Category Archives: Taxation

Phil Scott’s charity appears to be violating state tax law

Wheels for Warmth is a great thing. It turns an unutilized resource (winter tires sitting in garages) into money for emergency home heating assistance. It also gives many a Vermonter a chance to buy perfectly good snows on the cheap.

Win-win, and a testament to Phil Scott’s community-mindedness.

But when you run a charitable enterprise, no matter how noble, you have to play by the rules.

Charities that sell stuff to raise money are supposed to collect and pay sales tax. And as far as I can tell, Wheels for Warmth doesn’t do so.

An inquiry to the Tax Department produced the following information courtesy of Kirby Keeton, Tax Policy Analyst Interim General Counsel for the Department.

The state “cannot disclose tax information related to a specific taxpayer,” Keeton wrote. However, it can say whether an entity is registered to collect and pay sales tax.

Wheels for Warmth is not so registered.

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On the VPR Poll

Must have been some soiled britches at VTGOP headquarters when the news came out: a new poll shows the race for governor is a statistical dead heat.

If it’s accurate, of course. Usual caveats apply. Doesn’t help that this is the only pre-election poll we’re going to get, since VPR is the only media organization putting up money for surveys this year.

But for the sake of argument, let’s assume it’s reasonably on target.

There were reasons to believe the race would be close, but the almost universal assumption (me included) was that Phil Scott was the front-runner because of his name recognition, his inoffensive image, and Vermonters’ presumed post-Shumlin fatigue with liberal policymaking. Minter, by comparison, was known (to the extent she was known at all) mainly as a Shumlin underling, which meant she would struggle to create a profile of her own.

Instead, here we are, with Scott at 39 percent, Minter at 38, and a rather surprising 14 percent undecided.

So why is this race so close? Assuming, again, that the poll is accurate.

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Phil Scott Makes Tax Cut Plan Somewhat Less Awful

It hasn’t been that long since Phil Scott unveiled his glossy 39-page economic plan, but he’s already acknowledging one major mistake.

As the Vermont Press Bureau’s Neal Goswami reported over the weekend, Scott’s plan to cut capital gains taxes was based on Vermont’s old tax formula. As a result, the Scott campaign has watered down its cap-gains proposal.

Details in a moment. But first, let’s just put this out there:

[Cutting the capital gains tax] would spur tax shelters, generate little new saving, give a windfall to the wealthy, and make long-term budget problems even worse.

That’s from the commie-pinkos at the Brookings Institution. There’s plenty where that came from; the consensus among experts (not employed by the Cato Institute and other right-wing policy shops) is that capital gains tax cuts are, at best, a grossly inefficient way to spur economic growth. At worst, they’re a pointless squandering of resources.

But let’s return to Phil Scott’s plan, before and after. This will get into the weeds of tax policy, so my apologies in advance. I’ll try to keep things simple.

Vermont used to allow taxpayers to exclude 40 percent of their capital gains. That was killed in 2009, in favor of an exclusion for the first $2,500 in capital gains. The change was designed to concentrate the tax benefits at lower income levels; whether you got $2,500 in capital gains or $2,500,000, you got the same tax break.

Scott’s original plan would have restored the 40 percent exclusion.

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Hey kids! It’s time for Uncle Phil’s Funny Math!!!

So far, our political media has seen fit to abdicate its responsibility to fact-check the gubernatorial campaign. Instead, it has simply reported without comment the cornucopia of questionable numbers endlessly repeated by Phil Scott.

I do give ‘em credit for reporting Scott’s frequent non-answers and failures to give specifics on his own damn policy proposals. But they need to go farther. Especially since the Scott campaign has apparently decided not to respond to my own inquiries for substantiation.

Some of Scott’s figgers need a better man than I to assess, me not being a budget expert. But others are so transparently phony that even a muggle like me can see through them.

In this post, I’ll sometimes stand on the shoulders of Vermont’s number-one budget expert, Private Citizen* Doug Hoffer. In the absence of any oversight by the media, Hoffer has begun a projected series of essays examining Phil Scott’s favorite numbers.

*He’s also State Auditor, but he’s writing these pieces outside the auspices of his elected position.

First, let’s take Phil Scott’s constant claim that taxes and fees have risen by $700 million during the past six years of Democratic governance. Team Scott has failed to provide any documentation, but there is a little something in his economic plan.

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More tax-baiting from your VTGOP

Any day now, I expect Phil Scott to disavow the dishonest campaign tactics of his own Vermont Republican ParBWAHAHAHAHAHA Sorry, I thought I could get through that with a straight face.

At issue is VTGOP Executive Director Jeff Bartley’s continuing attacks on Sue Minter’s allegedly tax-happy ways. Problem: to make his case, he has to resort to fearmongering, gross exaggeration, and outright falsehood. So yeah, if Phil Scott were serious about negative campaigning, he’d clean up his own house first.

But I’m not holding my breah.

Bartley presents a two-fer in his latest press release, attacking Minter incorrectly for supporting a Vermont carbon tax (she doesn’t) and for pondering an expansion of the sales tax to include services (she’s considering it). The argument is taken further in this Tweet from @VTGOP.

Awww. Mean old lady wants to tax cute little boy’s haircut.

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Phil Scott is not a chicken, but he’s running a chickenshit campaign

Almost two weeks ago, I contacted the Phil Scott campaign asking for some simple but crucial information. It ought to be readily available, a simple email away.

The response to my repeated emails and phone calls?

Nothing. Not even a courtesy “Hey, we got your message and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can.”

Crickets.

Here’s my question. Phil Scott regularly claims that over the past six years of Democratic governance*, taxes and fees have increased by $700 million.

*He never refers to Peter Shumlin by name, it’s always the collective Democrats. Hive mind? 

All I want is the numbers. Which taxes and which fees have increased by how much? When you add them up, do they equal $700 million?

That’s all.

C’mon, if I were running a campaign and making that kind of claim, I’d make sure I had the figures close at hand. Indeed, he shouldn’t in good conscience make that claim unless he knows it’s true.

Right?

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Is this the most useless policy review ever?

Hey, here’s some good news. One of Vermont’s more problematic job-creation programs is getting a policy review.

Unfortunately, that’s where the good news ends.

The program is the Vermont Employment Growth Initiative, or VEGI for short. It provides incentives to employers who grow jobs in Vermont. The most frequent VEGI beneficiary is Keurig Green Mountain, which has raised eyebrows in some quarters, (“Fascinating,” I have found myself saying with left brow cocked, “but highly illogical.”) That’s because KGM’s rapid growth was fueled, not by the state’s generosity, but by its then patent-protected K-Cup brewing system.

Since its patents expired, it has struggled to maintain market share, bungled two key product rollouts, and — VEGI grants or no VEGI grants — laid off hundreds of Vermonters.

So yeah, I’m all for a review of this program. Unfortunately, this is a fox/henhouse situation. The people doing the review are members of the Vermont Economic Progress Council, the panel that awards the VEGI grants in the first place.

Uh-huh, they’re reviewing their own work.

That ought to go well.

But wait, there’s more!

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