Gov. John Kasich presents his 2014-15 budget proposal in Columbus, Ohio.
In the crowded field of GOP presidential hopefuls, Ohio Gov. John Kasich has earned a reputation as a moderate conservative on fiscal issues. He often brings up his empathy for the economic problems facing regular Americans, from burdensome health care costs to ballooning student debt and unemployment. Last year, at a biannual retreat for donors organized by conservative megadonors the Koch brothers, an attendee confronted Kasich about his decision to expand Medicaid in Ohio. "When I get to the pearly gates," Kasich fired back, "I'm going to have an answer for what I've done for the poor."
When he arrives at those pearly gates, he may have some explaining to do. The tax policies Kasich has championed and implemented since he was elected governor in 2010 left Ohio's low-income folks worse off than they were decades ago. His economic policies have led to growing inequality in a state that should be in recovery. Median household incomes began falling in 2007 and continued to drop during Kasich's governorship. They are currently lower than they were in 1984, even though the overall state economy has actually grown healthier.
"The real reason this growth has not translated into gains for the middle and working class is that an increasingly large share of the state's economic gains has been directed to those at the top," wrote researchers David Madland and Danielle Corley in a Center for American Progress report published last month.
When Kasich launched his bid for governor in 2009, the state was reeling from the recession, when Ohio lost almost 400,000 jobs. Kasich's campaign promised to "right the ship," using leaner budgets to boost employment and helps recovery. His big strategy: phasing out the personal income tax in Ohio, a goal that Kasich highlighted in nearly all of his campaign speeches. He argued that the tax hurt Ohio's ability to attract businesses and new residents.
"We'll march over time to destroy that income tax that has sucked the vitality out of this state," Kasich said when he kicked off his bid for governor.
"We'll march over time to destroy that income tax that has sucked the vitality out of this state," Kasich said when he kicked off his bid for governor. He called getting rid of the income tax "absolutely essential" for the state, "so that we no longer are an obstacle for people to locate here and that we can create a reason for people to stay here." He did acknowledge, however, that the state's dire budget situation would make this difficult to do in his first term.
Nonetheless, when Kasich began his first term as governor, he sought to slash a different tax by proposing to eliminate Ohio's income tax on capital gains, the profits that come from selling off assets like stocks or bonds. Kasich is intimately familiar with the hefty benefits the wealthy glean from this sort of tax, having worked for nearly eight years as an investment banker at Lehmann Brothers. Had he been successful, roughly three-fourths of the cut's financial gain would have gone to the top 1 percent of Ohio's earners, while middle-class taxpayers would have gotten an average tax cut of just $2. Kasich abandoned the extreme proposal after learning that the measure might be unconstitutional.
Still, the two-year budget that Kasich ultimately enacted was filled with tax breaks for the rich that would simultaneously hurt middle-class families. The budget either created or tweaked more than a dozen tax breaks for various industries, including energy and agriculture. Policy Matters Ohio, an economic policy research nonprofit, pointed out at the time that the lost government revenue from the budget's tax cuts, new and old, would amount to about $7 billion a year—a big chunk came from money saved by industry and the wealthy as opposed to low- and middle-income families.
Perhaps the most debilitating cut Kasich introduced in the 2011 budget was the successful repeal of Ohio's estate tax. This was another tax he vowed to eliminate during his bid for governor, telling audiences repeatedly that the tax was driving out successful Ohioans. He's often joked that entrepreneurs were "moving to Florida," which doesn't have an estate tax.
"Toledo closed some pools," says Wendy Patton of Policy Matters Ohio. "What is the impact on the family when the children don't have a safe place to play for their summer recreation?"
In fact, when it still existed, the tax took just 6 or 7 percent of estates valued over $338,333—the lowest estate tax rate of any state—and affected only the wealthiest 8 percent of the state's residents. Nearly all estate tax revenue (80 percent) went to fund local governments. The tax's repeal meant that local governments statewide lost more than $200 million, leading to cuts in critical services, including public safety workers like police officers and firefighters, city planning, recreation, and emergency response. Cuts like this, says Wendy Patton, a senior project director at Policy Matters Ohio, tend to hit low-income communities harder.
"For example, the city of Toledo closed some pools. What is the impact on the family when the children don't have a safe place to play for their summer recreation?" Patton says. "This is more important to a family that can't purchase a pass to a private pool, and depends on public recreation centers. It's an issue of greater importance when you go down the income scale."
In the 2013 budget process, Kasich introduced still more tax cuts. His final budget package cut income tax rates by 10 percent and increased the state's sales tax, moves that tilted the tax system to benefit wealthier families. This is because while income taxes are progressive, meaning different income brackets pay a proportional share, sales taxes are regressive: When the same percentage applies to everyone, it cuts deeper into the overall income of lower earners.
"The move to a higher sales tax and a lower income tax exacerbates inequality," Patton says. "As the tax structure in Ohio becomes even more regressive, poor people pay a larger share of their income than wealthy people do."
Kasich often points to his introduction of the 5 percent Earned Income Tax Credit in the state as another example of his compassionate conservatism. A version of this credit—a federal tax break for low-income working families adjusted based on income, marital status, and number of kids—is also implemented at the state level in 26 other states. Kasich has touted Ohio's EITC, which he introduced in the 2013 budget, as an example of his commitment to helping the working poor.
In fact, the credit did little to help Ohio's poorest families for two reasons: first, because it is nonrefundable, and then because it was introduced in the context of other tax changes that disproportionately burdened the poor. Both the federal credit and most states' credits are refundable, which means that those who receive them often receive a greater refund at the end of the year. Not so in Ohio. Kasich's nonrefundable credit doesn't increase a family's tax refund—it can only reduce the taxes already owed. This primarily hurts those who need the credit most: low-earning households that owe little to no taxes. Ohio is also the only state that caps its EITC.
"If you pick up Psalm 41, you know what the first couple of lines are? You'll be remembered for what you do for the poor," Kasich said in a Fox News interview in July.
Kasich's credit was part of a budget that resulted in an overall tax increase for the bottom 40 percent of taxpayers, due to the rise in the sales tax and other tweaks. In 2015, for the third time in his tenure as governor and at the beginning of his second term, he proposed more cuts to income taxes and yet another jump in the sales tax from 5.75 percent to 6.25 percent. Ultimately, the budget compromise implemented an income tax cut (though a smaller one than Kasich had suggested), an additional sales tax for cigarettes, and an increased tax cut for businesses, among other measures.
Once again, the budget brought tax savings for the wealthy, and higher taxes for those who can least afford them. An analysis of the 2015 budget by the Institute of Taxation and Economic Policy found that about half the benefit of the tax cuts, totaling about $1 billion, would go into the pockets of the top 1 percent of Ohioans, while the only group that would see a tax increase was the bottom 20 percent of earners.
In spite of this layering of tax cuts, Kasich the presidential candidate has repeatedly trumpeted his commitment to helping the poor. "If you pick up Psalm 41, you know what the first couple of lines are? You'll be remembered for what you do for the poor," Kasich said in a Fox News interview in July. "You can't allow people to be stuck in the ditch. You've got to help them to get out…And that's what we're doing in this state."
But the reality in Ohio isn't so optimistic. "The tax cuts are shifting the tax system so it is more dependent on lower- and middle-income taxpayers and less dependent on those who are most able to pay," says Zach Schiller, research director at Policy Matters Ohio. "Wages have not gone up in a meaningful way for the bulk of Ohioans, and we are taking funds needed for municipalities and giving them to people who don't need it. It's a shocking set of priorities."
By most accounts, Rick Perry's presidential bid is in trouble. Last month, the campaign announced that it would no longer be able to pay its staff across the country. Now, to make matters worse, it's had to move out of its campaign headquarters in the key primary state of South Carolina.
So what's the reason for the move? Perry state chairman Katon Dawson—who had provided the office space in Columbia—initially told CNN that arealtor had found a "hot new client" for the space. Later on Tuesday, Dawson gave a different account to a local television station in Columbia: The campaign, he said, chose to move its headquarters to another one of Dawson's properties, because of "safety concerns."
Whatever the reason for the move, Perry is struggling in South Carolina. On Saturday, the state's GOP chairman said the campaign was "on life support" in the state and expressed skepticism that Perry would be able to drum up the $40,000 needed to get on the South Carolina primary ballot.
In late July, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved a 2016 federal agency funding bill that came with instructions to the Internal Revenue Service to vastly expand the paperwork for the Earned Income Tax Credit.
This buried provision adds a layer of red tape for which the tax-preparation company H&R Block has lobbied heavily for more than a year, in letters and hearings. H&R Block and other tax-prep companies stand to benefit handsomely, while taxpayers who are unable to navigate the complicated new forms will face two costly alternatives: Pay a tax preparer to parse the forms, or give up the EITC, a crucial tax break for low-income families.
In 2013, more than 27 million working families and individuals received the EITC. It gives households making less than a certain annual income (ranging from $39,000 to $53,300) a bigger tax refund, based on a formula that takes into account marital status and number of children. Numerous studies have shown that the EITC reduces poverty, improves health and incomes, and diverts people out of social welfare programs.
In several lettersto Congress over the past year, H&R Block has pushed to expand the Schedule EIC—the form required to claim the credit—as a backstop against tax fraud and improper payments. The new form would go from one page to five, and it would incorporate most of a 30-question eligibility checklist that only paid preparers, as opposed to self-filers, are currently required to submit. The Senate incorporated the proposal into its 2016 funding provisions, which require the IRS to use an expanded Schedule EIC next tax season.
In its letters and hearing testimony, H&R Block encouraged lawmakers to add similar paperwork to claims for other refundable tax credits. Again, the company was successful: The Senate bill adds paperwork to the Child Tax Credit; the American Opportunity Tax Credit, which reduces taxes owed for tuition-paying college students; and the Premium Tax Credit, which helps families pay for health insurance.
"Along with undercutting the EITC's basic purpose…by discouraging eligible working families from filing for it, the committee's proposed directive is unnecessary," writes Robert Greenstein, president of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. That, he says, is because self-filers are already inundated with eligibility information: The rules are covered extensively in five pages of EITC instructions appended to tax-return forms, and in a separate 37-page IRS pamphlet.
"This seems to me like a fairly naked attempt by Block to get its market share up by basically driving a lot of people away from self-preparing," Greenstein told Politico Pro. (Greenstein was not available for comment on this story.)
H&R Block said in a statement last week that "this is not about competitive business interests. It's about reducing fraud and protecting the future of the EITC."
H&R Block has used the threat of fraud for years in arguing for a more complex tax filing system. In fact, studies have found that the majority of EITC overpayments are the result of unintentional error, not fraud—and research suggests that self-filers are already pretty good at getting it right. As Vox points out, a 2014 IRS study found that EITC claims filed from 2006 to 2008 by paid preparers were more likely to result in overpayments than self-filed claims.
CBPP's Greenstein also notes that there's a double standard when it comes to tax-preparer companies' advocacy around fraud. The Treasury Department estimates that $16-19 billion was lost in 2014 from EITC overpayments. But the underreporting of business income cost $122 billion in 2006 (the latest year for which data are available) and is the single largest component of uncollected taxes.
Many universities spend way more managing their investment portfolios than they do helping students with tuition.
For the tens of thousands of college students who are taking out another year's worth of debt in preparation for the start of classes, here's a rage-inducing data point: Many universities spend way more managing their investment portfolios than they do assisting students with tuition.
A New York Times op-ed published Wednesday by Victor Fleischer, a law professor at the University of San Diego, lays out this disparity. Fleischer cited Yale University, which paid its fund managers nearly $743 million in 2014 but gave out just $170 million in scholarships. He also noted that many universities, large and small, public and private, show the same imbalance in spending. "We've lost sight of the idea that students, not fund managers, should be the primary beneficiaries of a university's endowment," he writes. "The private-equity folks get cash; students take out loans."
Fleischer provided Mother Jones with more of his data, which is gleaned from tax forms, financial statements, and annual reports. Here's how the numbers shake out at Harvard, Yale, Stanford, and Princeton. On average, these four wealthy, elite universities spend 70 percent more on managing their investment portfolios than they do on tuition assistance. (Complete scholarship data for 2014 was not available, and some investment management fees are estimated.)
That disparity is even more glaring when you consider the tax benefits fund managers derive from working with universities. Fleischer notes that investors typically pay their fund managers about 20 percent of their investment profits. That money, called carried interest, is taxed at a lower rate for fund managers, who can claim it as capital gains instead of income.
Some universities justify the high management fees by arguing that they ensure top financial performance for their endowments. It's true that these portfolios have done quite well: Harvard's endowment is nearly $36 billion, and Yale's is more than $25 billion, a 50 percent increase since 2009. But, writes Fleischer, a little less endowment hoarding and a little more spending, both on financial aid and other educational goals, would still allow universities' money to grow generously while eliminating the hefty tuition increases that force students to take on burdensome debt.
Fleischer proposes that when Congress moves to reauthorize the Higher Education Act this term, lawmakers should require universities with assets greater than $100 million to spend 8 percent of their endowment each year. Even doing that, universities would likely continue to get exponentially richer. As he notes, the average endowment has grown 9.2 percent annually for the past 20 years (after accounting for 4 percent annual spending), a more than respectable rate of return.
Elite schools do offerneed-blind admission and some of the best financial aid for low-income students. But for many students, tuition increases still mean more loans: On paper, many middle-class students often don't qualify for large scholarships, but their families also can't afford more than $50,000 in annual tuition. More generous allocation of endowments could help to roll back that trend while also funding moreteaching and research. As Fleischer writes in the Times, "Only fund managers would be worse off."
With the political class chattering about Hillary Clinton's recent difficulties—the email controversy, the Bernie Sanders wave, a decline in some polls—Vice President Joe Biden seems to be closer to running for president. At least, there's more talk about a Biden bid. Several of his former operatives have started a super-PAC in hopes of getting him to run, and the 72-year-old Biden is calling friends and political allies to discuss the possibility.
Not surprisingly, the response among Democrats has been mixed. Some commentators wonder whether Biden could actually help Clinton by leaping into the fray. But one Democratic source told CNN that White House insiders are concerned a Biden run could hurt the veep's reputation as the elder statesman of the Democratic Party who has spent more than four decades in public life.
Biden was a six-term US senator from Delaware before becoming vice president, and he earned respect from many for both his legislative work and his grace in the face of tragedy. In 1972, a few weeks after Biden was elected to the Senate for the first time, his wife and one-year-old daughter were killed in a car crash, and his two sons were injured. Biden considered resigning to care for his sons. Instead, he commuted on Amtrak from his Delaware home to Washington every day, so he could be with his kids for dinner. He continued this practice for years into his political career. (In May, one of those sons, Beau, died of brain cancer at the age of 46.)
Biden, who has been President Barack Obama's go-to guy for breaking deadlocks with obstructionist GOPers on Capitol Hill on the budget, the debt ceiling, and tax deals, unsuccessfully sought the Democratic presidential nomination in 1988 and 2008. (His first time out, he left the race after the Michael Dukakis campaign leaked information showing Biden had cribbed part of his stump speech from a British politician. On his second try, Biden, who survived a brain aneurysm in 1988, performed well in the debates but on the campaign trail was eclipsed by Obama and Clinton.) His career has covered extremes. He helped confirm one conservative Supreme Court justice but opposed several others. He long supported arms control and diplomatic efforts, but he also voted to allow President George W. Bush to invade Iraq. He has worked to protect women, but he sometimes gets a little too close.
So with a deadline for a final decision approaching—Biden probably cannot wait much longer—here's a partial rundown of high points and low points in the vice president's story:
Ahead of the pack on marriage equality: In May of 2012, while appearing on Meet the Press during Obama's reelection campaign, Biden came out in favor of same-sex marriage. At the time, the White House had only officially endorsed civil unions. Some speculate that Biden's unambiguous support helped push Obama from "evolving" on the issue to a full-fledged, official endorsement of gay marriage.
Changing the treatment of victims of sexual assault and domestic violence: In 1990, Biden introduced the Violence Against Women Act, which improved law enforcement practices for investigating and prosecuting domestic violence and sexual assault. Once he became vice president, he continued to advocate on behalf of women and girls. He appointed the first ever White House adviser on violence against women, launched an initiative to decrease dating violence among teens, and worked to clamp down on campus sexual assault.
Foreign policy chops: From the beginning of US involvement in Iraq, Biden strenuously advocated the use of diplomacy before military action. In 2002, while the Bush administration was heading toward the Iraq invasion, Biden, who was then the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, proposed ways to curtail Saddam Hussein's weapons program diplomatically and held several hearings to discuss the potential challenges of stabilizing the country after an invasion. Most notably, he worked with Leslie Gelb, then president of the Council on Foreign Relations, to propose a system for stabilizing Iraq, modeled off the Dayton Accords in Bosnia. Biden called for a federalist system that would separate Iraq into three regions, along ethno-religious lines—Kurdish, Sunni, and Shia—allowing each group to control its own affairs, with a central government remaining in Baghdad. Some Middle East scholars havesincewondered whether Biden's proposal could have prevented some of the ongoing unrest in Iraq. A longtime advocate of arms control and nuclear nonproliferation efforts, he was an essential player in Obama's successful 2010 push to win congressional approval of the New START nuclear arms reduction treaty. And he was a crucial voice within the Obama administration for decreasing the US military presence in Afghanistan and shifting US policy from a counterinsurgency perspective to a counterterrorism approach.
Supreme Court savvy: As a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee for three decades, Biden was involved in the nomination and confirmation of seven of the nine sitting Supreme Court justices. Biden opposed the confirmation of several conservative Supreme Court justices. His opposition to the nomination of Robert Bork was successful. In the case of Samuel Alito, Biden voted with other Democratic senators to filibuster the nomination vote, in part because of his concerns over Alito's disapproval of a landmark Supreme Court ruling on voting rights. Biden's stance when confirming Justice Clarence Thomas wasn't quite so clear-cut. (See: Anita Hill.)
the NOT SO GOOD
Exacerbating America's mass incarceration problem: As my colleague Pat Caldwell reported, Biden played a key role in getting the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act passed during the Clinton era. The bill implemented a host of policies that would ensure more severe incarceration of inmates, such as expanding death penalty crimes, criminalizing gang membership, and reducing opportunities for parole.Many, including Bill Clinton himself, now point to this piece of legislation as having contributed to the severe overcrowding of prisons and forced judges to impose harsher, longer sentences that have led to a problem with mass incarceration.
Saying the wrong thing at the wrong time: Biden has the gift of gab or, perhaps, a tendency toward verbosity. And he not infrequently puts his foot in his mouth. A few examples: Speaking at a 2008 campaign rally in Columbia, Missouri, he accidentally asked Missouri state Sen. Chuck Graham, who is wheelchair-bound, to "stand up." Also during the 2008 presidential campaign, he called Obama the first "articulate and bright and clean" African American man to run for president. Biden also botched Obama's last name, introducing him as "Barack America," at his first rally as Obama's running mate. Later he handed John McCain one of his main anti-Obama talking points when he suggested that Obama would face an international crisis in the beginning of his presidency. During a 2010 St. Patrick's Day celebration at the White House, Biden asked for God's blessing for the Irish prime minister's late mother—even though she was very much alive.
Creeping on women: Biden is known for his enthusiasm for campaigning and pressing the flesh. This hasoccasionally been a problem when it comes to women. For example:
Anita Hill and the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings: In 1991, Biden, as chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, presided over the controversial confirmation hearings of Clarence Thomas, nominated by President George H.W. Bush to sit on the Supreme Court. Law professor Anita Hill alleged that Thomas sexually harassed her when she was one of his employees, and this charge became a central focus of those hearings. Biden was widely criticized for his treatment of Hill during the sessions. He allowed three male senators to aggressively question Hill, but he never called three women to testify who had been subpoenaed to discuss other instances of alleged inappropriate behavior by Thomas. These women presumably could have buttressed Hill's claims. (Biden ultimately voted against Thomas.)