Monthly Archives: August 2009

Protest of 12-day Shutdown of State Gov Agency


Shame on you AJC! You didn’t let me comment on this article. Why not? Because you didn’t, I’ll comment here.

First, let me share the article I’m referencing: http://alturl.com/v82h

This article comes from www.ajc.com, the online version of what once was “The South’s Standard Newspaper”, the Atlanta Constitution and the Atlanta Journal, which, for decades claimed to “Cover Dixie Like the Dew”.

The headline for this article reads “12-day shutdown of state social service agency protested – Advocates say children could be more at risk”. To this, I say, “Harumphhhh.”

First a little background. Georgia’s bloated state government (more than 100,000 employees) is in deep financial trouble. Falling sales tax revenues (see my other blog articles on government waste) have resulted in agencies being forced to require employees to take unpaid furlough days in order to cut costs.

So, the Department of Human Services, and Commissioner B.J. Walker have tightened their belt and agreed to furlough employees for 12 days beginning the Friday before Labor Day and going through next June.

At first glance, this seems like an honorable solution to help with the state’s budget shortfall. But, there’s some deception in play here. Allow me to explain. All of the days, except for the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve are Fridays. Several of the Fridays fall before a scheduled 3-day state holiday weekend (Labor Day, Columbus Day, Martin Luther King’s Birthday, and Memorial Day). I’m not sure why they don’t have the Friday off before Confederate Memorial Day, which Georgia still celebrates at a state holiday the last Monday in April. This means that DHS is really extending the vacation time for these employees.

So . . . furloughing the thousands of employees in the DHS for 12 days saves the state money, right? Not really. Here’s why. As I observed during my eight years or so as a manager in GA Government, a huge number of employees take these days off anyway, using personal leave, annual leave, or conveniently scheduled sick leave. In Georgia government employment, annual leave and sick leave are earned each month that an employee works, based on a rate that increases as tenure increases. Personal leave can be earned by “cashing in” unused sick leave (up to three days per year) – so this is paid bonus time that employees can use for any reason, that allows them to save annual leave that can later be used or “cashed in” at retirement or resignation. [Disclaimer, when I resigned my position in the Department of Revenue, I “cashed in” about 4 weeks’ worth of unused Annual Leave, thus earning an additional paycheck equal to about a month’s pay for time I was not on the payroll. No, I’m not sending the check back.]Why is this NOT a good deal for the state? Because employees who would otherwise be using annual, sick, or personal leave to be off on these days are now off without pay. This means they don’t have to use their leave, and can take off another day at some other time during the year. By having the employees taking an additional day off, the services will be cut even further, causing a reduction in efficiency and putting the vulnerable citizens who need these services at further risk.

Anyone who has ever worked in a government environment, or any corporate environment, for that matter, has seen how little work gets done on the Friday before a long weekend, with employees taking it easy and getting into “weekend mode”. Now, the weekends in several cases will be 4-day weekends, so Thursday will be the day that those workers get into “weekend mode”. I have no empirical evidence to support this prediction, but I’m guessing that there will be a significant percentage of the workforce who uses annual, sick, of personal leave on the Thursday preceding these newly created 4-day weekends. Some may even try to take Wednesday, or at least Wednesday afternoon, as well.

Knowing that they are, in effect being paid less for their services, will also reduce their incentives to provide the best quality of service. I can imagine several of my former employees saying something like, “Well, they aren’t paying me for tomorrow, so I’m not working today”, while sitting in their cubicles reading a newspaper, and, by extension, reducing vital services to Georgia’s most vulnerable citizens. Again, I have no evidence to support this prediction, other than real life experience supervising more than a hundred government employees.

So, in my opinion, the bulk furloughs of state employees is not the money saver the state expects it to be, or advertises it to be. A better solution would be for DHS to rotate the furlough days by having a percentage of their work force take their furlough days on various days throughout the year.

An even better solution, in my opinion, would be for the state as a whole to make some drastic changes in the way that annual leave is awareded. First, they should eliminate the “Personal Leave” program and require employees to leave sick leave as sick leave. Employees are not allowed to “cash in” unused sick leave at termination like they are with annual leave. Second, employees should be limited in the number of annual leave hours they are allowed to roll over at the end of each year. Finally, the state should (and they have the authority to do so) trade the forced furloughs back to employees and require all employees to take a 15% reduction across the board to the number of annual leave hours accrued. This move alone would create a savings of millions of wasted dollars, and would protect the state for years to come – not just this year.

Now, if the AJC were a competent journalistic entity, they would assign a reporter to dig deeper into the REAL financial impact of these decisions. Hey, AJC, feel free to contact me at todd@tweetraxx.com and I can show you how to get your head out of (the sand) and walk you through how to investigate this.

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Filed under Georgia Government, Government Waste, Tax Issues

Thoughts on Ted Kennedy


From a political standpoint, I never really agreed with the late Sen. Edward Kennedy on much. His brother President Kennedy died almost exactly two years before I was born, and his brother Bobby was murdered when I was only 2 1/2 years old, so Ted was the only Kennedy I really knew about in life.

I remember following with interest his run to unseat Jimmy Carter for the Democratic nomination in 1980. I had just moved to Georgia a year earlier and the people there were so aghast at what a poor President their native son had become – I think that’s when Georgia flipped over to become what is now called a “Red State”.

One thing about Ted Kennedy that I always admired was that he never waivered in his positions. He never changed his tune. He was a liberal and was not ashamed to say so. So many from the left nowadays shy away from the liberal label, preferring to be called things like “progressive”, while conversely requiring derogatory labels for others.
Kennedy had his problems, no doubt, and history may or may not remember them. He had his qualities and we will hear of them ad nauseum for weeks.

Now, I hear that Robert Byrd wants to name the Socialized Medicine bill in Kennedy’s honor. Appropriate, considering that this was his dream for decades

I don’t know. I’ll kind of miss the liberal old lion. Now all we’re left with are lyin’ old liberals.

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Filed under Government Waste

Midnight Train to (Georgia)


First, please let me apologize for a couple of events that I experienced recently on a couple of my Twitter accounts, caused by – The-Follow-Train. For the record, the accounts were @ptoddkelly and @tweetraxx

I hope I’ve had a chance to apologize to all my Twitter followers for the way those jackholes spammed my account over the past few days. If not, please accept my humblest apologies.

After some research, I have figured out a logical way to prevent it. I have been reading your replies and DM”s, with chagrin. 

In order to keep you from falling into the same trap, take a lesson from what I learned. I signed up for the Follow-Train a few days ago, because a trusted Tweeter whom I follow suggested that I do. Well, that’s not entirely true. As I later found out, he had been spammed in the same way. Why? Apparently he had been told, er, spammed to do so by someone HE trusted, and so on, and so on, and so on.

Cut to the chase – the 3rd party app promises to increase your followers by having you follow a group of “VIP”s who, in turn will follow you. Sign is free, and you also have to follow 20 additional victims, er, people, who are also “Riding the Train” (to Nowheresville). And, finally, they ask your permission to retweet on your account, but what they DON”T tell you is the frequency of these tweets, which turns out to be, in my experience, about every 90 minutes or so, to the point that long time Facebook friends were posting snide comments on my wall, followers were leaving, etc. 

It’s free and simple, but nearly impossible to “Quit the Train”.

Here’s what happened to me. I signed up late one night, thus the title for this post, and went to bed. I did not see the promised increase of 200 or more followers in a single day. I did see that they had hijacked my account and tweeted overnight about seven times the following message: “RT – Get 350 twitter followers in a day – NO SALE – http://xxxxxxxx.com/x” (I have concealed the URL, so that no one reading this is in anyway tempted to click on it.

After seeing this, I immediately went back to the site and attempted to cancel my account. I thought this would solve the problem and that the RT’s would stop and that I would have happy tweeps! About 2 hours later, the Re-Tweeting started again. Even though I have cancelled the account!! Once again, the only “Train” I got was more complaints from followers.

I did some more research and have found that the only way to make this process stop is to change my Twitter password, which I have now done. So far, so good, let’s hope and pray. Bear in mind that changing your Twitter password opens up a whole other can of worms, e.g. changing said password on all legit 3rd party apps like #Tweetdeck, #Hootsuite, # Tweetlater, etc.

Several other people have posted blogs about this topic and it appears that the general consensus is that there are two things fundamentally wrong with this particular 3rd Party. First, it auto-tweeted AFTER I cancelled the account (several people claim to have had the same problem), but there is no way to contact anyone on the Follow-Train website (whose URL I am not publishing, remember). Of course, if I’d used better judgement in the first place, I would have probably noticed this and avoided all this hassle.

As other bloggers have said, I would love for someone from Follow-Train staff to comment, and maybe offer some kind of explanation for these issues many have had. I haven’t noticed anybody from this company commenting on anyone’s blog so far. But, who knows. Seems like there’d be a conductor, an engineer, a porter, even a guy from the ticket window who could reply.

My advice – stay away from “The Follow Train”. If you’re on the train, don’t bother trying to get off, just change your password, because that’s the only way that appears to work.

Once again, sorry to those whom I inadvertantly spammed.

-Todd

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Filed under Social Networking, Twitter

Illinois Announces (Really Weird) Sales Tax Changes


As a tax practitioner who files Sales and Use tax returns in 45 states, I’m on all the mailing lists for each state and get notices when the state (and sometimes local) tax lawas are about to change. One such notice came in the other day and I felt compelled to share with the blogosphere.

I just received a notice from the Illinois Department of Revenue announcing some really bizarre changes to their sales tax laws that will take effect September 1st. (Disclosure: I have clients for whom we file Sales and Use Tax returns in Illinois, but their business has nothing to do with the items listed here – I just thought these were silly and wanted to pass them a long!)

First up, is the change to the tax on candy. Yes. The Illinois Candy Tax. According to the notice I received, the new Sales Tax form (ST-1) will include a separate line item for candy. So, now, candy must be taxed at the general tax rate, which varied depending on whether you are an out-of-state vendor, or based on location if you are an in-state vendor. But, lest you get confused as to the definition of “candy”, Illinois clarifies this for you.

The following items are considered candy by the Illinois Department of Revenue:
chocolate bars, yogurt or chocolate covered nuts or fruit, honey coated nuts, caramel popcorn, lollipops, snack mixes containing yogurt of chocolate, breath mints (thank goodness), and gum. Nothing wrong yet.

Like every good (open to interpretation) government program, there are of course exceptions to the “what is considered candy rule” and Illinois DOR tells us that chocolate covered cookies, yogurt covered pretzels, “candy” that contains flour, plain dried fruits and nuts with no added sweeteners are NOT candy and, therefore, are taxed at the lower “food” rate.

As a guide to help consumers and retailers to make sure that they have not violated this rule, the Illinois DOR
provides a helpful rule of thumb. They say, “You must check the ingredients label or package. If an item contains flour or requires refrigeration, it remains taxed as food (low rate). If an item contains sugar, it is taxed as general merchandise (high rate).”

There are similar clarifications on soft drinks and which soft drinks qualify for the lower rate (food) and which are taxed at the higher rate (general). Basically, the determination is the same – if you look at the label and see that the soft drink contains milk or juice without sweeteners (whether sugar or artificial), it is taxed at the lower rate (food). Otherwise, it is taxed at the higher, general, rate. And don’t forget the special Chicago Soft Drink Tax – it’s also clearly defined.

Here’s the actual notice I received from Illinois: http://tax.illinois.gov/Publications/Bulletins/2010/FY-2010-01.PDF so you can see I’m not making this up.

Silly, silly, silly. As a former “insider” in another state department of revenue – not Illinois, I can just imagine the ridiculous amount of time wasted on developing these rules.

First, I can imagine the legislators considering the hoary problem of the “Candy Tax Loophole” and spending valuable floor time debating it.

Then, I can imagine their staffers calling frantically to the Illinois Dept of Revenue asking for face time with Commissioner Brian Hamer, or one of his staffers. Because goverment policy makers are often fresh-out-of-college compassionbots, I just can imagine the flavor of that meeting. “Gentlepeople, we have a serious problem with the Illinois tax code. We need your help to strengthen our language. In the development of the regs, legislative intent was to clearly define that chocolate covered pretzels should get a tax break but that chocolate covered nuts should not. The citizens of Illinois are dying from eating Goobers and Raisinettes. We HAVE to get them eating chocolate covered pretzels, immediately. OUR CHILDREN’S FUTURE DEPENDS ON IT!!”

Oh . . . my . . . stars. Those meetings really are that bad. I’ve sat in dozens of them.

Not to mention the 2 cents difference in the tax on the two different items. Let’s analyze what’s going on here. Supposed that in the entire state of Illinois, during the course of a year, consumers purchase a hundred million soft drink cans at roughly a dollar apiece. If the difference in the tax rate is 2 cents, consumers will be paying into the Illinois Treasury approximately $2 million in additional tax – just on soft drinks. Sounds like a lot of money doesn’t it? I assure you that an enormous amount of that additional revenue was consumed by the state in trying to apply the law change. For example, in the meeting I described above, there were probably 20-25 state employees involved over several hours worth of meetings. Then there was time involved in drafting the new regulations, developing the methodology for advertising the changes, distributing my mail to who-knows-how-many tax preparers like myself. Then, computer systems changes were required. Add to that developing and printing of the new forms, getting approvals at every step of the way and final signoffs by Commissioner Hamer and his team, and all of a sudden, two million bucks – POOF!!

Now, let’s say it’s NOT a hundred million cans, but a BILLION cans and $20 Million in new taxes. Now, you’re talking about a tax increase that an Illinois politician can sink some teeth into, like a Snickers bar (high tax).

Here’s the link to the actual notice I received from Illinois. http://tax.illinois.gov/Publications/Bulletins/2010/FY-2010-01.PDF See if I’m not telling you the truth about this. They’re serious.

In future articles, I’ll pass along some of the dumbest meetings I ever sat in. And, I’ll talk about some of the dumbest people I ever fired (names will be changed to protect the innocent). When I watched Dragnet when I was a little kid, I thought they said at the end “Names have been changed to protect the idiots.”

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Filed under Government Waste, Tax Issues