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July 2007

June 2007

Escape from New York ... for $8

Curbing congestion in the Big Apple apparently isn't a one-way street. A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned a proposal by New York City officials to reduce traffic in Manhattan by charging vehicles to enter certain areas of the city. The so-called congestion zone costs would be $8 for passenger autos and $21 for commercial trucks. Well, it seems those fees apply to folks who want out of the city, too. According to a story In In today's New York Times, city officials have been downplaying the traffic plan's exit cost component "perhaps in part because the fee would be... Read more →

Finally! No rain today!

When we got back to Texas in May 2005, the state was in the midst of a drought, which I whined about bemoaned in January 2006 and again last September. The came some spring rains, which everyone welcomed. But it's true: You can have too much of a good thing. These last two weeks have put an end to Central Texas' infatuation with precipitation. Although local meteorologists say June is typically a wet month for the Austin area -- usually the third or fourth wettest month of the year -- the late-month rainfall we've gotten is unusual. Sadly, this rare... Read more →

Does Idaho have your assets?

If it does, you better get in touch with state tax officials ASAP. On July 1, Idaho might be able to keep your cash! Or your stocks, bonds, mutual funds, bank accounts, uncashed payroll checks, utility deposits, traveler's checks, contents from deposit boxes and other valuable items. Those are they types of assets that the Idaho Tax Commission, which is the official overseer of the state's unclaimed property, says it collects every year. The Gem State began 2007 with more than $16 million in unclaimed money in its treasury. The assets end up under state control, say tax officials, because... Read more →

Dubya says 'maybe' to health care tax credit

The prez said yesterday that he might be willing to support a $5,000 federal health care tax credit for families covered by private insurance. A couple of months ago, in his State of the Union address, Dubya proposed a health care standard deduction of $15,000 for families and $7,500 for individuals who purchase their own medical policies. The administration says the deduction "would level the playing field" with workers who receive a tax benefit for health care coverage by their employers. But at a June 27 briefing, called to discuss pending legislation on the State Children's Health Insurance Program (S-CHIP),... Read more →

Today's favorite headline chuckle

From today's Washington Post In the Loop column comes word that, "House Grudgingly Accepts a Pay Raise" Of course, writer Lois Romano, a long-time Beltway resident, did append "as usual" to the headline statement. Romano goes on to explain the lawmakers' dilemma that their automatic 2.5 percent pay increase appears to contradict campaign promises and how they finally came to terms with the financial struggle. As she notes, "The cost-of-living increases for Congress are automatic by permanent law, and have for years been in the fine print of an appropriations bill, which also gives civil servants a COLA increase. Having... Read more →

Texas opens its borders to CPAs

Here's one "immigration" bill that met little resistance. Texas now has a new law that makes it easier for out-of-state CPAs to practice in the state. House Bill 2144, known as the CPA Mobility Bill, was recently signed into law by Gov. Rick Perry. The measure was endorsed by the Texas Society of CPAs (TSCPA). Out-of-state CPA firms will be required to have a Texas license to perform audits on Texas companies, but CPAs with qualifications that are substantially equivalent to state standards may practice in the Lone Star State without notice or license for all other services. "Texas Society... Read more →

Are your neighbors making their house payments?

Foreclosure activity across the United States increased 19 percent in May, according to the latest monthly report from RealtyTrac. The foreclosure-following company said that last month, more than 176,000 foreclosure filings were reported. The total includes default and auction sale notices, as well as repossessions. May 2007 figures were up 19 percent from the previous month and up nearly 90 percent from May 2006. The report also found a national foreclosure rate of one foreclosure filing for every 656 U.S. households during the month. Bad odds for Nevada homeowners: Nevada last month recorded one foreclosure filing for every 166 households,... Read more →

Some alternative summer reading

Looking for something other than the typical beach book? Then check out the Joint Committee on Taxation's Present Law and Background Relating to the Individual Alternative Minimum Tax. It's only 33 pages, so you should be able to finish it well before the topic is discussed at tomorrow's Senate Finance Committee hearing, "The Stealth Tax that's No Longer a Wealth Tax: How to Stop the AMT from Sneaking Up on Unsuspecting Taxpayers." Read more →

The first thing we do, let's tax all the lawyers

That's what one Georgia lawmaker is suggesting. Glenn Richardson, Speaker of the Georgia House of Representatives, plans during next year's legislative session to push a bill that would levy the state's sales tax on attorneys. Actually, the measure would tax all professional-service providers, notes an article on, from barbers and landscapers to accountants and, yes, lawyers. Since it's always more fun to consider an attorney in an uncomfortable, and in this case taxing situation, let's look at what the measure might cost a counselor in Atlanta, where the sales tax is 8 percent. If the lawyer puts in an... Read more →

A bite at CAFE standards

Late last week, the Senate passed an energy bill that calls for more fuel-efficient vehicles, outlaws energy price gouging and requires huge increases in the production of ethanol. The proposal to increase government mandated fuel economy for vehicles, known as Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards, was particularly contentious. CAFE rules were established by Congress in 1975 in response to the 1973 Arab oil embargo and are administered by the U.S. Department of Transportation. This latest change, the first increase in vehicle fuel efficiency since 1989, would up CAFE to 35 miles per gallon for cars, SUVs and pickups by... Read more →

Texas Tech filmmaker in TV competition

Clearing out some e-mail today I finally got around to reading my June alumni newsletter. Usually I give the e-mail missive a cursory glance and hit delete. My apologies to the Techsters putting it together; as the saying goes, it's not you, it's me. But this time an article piqued my interest. Now, I'm not a fan of reality shows, but I am a movie buff. So I've watched a couple of episodes of Fox's On the Lot. I've always dreamed of making a movie (or two or ...) and I was intrigued by the possibility that the next Orson... Read more →

The Rocket in 2057

OK, I admit it. As an Astros fan, this season I have a bit of extra enmity toward the Yankees. But all my fellow anti-Bronx Bombers and/or Roger Clemens haters will get a kick out of this clip from Funny or Die. Roger Clemens 2057 According to a Newark Star-Ledger blog, Clemens, Yankees manager Joe Torre and team coaches gathered in an office at Coors Field and watched the video on Thursday before the Rocket's start against the Colorado Rockies. They all laughed at it, including Clemens, the Ledger reported. Good thing Roger got a chuckle before the game, since... Read more →

Northeast reminder: Tax returns due Monday

While most of us put tax filing duties behind us months ago, the deadline for some northeastern residents is Monday. Select folk in Connecticut, Maine, New Hampshire, New Jersey and New York who suffered through severe storms just before the regular April filing deadline were given until June 25 to get their returns on the way to the IRS. The region's inclement weather back then produced widespread flooding, incapacitated public transportation and led to power outages that made it impossible for many filers to fulfill their tax responsibilities. The extension applies to residents of the following counties: Hartford, Fairfield, Litchfield,... Read more →

Permanent energy tax breaks
for CT homeowners

Connecticut homeowners, take a breath. You don't have to rush to get your residential energy improvement purchases in under the sales-tax-free wire. The state's Weatherization Sales Tax Holiday, a year-long sales and use tax exemption for purchases of energy-efficient home improvement products, was scheduled to expire at midnight this June 30. But Nutmeg State lawmakers have made the weatherization tax break permanent. The indefinite extension is part of a new law that took effect on June 4 that also exempts the sales and use tax on Energy Star certified appliances purchased on that date and thereafter, including: Refrigerators and freezers... Read more →

Are 'Love Motels' evading taxes?

Honduran tax officials think they are. That Central American nation's tax collectors have instituted Operation Fiscal Love, an effort to crack down on lodging establishments, dubbed "love motels," that they believe earn more than they report. The oversight, say officials, cheats the Honduran government out of about $40,000 a month in taxes. And they believe it comes primarily from customers who appreciate the inns' clandestine charms. Lovers looking for discreet trysting places check into these Honduran "no-tell motel" rooms that rent for as briefly as six hours. The Associated Press reports that "scores of the hotels are located on the... Read more →

Rock 'n Roll summer camp

It's no surprise that music camps are big here in Austin, Live Music Capital of the World. Rock Camp USA, a part of the Austin School of Music, operates camps in Austin and Fort Worth, as well as in Chicago, Miami, L.A. and Davenport, Iowa. "Study" options range from Lil' Rockers Camp for 5-to-7-year-olds to programs for jazz fans to intensive camps for tomorrow's Maroon 5 or White Stripes or Police or Rolling Stones. For aspiring Fergies or Lily Allens, Austin also has a Girls Rock Camp. But Austin's definitely not alone in educating young musicians. Baby boomer parents nationwide... Read more →

Carnival of Personal Finance Greatest Hits

To celebrate the second anniversary edition of the Carnival of Personal Finance, host J.D. of Get Rich Slowly has put together quite a creative collection this week. Not only does the Carnival contain impressive "best-of" financial tips from 82 bloggers, including my take on speculative real estate, J.D. has presented them along Billboard's lines. That is, the bloggings are the "hottest songs from the hottest artists, all chosen by the stars who made them popular." And to literally accompany the theme, J.D. has popped in some fun money-related videos throughout the Carnival. So turn up those speakers and listen and... Read more →

South Carolina sales tax now 6%

On June 1 (where did half the month go already!?), South Carolina's general state sales tax rate bumped up a percentage point to 6 percent. Under the legislation authorizing the new rate, the money collected from the one percent increase will go to the Homestead Exemption Fund to help reduce property taxes. State Department of Revenue officials note, however, that there are some exemptions to the new rate. It does not affect lodging, which is subject to a 7 percent levy; items subject to the $300 maximum tax (motor vehicles, airplanes, boats, and certain trailers), which will remain subject to... Read more →

Carnival of Cars

It's been a wild week for gearheads. Jeff got Junior as a teammate. Lewis continued to kick butt on North American F1 tracks. And most of the Le Mans drivers managed to make it through a soggy 24 hours. And, oh yeah, Mark posted the latest Carnival of Cars. Cruise on over there and check out some of the auto info you need to know, including my item on some surprising summer driving trends. Read more →

IRS privacy protections look pretty darn good

Back in April, a convicted identity thief told a Congressional panel that the U.S. tax system was riddled with security holes. But now comes a news item that makes the IRS look airtight when compared to Swedish tax record keeping. "Swedes have unfettered access to almost all records that the state keeps on the population," according to an Associated Press story published in today's New York Times. "Only some 10,000 people who live under some form of threat, are excluded from the public records." Previously, nosy Swedes had to visit the local tax office to ask about their friends' and... Read more →