The Economy Hub With Michael Hiltzik
State tax board members disingenuously defend a power grab

George Runner and Fiona Ma, two members of the state Board of Equalization, say I "unfairly" criticized a plan in the state legislature to give the board the power to assess commercial aircraft.

They're right that I criticized the plan, in my column at the beginning of May

But "unfairly"? We'll see. The assessment authority is currently held by county assessors, especially those in counties with major airports. They don't think any better of the legislative proposal than I did.

Runner's and Ma's complaint is embodied in a May 15 letter to The Times. It's outlined in greater detail in a column they placed in a few other news outlets around the state. Even at full length, however, Runner and Ma can't refute the key issue I raised about the legislative plan, which is that it gives big airlines the chance to look for a tax-assessing entity they can push around, and the Board of Equalization is "It."

Still, let's hear out Runner and Ma.

They say the question of "what's taxable and what isn't"...

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The RadioShack bankruptcy shows you can't trust a company's privacy pledge

Millions of RadioShack customers -- as many as 117 million -- may have taken the gadget chain at its word when it pledged that it would safeguard their personal information forever.

"We will not sell or rent your personally identifiable information to anyone at any time," the chain stated on its website. At the checkout registers in its stores, a placard read: "At RadioShack, we respect your privacy. ... We pride ourselves on not selling our private mailing list."

But RadioShack is now in bankruptcy, and its mailing list and hoard of customers' personally identifiable information have been -- guess what? -- placed up for sale. The winning bidder is the hedge fund Standard General, which earlier had acquired more than 1,700 of the chain's store locations.

The final step of Standard General's acquisition of Radioshack's corpse--the $26.2-million purchase of the customer data, along with the RadioShack name--is scheduled for approval Wednesday by U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Brendan Shannon of Delaware....

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Football stadium follies: How the NFL will pick San Diegans' pockets

One must doff one's hat to the National Football League. Its talent for siphoning money from taxpayers into the pockets of its team-owning billionaires has never shined so bright. The financing plan for a new stadium for the NFL San Diego Chargers, unveiled Monday by a local civic group, sets a new standard for allowing the league to exploit municipal panic and using financial sleight-of-hand to make the process look painless. 

The citizens committee proposing this plan actually is proud of its handiwork, calling its financing plan "fair and workable" and praising itself for beating its deadline by four months. "A path to a new state-of-the-art stadium now exists in San Diego," the panel says. They should have kept working. 

Here's the bottom line. The $1.1-billion to $1-3 billion plan would require contributions of $121 million each from taxpayers of the city of San Diego and the county of San Diego, over time. That's not counting the proceeds of the sale of 75 acres of public land to...

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State governments lament that citizens are actually getting health coverage

One of the more bizarre spectacles of U.S. government in the modern age is the sight of political leaders complaining that a public program is actually working.

On Monday, Politico delivered a striking case in point. The subject was Obamacare, or more specifically the expansion of Medicaid through which millions of low-income families receive health coverage. According to author Rachana Pradhan, in many states that expanded Medicaid and even some that rejected expansion under the Affordable Care Act, enrollment has significantly exceeded projections.

To some political leaders, for some reason, this is supposed to be a bad thing. Some Republican governors are in effect calling it "an 'I told you so' moment," Pradhan reports.

Well, yes, but not in the way they mean. What they were told was that the pent-up demand for health coverage was immense, especially among low-income Americans trapped in the utterly dysfunctional and unresponsive individual insurance market. That's turned out to be...

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Congress plots to pay for a trade deal by raiding Medicare

Medicare means many things to many people. To seniors, it's a program providing good, low-cost healthcare at a stage in life when it's most needed.

To Congress, it's beginning to look more like a piggy bank to be raided.

That's the only conclusion one can draw from a provision slipped into a measure to extend and increase the government's Trade Adjustment Assistance program, which provides assistance to workers who lose their jobs because of trade deals. The measure, introduced by Rep. David Reichert (R-Wash.), proposes covering some of the $2.7-billion cost of the extension by slicing $700 million out of doctor and hospital reimbursements for Medicare.

The plan on Capitol Hill is to move the Trade Assistance Program expansion in tandem with fast-track approval of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, possibly as early as this week. We explained earlier the dangers of the fast-track approval of this immense and largely secret trade deal. But the linkage with the assistance program...

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Despite Amtrak crash, infrastructure spending remains low priority

Last week's horrific Amtrak crash outside Philadelphia has inspired much talk about the need to shore up America's crumbling public infrastructure.

But the prospect of action on infrastructure hasn't even notched upward as the Amtrak toll reached eight dead and more than 200 injured. The very day after the crash, House Republicans voted along party lines to cut Amtrak's funding by nearly one-fifth.

They also turned away a Democratic proposal to add funds for a safety technology that might have averted the accident. There's plenty of blame to go around: Only a few weeks ago, Democrats and Republicans on the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation joined to delay by five years a mandate to implement the technology nationwide by the end of this year.

Infrastructure spending can be slotted into several categories: as the construction of physical works, such as highways and bridges; the deployment of safer or more efficient technical enhancements; or the provision of less tangible...

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