Monday, March 10, 2014

League of Women Voters Questionnaire--Tax Revision Comm., Affordable Housing, Electoral Reform, Charter/Public Schools

Answers: G. Lee Aikin, to League of Women Voters Questionnaire, 
[The LOWV limit of 2500 characters per question limited answers to the first question.  Here is a more complete statement.]

I am currently running for DC Council Chairman (woman) in the November 4, 2014 General election as a member of the DC Statehood Green Party.  If you like my ideas and wish to support my candidacy, please mail a check marked COMMITTEE TO ELECT G. LEE AIKIN, to 1754 Swann St., NW, Washington, DC 20009. Thank you and be sure to vote.

*BA, St. Univ. of Iowa, major-general science, minors-Spanish, Education. 
*Two summers, Mexico City College, studies in Anthropology, Sociology, Spanish and Linguistics. 
*Dept. of Agriculture Graduate School, courses in Abnormal and Cross Cultural Psychology, and Psychology of Public Opinion

*Fifty plus years living in DC. As worker, homeowner, car owner, parent with children in public schools, have experienced many of the problems of ordinary citizens with DCRA, Tax and Revenue, DMV, and Special Education. Mostly with successful resolution. 
*Four years on Mayor's Commission for Food,. Nutrition and Health, Four years and 500+ hours with Mayor's Task Force on Street Vending (trying to save vending for the smallest, poorest venders). Three years work as bilingual Admin. Assist. to At Large School Board member. 
*Union member 9 years (OPEIU,#2), was Shop Steward, on Grievance Comm., and Contract Negotiating Comm. Promoted collection of 24 cartons of books and magazines from members to deliver to Lorton Reformatory. 

Campaign Questions

Q. The Tax Revision Commission recently released their findings. What are your positions on the various tax code changes recommended by the Tax Revision Commission? How would you ensure that the tax code would protect less affluent taxpayers while continuing the revitalization of neighborhoods and overall economic development?  
     I use numbering from the TRC Chairman's Draft Mark of Major Tax Changes, 12-18-13.  I testified twice before the TRC.  [June 24, 2013 testimony and Nov. 12, 2013 testimony]  There are some differences in proposals over time as my knowledge and thinking have developed.  Overall my goal is maximum benefit to save our lower income residents, while not driving out those able to contribute the most.

     Sales Tax
   1. I would need to know more about Prof. Fox's services suggested for sales taxes. Currently our economy is now more service oriented and some should certainly be taxed.
   2. A use tax for internet purchases will only gain $1 million. Too much generalized pain for too little gain. Perhaps a line saying internet purchases above $1667 should pay the sales tax (this is $100 at the 6% rate), or else forget about it until a DC internet sales tax would garner $5 million.
   3. I agree with unifying tobacco product taxation. Also earmark it for health and addiction treatment and education services and programs.
   4. I'm not happy about increasing the sales tax back to 6%, but it IS the rate in MD and VA, and we do NOT tax food, and we have the August back to school tax free days, to reduce impact on the poor, so I am willing if not happy to pay it.

     Individual Income Tax
   5d) I generally approve of the new brackets and percentages except at the upper levels.
For couples the $80,000 to $350,000 jump with increase from 6.5% to 8.5% is too great.
Better would be $80,000 to $150,000 at 7%,
$150,000 to $350,000 at 8.5%,
$350,00 to $1 million at 9% (or 9.5%), and
above $1 million at 9.5% (or 10%).
For singles $60,000 to $100,000 at 7%,
$100,000 to $200,000 at 8.5%,
$200,000 to $600,000 at 9% (or 9.5%) and
above $600,000 at 9.5% (or 10%).
The small increases at the top would more than make up for the reduction in the middle.  [This would be nowhere near California's top rate of 13%.]

   5e) Drop this one. Make the small increases in the top marginal rates I have suggested in 5d) above permanent in 2016.  [In other words 9.5% or 10% rather than a reduction to 8.75%]

   5f) I have been working for TEN YEARS to restore the Standard Deduction and the 5g) Personal Exemption to the Federal parity we had in 1973 when we got Home Rule. The failure of our majority party and elected Council to maintain that parity over 40 years is shameful and has cost taxpayers more than $1 billion. [See a number of relevant posts at my blog:] I believe my ten year effort has helped produce this $85 million recommendation for annual savings to our tax bills.  [These two measures combinged are the largest benefit recommended by the TRC.  You can click the two blue "testimony" words above to see my testimony at the TRC.]

   5g) I agree with phasing out the personal exemptions for people earning $150,000 and above.

     Estate Tax

   6. Using the Federal rate for this is consistent with 5f) and 5g) above and is common in many other states. Too much pain for too little gain. Could drive low cost elders out of DC. Most revenue is from very large estates. Also many small businesses and homes plus family savings means that heirs will get a big economic hit at a most distressing and vulnerable time if the $1 million level is kept. Having lost both parents and my husband, I know how stressful that time is for families. It would force a number of small family businesses to liquidate or take on burdensome debt to resolve taxes at that low rate. [Heirs are already burdened by the ONE MONTH vacant property registration rule. This is additional burdensome paperwork and costly legal advice needed to keep heirs from having their legacy confiscated through the 5% and 10% class 3 and 4 tax rates.  It would also drive up rental rates as heirs are force to sell family rental property which is then taxed at the higher sale rate.  Also with the probability of forcing tenants out for the sale.]  A recent report says that some students are being required to repay all their student loans as soon as the co-signer of their loan dies.

     Business Taxes

   7.  Reducing the Unincorporated Business Franchise Tax from 9.975% to 8.25% may be too much. This ties in with the D-30 tax form which requires anyone grossing above $12,000 to complete this opaque and burdensome form. That figure has not been changed since 1986, and in today's money should be almost $26,000. The UBFT minimum tax of $100 was recently increased to $250. That is grossly unfair with no comparable increase in the minimum gross. There is also a $5,000 deduction, which should be increased to $10,000. This benefit at the lower level would thus make a 1.725% reduction less necessary. The $57 million in tax loss predicted could thus be pared down a bit without hurting lower income businesses. The D-30 taxation could be greatly simplified for people with only rental and simple sales income and I would love to be involved in that process.

   8) & 9).   I have no experience with passive investment vehicles or single weighted sales formula. Regarding out of state municipal bonds the TRC pointed out we have few such bonds here in DC, and I think this issue needs more examination. Certainly bonds already held should be grandfathered from taxation.

   10) A local services fee on employers will cause the 70% of people employed in DC who do not live here or are taxed here to help pay for police, firemen, street repairs, etc. However, I don't think it should be $25/employee/quarter. I think that out of state employees should be rated higher, perhaps $40 and DC residents lower, perhaps $10. It might be an incentive for hiring DC residents.

   [I believe that in sum my recommendations would reduce the expected shortfall in Total Revenue.]

     --Following the Tax Revision Commission recommendations with the modest changes I have proposed will help reduce the tax burden for the middle 20% of tax payers who currently pay the highest percentage of taxes. [See charts with my Nov. 12, 2013 testimony.]  Restoring the original parity of Deduction and Exemptions with Federal rates, that I have fought so hard to achieve, will especially help the lowest paid workers and families.  For example, parents with 2 children currently deduct only $10,800 from their Adjusted Gross Income.  Coupled with the Federal D&Es they can deduct $27,800.  The $85 million that this will put back in our pockets will especially benefit lower income neighborhood businesses and residents.

     --I also urged that we follow the example of PG and Montgomery Counties which have variable business tax rates. [See chart in my June 24, 2013 testimony.]  I testified it just didn't seem fair that businesses in blighted neighborhoods were paying $1.85 per $100 assessed valuation.  [Homeowners only pay $0.85 per $100.]  About a year later the Council recommended and voted a reduction to $1.65 per $100 for property valued under $3 million. We need an additional reduction for property under $1 million to perhaps $1.45, and for property under $1/2 million to $1.20.
      This should save some of the businesses that could be pushed out by Walmart competition [click “Walmart Realty” to see their suspect business model.  Reading between the lines, it sounds like they don't care if their primary stores fail, just so long as they can buy up the failed businesses around them, and get the cooperation of elected leaders, such as the one who now has 2 Walmarts in her Ward.  There are many 2 story business properties there an elsewhere which assembled when businesses fail can then be developed as much larger buildings to the benefit of big developers and the politicians they support financially.].  Also businesses in poorer neighborhoods would have a bit more money to improve their properties or be less afraid that improvements would cause a big jump in their taxes.

Q. What policies do you support to create more affordable housing?

     --The tax credit from a few years ago worked well and perhaps should be reintroduced.
     --Young people need to learn to save at an early age, perhaps like the program in my childhood public school to set aside money for savings bonds. 
     --Perhaps a loan guarantee for lower interest rate long-term housing loans, especially if people took a homeowners course on money management and basic maintenance and repairs. This could be offered as part of an adult education program and would be good in high schools as well. 
     --We must require builders to follow low-cost and affordable unit number legal requirements in new construction and major renovations. Some provision has to be made for including very low cost housing. 
     --Eliminate the Basic Business License for business income under $100,000. People have to jump through major hoops to legally rent rooms in their homes, although they are allowed as “a matter of right” to rent out two rooms in their house. Some “right” given the BBL issue! This is really hurting the elderly who want to rent out a room, and others who just want a low cost room to rent.

Q. What changes would you support to improve the election process and increase voter participation?

     --Ideally we should have a money limit and publicly financed elections. Lacking that we must have a realistic campaign contribution limit. $100 a few years ago was unrealistically low. 
      --Instant run-off or similar mechanism would help situations like our current Democrat campaigns for Mayor and At Large which have 3 or more candidates. Someone is likely to win with less than 50% of the vote. 
      --Since at least one Democrat looser in the Mayoral race is likely to declare themselves an Independent and run At Large, this completely nullifies the intent of the law that states that each party can only elect one person to At Large. We need a law that states politicians must declare their Party one year before the General Election, or else cannot change parties after loosing in the preceding Primary Election. 
      --If students do not have experience with elections such as voting for Class President and Vice President, then something like this should be instituted. It could be connected with something like announcing at sporting events and the like.

Q. What is the major issue facing our charter schools and the major issue facing our traditional public schools? How would you address these issues?

     --Strong feelings regarding the two types of public schools are linked with the gentrification issue and specific efforts of right wing groups to eliminate as much government as possible. Many feel it was no accident that the Walton Foundation (Walmart) financed IFF study wanted to close or repurpose a large number of our Public Schools, especially in Wards 7 and 8. Walmart blackmail on the $12.50 large retailer pay bill further angered many. Parents certainly have a right to want to have good, and even experimental schools for their children (charter schools), but parents also have a right to not fear for their youngsters who may have long dangerous walks or even require transportation as under-filled public schools in the cluster system are closed or turned over to charter schools.  
     -- Two practices are particularly burdensome to the public school budget and reputation, and give unfair advantage and reputation to charter schools. Charter schools are known to discharge a number of students as soon as the official count has been made, and also just before standardized tests are conducted. As soon as a student is transferred back to the public school system, the money MUST go with them instead of staying in the charter school as happens now. Also, if students are kicked out of the charter school within a certain number of weeks of standardized tests, then their scores MUST be assigned to that charter school. Parents choosing charter schools must know if the statistics that attract them are phony or real. There should definitely be a moratorium on new charter schools until that is fixed. 
     --Underutilized schools in poorer neighborhoods should add community functions like after school study help, day care for working mothers, adult education classes, and similar programs. Studies have shown that mothballing schools does not result in significant savings. We must hold on to the schools we have for the children our many new young residents will be having, provided we make DC and it's schools attractive enough for them to continue living here when married.

****I am currently a candidate for Chairman of the DC Council.  If you like what you see here,  I hope you will vote for me on Nov. 4, 2014.  You can also change your registration on election day.  If you are not DCSGP, but would like to support my efforts to continue these battles for economic justice for the working poor, the middle class, and small business and entrepreneurs, please mail my campaign a check.  The check should be written to Committee to  ELECT G. LEE AIKIN, and mailed to G. Lee Aikin, 1754 Swann St., NW, Washington, DC 20009. 
     Two years ago, I also ran for At Large Council, but a long time DCSGP activist won the Primary.  However, she was not allowed to speak at the League of Women Voters candidate forum because she did not have at least 20 contributions of $5 or more.  Please don't let this happen again.

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