Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Wake up WA State voters; you're property taxes can be UNFAIRLY raised now!!

Revisiting an old salty wound in the unjust category:

It was certainly a "backdoor" manner in which HJR 4204 reversed the "supermajority vote" requirement for raising property taxes. How can you vote to change a supermajority requirement using a vote that only requires a “simple majority”?! It would've been perfectly reasonable/acceptable if a supermajority vote had been used to overturn the supermajority requirement but being able to use the “lower” (simple majority) requirement to change the "higher" requirement should seem seriously wrong to all voters.

It boils down to a flawed loophole that allows for "all" amendments to the constitution to need a simple majority vote (without regard to what the amendment actually changes). I.e. the law fails to take into account the rare times that a vote would actually be dealing with a change that impacts an established voting "percentage" requirement as opposed to an amendment that had nothing to do with voting percentages. This needs to be addressed as well.

A big reason it "passed" (cough, cough) is simply because 1) so many people voting for it knew they weren't directly impacted (i.e. renters and people living with relatives) by property tax school levies and they just like "the idea" of their schools getting more money and 2) An innocent mistake whereas many people don't understand why (in certain situations) a supermajority should be required iot make it a truly fair vote. In fact, ANY vote that allows people to participate who aren't directly impacted (financially) should require a supermajority in order to simply help to make up for allowing a large number of people to vote for something (like property tax levies) who are aren't even affected by it (i.e. non property owners voting to raise taxes on someone else). However, if property owners were the only people allowed to vote on issues related to property taxes then a simple majority vote would be perfectly appropriate and fair.

**To the people who voted for 4204: It's like saying it would be alright to let the residents of Oregon vote alongside WA residents on a piece of legislation to raise Washington's sales tax to 12% and using a simple majority vote to do it. I doubt they'd be ok with that...

Read on if you're interested in an expanded explanation of why the supermajority vote is necessary to make it a "fair" vote...

Examples: Assume 100 people are voting on a tax tied to property values:
--Abbreviations & colors used below: Levy Payer (LP), Non-Levy Payer (NLP)

1) "If" all 100 are LPs= The vote should require 51 votes to pass (The basic Simple Majority).

2) However, if the 100 consisted of 55 LPs & 45 NLPs the vote needs to be a supermajority. Here's why: To get a simple majority of LPs you need at least 28 to vote for the tax (28/55). The problem is that with the introduction of the 45 NLP voters, who aren't directly impacted, you've created a flawed vote. Flawed because you could get passage with as little as 6 LPs and 45NLPs voting yes (6+45=51%). That would pass the tax with only 11% (6/55=11%) support from the people who'd actually pay the tax!

Obviously a 100% (45/45) NLP voting rate is extreme but the mere fact it's a possibility shows the flaw. How about a very realistic 75% (34/45) of NLPs which would require only 31% (17/55) LPs to be passed (still extremely unfair). Obviously, passing a tax on people, when only 31% approved it, is a flawed system. Even using 64% (29/45) of NLPs you see that "a minority" 40% (22/55) of LPs still results in the tax being passed upon them.

3) The simple offset to correct this problem is to start with the baseline premise that at least a simple majority of LPs is required for passage. That means you need at least 28/55 PTPs to pass. Then, you simply have to make an educated estimate of the yes votes by NLPs. Again, it's perfectly logical that people are more likely to vote for a tax they get benefits from but don't pay for so using a potential rate of 70-80% is quite realistic. Using 75% produces .75x45=34 NLP yes votes. Recall, the premise dictates a simple majority of LPs is required for passage (28/55). Adding those figures yields 34+28=62 votes required. That equates to a 62% (62/100) vote requirement (which is a supermajority).

Adding more NLPs to the equation (&/or increasing their potential yes votes) would cause that required supermajority requirement of 62% to "potentially" go as high as 73% as follows: 45NLPs voting yes + the same 28 ("simple" majority of LPs) from above yields 45+28=73 votes (73/100= 73%). Using a 60% supermajority rule still wouldn't protect LPs in this example BUT it's a heck of a lot better than the simple majority rule that was "swindled" in 2007's HJR4204...

We should bring back equality by either:
1) Requiring a Super Majority to pass property tax issues "OR"
2) Allowing only property owners to vote on those measures... The other option is to just fund all schools by sales tax revenue (because everyone pays sales tax).
Net-net the schools would still get their money, but in a much more fair way (property owners would see their portion of the funding go down slightly while non-property owners would actually start paying a portion...)

4) By The Way: Contrary to uninformed viewpoints, renters do not always see their rents go up by the same amount landlords property taxes are increased. In a Utopian world that might be the case but "in the real world" landlords can only charge what the market will bear. Raising rent on a vacant property, or raising it such that it causes a vacancy, isn't a very sustainable business plan now is it? The property owner basically has to "eat" the additional expense in the same way a business experiences profit margin erosion when they can't pass along all their input cost increases for various reasons.

Let’s reverse 4204 and make these votes fair again!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

When is paying out bonuses warranted?

Teams win and loose together. The worst player on the Steelers still received a championship ring while the best players on the Cardinals still didn't. Similarly, The workers on the few auto production lines that actually still have "decent" sales are suffering along with all the other employees that worked on the worst production lines, right? Regardless of a business having 10 or 10K employees, a bonus is supposed to be something that can be given out when the business is doing well and is therefore paid is from profits. Paying extras out when you're losing money isn't a very good business model.

A clear distinction should be made between a company that needed a bailout and one that did not. If the only reason you're still a solvent company is due to govt funds, "your bonus" is the fact that you still have a job because without the govt money you wouldn't have been receiving "a paycheck" (let alone a bonus) throughout the end of last yr and even currently... However, if you didn't need a bailout then pay out whatever you want (even though it's wrong to pay a bonus when you're not profitable). A good argument can be made against the bonuses that were paid in the yrs that excessive leverage and bad decisions were creating "false profits" as well (i.e. the claw back debate) but for this that's another conversation.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Obama's "Bottom up" vs. "Top down" stimulus?

Realistically, it's just as easy to argue for bottom up as it is for top down. People like to argue both sides of but it's sort of like the chicken & the egg argument and in reality we need both.

Bottom Up- Stimulating the lower 90 percentile (where most people reside) generates spending which equates to demand. That demand influences co's to hire more people and increase expenditures on growth and innovation. This can work tremendously well under the right circumstances when people are spending any extra money you give them. However, it won't work very well, if at all, when people are saving too much of what they're given due to a lack of consumer confidence. When this occurs, demand doesn't pick up and most companies won't increase spending or hiring. This is where we are now and why the January bottom up stimulus doesn't look promising for creating a timely economic recovery. People are just going to keep the extra money they get as a rebate and in their paychecks... People will spend less of their 09' rebate checks than they did with their 08' rebates and that's not good (for the economy at least). Yes, it's good for people to increase their savings from a personal budget point of view but if we're ever going to repay our increasing debt obligations we need to increase revenue. That's done with an expanding economy and we need that sooner than later.

Top Dn- Stimulating the top with tax breaks, credits, etc. can encourage companies to invest in growth & innovation which can create jobs and thus generate income that can be spent in the economy. However, "most" companies won't make those expenditures when there's no visible demand from the bottom. Some companies do spend when things look a little bleak because they believe they'll be better prepared for the eventual recovery. Currently, fewer companies are willing to do this because they realize people aren't going to be spending as much and there's a fear that this recession could last longer than a typical one.

--> Unfortunately, the stimulus package passed in Jan had too much bottom up and not enough top down. You have to blame whichever party is in charge for this happening and right now that's the democrats (led by Pelosi). They really needed to add more top down stimulus to balance the package and make it successful but they allowed the political "axe to grind" politics get in the way of doing what was needed for America. The republicans have done similar "axe grinding" things in the past but with what's at stake it sure would've been nice to see "SOMEONE" be the bigger person... Is Pelosi "really" the best person that could be picked to be "the leader”…? Good grief

Friday, February 20, 2009

More economic fix thoughts

We could have fixed the economy already if:

the almost $1T already (in direct recapitalization and guarantees to financial co’s) had been spent on buying mortgages directly(at avg of .50 on dollar), lowered interest rates to 4%, wrote down mrtgs where necessary, and sat on those loans for the 5-10 yrs it would have taken to clear up the mkts.

The govt could have done this with 10yr bonds at an avg rate of 4% so the interest write down would cost them nothing.

The principal write down would most likely avg out to "a wash" between the mrtgs that turned out to be worth less or more than the .50 they were bought for.

Net-Net this would have been MUCH less expensive in the long run IMO but too many people refuse to be willing to do what they see as helping "others" when in fact it "helps them" (and everyone else) as well.

If someone wants to argue this idea by saying "we had to re-capitalize the banks" please realize that buying the mrtgs from banks "would" (in and of itself) be recapitalizing them (twice, in fact). Once with the money used to buy the mrtgs and once by the fact that removing those assets from their books means they don't need as much offsetting capital (re-capitalizing them by default).

The only reason a majority of people tend to think it would be a mistake for the Govt to buy MBS's is that those "avg Joe's" have no idea how the economics of the situation plays out and they are simply basing their opinions on visceral responses (emboldened by many in the media) to the thought of someone, other than themselves, getting help they "may" or "may-not" deserve.

To think otherwise about the reasoning of the so called overwhelming majority is to give those "avg Joes" (people who don't follow the markets or economics "at all") far, far too much credit. For Pete's sake, even some of the "masters of the universe" don't understand the economics of the past or current situation (that many of them played a part in)...

--> Original Economic fix post


Thursday, February 19, 2009

America needs to let go of past racial issues

We'll never be a truly "United" States until we can stop highlighting every single "first" for a one ethnic group or another. Some people actually appear to seek personal gain by preserving divisive feelings and stirring up past ethnic problems for the sake of creating controversy. Other demagogues continually invoke the past whenever it's convenient in order to advance their particular agenda or career (Al Sharpton comes to mind).

We make a big deal about the first person of a particular group to do this or that. Why do we have special awards ceremonies for separate groups? The first black coach to be on the NFL champion team? Seriously...? How big a deal are we going to make when the first black swimmer wins a gold medal. Why couldn't we simply celebrate it as an "American" swimmer's gold as opposed to making it about race? Is society better off having some of these racially separate awards ceremonies (for actors/athletes/singers/teachers/etc.) or would we be better of with one awards show for everyone as equals? Why not have the NAAAP (National Association for the advancement of "all people" instead of the NAACP?

Some people have a seemingly never-ending view of reparations due for past wrongs endured. However, the point needs to be addressed of just how much is required? When is enough, enough? Without such a "declaration" the end is never in sight nor is it remotely "achievable". Other groups have been wronged in the past (The Irish and Japanese Americans come to mind) yet people don't continue to bring it up at every opportunity or single out the "first Irish" or "first Japanese" person to do this or that...

Isn't the goal (or at least shouldn't it be) to come together as a nation and heal? This can never be accomplished if we keep drawing attention to our differences rather than embracing our common bonds. No one alive today was brought here on slave ships or was a slave or slave owner (although Japanese who were in internment camps are still alive) . Within 50yrs no one will be alive who had to endure or witness separate drinking fountains, bathrooms, etc.

Yes, we need to remember the past so as not to repeat mistakes. We do that with history books and National holidays. We also have great museums (Air&Space, Natural History, Holocaust, etc.) to aid in remembering our past. There's a new MLK Nat'l park memorial (adding to tributes across the country), as well as a new Smithsonian Nat'l Museum of African American History & Culture is in the planning stages which further the cause of remembering what is in "the past"...

So yes, let's remember and learn from history. However, there's a big difference between 1) being aware of, correcting, and atoning for, past mistakes and 2) utterly refusing to get past, and in fact perpetuating, those mistakes. In short, I believe we'll never truly be a "United" people until we can have events occur "without" making it about race, sex, or whatever. Let's get past this...as Americans...

Political Blame Games & Puppet Leaders

Some people want to blame the economy on the administration of the past 8yrs but that’s a fundamentally incorrect viewpoint. If people did some actual homework they’d learn that the root of this problem was spread through the yrs of Regan (too much deregulation), Clinton (requiring mrtg lending to non-credit worthy borrowers), and Bush (allowing excessive leverage). Obviously, financial companies and consumers played a key part of the problem as well (plenty of blame to go around). In actuality, a given President has less impact than the House/Senate in causing these problems but most people will always give credit (or assign blame) to the most recent President they’ve had.

IMO, it's really unfortunate that we have democratic parties at all. We'd be better off if we had no specific parties. That way we could get past all the preconceived notions associated with being labeled a "democrat" or "republican" and just let people concentrate on "the issues" rather than the tiring and old "partisan politics"...

It’s amazing that some people actually believe that if someone's a republican or democrat they will obviously perform exactly like all other R/D’s. One of the big reasons votes seem to be "aligned" on one side or the other is due to the political bartering going on behind the scenes that sways the vote of weak politicians who base their votes on political favors or re-election concerns rather than what they truly believe in. You have to realize that plenty of politicians feel equally split between many of the issues that "traditionally" defined people as liberal or conservative. Unfortunately, those people are forced to be associated with and "pick" (R) or (D) because they'd lose if they ran as independent...

We need actual compromising legislation and so far, the Pelosi led congress is doing anything but be bipartisan. Even my Father-in-law hates Pelosi and he’s one of those people I referred to who will only vote for someone if they’re in his party (democrat in his case). The majority rules idea also fails to support having elected officials in the first place. Why? Well, if that were the case we could just post all the legislation online and have secure internet votes using the concept of “majority rules”.

Sure, your elected official should agree with your viewpoints most of the time but there are times when they should go against the wishes of their constituents because those constituents don’t understand the topic and are basing their support on “gut feelings” more than facts. The first bailout is a perfect example. I’m not talking about the way it was executed, I’m talking about what it was “supposed to be for” at the time it was being discussed and voted on. Most Americans were against it purely because of their visceral response to what they perceived to be going on. The problem was that the issues were complex enough that the typical “avg Joe” didn’t understand the economic interconnections of “wall street” and “main street”. Actually, many congressmen don’t even understand those interconnections. In reality, most politicians are just “avg Joes” who’ve been elected to make politics their main job. Part of that job includes being more familiar with legislation than the typical avg Joe who’s too busy with their normal lives to keep up with all the legislation being voted on. A leader is someone who can vote “against” the majority when necessary. A puppet just does whatever the majority of their constituents want (even if it’s not the right decision). “Majority rules” is a concept that supports puppets. We need fewer puppets and more leaders who, when necessary, have the fortitude to make the tough decisions…

Economic fix that should've been done months ago

Job loss is a by-product of the problem not "the problem". Here's an explanation of why, imo, removing the so called "toxic" assets (toxic due to an illiquid mkt) would stimulate the economy:

In a nutshell...
1. It would allow banks to stop accounting for those assets (this is, by default, bank recapitalization).
2. The actual money paid for the assets would be a direct recapitalization.
3. Private equity would invest once the question mark associated with those assets was gone (additional recapitalization).
4. 1-3 would enable the financial co's to provide huge amounts of lending capital to businesses & consumers. This would generate a lot of growth and, as a by-product, JOBS.
5. Those jobs cause increased consumer confidence and spending.
6. Increased spending causes increased demand which causes increased production, more jobs, and housing stabilization. This becomes a self feeding circle of recovery.
7. This recovery causes the "toxic" assets to rapidly become "non-toxic" and the gov't makes money on most of the assets it bought.

I believe we'd be in much better shape today if this had been done 5-6 months ago.

Regarding politicians: The same people demanding passage of a quick (an ok, but not perfect) stimulus plan should be demanding we buy those non-trading "toxic" assets for a "reasonable" price! A reasonable price should be one that is reasonably assumed to be correct with a certainty of 70-80 percent (i.e. paying an ok, but not perfect price). That price would probably be somewhere in the .50 range.

Do you agree? Disagree? Don't care and just hope we'll eventually crawl out from this problem?

P.S. I'm also in favor of 1. Mortgage modifications and 2. A Social Security stimulus that would basically give SS recipients 3yrs worth of check increases "up front" (as in now). They'd get their next check increase after this "advance" was accounted (approximately 3yrs from now). These two things could add “oomph” to the recovery process. The SS stimulus is practically no cost to the gov't because it's basically "an advance".

Economic Fix Part Two

(I oiginally wrote this months ago (before I used this blog) but the info is still pertinent.)