Monday, May 18, 2009

Cap and Trade Will Cost a Whole Lot—They Said It

Cap and Trade: They Said It
Policymakers Honest About One Thing—This Bill Will Cost a Whole Lot
The Institute for Energy Research, May 18, 2009

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: “Under my plan of a cap and trade system, electricity prices would necessarily skyrocket. . . . Because I’m capping greenhouse gases, coal power plants, natural gas—you name it—whatever the plants were, whatever the industry was, they would have to retrofit their operations. That will cost money. They will pass that money on to consumers.” – January, 2008

OMB DIRECTOR PETER ORSZAG: “Under a cap-and-trade program, firms would not ultimately bear most of the costs of the allowances but instead would pass them along to their customers in the form of higher prices. Such price increases would stem from the restriction on emissions and would occur regardless of whether the government sold emission allowances or gave them away. Indeed, the price increases would be essential to the success of a cap-and-trade program because they would be the most important mechanism through which businesses and households would be encouraged to make investments and behavioral changes that reduced CO2 emissions.” – April 24, 2008

TREASURY SECRETARY TIM GEITNER: “For people whose behavior in energy use doesn’t change, their costs will go up. You can’t achieve these objectives if you don’t change the incentives.” – March 18, 2009

REP. JOHN DINGELL (D-Mich.): “Nobody in this country realizes that cap and trade is a tax, and it’s a great big one.” – April 24, 2009

REP. CHARLIE RANGEL (D-NY): “Whether you call it a tax, everyone agrees that it’s going to increase the cost to the consumer.” – May 14, 2009

CBO DIRECTOR DOUGLAS ELMENDORF: “Under a cap and trade program, consumers would ultimately bear most of the costs of emission reductions.” – May, 2009

More from IER on energy tax legislation:

Press Release: Finger-Wagging Lawmakers Should Look in the Mirror
Study: Cap and Trade Primer
Blog: Understanding Renewable Electricity Mandates

Treasury Fact Sheet: IMF Reforms and New Arrangements to Borrow

Treasury Fact Sheet: IMF Reforms and New Arrangements to Borrow

WaPo: Addressing climate change is a job for Congress, not the Endangered Species Act

Cold Reality. WaPo Editorial
Addressing climate change is a job for Congress, not the Endangered Species Act
WaPo, Monday, May 18, 2009

INTERIOR SECRETARY Ken Salazar ruffled more than a few feathers this month when he let stand a Bush administration decision to prohibit the use of the Endangered Species Act to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. It was the right call when it was made in 2008, and it is the right call now. Tackling climate change -- and all the implications that has for the economy -- should be dealt with by the people's representatives in Congress, not through a 36-year-old law not designed for such a complex task. Just how complex will be on full display today when the House begins its scheduled debate on the American Clean Energy and Security Act.

Inaction by the Bush administration led environmental groups to find backdoor ways to force it to deal with climate change. When then-Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne listed the polar bear as "threatened" under the Endangered Species Act because global warming was melting its Arctic Sea ice habitat, activists geared up to use the decision to challenge high- carbon-emitting projects across the country. But Mr. Kempthorne wisely limited the law's reach by prohibiting "global processes" from triggering further action to protect a listed species' habitat.

That both the Bush and Obama administrations have had to contort Interior Department policies to ensure that it doesn't get dragged into setting U.S. climate policy shows why action on Capitol Hill is vital. The American Clean Energy and Security Act would seek to slash 2005 greenhouse gas emission levels 83 percent by 2050 through a cap-and-trade system in which government would set a declining limit on the amount of carbon dioxide that could be emitted and would issue allowances to emitting companies that could buy and sell those rights.

Shaping the bill, sponsored by Reps. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) and Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), was no easy exercise. Regional concerns, particularly those of members from coal-producing areas such as Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.), forced a number of compromises that have left all sides grumbling. Initially, 85 percent of the carbon trade allowances would be given away. This is a far cry from the 100 percent auction position espoused by President Obama during the campaign. But the committee staff believes that this is necessary to ease the transition to a carbon-constrained economy for industries and states and to help limit direct consumer rate increases. By 2030, all the pollution permits would be auctioned.

The work on this bill is far from done, and the debate on the House floor promises to be spirited, as it should be. We continue to hope that Congress will consider a simpler carbon tax rebated to all taxpayers or less bureaucratic versions of cap-and-trade, such as that proposed by Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.). But it's encouraging that lawmakers are undertaking to meet the challenges of climate change. The responsibility is theirs, not that of unelected bureaucrats using laws far beyond their intended purpose.

Soak the Rich, Lose the Rich

Soak the Rich, Lose the Rich. By Arthur Laffer and Stephen Moore
Americans know how to use the moving van to escape high taxes.
WSJ, May 18, 2009

With states facing nearly $100 billion in combined budget deficits this year, we're seeing more governors than ever proposing the Barack Obama solution to balancing the budget: Soak the rich. Lawmakers in California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York and Oregon want to raise income tax rates on the top 1% or 2% or 5% of their citizens. New Illinois Gov. Patrick Quinn wants a 50% increase in the income tax rate on the wealthy because this is the "fair" way to close his state's gaping deficit.

Mr. Quinn and other tax-raising governors have been emboldened by recent studies by left-wing groups like the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities that suggest that "tax increases, particularly tax increases on higher-income families, may be the best available option." A recent letter to New York Gov. David Paterson signed by 100 economists advises the Empire State to "raise tax rates for high income families right away."

Here's the problem for states that want to pry more money out of the wallets of rich people. It never works because people, investment capital and businesses are mobile: They can leave tax-unfriendly states and move to tax-friendly states.

And the evidence that we discovered in our new study for the American Legislative Exchange Council, "Rich States, Poor States," published in March, shows that Americans are more sensitive to high taxes than ever before. The tax differential between low-tax and high-tax states is widening, meaning that a relocation from high-tax California or Ohio, to no-income tax Texas or Tennessee, is all the more financially profitable both in terms of lower tax bills and more job opportunities.

Updating some research from Richard Vedder of Ohio University, we found that from 1998 to 2007, more than 1,100 people every day including Sundays and holidays moved from the nine highest income-tax states such as California, New Jersey, New York and Ohio and relocated mostly to the nine tax-haven states with no income tax, including Florida, Nevada, New Hampshire and Texas. We also found that over these same years the no-income tax states created 89% more jobs and had 32% faster personal income growth than their high-tax counterparts.

Did the greater prosperity in low-tax states happen by chance? Is it coincidence that the two highest tax-rate states in the nation, California and New York, have the biggest fiscal holes to repair? No. Dozens of academic studies -- old and new -- have found clear and irrefutable statistical evidence that high state and local taxes repel jobs and businesses.

Martin Feldstein, Harvard economist and former president of the National Bureau of Economic Research, co-authored a famous study in 1998 called "Can State Taxes Redistribute Income?" This should be required reading for today's state legislators. It concludes: "Since individuals can avoid unfavorable taxes by migrating to jurisdictions that offer more favorable tax conditions, a relatively unfavorable tax will cause gross wages to adjust. . . . A more progressive tax thus induces firms to hire fewer high skilled employees and to hire more low skilled employees."

More recently, Barry W. Poulson of the University of Colorado last year examined many factors that explain why some states grew richer than others from 1964 to 2004 and found "a significant negative impact of higher marginal tax rates on state economic growth." In other words, soaking the rich doesn't work. To the contrary, middle-class workers end up taking the hit.

Finally, there is the issue of whether high-income people move away from states that have high income-tax rates. Examining IRS tax return data by state, E.J. McMahon, a fiscal expert at the Manhattan Institute, measured the impact of large income-tax rate increases on the rich ($200,000 income or more) in Connecticut, which raised its tax rate in 2003 to 5% from 4.5%; in New Jersey, which raised its rate in 2004 to 8.97% from 6.35%; and in New York, which raised its tax rate in 2003 to 7.7% from 6.85%. Over the period 2002-2005, in each of these states the "soak the rich" tax hike was followed by a significant reduction in the number of rich people paying taxes in these states relative to the national average. Amazingly, these three states ranked 46th, 49th and 50th among all states in the percentage increase in wealthy tax filers in the years after they tried to soak the rich.

This result was all the more remarkable given that these were years when the stock market boomed and Wall Street gains were in the trillions of dollars. Examining data from a 2008 Princeton study on the New Jersey tax hike on the wealthy, we found that there were 4,000 missing half-millionaires in New Jersey after that tax took effect. New Jersey now has one of the largest budget deficits in the nation.

We believe there are three unintended consequences from states raising tax rates on the rich. First, some rich residents sell their homes and leave the state; second, those who stay in the state report less taxable income on their tax returns; and third, some rich people choose not to locate in a high-tax state. Since many rich people also tend to be successful business owners, jobs leave with them or they never arrive in the first place. This is why high income-tax states have such a tough time creating net new jobs for low-income residents and college graduates.

Those who disapprove of tax competition complain that lower state taxes only create a zero-sum competition where states "race to the bottom" and cut services to the poor as taxes fall to zero. They say that tax cutting inevitably means lower quality schools and police protection as lower tax rates mean starvation of public services.

They're wrong, and New Hampshire is our favorite illustration. The Live Free or Die State has no income or sales tax, yet it has high-quality schools and excellent public services. Students in New Hampshire public schools achieve the fourth-highest test scores in the nation -- even though the state spends about $1,000 a year less per resident on state and local government than the average state and, incredibly, $5,000 less per person than New York. And on the other side of the ledger, California in 2007 had the highest-paid classroom teachers in the nation, and yet the Golden State had the second-lowest test scores.

Or consider the fiasco of New Jersey. In the early 1960s, the state had no state income tax and no state sales tax. It was a rapidly growing state attracting people from everywhere and running budget surpluses. Today its income and sales taxes are among the highest in the nation yet it suffers from perpetual deficits and its schools rank among the worst in the nation -- much worse than those in New Hampshire. Most of the massive infusion of tax dollars over the past 40 years has simply enriched the public-employee unions in the Garden State. People are fleeing the state in droves.

One last point: States aren't simply competing with each other. As Texas Gov. Rick Perry recently told us, "Our state is competing with Germany, France, Japan and China for business. We'd better have a pro-growth tax system or those American jobs will be out-sourced." Gov. Perry and Texas have the jobs and prosperity model exactly right. Texas created more new jobs in 2008 than all other 49 states combined. And Texas is the only state other than Georgia and North Dakota that is cutting taxes this year.

The Texas economic model makes a whole lot more sense than the New Jersey model, and we hope the politicians in California, Delaware, Illinois, Minnesota and New York realize this before it's too late.

Mr. Laffer is president of Laffer Associates. Mr. Moore is senior economics writer for the Wall Street Journal. They are co-authors of "Rich States, Poor States" (American Legislative Exchange Council, 2009).

Netanyahu and Obama Have a Shared Interest in Iran

Netanyahu and Obama Have a Shared Interest in Iran. By R M Gerecht
The success of both men depends on stopping the mullahs from getting the bomb.
WSJ, May 18, 2009

Can the United States and its European allies peacefully prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons? And if not, would Israel try to do so militarily, even if doing so greatly angered President Barack Obama? Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is in Washington today. These questions could well make or break his premiership and Mr. Obama's presidency.

With increasing vigor and resources, the clerical regime has advanced a massive -- and until 2002 clandestine -- program for producing fissile material. It's a good bet that the Europeans have never really believed that Iran could be deterred from developing a bomb by either engagement or sanctions acceptable to all of the EU's members. Nevertheless, the Europeans have tried, offering generous trade and credit terms while psychologically stroking the Islamic Republic.

Yet as Thérèse Delpech, a leading nonproliferation expert at France's Atomic Energy Commission, warned last October at a Brookings Institution lecture, "We [the Europeans] have negotiated during five years with the Iranians . . . and we came to the conclusion that they are not interested at all in negotiating, but . . . [only] in buying time for their military program." In those five years, she also noted, Tehran never implied that if only the Americans were at the table the clerical regime would be amenable to compromise.

We shouldn't be surprised if the Israelis reach a conclusion at odds with Washington's near-consensus against pre-emptive strikes on Iran's nuclear facilities. In 1981, Jerusalem certainly surmised that a raid against Iraq's Osirak nuclear reactor could make Saddam Hussein furious and that he possessed conventional and unconventional means of getting even. But they went ahead and destroyed the reactor.

The consensus in Israel is just as widespread about the correctness of last year's strike against the secret North Korean-designed reactor at Dir A-Zur in Syria -- a project that may well have had Iranian backing. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert ordered the attack although the Bush administration opposed it. And in 1967, Israelis believed that pre-emptive action saved their nation from an Arab-initiated, multifront offensive that could have proved lethal.

For the Israelis today, Iran has become an unrivalled threat. Although anti-Semitism has been widespread in the Middle East since the 1930s, the strain among Tehran's ruling elite is akin to what European Jews observed in Austria, Germany and Russia in the early 20th century.

Americans and Europeans don't like to dwell on the problem of anti-Semitism in the region, preferring to see it as tangential to geopolitics and economics and treatable by the creation of a Palestinian state. But Israelis are acutely conscious that unrelenting anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism are important factors in the Shiite Islamic Republic's increasing popularity among Arab Sunni fundamentalists -- especially in Egypt, where the Muslim Brotherhood would probably triumph in a free election. In Iran, the anti-Jewish passion among the revolutionary elite appears to have actually increased as ordinary Iranians have soured on theocracy and state-sanctioned ideology.

Never before have the Israelis had to confront a rabidly anti-Semitic enemy with nuclear weapons and a long track record of supporting deadly killers such as Hezbollah and Hamas. Americans and Europeans can seem to Israelis all-too-nonchalant about the challenge they face -- and Western counsel to calm down and get used to the idea of mullahs with nukes doesn't sit well with a people who have already lived through the unthinkable.

The Western advice may be sage: The threat of an Israeli retaliatory nuclear strike might be a sufficient threat to discourage Tehran's mullahs from using a nuclear weapon directly, or from leveraging its protective nuclear umbrella indirectly to more aggressively support anti-Israeli jihadists. But Iran's penchant for terrorism, its extensive ties to both radical Sunnis and Shiites, its vibrant anti-Semitism, and the likelihood that Tehran will become more aggressive (as has Pakistan in Kashmir) with an atom bomb in its arsenal doesn't reinforce the case for patience and perseverance.

Consider: If Saddam Hussein had had a nuke in 1990, would George H.W. Bush have risked war? Consider as well the near certainty that ultra-Sunni Saudi Arabia will go nuclear in response to a Shiite Persian bomb. The prospect of another virulently anti-Semitic Arab state -- deeply permeated with supporters of al Qaeda -- possessing an atomic weapon cannot comfort Jerusalem. A pre-emptive strike offers Israel a chance that this nuclear contagion can be stopped.

A tidal wave of Western sanctions might convince the Israelis that the Americans and Europeans are finally serious about countering Tehran. Sanctions against Iran's importation of gasoline -- the country lacks sufficient refining capacity -- could shock the regime. The bipartisan Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act, recently introduced in Congress, gives the White House the authority to make foreign companies choose between doing business with the U.S. or exporting gasoline to Iran. A European effort to cripple Iran's production and transport of liquefied gas -- an enormous future financial reservoir for Iran given its reserves -- could cause a political earthquake in Tehran. The mullahs just might suspend uranium enrichment.

But the Obama administration appears deeply conflicted about using "sticks." Is it willing to coerce the Europeans into implementing economy-strangling energy sanctions if the Europeans prove unwilling to punish Iran severely? The administration appears to be entertaining a German- and British-backed idea of allowing Tehran to proceed with uranium enrichment -- in return for which sanctions against the regime would be cancelled -- if it is "monitored." Yet even if Iran would agree to intrusive monitoring, the Israelis -- and others in the region -- would surely view such a concession as one big step closer to an Iranian bomb.

Mr. Obama has repeatedly described Iran's nuclear ambitions as "unacceptable" and warned against the threat that a nuclear-armed clerical regime poses to the world. Yet the administration has tried to keep Iran, and its Iran point man Dennis Ross, out of the headlines. One suspects that this is not because the administration is devising an all-encompassing grand bargain, but because it cannot get the clerical regime to meaningfully engage.

One can sympathize with the reluctance of this administration, like its predecessor, to confront the mullahs. But whether the Israelis strike or not, another storm is gathering in the Middle East. It could prove far more tumultuous than the earlier ones in Iraq.

Mr. Gerecht, a former Central Intelligence Agency officer, is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

WSJ Editorial Page: Your latest donation to the IMF

What's Another $108 Billion? WSJ Editorial
Your latest donation to the IMF.
WSJ, May 18, 2009

Ah, transparency. Perhaps you've read that the new era of candor in government spending has arrived. Except, apparently, when it comes to the $750 billion that the Obama Administration and other nations have agreed to provide the International Monetary Fund. In this case, it's all opacity all the time.

At the G-20 meeting in April, the world's big shots promised to provide $500 billion under credit lines to the IMF known as "new arrangements to borrow." The U.S. share was said to be $100 billion, which last week we learned is actually $108 billion. The Obama Administration is now asking Congress to appropriate the cash, except that the Congressional Budget Office is only scoring the cost at $5 billion. How so? Because the transaction is being called an "exchange of assets," which means the U.S. gives the IMF the $108 billion and the IMF gives the U.S. a promissory note. Which raises a question: If it costs so little, why not make it $200 billion. Or a trillion? It's free!

Of course it is not. The loan carries risk and that risk may be higher than in the past. IMF rules have long been clear that the IMF's "new arrangement" funds can only be used in an emergency that threatens the stability of the "international monetary system." There has also been an understanding that the money will be repaid in short order.

But in April the G-20 announced that the credit line is to be "expanded and more flexible." An IMF spokesman says the idea of increasing flexibility is that the "money becomes part of the general resources of the fund and if the managing director decides that the fund needs to step in somewhere, it can." This makes it less like an emergency credit line and more like a general contribution to the IMF's overall money pot.

But look on the bright side: At least there's a chance this money will be repaid. Not so with the other big commitment President Obama made in London. We refer to the U.S. portion of the eight-fold increase in the IMF's special drawing rights, or SDRs. SDRs are IMF credit allocations redeemable for subsidized loans from hard-currency fund countries. These loans are almost never repaid.

Prior to last week, there were about $32 billion in SDRs, the U.S. portion of which costs American taxpayers more than $300 million a year. For 12 years Congress has refused to go along with an IMF request to double the SDR account, but Mr. Obama swept all that debate under the carpet in London and agreed to take the total to $250 billion. The U.S. exposure? A cool $40 billion. And since all IMF members are eligible, Iran, Zimbabwe, Sudan, Venezuela and Burma are all candidates for Mr. Obama's generosity.

Speaking of inmates running the asylum, certain "emerging-market" members -- such as China, Brazil, Russia and India -- announced they would not join the U.S. in providing more IMF resources via credit lines for countries in crisis. Instead, they want the fund to issue short-term notes to finance their "contribution," which they could later oh-so-conveniently off-load in the secondary market. These notes will have the implicit guarantee of the U.S., adding one more liability to Washington's balance sheet.

The wheels are greased in Congress to pass this before the public notices, but South Carolina Republican Jim DeMint is trying to force a Senate floor vote on the $108 billion. He'll lose, but at least he's honoring Mr. Obama's pledge of transparency.

Tax Audits Are No Laughing Matter -

Tax Audits Are No Laughing Matter -
A president shouldn't even joke about abusing IRS power

At his Arizona State University commencement speech last Wednesday, Mr. Obama noted that ASU had refused to grant him an honorary degree, citing his lack of experience, and the controversy this had caused.

After this, the Federal President said: "President [Michael] Crowe and the Board of Regents will soon learn all about being audited by the IRS."

O'Grady: Finally, a Real Revolution -

O'Grady: Finally, a Real Revolution -
A civil-society movement emerges in Central America

The Burmese Junta Still Fears Suu Kyi -

The Burmese Junta Still Fears Suu Kyi -