Monday, November 21, 2011

Indiana State Senator Luke Kenley Pushing for Online Sales Tax

HARBESON: I’m not buying what they’re selling

SELLERSBURG — State government officials hate the fact that online businesses do not have to charge sales tax on purchases if the company has no actual physical presence in the state where the customer resides.

In Indiana, Republican State Sen. Luke Kenley hates it so much that he even wants the federal government involved.

Like any good politician, Kenley is salivating to spend — he knows lots of transactions happen online and thinks the government should get a cut of the action. He estimates up to $400 million annually could be siphoned off the people if the government can get its hands on 7 percent of the total spent every time a person wants to buy stuff.

He wants states to be able to treat online businesses as badly as they treat brick-and-mortar businesses — by forcing the online companies to become tax collectors too.

Many brick-and-mortar companies are on his side. They say they want to “level the playing field,” which really means they want all businesses to be equally dragged down by government regulations. After all, if they have to perform tax collecting duties, then every other business should be forced to perform tax collecting duties.

I can understand their frustration. Some traditional merchants have found themselves in a situation where they are simply showrooms. Consumers come to look at products and then go home and order online to save money.

To make the situation worse, in 2007, when the big online retailer Amazon created a physical presence in Indiana, the state made a deal that allowed the company to continue not collecting sales tax. As a result, the state is being sued by a large mall retailer to force Amazon to start playing tax collector for the state too — just as the retail merchants in their malls have to do.

It’s too bad that Indiana’s brick-and-mortar companies see the online companies as the problem when they are only trying to remain free from the burden of tax collecting. They should be focused on the entity responsible for forcing any business to collect taxes.

If the brick-and-mortar companies are actually upset enough to come together to take action, maybe they should also refuse to play tax collector. Tell the government to do their own darn dirty work.

Why is any of this an issue in the first place? Because Indiana residents are supposed to report their out-of-state purchases and pay any sales tax they “owe” to the government on those purchases. Few people actually do this, which means the government has a problem.

Sales taxes can still be paid no matter what an online business does or where it physically exists but that’s not happening very often. Evidently the vast, vast majority of people don’t think they owe the government anything when they buy a sweater.

It’s good to hear that the amount of sales tax collected from online sales is tiny in comparison to the transactions that are occurring. It gives me hope to think that there are very few people brainwashed enough to actually believe they owe the government every time they happen to engage in voluntary trade with others, no matter where the buyer and seller happen to live.

If individuals throughout the United States did think they were actually under some sort of moral obligation to pay sales taxes, they’d pay. There would be no issue whatsoever and certainly no need for Kenley to push for federal government involvement so states could force business to collect the payment.

All Kenley’s proposal adds up to is an attempt to validate a government claim to property that the people are simply unwilling to accept.

— Clark County resident Debbie Harbeson thinks the only thing worse than being forced to be a taxpayer is being forced to be a tax collector.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Parks Are Political

HARBESON: A form of recreational government

> SOUTHERN INDIANA — I’m not sure New Albany-Floyd County Parks Superintendent Roger Jeffers understands the inherent nature of his job — he always seems surprised that politics is involved.

For example, he recently said, “We’re not a political group, but we seem to get caught in the middle of political groups.”

Mr. Jeffers is mistaken. All government programs are political. No matter how much he may not want it to be the case, Jeffers simply cannot deny being part of a political group.

Mr. Jeffers is a government employee running a government program. His group does not operate through peaceful voluntary means. He is inside a system that gets its funding through the threat of force.

He will always be part of a political group as long as government is involved in funding and operating local recreation. So if the pursuit of such funding feels political and makes him uncomfortable, well Mr. Jeffers needs to understand that it’s the system he chose to work inside and he must accept this sad truth.

Although Mr. Jeffers doesn’t see himself as part of a political group, he does admit that he’s involved in politics in general, however unwillingly, because he’s also said, “We want to take politics out of it,” when discussing alternative methods of funding parks.

That’s a nice goal, but this, too, is impossible, particularly when considering what Mr. Jeffers thinks is the answer. He has been consistently and continually promoting a proposed attempt to use state government to get what he wants — a special taxing district.

Talk about politics at its worst! If Mr. Jeffers doesn’t want politics involved he certainly should not be supporting a political scheme that would create yet another law upon the people, making it easier to force funding into a particular government entity. By appealing to a higher government authority to get what he wants locally, he would be using the very politics he claims to disdain.

Mr. Jeffers will never be able to “take politics out of it,” as long as it is a government program, and not something offered through the voluntary marketplace. However, when parks are voluntary, anyone who is not a user or involved in some way will never find himself unwillingly pulled into political battles.

No, voluntary groups just quietly go on their way, doing what they do, in whatever manner the people involved decide. We know this can be done even in parks because we have been able to see evidence for ourselves in the local area for 20 years now — Perrin Family Park in Jeffersonville. People who care can develop private recreational facilities through voluntary means.

But when people try to accomplish similar goals through the force of government, everything changes. People who don’t care and don’t want to be involved still have to endure fights over power and control, battles over money, disagreements on how a recreational property should best be used and on and on. It’s a problem because people who happen to live inside a geographical boundary cannot opt out of participating like they can when a park is privately operated.

It’s important to point out the truth when someone who is inside the system like Mr. Jeffers tries to pretend his little niche is different somehow. It’s not. It’s just another government program and we need to at least be honest about that before discussing any related issues.

In the end, I side firmly with Mr. Jeffers in his desire to get “politics out of it.” I’d love to put recreation into the private realm where people can voluntarily and peacefully interact with each other as they work toward common goals.

— Clark County resident Debbie Harbeson would love to get politics out of, well, everything.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Absentee Ballot Controversy in Jeffersonville and Clarksville

HARBESON: No absence of malice here

SELLERSBURG — After an election consultant, hired by various campaigns in Jeffersonville and Clarksville, was indicted by a Jennings County grand jury on charges related to absentee voter fraud, local campaign officials involved with him have been scrambling to defend their own campaigns in very colorful ways.

For example, while expounding on the intricacies of indictment compared to conviction, one local politician from Jeffersonville said, “You can take a grand jury and get indicted on the color of your lipstick if they want to do that.”

Wow, I was completely unaware of this. I thought grand jury indictments were only for felony charges, not for fashion faux pas.

I had no idea choosing the color of lipstick could make me susceptible to grand jury indictment. I’m glad now that I passed on that great two-for-one offer the other day for a special shade of glossy lipstick called “Smoky Purple Passion Temptress.”

Wearing that is an indictable offense for sure.

I wonder if the release of this information has anything to do with the reason why Clark County has experienced a much larger amount of absentee ballot requests for this municipal election.

Think about it. If a lipstick-loving voter is afraid of possible indictment, what would she (or he, I’m not going to be sexist about this) do about voting? These voters certainly won’t want to risk heading out to the voting booth all gussied up.

On the other hand, they certainly wouldn’t want to be seen in public with naked, pale, dry lips. So the obvious solution to this dilemma is absentee voting.

If this lipstick issue isn’t disturbing enough, a county political party official also made an interesting statement when talking about voter fraud accusations. He said this kind of thing happens all the time, “It’s like farting in an elevator and blaming it on the guy next to you.”

I guess that explains why politics stinks so badly. I’m wondering though — do such activities really happen that often? I have no idea. All I know is that the next time I’m unlucky enough to have to enter a government building, I’m taking the stairs.

A PAC named The Clarksville Democrat Town Committee also hired this guy. Should residents be concerned? Not according to one incumbent candidate — he dismissed any allegations as “political mumbo jumbo.”

I like that phrase. As a matter of fact, if I was an election consultant, I’d recommend using it for their next fundraising dinner so they could serve up some “political mumbo jumbo gumbo.”

No need to pay me for that idea, candidates — I know you can use the money since local campaigns spend tens of thousands of dollars to solicit absentee votes. I’m sure you are spending that much money for pure civic responsibility reasons.

I do have a question though. If lots of absentee voting is due to this form of active solicitation, how knowledgeable are these voters about the individual campaigns and issues in question? It just seems odd that political campaigns work that hard to actively recruit the ignorant.

This recent scandal has brought out calls for reform of absentee voter laws. These people want you to believe that more legislation can fix the problem. The laws are just not written “correctly” and all that’s needed is some tweaking. I’m not so sure — after all, voting is just another government-run program.

Rewriting legislation in an attempt to avoid corruption and abuse is merely putting another coat of possibly indictment-inducing lipstick on the system. It won’t hide the ugly truth that voting is the method of gaining power and control over other people using government force.

— Clark County resident Debbie Harbeson says that from now on she’ll be wearing clear lip gloss when she leaves home, just to be safe.