Monday, January 26, 2015

Kleefisch opposes e-cig ban, but is he right to do so?

Question of "owners' rights" doesn't trump right to be healthy in public setting

Joel Kleefisch is opposed to expanding the smoking ban in Wisconsin to include e-cigarettes.

E-cigarette smoking, or vaping, is causing quite a stir nationwide. Proponents of vaping consider it harmless, and view it as a means towards eventually kicking the habit overall, although scientific studies have yet to definitively prove such a claim.

Kleefisch, a Republican Assemblyman and husband to Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, is proposing a bill protecting the rights of business owners to allow e-cigarettes in their establishments.

"This new nanny state needs to stop interfering," said Kleefisch.

He added: "Let the customers decide with their pocketbooks" on whether specific businesses should allow or disallow vaping.

Such line of thinking is dismissive of the greater overall point: if cigarette smoke is bad, then patrons who don't want to inhale it have little choice but to do so. The same should be true of e-cigarettes: if they're bad, then those who are forced to be around it shouldn't have to be, when in a public space.

The smoking ban on regular cigarettes has worked remarkably. Personally, I remember walking into bars, never smoking a single cigarette, and walking out hours later smelling like I covered myself in ashtray refuse. Smelling that smoke on my body, it was clear that a significant portion had seeped into my lungs as well. That's no longer the case today.

Cigarette smell may not be part of the e-cigarette experience, but the harmful chemicals in e-cigarettes aren't gone just because they're in vapor form. Indeed, some studies suggest that up to four times as much metallic by-product can be produced from vaping versus smoking, and that a resistance to antibiotics can result from e-cigarette inhalation as well.

With the effects of second-hand e-cigarette smoking clearly identified, it's only logical that the practice should be enforced the same way that we've addressed conventional smoking.

The ban on indoor smoking has been wildly successful and popular. Extending it to e-cigarettes -- banning the use indoors in public establishments, but not outright banning for personal use -- makes natural sense.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Walker’s 2015 budget deficit is two times larger than what it was in 2011

Doyle’s deficit was the result of economic catastrophe; Walker’s deficit came during a time of national prosperity

In January of 2011 Wisconsin was dealing with a $137 million budget deficit. Gov. Scott Walker considered the deficit a failure of the Jim Doyle administration, the governor who proceeded him in office.

Using this deficit, Gov. Walker justified stripping public employees of their bargaining rights, and raised the amounts that they would have to contribute towards their health and pension plans.

Over the course of the next four years, Walker and his Republican allies in the legislature made several other “reforms,” including significant tax breaks that mainly benefited the wealthy in the state. Oftentimes the effects of these tax cuts were exaggerated, with Walker claiming that the typical family saw significant savings. In reality they only amounted to an extra fast-food value meal per week for the average middle class family.

Fast-forward to this year: today we discover that Wisconsin’s 2015 deficit, at $283 million, is more than two times larger than it was in 2011.

Walker and Republicans aren’t too worried about the budget deficit. They aren’t even planning on producing a budget repair bill, like they did in 2011.

Doing so, of course, would be an admission of defeat, of recognizing a failure of Walker’s budgeting tactics. Yet that’s precisely what’s needed from this administration -- an admission that, through all of their reforms, their tax breaks, and everything else they rammed through legislatively, they were putting Wisconsin on the wrong path.

But there’s more to ponder over. Consider this: former Gov. Doyle’s budget deficit came during the middle of a global economic recession. Thousands of Wisconsinites flooded welfare programs that weren’t properly funded to handle such a catastrophic event. It’s hard to blame Doyle for a deficit when you remember that the entire country -- and nations across the world -- were going through the same thing. 

Conversely Gov. Scott Walker’s budget deficit (again, twice the size of Doyle’s) came amid a national economic recovery. The United States as a whole is doing much better than it was in 2011. In fact, since Obama came into office in 2009 the national deficit has been cut by nearly two-thirds. So while the national deficit has been reduced, the state deficit has doubled.

Tell us, Gov. Walker -- is it really “working” in Wisconsin? If you’re honest with yourself, you know the answer to be “no.”

Thursday, January 22, 2015

The truth about Wisconsin’s regressive tax scheme

The poor and middle classes are paying higher rates in excise, sales and income taxes than the top 1 percent in the state

Taxes in Wisconsin. We talk about them all the time, mostly about how they’re too high and unfair.

It turns out that’s only half the story. They’re too high and unfair, for sure, but only for certain people -- the poor and middle classes.

The highest 1 percent of income earners in the state -- households earning more than $399,000 annually -- pay just 5.6 percent of their earnings towards excise, sales and income taxes on average.

You’d expect that, in a generous society like Wisconsin’s, the poorest among us would be paying a significantly smaller portion of their income towards taxes.

You’d be wrong. The poorest 20 percent of households in Wisconsin (those that earn less than $22,000 yearly) are paying, on average, 5.8 percent on those same taxes.

The poor and middle class pay higher rates than the top 1%

The extremely poor are paying more proportionally than the extremely wealthy. That’s fairness in taxation? That’s how Scott Walker’s reforms are supposedly making things better for the state?

Things weren’t like this before Walker came to office. In 2009 the lowest 20 percent of earners in Wisconsin paid the same rate as the highest 1 percent of earners when it came to excise, sales and income taxes. But now, the tax reforms that Walker has implemented places the tax burden on the backs of the poor and middle classes.

Think about it this way: for every $50 earned the wealthiest in the state are paying $2.80 in excise, sales and income taxes. Meanwhile, low-income Wisconsinites are paying $2.90 for every $50 that they earn.

It’s a worse situation for the middle class. Families earning between $38,000 to $91,000 annually are paying around 7 percent of their incomes towards excise, sales and income taxes. For every $50 they earn, they can expect to pay $3.50 towards those taxes.

Taxes are, of course, a necessity in any society. We can complain about them all we want, but if we want the services that government provides, we can’t expect to pay nothing.

Yet expecting the weakest among us to shoulder a higher burden than the most affluent is mind-boggling. Apparently it’s business-as-usual for Scott Walker and his Republican-run legislature.

For most Wisconsinites, it’s just strictly unfair.

The statistical information for this post came from the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP). You can find the information at their website.