increases in the net operating loss caps, along with significant cuts in the capital stock and franchise tax rate and increases in tax credit programs, while nothing has been done to close loopholes. The cost of business tax cuts has mounted to close to $3 billion annually. Pennsylvanians cannot afford to continue down this road.

Fewer state dollars have been available to pay for core services like public schools, health care, and infrastructure. This has resulted in property tax increases at the local level and needs to go unserved. As the saying goes, there is no such thing as a free lunch.

A recent poll found that a majority of Pennsylvanians want the state to restore more funding to public school classrooms. Closing loopholes effectively could help raise the money to restore those cuts. 

After a decade of debate, the time is now for lawmakers to adopt a strong addback law. We have some tips for doing this at our website.

The Paula Deen Controversy

Paula Deen lost her show on the Food Channel and several endorsement deals because she was truthful in a sworn deposition.  in a lawsuit filed by a former employee she admitted having used the N word, “though it has been a long time.”  Her exact quote is this:

“Yes, of course. But that’s just not a word that we use as time has gone on. Things have changed since the ’60s in the south.”

How many people have used that ugly word at some point even if it has been decades?  What Ms. Deen did was respond truthfully to a specific question and clarify that it has not been her habit to use the word for many years.  She is southern after all but regionality, in my experience, doesn’t effect who uses the word.

I have no problem with Paula Deen and her honesty.  The fact it has been many years since she last used the word shows she has matured and progressed as a person.  She could have lied in the deposition but instead chose to be honest and forthright while making it clear she doesn’t condone the use of the word.  So where is the controversy?  I salute her for her honesty and condemn those who cannot credit her for growing as a person to the point where she stopped using the derogatory term many years ago.

Give the lady a break.

Obama Will Stop Enforcing DOMA Today

In a statement issued by the White House President Obama says he has instructed the Attorney General to begin reviewing all federal rules regarding discrimination against legally married same sex couples.  This will likely be a lengthy process as the law has been enshrined in federal statues for a good period of time.  It means LGBT couples legally married can now not be denied Social Security or federal pension benefits, a spouse must be notified if his/her partner is killed in action and over 1,000 other federal benefits granted to married couples.

I applaud the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act.  This was discrimination enshrined in law.  It treated loving, committed gay and lesbian couples as a separate and lesser class of people.  The Supreme Court has righted that wrong, and our country is better off for it.  We are a people who declared that we are all created equal – and the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.

This ruling is a victory for couples who have long fought for equal treatment under the law; for children whose parents’ marriages will now be recognized, rightly, as legitimate; for families that, at long last, will get the respect and protection they deserve; and for friends and supporters who have wanted nothing more than to see their loved ones treated fairly and have worked hard to persuade their nation to change for the better.

So we welcome today’s decision, and I’ve directed the Attorney General to work with other members of my Cabinet to review all relevant federal statutes to ensure this decision, including its implications for Federal benefits and obligations, is implemented swiftly and smoothly.

On an issue as sensitive as this, knowing that Americans hold a wide range of views based on deeply held beliefs, maintaining our nation’s commitment to religious freedom is also vital.  How religious institutions define and consecrate marriage has always been up to those institutions.  Nothing about this decision – which applies only to civil marriages – changes that.  

The laws of our land are catching up to the fundamental truth that millions of Americans hold in our hearts:  when all Americans are treated as equal, no matter who they are or whom they love, we are all more free.

Equality Pennsylvania Statement

Equality Pennsylvania issued this statement today on the two landmark Supreme Court cases:

In response to these decisions, Ted Martin, executive director of Equality Pennsylvania, the state’s leading advocacy organization for gay and transgender people, released the following statement:

“The striking down of DOMA brings about a joyous day for loving, married couples and their families.  Today, the Supreme Court affirmed that all loving and committed couples who marry deserve equal legal respect and treatment.

The historic ruling on Prop 8 means the swift restoration of the freedom to marry in California.  Now same-sex couples can legally marry in 13 states and Washington, DC, and more than 93 million Americans – nearly a third of the population – live in a jurisdiction with marriage for all families. Because of today’s rulings, all of these families now have access to comprehensive federal and state protections to take care of the ones they love.

While this is a day of celebration for legally married same-sex couples, 37 states — including Pennsylvania — still treat gay and lesbian citizens and their children as unequal and second-class.  But work to win the freedom to marry here in the commonwealth will continue.

People all across the country, and right here in the Keystone State, are ready for a conversation about marriage. In the months and years ahead, we look forward to talking with our neighbors about why marriage matters to all Pennsylvania families.”


What DOMA Means in Pennsylvania

What do today’s decisions by the Supreme Court mean for marriage equality in Pennsylvania?  I believe this means that no one in the Commonwealth can legally deny marriage licenses to same sex couples.  The sweeping decision by Justice Kennedy in DOMA says that discrimination of this sort is a violation of the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.  Though the decision is around the act passed by Congress and signed by President Clinton today’s action by the Court opens the door to anyone to challenge their state’s laws under United States v Windsor.

A couple rejected at their county courthouse can now file a lawsuit against that county and the Commonwealth claiming the prohibition of equal rights to marry is a violation of this DOMA decision.  The cases will be litigated on a state by state basis but it’s clear no federal appeals court will be able to overturn decisions limiting equal rights.

Marriage equality in Pennsylvania will be a reality soon.

Prop H8 Case is Rejected on Standing

California’s Proposition 8 case was rejected by the Supreme Court based on standing.  This is an important legal term meaning the man who filed the appeal had no basis for doing so because he wasn’t affected by the law.  The ruling means the Court couldn’t rule on the constitutionality of marriage because the party bringing the action had no legal basis for doing so.

It means also that the Ninth Circuit had no basis for deciding the case so the decision of the state court stands making marriage equality the law in California.  This is a win for the LGBT community in a flawed case which prevented a landmark decision affecting the entire country.

DOMA Is Dead

The defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional according to a decision announced this morning by the Supreme Court.  The decision, written by Justice Kennedy, was expected because he is a major supporter of equal rights.  The Court says (in a 5-4 decision) that DOMA was a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection clause.  This is the argument I’ve been pushing for years:  it is unconstitutional to establish two classes of rights, one for straight people and another for gays and lesbians.

News & Notes June 24, 2013

Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. says he won’t blow up his expensive, aging, underachieving team to stock up on prospects.  This team isn’t even mediocre so I’m not sure which group of players he’s been watching.  Truth is they just aren’t very good.  It might help if the team stopped bringing back injured players before they’re ready.  This is a bad habit of theirs which goes back several years.

The law of the land says citizens can film and photograph police.  If we’re to have checks and balances against a police state then they must be accountable for their actions and activities too.

Idiot legislators continue attempting to allow predatory lenders to come into the state and rip us off.  Payday lending is a blight on an economy and these leeches bleed people dry.

State Supreme Court Justice Seamus McCaffery is under investigation for various, serious ethical lapses.  He got a parking ticket fixed for his wife during a federal investigation into Philadelphia’s corrupt Traffic Court.  Then it was revealed his wife (who is also his court aide) accepted millions in referral fees from law firms who have cases before the high court.  The Justice is alleged to have then called lawyers and attempted to influence the cases.  He needs to resign.   The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has been a cesspool of corruption of late.

Speaking of that court Gov. Corbett nominated Superior Court Judge Correale Stevens for the vacancy created by Joan Orie Melvin’s corruption conviction.  Sen. Daylin Leach gave the Guv a list of acceptable candidates on which Stevens’ name was included.  He seems like a good choice.

Harrisburg is so broke the city couldn’t pay its website hosting fees and their website went down.  Now that’s embarrassing.

Supposedly “pro life” Republicans tried cutting food stamps after crashing the economy and sending millions into poverty.  They don’t care if children go hungry.  Congressman Matt Cartwright is bringing attention to the plight of those trying to eat on a few dollars a day by eating only on food stamp rations for a while.  You try it and see how many king crab legs you can buy…

I agree with Congressman Dent on something:  his fellow Republicans statements on abortion are staggeringly stupid.

I don’t understand the Tea Party outrage over the IRS fully examining their applications for non profit status.  Every group applying for this should be very closely examined and probed.  Here’s the truth:  they don’t qualify as political organizations.  No taxpayer should be funding political groups of any persuasion by granting them tax exempt status.

The Supreme Court keeps eroding your rights.  Where is the Tea Party outrage over all of this?  Now your right to remain silent is nullified unless you immediately invoke it when being questioned by police for any reason.  Also, if someone in a supervisory position at your workplace harasses you, discriminates against you or creates a hostile workplace there is little recourse in the courts.  On the plus side it’ll be harder for businesses to employ and exploit slave labor in the form of interns.

I have now re-registered to vote by joining a political party.  I am now officially a Green.

Your Friendly Neighborhood Totalitarian State

by Walter Brasch

It makes no difference if Edward Snowden, who had fled to Hong Kong and revealed that the American government was spying upon American citizens, is a traitor or a hero.

Intelligence agencies from China, Russia, England, Israel, and maybe even Lichtenstein, probably already know that the National Security Administration (NSA) is collecting data of all the phone calls and emails of Americans, and linking them to conversations with foreign nationals. What is unsettling is that everything the NSA is doing is legal. Secret federal courts can issue secret warrants to agencies that maintain secret files.

Americans who have been paying attention should also know that electronic spying-it sounds better when the government says it’s data mining to prevent terrorism-has been going on at least a decade.

In 2002, the federal government disclosed Operation TIPS, the Terrorist Information and Prevention System. Dreamed up within the Department of Justice, the “spy on your mommy” nationwide program would have given, according to the Department of Justice, “millions of American truckers, letter carriers, train conductors, ship captains, utility employees, and others a formal way to report suspicious terrorist activity.” When the U.S. Postal Service refused to participate in this witch hunt, the program failed.

About the time the Department of Justice was developing TIPS, the Air Force’s Office of Special Investigations developed TALON, the Threat and Local Observation Notice System. Like TIPS, TALON’s purpose was to encourage “civilians and military personnel to report on activities they consider suspicious.” The reports were “raw, non-validated” reports of “anomalous activities,” and likely to be “fragmented and incomplete,” according to a classified memo written in May 2003 by Paul Wolfowitz, deputy secretary of defense. These unverified tips were then sent by “automated information systems or via e-mail attachment” to the secret Counterintelligence Field Activity (CIFA) office, created in December 2002, and added to an equally super secret database.

Other than the problem of Defense staff spending significant time and money on the collection and analysis of massive amounts of unverified and mostly useless data, not only wasn’t that data purged within 90 days, as promised, but subsequent investigations revealed the Department of Defense had been collecting data on persons who opposed the war in Iraq but posed no threat to national security.

More sinister than TIPS and TALON was TIAP, the Total Information Awareness Program to create an “ultra-large-scale” database of databases about individuals. The program was designed to develop a file on every American. That program was never fully funded, apparently because even Congress didn’t want the government spying on whatever it is that Congress does.

However, parts of discredited programs were quickly moved into classified status, with “need to know” stamped all over them, and then fused into new programs. Next up: the Terrorist Threat Integration Center (TTIC). The program, under the CIA but with the input from several other federal agencies, was designed to “merge and analyze terrorist-related information collected domestically and abroad in order to form the most comprehensive possible threat picture.”

However, the inspector general of the Department of Justice revealed the program “could not ensure that the information in that database was complete and accurate.” It noted conflicting information, that some on the list were noted as “armed and dangerous” but given the lowest rating, while others with little or no history of violence were given higher ratings. The report was especially critical of the handling of data-“A lack of sufficient training, oversight and general management of the call screeners has left the activities of the call center vulnerable to procedural errors, poor data entry and untimely responses to callers.”

MATRIX, the name imposed by the acronym-happy government for the Multistate Anti-Terrorism Information Exchange, was was finally shut down in April 2005 when the federal government reluctantly stopped its funding. MATRIX was created to give local and state governments a common database that merged government and private records. Like private credit reports, MATRIX included data that was incomplete or completely wrong. Seisint, the private company that Congress showered millions of dollars upon, also collected data about ethnicity, meal requirements, and telephone calling records. Interestingly, MATRIX didn’t include records of gun ownership, which could be a far more important indicator to determine possible terrorism potential than the color of eyes of an individual, based upon driver’s license information.

The Center for Dynamic Data Analysis developed software and machine-learning algorithms that to monitor the news media, blogs, web sites, and possibly internet messages for any negative views about the United States and its leaders. The data mining program, according to the government, was also to be used “to identify members of groups who want to form a demonstration or oppose a particular event or government policy,” Publically, the government claimed only articles published by non-American media would be captured and then mined. Even if  accurate-President George W. Bush had sworn that the U.S. wasn’t routinely monitoring conversations between Americans, only to later admit he wasn’t telling the truth-numerous foreign publications include articles and RSS news feeds from American publications.

In March 2003, all airlines were required to provide U. S. Customs with electronic data of their passengers’ personal information, including ethnicity and meal requirements. After bullying 25 European Union nations, the U.S. got agreements that would yield personal data in 34 categories on every passenger who flies into or out of the United States. Three years later, the European Court of Justice ruled that the agreement between the 25-nation EU and the United States was illegal, and ordered member nations not to supply data to the United States unless changes to protect citizen rights and privacy were enacted.

The secret “No-Fly” list of March 2006 contained about 44,000 names, among them hundreds of individuals who opposed the Bush-Cheney Administration or the war in Iraq.

The federal government claims the NSA sweep has already stopped 50 potential terrorist activities. Two questions must be asked. First, could these activities had been stopped, using traditional law enforcement procedures that have already stopped hundreds of other possible terrorist events, if there was not massive surveillance? And, second, how do we even know that 50 events were stopped? After all, are we just supposed to trust the word of a government that has been acting more like a totalitarian state than a constitutional republic?

[Dr. Brasch’s book, America’s Unpatriotic Acts, was the first major book to catalogue and then destroy the government’s belief that the PATRIOTIC Act was necessary to protect American security at the expense of the Bill of Rights. His current book is Fracking Pennsylvania, which looks into the health, environmental, and economic effects of fracking. The book is available at local book stores and]

Repeal Right On Red

It’s time to repeal the turn right on red traffic law.  Because the law is never enforced things have become too dangerous out there.  Yesterday I had my latest encounter with a reckless driver ignoring the law and putting me in danger.  The right on red law applies only to the first vehicle at an intersection and requires the driver to come to a full stop, determine there is no oncoming traffic, and then, and only then, proceed to turn right.

No one follows this law.  They sail through red lights not only without stopping but without looking for traffic.  A couple years ago I had a lady with a Flyers Wives plate sail through a red light in Delaware County directly in front of my car.  Fortunately no other cars were alongside me as I had to suddenly veer into the left lane to avoid a collision.  At the next traffic light she exited her car and walked back to berate me for honking my horn at her.  These people are clueless.

My next bad encounter happened in Kutztown when an idiot did the same thing.  He wound up banging his hands all over my care after I informed him he’d run a red light.  These morons don’t have a clue how to drive safely and cops never nail anyone for violating this law.  Sunday I was turning right onto Oley Turnpike Road from Perkiomen Avenue when a man in a Dodge Dakota )license number YYV-6744) decided to pass me on the shoulder so he could run the light.  As I made my mandatory stop at the red light I noticed him in my right side mirror coming up beside me (way too fast).  I leaned on the horn as I turned and he finally stopped, angry that I’d slowed him down.  I had to pull off of the road to let him by after he began tailgating me.  He disappeared from sight but not before I got a good picture of his Pennsylvania registration plate.

You know what’s really sad about this last tale?  It’s impossible to report him to the Central Berks Regional Police.  They don’t answer their phone and instead direct you to call 911 (even for non-emergencies).  They then direct you to call the local number 610-779-1100.    It’s a loop you can’t escape if you need to speak with an officer.  No wonder there are so many reckless drivers in this neighborhood:  no one can contact the police to report them.  I’ve gone tot he police station personally twice but you can’t get through the locked door.  Why people are content to pay for an expensive police force which is useless is beyond me.

If we won’t enforce this law it’s time for its repeal.  It is making the roads too hazardous for safe drivers.  Get rid of it.