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Tax politics threaten retirement savings PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 01 November 2017 17:13

Should American workers finance a massive tax cut for businesses by giving up some of their retirement savings?
    That may sound like a dumb question, but it is being asked seriously in the U.S. Congress.
    The central feature of the tax law changes being considered by Congress is to reduce the business tax rate from 35% to 20%. The resulting loss of revenue, along with tax cuts for high-income payers, is forecast to add $5 trillion to the federal deficit over 10 years. This conflicts with a congressional rule that requires that changes in tax policy have no effect on the federal budget in 10 years.
    Which is why some in Congress want to severely limit the 401(k) plans millions of Americans depend on for retirement income.
    Republicans have been trying to keep the details of their tax overhaul plan under wraps, but members of Congress have said it calls for a drastic reduction in the cap on 401(k) contributions.
    The proposal would impose a $2,400 annual limit on contributions—a mere one-tenth of the $24,000 cap now in effect for workers age 50 and older and more than $15,000 lower than the $18,000 annual cap for younger workers.
    The 40l(k) program is in the sights of those bent on cutting business taxes to the level demanded by President Trump because it allows participants to defer paying taxes on contributions until the money is withdrawn. Limiting contributions would instantly bring in more tax revenue from workers to help offset tax-cut losses.
    William Gale, a former economic adviser to President George H.W. Bush now with the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, called the proposed caps “just an enormous budget gimmick . . . raiding future revenues to pay for current tax cuts.”
    This is retrograde policy at its worst, concocted to serve a political agenda and threatening to take the quality of life of families backward by denying them adequate access to the retirement program more Americans depend on than any other besides Social Security.
    Since 1980, when the program was added to the tax code, 401(k) accounts have become the most common employer-sponsored retirement plans. They are more important now than ever because company pension plans have mostly disappeared.
    The $2,400 annual cap would be too small to add up to a comfortable next egg and would likely discourage many workers from even bothering to sign up for their employer’s 401(k) plan.
    The genius of 401(k) is not just that it gives workers control over their retirement savings; it is also that it enables them to participate in the country’s economic growth by investing in the stock market with the professional guidance that is included with most 40l(k) programs and paid for by employers.
    The threat to the retirement plans opens another window on political hypocrisy. Advocates for cutting the business tax by more than 40% argue it’s needed to stimulate the economy, yet to facilitate it they would restrict workers’ ability to enjoy the fruits of that prosperity by severely limiting the amount of their earnings they can contribute to 401(k) stock and bond investments.
    President Trump said he would not sign a tax bill that does not cut the business tax to 20%. Then he tweeted there should be no change in the “great and popular middle class tax break” of the 40l(k) program.
    People who have learned that the president’s views have a short shelf life were probably not surprised when he said a few days later that it was all right if the 401(k) proposal was part of legislative negotiation.
    A survey taken last year found that three-fourths of Americans fear they won’t have enough money to support themselves through retirement.
    Sadly, there will be good reason for that number to grow if 401(k) is crippled for a tax cut.

The Town of Grafton is not a firing range PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 25 October 2017 16:16

It would be no surprise if a scientific analysis of the soil in areas of the Town of Grafton revealed an abnormally high content of lead. Thousands of rounds of ammunition have been fired over that land.
    The Town of Grafton, particularly the part along Highway C between Port Washington and Lakefield Road, was once the home of some of the most intensely hunted public hunting grounds in the state.
    On opening day of upland game season, the shoulders of Highway C were parked chock-a-block with hunters’ vehicles. When the hundreds of hunters took to the fields and legal hunting started on a Saturday noon, the barrage could have passed for the thunder of a military assault.
    Much of the lead in the ground is no doubt in the form of No. 6 shot, the shotgun-shell pellet size favored by pheasant hunters. The Grafton hunting grounds were pheasant-hunting nirvana, thanks to the great numbers of the gaudy birds planted in the fields rented from farmers for public hunting by the DNR.
    This is not ancient history. Hunting was flourishing in rural Grafton as late as the last quarter of the 20th century. Then things changed. Homes popped up in what once were the wide-open spaces. Subdivisions consumed vast tracts of former farmland. An enormous shopping complex rose a short distance from the hunting grounds.
    Today, though crops are still grown on some land under contract, working farms are a thing of the past in the Town of Grafton. Residential development is surging. Town roads are busy, not with the vehicles of hunters, but with commuters, sightseers, bike riders, runners and walkers and people bound for the beauty and serenity of the county park created adjacent to the one-time hunting grounds, Lion’s Den Gorge Nature Preserve.
    The character of the area has changed to the point where shooting must be considered mostly an obsolete pastime in the Town of Grafton. And certainly, shooting rifles that fire high-velocity bullets, which unlike the short-range shotgun loads that once fell on the hunting grounds can fly for miles, cannot be considered safe in the current town environment.
     The more than 30 people wearing camouflage clothing who confronted the Grafton Town Board on Oct. 11 obviously disagree. They exercised their right as citizens to show up en masse to protest the town government’s restrictions on shooting ranges and expansion of the town’s no-discharge zone.
    Town Chairman Lester Bartel explained why the restrictions are needed: “We have received legitimate complaints about people coming out on weekends and firing hundreds of rounds of high-powered ammo, which has been scaring the bejeebers out of people.”
    In February, the board acted to put a stop to the use of land on Arrowhead Road, not far from the I-43 business district, for a firing range. Now the problem seems to have moved to the eastern part of the town near Highway C. Residents have reported prolonged firing of numerous guns and even shooting after dark. To be clear, this is not hunting; it’s shooting for the fun of shooting.
    The citizens who appeared at the board meeting to object to firearms restrictions were reacting to letters sent to owners of property where shooting has been taking place informing them that firing ranges are not allowed in the town.
    The residents were also informed of a possible amendment to the town’s nuisance ordinance that would further restrict the use of guns.
    The Town Board in on the right track. The type of shooting that is “scaring the bejeebers” out of some residents is simply not compatible with life in the town in the 21st century. Safety is the heart of the issue, but it is appropriate that the problem is being addressed under the nuisance ordinance—because the racket and anxiety caused by the shooting are truly a nuisance, one that people seeking the peace and quiet of the countryside should not have to endure.
    One of the firearms enthusiasts protesting the restrictions told the board, “I moved to the Town of Grafton so I could shoot.”
    His disappointment is understandable. The Town of Grafton is a nice place to live and shooting guns is a perfectly acceptable hobby that gives enjoyment to many, but the two do not go together.   

A city without a grocery store? PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 18 October 2017 16:07

“A good corporate citizen.”
    People in Port Washington are using those words to describe Sanfilippo Sentry, the city’s only supermarket.
    They are not using them to describe the new owner of the NorthPort Shopping Center, and for a good reason: That company’s restrictions on its property could leave the city with no grocery store at all.
    PJR Properties LLC of Sheboygan, an affiliate of the Piggly Wiggly Midwest supermarket chain, bought the shopping center in August and is advertising the space occupied by Sentry for lease with the restriction that it not be used by a supermarket.
    Besides leaving Port Washington without a food market for perhaps the first time in its 182-year history, the demise of Sentry would eliminate a competitor to the Piggly Wiggly market in Saukville.
    Sentry owner Joe Sanfilippo’s lease will expire May 30, 2018. Though he has the option to extend it, there are indications he wants to sell the business. But that option is complicated by the restriction against renting to another supermarket operator.
    The possibility of a thriving community of nearly 12,000 people not having a store that sells the fundamental necessity of life is a measure of economic evolution. When Port Washington’s population was about half its current size, the city had as many as eight grocery stores, plus three meat markets, two bakeries and two fish stores.
    Any one of today’s supermarkets likely has more food offerings than all of those stores combined. Size and variety are not the only aspects of the food business that have changed. So has the competition—it’s fierce. Even though Sentry is the sole supermarket in Port, competitors are but a few minutes’ drive from the city’s west side, and it is no secret that Sanfilippo Sentry has had plenty of challenges.
    But make no mistake, the loss of Sentry would be a blow. For many residents, it’s a convenient alternative to the two big Saukville markets, Walmart and Piggly Wiggly. As a competitor to those stores, it’s part of a dynamic that helps careful shoppers find the best food values. People who live near Sentry and appreciate the benefits of needing only a short drive, or maybe a walk, to buy groceries would especially miss it.
    And there’s more at stake. The perceived inability to support a grocery store would dull some of the lustre on the city’s image as a progressive community attractive to new residents and businesses. It would not go unnoticed that the other Ozaukee County communities of Port’s size, as well as the smaller Village of Saukville, have no dearth of supermarkets.
    A fond hope occasionally voiced in the city is that Sendik’s, the independent, Wisconsin-owned and much respected supermarket company that has stores in Mequon and Grafton, would come to town and succeed Sentry in the NorthPort Shopping Center. That’s probably a fantasy, and in any case the anti-competitor restrictions stand in the way.
    To its credit, Port Washington’s city government has taken a role in trying to save or replace Sanfilippo Sentry. It is the right thing to do, but the city’s options are limited by the lack of a building suitable for a supermarket other than the restricted NorthPort Shopping Center space. Nonetheless, there is some hope that incentives offered by the city will attract a buyer that could carry on the Sentry business under the lease.        
    Against a deadline of October 31 for informing his landlord he intends to extend the lease, Joe Sanfilippo is working with city officials to find a way for the Sentry store to carry on under its lease, which is in keeping with his approach to doing business here. He has been a generous supporter of community causes. That is the characteristic of a good corporate citizen.
    What is not a characteristic of that is the message on the shopping center’s sign advertising for a new tenant for the Sentry space: “Not available for supermarket use.”

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