Connecticut determined to pluck every feather from golden goose

Connecticut_State_Capitol,_Hartford

If one wanted to chart a course for steering a state onto the shoals, look no further than Connecticut.

Twenty-five years ago, the Nutmeg State had no state income tax and served as tax refuge for many New York City workers.

Those days are long gone; last week the Connecticut legislature again raised state income tax rates, with the top marginal rate set to rise to 6.99 percent.

Of course, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy promised during his re-election campaign last year that he wouldn’t raise taxes, but that’s the same thing he said in 2010, a year before he signed a $2.6 billion tax hike.

The thing is, it’s not like Connecticut is growing like gangbusters and can afford to bleed its citizens dry.

According to the Wall Street Journal:

…the state grew a scant 0.9% in 2013, the last year state data are available. That was tied for tenth worst in the U.S. The state’s average compounded annual growth for the last four years is 0.42%. Slow growth means less tax revenue but spending never slows down. Some “40% of the state budget goes to government employee compensation and benefits, including payroll, state pensions, teacher pensions and current and retiree health care,” says Carol Platt Liebau, president of the Hartford-based Yankee Institute. …The Tax Foundation ranks Connecticut as one of the 10 worst states to do business. The state finished last in Gallup’s Job Creation Index in 2014 and now ties with Rhode Island for the worst job creation in the index since 2008.

The Journal added that Connecticut was one of six states that lost population in fiscal 2013-2014, and a Gallup poll in the second half of 2013 found that about half of state residents would migrate if they could.

If all of the above weren’t bad enough, lawmakers also made permanent a 20 percent surtax on Connecticut-based companies’ annual tax liability – a tax on a tax – which would be figured on Connecticut companies’ world-wide income, rather than what they earn in the state, according to the Journal.

Consider some of the corporations headquartered in Connecticut: Aetna, Cigna, General Electric, Pratt & Whitney, Praxair and Xerox.

Why would any of the above stay in Connecticut when faced with this kind of competitive disadvantage?

No doubt economic development officials in low-tax states such as Texas and Florida are giddy with anticipation at getting a shot at landing the likes of a GE or Pratt & Whitney.

“The high marginal rates are bad enough, but it is an astonishing overreach to tax corporations headquartered in your state based on their worldwide income,” according to the Coyote Blog. “This leads to a huge double taxation problem for any company dumb enough to stay.”

(Top: Connecticut Statehouse, Hartford, Conn.)

Amtrak train takes out 70,000 pounds of cured heaven

amtrak bacon 2

Oh, the porcinity!

In a world seemingly run amok – with militants misusing religion to spread hate; drought, floods and other weather phenomena of catastrophic nature wreaking havoc; and governments increasingly using technology to spy on its own citizens – another tragedy occurred Friday in the Midwestern US.

An Amtrak train headed to Chicago from San Antonio slammed into a tractor-trailer carrying thousands of pounds of bacon at a crossing in Wilmington, Ill.

There were a few injuries, all believed minor, but the overturned truck was split open like a gutted hog and 70,000 pounds of bacon were flung about at the site of impact.

The contents represented hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of the cured meat product, especially prized in North America, Western Europe and at the global headquarters of this blog.

(Top: Demolished tractor-trailer seen Friday in front of Amtrak train in Wilmington, Ill., with thousands of pounds of bacon strewn about.)

Jeopardy highlights Americans’ poor knowledge of Canada

Americans’ wonderfully inept understanding of their northern neighbor was in full evidence during a recent episode of the long-running game show Jeopardy recently.

After running through the five other categories, the three contestants were left with five opportunities in the category titled “Canadian Cities.”

Contestants No. 1 and 2, “Dan” and “Victoria,” failed to venture a response on any of the five clues, appearing to have stuffed their signaling devices deep inside their lecterns, perhaps out of fear they might accidentally alert host Alex Trebek that they were interested in venturing a guess.

The other contestant, “Randy,” probably wishes he’d done the same. Trailing the other two, he took a crack at three questions and struck out all three times, watching his winnings go from $5,600 to negative $2,600, thereby eliminating himself from a chance at Final Jeopardy.

Most egregious of Randy’s errors was his response to this clue: “The swan is a symbol of this Ontario city; each year, black and white ones are released in to the Avon River.”

Randy’s response: “What is Edmonton.”

Oh, only missed it by 2,200 miles and four provinces, as the answer was Stratford. Edmonton remains firmly ensconced in the province of Alberta, while Stratford is more or less equidistant between Detroit and Toronto, in Ontario, as was noted in the question.

Here’s an idea: If I were going to venture guesses about Canadian cities and obviously didn’t know much about Canadian geography, I might want to stick with “Montreal” and “Toronto” as responses. Indeed, one of the five cities in the Jeopardy episode was “Montreal,” but, of course, no one got it.

Given that Trebek is from Canada, he likely found the entire episode distinctly disconcerting.

Still, at least no one blurted out “Alaska,” or something equally ridiculous.

Police: Don’t mix bears, booze, dull hatchets and stupidity

black bear

Wise words from officials in North Adams, Mass.:

“The North Adams Police Department is urging everyone to NOT chase bears through the woods with a dull hatchet, drunk,” the department informed residents of the western Massachusetts community through a May 11 post on Facebook. “Yes that really did happen tonight. We understand there are bears in the area. If you see a bear, LEAVE IT ALONE and call us.”

While North Adams authorities declined to identify the intoxicated wannabe frontiersman or his ursine prey, they explained the consequences of such actions while admitting the affair left them just a tad bewildered.

“We certainly don’t need anyone going all Davy Crockett chasing (a bear) through the woods drunk with a dull hatchet,” the Facebook post continued. “It is just a bad idea and not going to end well. It will however, certainly end you up in jail … which it did. The hatchet man was taken into protective custody due to his incapacitation from the consumption of alcoholic beverage. We are still trying to figure out his end game.

As the Boston Globe helpfully pointed out, Crockett, the famed 19th century American backwoodsman, hunted bears with a “team of attack dogs, guns and a sharp knife.”

To paraphrase an old saying, don’t bring a dull hatchet to a bear hunt. Or, better yet: go home, you’re drunk.

When fates and florists conspire to skewer good intentions

wilted_red_roses

What follows are a few of the impractical skills that I’ve honed over the years: making my children laugh during church services; catching snakes, turtles and a variety of other very bitey wildlife; and, to a lesser degree, committing myriad marital gaffes.

In the latter case, I’m fortunate to have a wife who is not only loving but also very forgiving.

Like a benevolent pontiff lovingly passing out absolution to the masses in St. Peter’s Square, she has forgiven me many transgressions over the past few years, including:

  • Bringing a large rat snake into the house while she was away working one weekend afternoon;
  • Letting a box turtle roam free in the house for several hours while she was working on another weekend afternoon. (She has a fear not only of snakes but of all reptiles);
  • Getting my car stuck in a giant mud hole – twice – while out in the country and requiring it to be pulled out by a wrecker at no small charge;
  • Losing my driver’s license in New England while we were on a recent vacation up north, forcing her to not only handle much of the driving from that point forward but also having to deal with a unionized Department of Motor Vehicles employee in Rhode Island who proceeded to display every stereotype connected with the rude, disinterested veteran DMV employee; and
  • Committing countless foolish acts too inane or embarrassing to specify through being forgetful, oblivious and/or an all-around general oaf.

Suffice it to say, Mrs. Cotton Boll has received many a flower bouquet over the years from yours truly.

Last week arose yet again another of those instances when it came time for me to try to make amends. But, given the gravity of my latest faux pas, I thought my actions warranted a delivery from florist instead of store-bought flowers. And because we live in the so-called information age I turned to the Internet.

While there’s no question the Internet can do some wonderful things, such as putting an amazing amount of knowledge at our fingertips, I’ve found that it’s been staggeringly proficient at creating chaos, as well.

Let’s just say that my attempt to smooth things over with the Missus by relying on technology has ended up causing an inordinate amount of grief, nearly all of it mine, which is now stretching into its fifth day.

Continue reading

I came, I saw, but there was no Latin to be conquered

veni vidi

Unlike my parents and grandparents, I never had the option of studying Latin while in high school.

Mind you, the decidedly uninspired worth ethic I demonstrated in my teens perhaps ensured that I wouldn’t have taken Latin had it been offered, but the fact that California’s public school system was well in the crapper by the time I was enrolled in high school in 1980 made it a non issue.

Indeed, the Language of the Caesars was considered passé by the lightweights who had taken control of the Golden State’s education system beginning in the 1960s.

Instead, I squeaked my way through a couple of years of French – which in no way prepared me for the two years of college French that was required for me to graduate.

Years later I regret not having studied at least a smattering of Latin at some point in my schooling.

To be able to read Cicero, Cato or Tacitus in the original would have given me the chance to view their world through a wholly different lens, rather than one distorted, even unintentionally, by translation.

Fortunately, after a decline of several decades the study of Latin is increasing in popularity once again. Perhaps, common sense is returning to a segment of the education community, and the greatness of literary giants of past millennia are again being recognized on a wider basis.

Latin may not be for everybody but as Cicero once stated, “Cultivation to the mind is as necessary as food to the body.”

(Above: Cartoon from The New Yorker and likely the only time the words “mani” or “pedi” will ever appear in this blog.)

An unintended consequence of minimum-wage laws

Borderlands Exterior

Borderlands Books is a privately owned San Francisco bookstore that has been in operation for nearly 20 years.

Concentrating on science fiction, fantasy, mystery and horror works, Borderlands has overcome a number of challenges since opening in 1997: a 100 percent bump in rent in 2000; the trend toward online sales; the increasing popularity of ebooks; and the impact of the Great Recession.

Still, according to store officials, Borderlands managed to overcome each of the trials. In fact, last year was the best the store had enjoyed.

“At the beginning of 2014, the future of the business looked, if not rosy, at least stable and very positive,” Borderlands officials wrote on the store’s website. “We were not in debt, sales were meeting expenses and even allowing a small profit, and, perhaps most importantly, the staff and procedures at both the bookstore and the cafe were well established and working smoothly.”

Despite that, Borderlands recently announced it would be closing, by March 31 at the latest.

The reason? Last November San Francisco voters, out of touch with the realities of running a business, overwhelmingly passed a measure that will increase the minimum wage within the city to $15 an hour by 2018.

Borderlands Books as it exists cannot remain financially viable in light of increased minimum wages, according to the store website.

Unlike some businesses, bookstores are hindered in their ability to adjust for rising costs.

There’s a limit to how much a bookstore can increase book prices because publishers set prices. In addition, companies such as Amazon.com have siphoned off consumers from brick-and-mortar bookstores and made it more difficult to get them to pay retail.

In other words, adjusting prices upward to cover increased wage costs isn’t an option for Borderlands.

The change in the minimum wage will see Borderlands’ payroll jump nearly 40 percent. That will result in total operating expenses being bumped up by 18 percent. For Borderlands to offset that expense, it would need to increase sales by a minimum of 20 percent, which it doesn’t see as realistic.

Continue reading