JohnGreenberg | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

JohnGreenberg 
Member since Dec 28, 2012


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Re: “Are the Rich Really Running From Vermont's 'Death Tax'?

The latest ITEP report (6th edition) shows that Vermont is getting closer to a progressive system than it was in all ITEPs previous reports. https://itep.org/wp-content/uploads/whopay…, p. 123 of pdf. And I confess I was relying on the older figures (less progressive by far) in making my remarks. See, e.g the previous edition: https://itep.org/wp-content/uploads/whopay…, p. 124.

To avoid confusion, I will cite the actual figures given by ITEP (6th ed.), which are categorized as follows: the lowest 4 quintiles of income are given as quintiles, the top quintile is divided into the 15% of incomes (between 80 and 95%), the next 4% and the top 1%. The percentages of family income that each of these groups pays in ALL Vermont taxes (state and local sales & excise, property taxes, and income taxes) are 8.7%, 9%, 10.1%, 9.1%, 10.4%, 10%, and 10.4% respectively..

Compared to other states, these figures are more equal than most, but more equal is not equal any more than 8.7 = 10.4.

As to progressivity, the new figures do show that the tax structure is now more (and largely) progressive, but not entirely so. In particular, those with incomes of $39,100 to $59,500 pay a LARGER percentage of their incomes in taxes than those with incomes of $55,500 to $94,000 or those with incomes of $196, 000 to $460,100 and only very slightly less than those with incomes of $94,000 to 196,000 and those with incomes greater than $460,100.

Ill leave it to readers to decide whether this is the best, fairest system we Vermonters can devise.

While its better than most, and better than it was, in my view its still not good enough.

Mr. Hofer can speak for himself if he wishes to.

1 like, 6 dislikes
Posted by JohnGreenberg on 04/08/2019 at 12:23 PM

Re: “Are the Rich Really Running From Vermont's 'Death Tax'?

Jay Eshelman concludes his otherwise accurate summary of ITEP's report by saying "But in Vermont, at least, its equal."

How is it "equal" if, in Mr. Eshelman's words, "taxpayers in the top 1 percent are left with a higher percentage of their pre-tax income to spend ... than low- and middle-income taxpayers?"

Let's not get hung up descriptive terms like "regressive" or "progressive." The nub of the issue is this: Should high-income Vermonters pay the same proportion of their income in taxes as everyone else, less (as currently) or more? Call any of these systems whatever you want. Which one should we be aiming for as a polity?

Here's my 2 cents. The current system cannot be justified by ANY approach to political ethics or morality that I've ever heard of. For precisely this reason, there is tremendous opposition to the tax burden from Vermont's middle classes, who not coincidentally, pay the highest burden.

One definition of fairness -- in my estimation, a pretty minimal one -- is that everyone pays the same, regardless of their needs and resources. But as noted, we are NOT achieving even this minimal standard, despite an income tax structure which requires those with higher incomes to pay higher marginal tax rates.

But again in my view, such a minimal system is grossly unfair in a society in which income inequality is as rampant as ours. It's undemocratic, discourages many kinds of hard work, and in our economy which is highly dependent on consumer spending, retards economic growth.

Consequently, I favor an overall system in which as incomes and assets rise, the rate of taxation does also.

1 like, 12 dislikes
Posted by JohnGreenberg on 04/07/2019 at 12:41 PM

Re: “Are the Rich Really Running From Vermont's 'Death Tax'?

PC Cowan wants an experiment, ignoring the fact that we've had one going on for decades. It has completely disproved the hypothesis that high tax rates cause high-income and high-asset folks to leave the state. So has virtually every study ever done on the subject elsewhere. From a scientific point of view, whether or not we have a correct theory, it's pretty safe to say that we "know" that this hypothesis is false.

In the case of income taxes, we have also experimented with higher and lower marginal tax rates. For example, current rates are LOWER than they were in 2009. If you can show that there has been a difference in the inflows and outflows of these individuals, please do so. Otherwise, we've done the experiment with income taxes.

The other problem with your proposal is that lowering or eliminating these taxes would leave a gaping hole in VT's budget. Assuming you're not planning to provide the funds yourself, please tell us exactly what spending you would cut or what other tax you would raise to make up for the lost tax revenues. If you want legislators to take your proposal seriously, then make a serious proposal.

Finally, in a world where income inequality has steadily increased (both before AND after taxes), your proposal would exacerbate the problem.

If you don't think it IS a problem, consider this. It's well understood that as incomes rise, spending decreases as a percentage of income. "Rich" people spend proportionately less and save proportionately more as their incomes rise. But US GDP (and I assume VT's as well) depends heavily on consumer spending. Lower taxes for higher income people results in LESS economic growth, which is precisely what we've see in the US since WWII.

2 likes, 20 dislikes
Posted by JohnGreenberg on 04/06/2019 at 10:46 AM

Re: “Are the Rich Really Running From Vermont's 'Death Tax'?

Thanks to Doug Hoffer, who obviously gets up earlier than I do, which isn't hard!

This argument has staying power, but in the end, there are always lots of anecdotes, and NO statistical evidence supporting it. That's pretty odd, given how often we've been told (and for how long) that Vermont's high taxes are causing substantial out-migration. Where are the supporting statistics? A theory which fails every factual test should be considered false, however plausible anecdotal evidence may make it seem.

The theory is simply wrong. Study after study shows that the top reasons why people move from one state to another are family and jobs. The US Census Bureau tracks this annually and doesn't even list taxes among the explanations people offer. Remember that Americans are VERY mobile: roughly 10-20% move every year.

As to some of the proposed "fixes" to this non-existent problem, they're just silly. Raising the bar on the estate tax changes NOTHING when VT has a tax and alternative states don't. It MIGHT make sense if the alternative states most people choose (FL, esp.) had a LOWER tax (or higher limit). But ANY tax vs zero is going to be "too high." The "solution" is even less reasonable than the "problem" it purports to solve.

One last note. Kendall at Hanover is right on the other side of the river, and that there aren't a lot of other similar opportunities in Vermont outside of Chittenden County. Just as I go to Dartmouth-Hitchcock or Boston for certain medical interventions not available in the Brattleboro area, it's not impossible that I would end up in NH or MA if I needed to go to a retirement facility, since there are none nearby in VT.

13 likes, 13 dislikes
Posted by JohnGreenberg on 04/04/2019 at 1:07 PM

Re: “Vermont Senate Backs Ban on Single-Use Plastic Bags, Foam Containers

The Danish study is interesting. The study itself can be downloaded from here: http://www2.mst.dk/Udgiv/publications/2018….

It makes quite a few assumptions, which to its credit are spelled out. Some are not applicable here at all. For example, the study includes transportation to Denmark, which obviously has no relevance here.

Many "cloth" bags are actually recycled #1 plastic. The cloth bags mentioned in James Barry's comment are conventional or organic cotton.

Also, the study assumes that the bags will be disposed of properly, that is, intentionally, at the end of their useful lives, but we know from direct experience that this assumption is totally false in MANY cases. If it were true, there wouldn't be miles of plastic trash in the Pacific Ocean.

Posted by JohnGreenberg on 04/03/2019 at 9:58 AM

Re: “Vermont Senate Backs Ban on Single-Use Plastic Bags, Foam Containers

Ted Miles makes 2 supposedly factual statements which are, at a minimum, questionable.

First, the fact that stores put bins out for recycling plastic bags does not necessarily mean that they are recyclable. It means that the stores are willing to collect them.

For them to be recyclable, someone needs to use them to make new plastic, and it's far less than clear how often that is occurring now that China is refusing to accept US recycling materials. There is mounting evidence that plastic collected for recycling is NOT actually getting recycled any more. See, e,g, https://www.latimes.com/world/asia/la-fg-m…. There are plenty more articles where this one came from.

Second, "How many trees would need to be cut down to make more paper bags?" When I was in the business 17 years ago, the answer would have been zero: there was a company called Rosenthal in Montreal which was making paper bags out of the 100% post-consumer recycled paper. I haven't researched the market in the intervening years, but Googling shows that there are still companies making 100% recycled paper bags with at least 60% post-consumer content. (This is just the first one I found).

Moreover, it should be noted that most supermarkets I've visited sell reusable cloth bags (some of which may well be made from recycled polyester) for 50 cents or, at most, $1. These bags will make far more than 10 trips, so more than pay for themselves. I've been using cloth bags for shopping for decades now, many of them for years before the handles come loose. I've sewed some handles back on; but it's been too easy to find more bags for free so I've gotten lazy.

A century ago, people were able to shop without using plastic bags, and without ever considering that they "needed" them.

2 likes, 2 dislikes
Posted by JohnGreenberg on 04/02/2019 at 11:43 AM

Re: “Vermont Senate Backs Ban on Single-Use Plastic Bags, Foam Containers

Kaleb Merrill asks: "Maybe someone can explain to me the reasoning behind banning "single use plastic bags"...they are made from post consumer recycled plastic in most cases aren't they?"

I don't have statistics on this, but I'm pretty certain my answer is correct. Actually, virtually NO bags are made from post-consumer recycled plastic and not all that many are made from pre-consumer waste either.

Post-consumer waste, almost by definition, contains a LOT of impurities, which must be removed before the material can be recycled. That's true of all recycled plastic, of course, but with bags, there's one big difference. The walls of a plastic bag are VERY thin, so even the tiniest impurity can ruin the bag's strength, integrity, etc.

For this very reason, manufacturers who DO make bags out of recycled material tend to make them thicker-walled, but of course, that uses more material per bag.

In the 90s and 00s, I had a company which distributed recycled bags, mainly for trash disposal, precisely because trash bags require greater strength. No one wants one to come apart when full.

Rich Schwarz asks: "What is the problem with paper?" Again, recycled paper bags exist (or did when I was in business), but they are quite uncommon. So most paper bags are made from virgin material, which means cutting down trees, huge consumption of water (and pollution thereof), and huge consumption of energy.

Paper can be recycled, but not indefinitely: eventually, the fibers get shorter and shorter, which means that the paper has no integrity. You can use that material for toilet paper (which obviously doesn't get recycled any more), but not much else. And there is less toilet paper made from recycled paper around now than there was 20 years ago.

4 likes, 15 dislikes
Posted by JohnGreenberg on 03/30/2019 at 11:15 AM

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