2 years ago

Palmer champions simplified tax code, regulatory reform at Yellowhammer event

TRUSSVILLE — Yellowhammer Multimedia on Tuesday held its sixth News Shapers event of 2019, with Congressman Gary Palmer (AL-06) making a special guest appearance.

The event, held at the Trussville Civic Center, featured a panel discussion focused on small businesses in Alabama.

About 35 minutes into the forum, Palmer joined the panelists in the front of the room to discuss issues affecting economic growth and jobs in the Yellowhammer State.

The congressman, who is currently the fifth-highest ranking Republican in the U.S. House of Representatives as chair of the Republican Policy Committee, also commented on matters of the day and ways his fellow party members could govern more conservatively.

However, to open his remarks, he explained what conservatives have done especially well since President Donald Trump took office.

“What the Trump administration has done … the thing that really got the economy growing was not the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (the Trump tax cuts of 2017) — that accelerated the growth — but what got it starting was the first 14 bills that we passed in the 115th Congress: broad Congressional Review Act bills that rolled back Obama administration proposed regulations that were really hamstringing the economy,” Palmer advised.

Palmer detailed that a Gallup report had shown there were 100,000 more businesses opening than closing in 2008, compared to 70,000 more closing than opening in 2014.

“The primary reason [for that] was regulation,” he remarked.

Palmer then made several series of remarks on the federal tax code — including the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017.

He explained that he was part of the working group on this historic piece of legislation.

“I kept making the point that (tax) rates are important, but they’re not the most important,” Palmer said. “Businesses are not tax averse, they’re not regulation averse. What they’re averse to is a lack of predictability. Business does not like operating in an unpredictable environment — there’s enough risk already without adding to that additional risk from not knowing what the regulation is or not knowing what the tax laws are.”

“The thing that I pointed out to my colleagues and to Jared Kushner is that money is like water,” he continued. “It will always seek the path of least resistance. So, if you want your economy to grow, you’ve got to create a predictable environment. It doesn’t mean that you’re totally unregulated. It doesn’t mean that you go without paying taxes. It means that you operate in an environment where you know what the regulations are, you know what the taxes are and you can make the decisions about how to invest your capital.”

Palmer then added, “I think we’re seeing the benefits of that.”

Transitioning into reforms to federal commercial driver’s license (CDL) law, Palmer commented, “We’re moving toward that in Congress. Having the Democrats impeach the president I think will give us some other stuff [that we are preoccupied with].”

After chuckles from the crowd, Palmer added, “We kind of joke about it, but we’re really in the midst of something we’ve never seen before.”

“As I described it today, it’s a bloodless coup that’s taking place,” he emphasized.

Later during the discussion, Palmer described the gap between what the IRS believes it should be collecting in taxes annually and what it actually does. This gap, he said, is over $400 billion.

“It’s going up every year,” Palmer lamented.

Over a 10-year window, not even considering interest on the added debt the country is taking on by not collecting that money, the gap comes to well over four trillion dollars.

Palmer told the crowd that he believes the United States should adopt a consumption tax in lieu of the current federal tax code to simplify things and reduce the collection gap.

He added that this would be “the best thing that we can do for the economy.”

This would be along the lines of the “FairTax,” which has been proposed for years in Congress with no meaningful traction towards passage.

Palmer said “a simplified average tax” would also be better than the current code, which is far too complex, in his opinion.

He reiterated this would increase the predictability factor that he harped on earlier, while also putting more money back into the economy in capital investments.

Palmer subsequently commented further on the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017.

“Congress should stop passing these huge, comprehensive bills, because inevitably we screw something up,” he said. “And we did in this one.”

Palmer added that they almost messed something up that was a crucial priority of the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) regarding pass-through entities, too.

“We almost did [screw something up] with the NFIB, but we did with the restaurants on the deprecation — that’s really hurt them,” Palmer stressed, saying he has made this same argument on other major legislative issues such as healthcare.

He said these “huge” legislative efforts need to be done in phases rather than all at once.

One other issue Palmer touched on was the growing national debt.

He lamented that the federal government is set to have a deficit of over one trillion dollars this fiscal year alone.

Admitting he was “getting in the weeds,” Palmer then described a plan to get to a healthy level of debt again instead of the increasing hole of over 22 trillion dollars that America currently faces.

“We’re right now at 80% debt to GDP — that means that our debt is 80% of what our whole economy is,” he outlined. “In 25-30 years, it’s going to be 150%… To get back down to a manageable level, and government’s always going to have debt… it needs to be in the 40-50% range. To get there, we need about seven trillion dollars.”

Palmer mentioned the tax collection gap he previously outlined as a way to eat into this target of seven trillion dollars.

He then added eliminating improper government payouts as a $1.6 trillion savings over 10 years.

Finally, he mentioned a bill he filed earlier this year that would require unappropriated funds collected by federal agencies to be transferred to the U.S. Treasury and subject to the congressional appropriations process.

This would mean fines and fees levied and collected by agencies could not simply be swallowed up and spent by these agencies without Congress accounting for the money and having a say so. Palmer believes this could mean huge annual savings in tax dollars.

“So, there’s a way to get us back to where we need to be on our debt to GDP [ratio],” Palmer summarized.

On a final note, Palmer said the permitting process, especially for infrastructure construction, needs to be seriously sped up and streamlined.

He stated that this was a huge problem right now with the Northern Beltline Project in Jefferson County.

“The Northern Beltline is the key not just to Birmingham but for the whole region — maybe even the whole state — in terms of our future economic development and in terms of keeping us from becoming like Atlanta or Nashville, where our economic development overwhelms our infrastructure,” Palmer advised. “They’re predicting that it will be finished by 2054.”

“And the president’s really big on this part,” he continued. “He wants to reduce permitting time to no more than 18 months.”

Palmer says this plays into the predictability factor he mentioned earlier in his remarks.

“That’s the kind of stuff that’s really holding us back,” he concluded. “The economy would take off again if we took care of those things.”

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

13 hours ago

VIDEO: Prisons could be built with COVID-19 funds, Shelby endorses Katie Britt for Senate, Brooks battles with Swalwell as a new poll shows big lead and more on Alabama Politics This Week …

Radio talk show host Dale Jackson and political consultant Mecca Musick take you through Alabama’s biggest political stories, including:

— Will Alabama really use COVID-19 relief funds to build prisons?

— Does Katie Britt’s entering of the U.S. Senate race shake things up, or has U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Huntsville) already won this race?

— Can U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) keep the more radical members of the Democratic Party at bay?

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Jackson and Musick are joined by former U.S. Attorney Jay Town to discuss the issues facing the state of Alabama this week.

Jackson closes the show with a “Parting Shot” directed at those who want to use the illegally acquired tax returns of the uber-wealthy to push for higher taxes. He argues the released returns show that we should implement a flat tax and do away with all deductions.

Dale Jackson is a contributing writer to Yellowhammer News and hosts a talk show from 7-11 AM weekdays on WVNN and on Talk 99.5 from 10AM to noon.

16 hours ago

Auburn’s David Housel tackles more than sports in ‘From the Backbooth at Chappy’s’

When David Housel retired from Auburn University in 2006, after a legendary career as athletics director for the Tigers, it wasn’t long before his wife urged him to get busy again – and a deli on Glenn Avenue in Auburn was the beneficiary.

“Susan wanted me to do something to get out of the house,” Housel recalls. “I started going to Chappy’s to drink coffee, read the paper. Pretty soon, Kenny Howard would meet me there, and it just kind of grew from there.”

In short order, friends of Housel began to gather, first a few one day a week and then, just prior to the pandemic, 12-16 people nearly every day of the week.

They meet at Chappy’s, where a plaque commemorates Housel’s booth, and they talk – about sports, of course, but about pretty much anything that’s on their minds.

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Housel began to write essays about those mornings, posting them to Facebook. He’s now compiled more than 100 of those pieces into a new book, “From the Backbooth at Chappy’s: Stories of the South: Football, Politics, Religion, and More.” It’s officially released next week at a series of book signings at Chappy’s in the Auburn area from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. each day: Tuesday in Auburn, Wednesday in Montgomery and Thursday in Prattville.

“Consider this Housel unleashed,” the author says. “Most of the stuff I’ve written in my life has been about Auburn on an Auburn platform. Even after I retired, I was a representative of Auburn, even though I wasn’t working there. This is not an Auburn book. It’s about football, politics, religion and more.”

“From the Backbooth at Chappy’s,” with a foreword by Auburn graduate and acclaimed journalist Rheta Grimsley Johnson, evolved as Housel’s morning gatherings at Chappy’s evolved, though he began writing the essays fairly early in the process.

“When something is in your mind, in your heart, in your head, if you’re a writer, it just has to come out, and it just comes through your fingers,” Housel says. “Turns out people like to read it, so I got the Facebook page. I shared thoughts and essays and that kind of thing. It was not a planned thing.”

When COVID-19 came along, Housel decided to listen to a few folks who told him his musings would make a good book.

“I had been thinking a lot about it, and it was time to do it,” Housel says.

Housel has written six other books. Most have to do with Auburn sports history, but one, “From the Desk of David Housel,” is similar to “From the Backbooth at Chappy’s.”

“That one was primarily sports, but it had some other things in it,” Housel says. “This one is about the other stuff, but it has some sports in it.”

Though the three topics in his book’s title – football, politics and religion  – are often the subjects people are warned not to bring up if they want to keep the peace, Housel and his friends don’t shy away from any of them. Housel especially gravitates toward religious topics.

“I like the ones that I hope make people think,” he says of his essays. “The good Lord gave us a mind, and we’re supposed to use it. Too few people who call themselves Christians do what the Lord said and use their minds. … Faith has got to be built not on challenging God but questioning God. I think God likes that, because it shows we’re engaged and that we care.”

Now that the pandemic is ending, the Backbooth at Chappy’s events are slowly but surely returning to normal. On Mondays, Housel eats two eggs scrambled, lean bacon and a helium biscuit; on Tuesdays maybe a parfait with granola; on Wednesdays, it’s blueberry pancakes, and Fridays a waffle.

What remains constant is the conversation. And the writing.

“I’m still writing the Backbooth, and since the first of the year, I’ve written a couple I think are book-worthy,” Housel says. “I started out doing maybe one a week, but I’m old enough that I don’t have to meet a self-imposed deadline. When the spirit moves me, I write.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

17 hours ago

State Rep. Pringle pushes to ban critical race theory in public schools — ‘Woke culture indoctrination,’ ‘Needs to be stopped in its tracks’

Last week, Florida’s Board of Education banned so-called “critical race theory” from its public schools, and it is a move State Rep. Chris Pringle (R-Mobile) hopes to follow in Alabama.

Critical race theory, a belief that racism is ingrained in some of America’s sacred institutions, is widely panned by critics because it distorts and weaponizes history for political gain.

Friday, Pringle discussed his prefiled bill for the Alabama Legislature’s 2022 regular session to prohibit critical race theory from being taught in Alabama’s public schools.

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“It’s simply a bill that says in public education, you can’t teach or indoctrinate our children with critical race theory,” he said. “People are waking up all around the nation to how bad this stuff is. I mean, this is woke cancel culture gone completely amuck. They want to completely disregard our 14th and 15th Amendment rights, the Voting Rights Act, the Civil Rights Act. If you don’t agree with them — here’s what’s crazy: They want to send you to a reeducation camp. Think about that, a reeducation camp. Don’t they do that in China, Russia and North Korea?  That’s how bad this stuff is. Either you agree with them or you have to be sent off to a reeducation camp.”

“This is just indoctrination — the woke culture indoctrination of our children,” Pringle continued. “That’s all it is and it needs to be stopped in its tracks. I mean, our children need to learn history and we ought to open a frank discussion about history — the good, the bad. But this is not about good or bad. This is teaching our children that our nation is a bad nation, is an evil nation and is not the great country that we live in. We are the safest, freest people in the world and that’s what our children need to learn.”

“Do we have problems? Yeah,” he added. “Have we done bad things? Yeah. But we’re still the greatest nation in the history of the world.”

According to the Mobile County Republican lawmaker, the response to the effort thus far has been positive and supportive.

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University and the University of South Alabama, the editor of Breitbart TV, a columnist for Mobile’s Lagniappe Weekly, and host of Mobile’s “The Jeff Poor Show” from 9 a.m.-12 p.m. on FM Talk 106.5.

21 hours ago

Why Sylacauga marble is known around the world

If you’ve ever visited the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. and stared up at the translucent marble ceiling, you’ve witnessed a piece of Alabama history. The ceiling is made of white marble mined in Talladega County’s Sylacauga (appropriately known as the Marble City).

In addition to lending its natural treasure to some of the nation’s most notable buildings, Sylacauga also holds the title for having the longest deposit of marble in the world. The bed of stone runs 32 miles long, a mile and a half wide, and more than 600 feet deep. The marble found in this quarry is especially desirable for two key characteristics: its purity and its durability. When paired together, these distinct qualities make Alabama marble some of the most desired in the world for large-scale buildings and monuments, as well as homes and sculptures.

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The History of Alabama Marble

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The Sylacauga Quarry (Sylacauga Marble Festival/Facebook)

Marble is formed when limestone is subjected to extreme pressure and heat. In Sylacauga, the conditions are perfect for the formation of metamorphic marble. Sylacauga’s massive deposit was first discovered by Native Americans, but it wasn’t quarried until 1834, 20 years after army surgeon Dr. Edward Gantt stumbled upon the vein while passing through with General Andrew Jackson’s army.

In the years that followed Gantt’s discovery, Sylacauga’s marble business thrived. More quarries popped up, mining the marble for everything from funerary monuments to building projects to sculptures. By the 1960s, the use of the quarried marble shifted toward the utilitarian. Rather than being mined in huge chunks for building material, the marble was being ground down for use in products like cosmetics, diapers, magazine paper, fertilizer, fiberglass, toothpaste, and chewing gum. In 1969, marble was named Alabama’s state rock.

A Timeless Treasure

Sylacauga Quarry (Sylacauga Marble Festival/Facebook)

Today the charge for Alabama marble is being led by the Swindal family, who own Alabama Marble Mineral & Mining Co. (AM3). AM3’s 50-acre quarry in Sylacauga is the world’s only supplier and leading distributor of Alabama marble. Owner Roy Swindal’s goal is to reintroduce the world to Alabama marble, once again marketing it as a prized material for both commercial and consumer construction. According to the Alabama Department of Archives and History, around 30 million tons of marble have been pulled from the ground in Sylacauga since 1900. The Swindals hope to add to that number by continuing and improving upon the state’s tradition for many years to come.

Marble Mania

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Sculptor Enzo Torcoletti at the Sylacauga Marble Festival (Sylacauga Marble Festival/Facebook)

It’s only fitting that a town built on marble pay tribute to the stone that brought its success. For the past 13 years, the city has celebrated its marble mining heritage with the 12-day Magic of Marble Festival. The festival, typically held in April, features several activities and events that are all free and fun for the whole family. Festival participants can take a tour of operational quarries and visit the Gantts/IMERYS Observation Point that overlooks the town’s historic first quarry. The creative side of marble is put on display at Blue Bell Park, where 25 sculptors create original pieces made entirely of marble. On the final day of the festival, the finished pieces are displayed and sold at nearby B.B. Comer Library. Other activities include a 5K run and a scavenger hunt.

If you can’t wait for next year’s festival and you want to see Alabama’s famous white marble in action now, there are several locations around the state to see it put to good use. In Birmingham, try the John Hand Building, Wells Fargo headquarters, City Federal building, or the Chamber of Commerce. If you’re in Montgomery, don’t miss the “Head of Christ” sculpture at the Alabama Department of Archives and History. It was created by Italian sculptor Giuseppe Moretti, who also happens to be the artist behind Birmingham’s Vulcan.

(Courtesy of SoulGrown)

21 hours ago

The economics of paying ransom

The cyberattack on the Colonial Pipeline by the hacker group DarkSide disrupted gasoline supplies across the Southeast. The company caused a stir by paying a 75 Bitcoin ransom to DarkSide. America historically has been opposed to paying evildoers, as reflected in the slogan, “Millions for defense, but not one cent in tribute,” and President Jefferson sending the Navy and Marines to fight the Barbary Pirates.

Ransomware raises many economic issues. A first question is, do hackers ever give the data back if paid? DarkSide provided Colonial Pipeline a key to decrypt their data. According to Proofpoint, this is the norm: 70% of ransom payers got their data back, 20% never got their data back and 10% received a second ransom demand.

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From an economic perspective, this is not surprising. About two dozen groups, identifying themselves by name and known to insurance companies, carry out most of the sophisticated attacks. Insurers would never recommend payment in the future to a group which has reneged. The hackers must deliver as promised to make money.

Some have suggested making payment of ransom for cyberattacks illegal. If no one ever paid ransom, the hackers could not make money. Refusing to pay ransom though faces two significant economic challenges.

The first is time consistency. Kidnapping illustrates this concept. Before an event, the incentive exists to say, “We will never pay ransom.” If the bad guys believe this, they will never invest the time, effort and expense to stage a kidnapping. Once they hold hostages, however, our incentive changes; negotiating just this one time now makes sense. Our policy to never pay ransom is not credible.

Collective action poses the second challenge. Businesses collectively have an interest in not rewarding cybercrime, yet individual businesses suffer these attacks. A business which does not pay ransom benefits other businesses, creating the challenge. Why should Continental Pipeline suffer losses to make other businesses less likely to be attacked?

Why do businesses pay ransom? Reports mention several factors. A business may face a closure of unknown length and cost. Customers’ personal information will be sold if ransom is not paid, leading to fines and bad publicity. And the hackers might sell proprietary information to competitors.

Good economists know better than to second guess business managers’ decisions. Decisions to pay ransom often involve the business’ executives, its insurance carrier and tech security experts. They know the options and likely costs and should make a good decision, despite the pressure of a crisis.

Insurance companies and government regulations reduce organizations’ vulnerability to hackers, which is good. But what about channeling President Jefferson and going after the hackers? Most of the hacker groups operate in Russia, which provides Safe Haven as long as the hackers do not target Russian companies. Some law enforcement options may exist. Federal prosecutors apparently recovered most of the Bitcoins paid to DarkSide.

Crime is a very costly way to transfer wealth. Stolen merchandise typically sells for one-third (or less) of market value. A criminal might have to steal thousands in property to net $1,000. Ransomware appears much more wasteful than traditional theft. Consider just the value of the time Americans spent searching for gas during the disruption. Remember then that the ransom was about $4.4 million.

Cybercrime makes us poorer. The hackers and defenders at tech security companies are highly skilled computer programmers. But instead of making new apps or games, they are hacking or defending existing computer systems. Add to this the service disruption during cyberattacks, the reduced use of technology for fear of being hacked and the time spent on security training. The costs may be $1 trillion annually, or one percent of global GDP.

We must guard here against comparing the real world to an imagined utopia. We cannot costlessly protect our property from thieves or our computers from malware, or make people no longer willing to steal from others. Economics teaches that there are no perfect solutions in life, only tradeoffs. Vigilance, antivirus programs and backup are the tradeoffs we face with cybercrime.

Daniel Sutter is the Charles G. Koch Professor of Economics with the Manuel H. Johnson Center for Political Economy at Troy University and host of Econversations on TrojanVision. The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Troy University.