Casting the Vote in Various Ways

An innovative vote center option has been unable to expand beyond the pilot stage in Indiana. In Hawaii, meanwhile, various methods of casting absentee ballots are in play with an effort to institute all-mail elections. The Honolulu Star-Advertiser has the story:

As of last year, Hawaii was among 29 states allowing some form of no-excuse absentee voting and is now among five states that allow citizens to become permanent absentee voters, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Hawaii’s Legislature approved the system in 2008 over Gov. Linda Lingle’s veto, but a bill to require statewide all-mail election failed in last year’s session.

The governor expressed concerns that the permanent absentee ballot could result in fraud because it lacks a means for verifying that the intended voter was the person who mailed in the vote. That should no longer be an issue since the 2009 federal Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act requires states to be equipped with reliable ballot tracking technology.

The Honolulu administration has sent out permanent absentee voting applications to the state’s 250,000 registered voters and other counties also will reach out to their voters. Applicants must provide their Social Security number and sign the form. Election workers are to compare the signature accompanying the mailed-in vote to the one on file from the application.

Oregon initiated all-mail elections in 2000 and appears to have avoided serious fraud by leveraging signature verification and ballot tracking, while increasing turnout by 7 percent in previous years to 67.6 percent in 2008.

Voting by mail follows a trend in that direction in Hawaii.

Thirty-eight percent of votes were cast by absent ballot in the 2008 general election, compared with only 19.7 percent in the 2000 election.

In Oregon, the cost of elections has gone down from $1.81 to $1.05 per voter since the move to all-mail balloting. However, the Los Angeles city clerk warned last year that an all-mail election would entail the prohibitive cost of hiring 480 new employees to process ballots. Hawaii is closing only about one-fourth of polling places, so cost-saving in this year’s election seems doubtful.

This year’s primary and general elections in Hawaii should provide an indication of whether voter turnout is enhanced by permanent absentee ballots and the cost would be affordable if the state were to move to all-mail voting. The Legislature should visit the issue in its next session.

Oregon Businesses, Come on Down (and East)!

Oregon voters and the legislature were recently faced with some difficult budget decisions. Their solution was apparently to raise over $720 million by jacking up taxes, largely on businesses. It’s one way of doing things, but it’s probably not helping their businesses recover from the recession. So, if some of those fine Oregon companies wish to join us here in business-friendly Indiana, that’s certainly o.k. Granted, we don’t have mountains and ocean access, but corn is a beautiful vegetable and you haven’t lived until you’ve been to a Covered Bridge Festival in the fall. Also, bring your sneaks because you’re going to learn a lot about free throws.

Stateline writes:

For the first time since 1930, Oregon voters approved a general tax increase on Tuesday (Jan. 26), signing off on a plan to raise $727 million by targeting corporations and the wealthy.

By approving two ballot initiatives — known as Measures 66 and 67 — Oregonians showed that they prefer to tax relatively well-off segments of the population instead of making deep budget cuts to education and other state services.

Measure 66 raises income taxes on individuals who earn more than $125,000 a year and households that earn more than $250,000. Measure 67 replaces Oregon’s 79-year-old, $10-minimum corporate income tax with a new sliding scale that could sharply increase taxes for many businesses. Both plans were passed by the majority Democratic Oregon Legislature last year, but were placed on the ballot by opponents who gathered enough signatures to force a public vote.

As Stateline.org reported Tuesday, the election has national implications. Beyond being a referendum on a key part of Oregon Democrats’ policy agenda, the Beaver State is the first in the nation to vote on an emerging trend of state lawmakers targeting the wealthy for tax hikes. A record eight states, including Oregon, raised personal income taxes on their top earners last year, a practice Republicans have decried as “class warfare.”

Beyond being a showdown between Democrats and Republicans, the election turned into a proxy fight between labor unions that backed the measures and many businesses trying to reject them. The Associated Press reported that Tuesday’s special election was one of the most expensive issue campaigns in Oregon history, noting that the $727 million at stake represents about 5.5 percent of the state’s two-year, general-fund budget.

Tax News: Good to Be Tied to Arkansas in This Case

Interesting numbers from the Tax Foundation, which is in the business of analyzing interesting (tax) numbers. Its annual review of what states did with their tax policies included some strong praise for Indiana. A few excerpts from the release and a link to the full study, which takes some to task for targeted tax hikes and accounting gimmicks (instead of reducing spending).

Nine states increased individual income tax rates (five states reduced their rates), six states raised general sales tax rates, 17 states increased excise taxes on cigarettes and five states increased rates of alcohol excise taxes.
 
“Two states – Arkansas and Indiana – managed to roll back spending growth commitments and take actions to limit spending, but other states have either kicked the budget can down the road or increased taxes,” said Tax Foundation Director of State Projects Joseph Henchman, who authored Tax Foundation Fiscal Fact No. 204, “A Review of Significant State Tax Changes During 2009.”  

“With state revenues declining due to the tough economic situation, most state leaders in 2009 have tapped high-income earners, smokers, out-of-state business transactions, or other targeted groups, those being the only people that politicians feel safe raising taxes on,” Henchman notes. 

California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oregon and Wisconsin increased individual income tax rates. States that increased sales taxes include California, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, North Carolina and the District of Columbia.
 
Other miscellaneous tax changes in 2009 include obesity and soda taxes, excise taxes on plastic bags (often mischaracterized as “fees”) and “Amazon” taxes, which force out-of-state retailers to collect sales taxes from customers if the companies have affiliate and advertising relationships with in-state businesses.

Paper: Oregonians Misled on Green Energy Tax

The Oregonian has the not-so-encouraging tale of how the people of Oregon were allegedly misled regarding the price tag of a new Business Energy Tax Credit. Though the program was designed to lure green jobs, it’s now inciting anger as income taxes may potentially be raised to aid the state budget. Perhaps the state could recover the loss by asking Nike founder Phil Knight to enhance the state budget — maybe instead of funding the University of Oregon’s notoriously garish football uniforms.

State officials deliberately underestimated the cost of Gov. Ted Kulongoski’s plan to lure green energy companies to Oregon with big taxpayer subsidies, resulting in a program that cost 40 times more than unsuspecting lawmakers were told, an investigation by The Oregonian shows.

Records also show that the program, a favorite of Kulongoski’s known as the Business Energy Tax Credit, has given millions of dollars to failed companies while voters are being asked to raise income taxes because the state budget doesn’t have enough to pay for schools and other programs.

The incentives are now under intense scrutiny at the Oregon Department of Energy, which is scrambling to curb their skyrocketing costs.

Energy officials were worried about the impact on the state budget in 2006, when Kulongoski and his staff proposed a dramatic boost in tax breaks to woo wind and solar companies to Oregon — upping the subsidies from a high of $3.5 million per project to as much as $20 million.

According to documents obtained under Oregon’s public records law, agency officials estimated in a Nov. 16, 2006, spreadsheet that expanding the tax credits would cost taxpayers an additional $13 million in 2007-09. But after a series of scratch-outs and scribbled notes, a new spreadsheet pared the cost to $1.8 million. And when energy officials handed their final estimate to the Legislature in February 2007, they pegged the added cost at just $1.2 million for the first two years and $4.1 million for 2009-11.

The higher estimates were never shown to lawmakers. Current and former energy staffers acknowledged a clear attempt to minimize the cost of the subsidies.

"I remember that discussion. Everyone was saying, yes, this is going to be a huge (budget) hit," recalled Charles Stephens, a former analyst for the Energy Department who left in 2006. "The governor’s office was saying, ‘No, we need a smaller number.’"

So Which State is Most Corrupt? (Hint: Does Prison Serve Gumbo?)

In a recent article on Politico, this report from the Corporate Crime Reporter was referenced. It ranks the most publicly corrupt states in this here union. It only ranks the 35 most populated states, and Indiana comes in at 26th:

The Corrupt States of America?

The publication Corporate Crime Reporter crunched Department of Justice statistics in 2007 to rank the 35 most populous states of the nation by corruption. The publication calculated a corruption rate, which it defined as the total number of public corruption convictions from 1997 to 2006 per 100,000 residents.

These are the results:

1. Louisiana (7.67)
2. Mississippi (6.66)
3. Kentucky (5.18)
4. Alabama (4.76)
5. Ohio(4.69)
6. Illinois (4.68)
7. Pennsylvania (4.55)
8. Florida (4.47)
9. New Jersey (4.32)
10. New York (3.95)
11. Tennessee (3.68)
12. Virginia (3.64)
13. Oklahoma (2.96)
14. Connecticut (2.80)
15. Missouri (2.79)
16. Arkansas (2.74)
17. Massachusetts (2.66)
18. Texas (2.44)
19. Maryland (2.31)
20. Michigan (2.14)
21. Georgia (2.13)
22. Wisconsin (2.09)
23. California (2.07)
24. North Carolina (1.96)
25. Arizona (1.88)
26. Indiana (1.85)
27. South Carolina (1.74)
28. Nevada (1.72)
29. Colorado (1.56)
30. Washington (1.52)
31. Utah (1.4117)
32. Kansas (1.4109)
33. Minnesota (1.24)
34. Iowa (0.91)
35. Oregon (0.68)

Hat tip to Chamber politico Chase Downham for the heads up.

Takin’ It to the Streets: Hot Dogs on the Way Out in American Cities?

Tired of having nothing but hot dogs, sausage, and nitrate sticks for your afternoon snacks? (Provided you purchase your snacks from strangers on the street.) Perhaps serving as a complement to the celebration of culture that is the Olympics, Governing.com reports U.S. cities are now looking at new, multicultural foods to don their streets.

Governing Magazine reports:

In many places around the country, food-cart options are exploding as vendors branch out and offer new fare. American cities have never had quite the street-food culture that urban centers in Europe, Asia and Africa do. But some sidewalks in the United States are starting to look like a global buffet — with vendors selling everything from crepes and kebabs to vegan burgers and Korean Bi Bim Bop. Street food today means a whole lot more than hot dogs and pretzels.

See there, I thought Bi Bim Bop was simply a type of jazz, so I guess you learn something new every day.