9/10/2011 2:51 PM
A few days ago, former Dallas mayor and Republican U.S. Senate candidate Tom Leppert
called me to discuss his jobs plan that he released recently. Leppert's plan
provides a detailed description of where he stands on the key fiscal issues facing the nation -- including entitlements and tax policy. The plan is posted on the Internet here
I interviewed Leppert, discussing both his plan and his record as Mayor of Dallas. I am in the process of calling the campaigns of the other serious candidates (those who have held significant elective or appointed office) to offer equal time.
A few highlights:
* Leppert proposes restructuring the corporate income tax to lower the rate and reduce loopholes.
* Entitlement reform is a key issue, including moving back the social security retirement age and creating personal accounts.
* In addition to the proposals mentioned above, Leppert said he wants to reform the culture of Washington, including a 10-year revolving door ban for former members of Congress and capping congressional benefits at the private-sector average. His proposals include biennial budgeting, a Texas-style sunset process at the federal level, and national right-to-work.
As always, we edit interviews for length, grammar, clarity, and readability.
Lutz: This is an extremely detailed policy plan, issued very early in the campaign. What is the overall philosophy of the plan and why release it so early?
Leppert: It’s the economic issues that I think are going to make a difference, and I can lend a unique perspective. Not only have I been successful [in the] public side – in an office that is one of the most accountable offices that you can find because it’s close [to the people] being mayor of a large city. What I really bring is 25 years of leading businesses, and importantly not in a single industry but a number of different industries, and those businesses are small, medium-sized businesses all the way up to large businesses ...
To be frank with you, I got sick and tired of listening to seven-second sound-bites, nobody really addressing or giving any specificity. I think people deserve [to know] if you’re talking about these issues, what in the world would you do? Not just seven-second sound bites [like] “I’ll repeal ObamaCare. But what would you do once you repeal it? Not just “Cut taxes,” but what would be your tax policy?
[The main point of the Jobs plan is] to give people an understanding of where I’m coming from and how would I approach these issues. For too long, we’ve given people the impression that there’s some silver bullet out there, that all we need to do is do one thing or say a great speech and the world will be fine. It’s not going be … It’s going to take people who have experience, and they’re going to have to know what they are going to do ...
Lutz: A while back 60 Minutes did a special on American corporations setting up small corporate offices in Switzerland to try and dodge U.S. Corporate Taxes, which are among the highest in the industrialized world. We also have a lot of loopholes in our tax system. Doesn’t this kind of tax policy really hurt the little guy?
Leppert: You’re absolutely right. We’re uncompetitive [on corporate tax rates]. We’re clearly, if not the highest, number two corporate tax [in the industrialized world]. Companies have decided that they will park, not only the profits, but importantly the investment dollars that follow from those, overseas. So what we want to do is make it competitive. [Leppert proposed lowering rates from 35 to 19 percent.]
… The second part of it is take all this junk [tax loopholes] out of the system. So when you take all this junk out of the system, I can look at somebody and say “OK, we’ve got across the street from where you are there’s a small business and they’re basically working hard to make a profit and stay in business. They pay 35 percent because that’s what the tax rate is. Then you’ve got some big corporation, and it may have hundreds of billions of dollars in revenues … [and it] probably got thousands of tax attorneys, and they probably do a great job of lobbying in Washington too. … And then I can go and say to somebody who may be in the middle and say “You should support this. Your inclination may not be to lower the rate, but then we can get all this junk out of the system.” And then we can get more acceptance on it, and I can get it done.
Lutz: Speaking of acceptance, for the first time in my lifetime, elected officials are finally willing to have a serious discussion about addressing the unsustainable long-term health of federal entitlement programs. How do we make these programs solvent without scaring citizens about their retirement?
Leppert: The way that we’ve treated these issues hasn’t got us in a very good position where we are now … To talk about spending without talking about entitlements, either you got your head in the sand or you’re lying. Forty percent of the spending today at the federal government today is the entitlement programs, and in a very short time it will be sixty percent ...
[Leppert then noted that if government did its accounting like private business did, that it would have to project debt including estimated future liabilities. Under that measure federal debt is not $14 trillion, but rather $60-100 trillion. A business with that debt load would try to reduce it so that it’s sustainable.]
So what we’ve done with social security is said first of all we’re going to deal with in a realistic fashion. A deal is a deal in my view. Anybody who is on social security and some window going into it – I said 55 years old … Anybody in that range, there’s no change and it stays the way it is.
But then go back through and say OK, let me look at the numbers and let the numbers guide us. I can do a couple of things to influence what that future obligation is. Let’s go back to economic COLAs [Cost of Living Adjustments] not political COLAs.
Once again, look at the facts: when social security came in place, it was the unusual circumstance. Life expectancy was less than retirement age. Today, that’s completely flipped around. Let’s get retirement age that’s more applicable to society as it stands today – 70. [Leppert's plan also includes better benefits and other financial incentives for those who choose to work past 70] ...
I can’t give [Leppert's 21-year-old daughter] the same [social security] benefits. So I need to look her in the eye and say “I’m sorry. The numbers don’t work. I can’t put you in the same position that your grandmother was in.” But what I can do is I can restructure it to generate some benefits that are going to be important and valuable to her that may not be the same dollars going into it. And my view of that is to personalize, not to privatize, social security. And that’s to come up with personal accounts.
So the money that goes into it, you actually now have an asset. [In the current system we] have a pool there. We don’t own anything. It’s just government says that they might pay us out at some point in the future.
[For low-income Americans] this may be the best asset that they have, and it may be their only asset. It gives them a chance to start moving up the economic ladder
... Government has gone in and grabbed this money [social security contributions] and used it for [its] own purposes. Let me make it something that you own, and at that point, government can’t take it. It’s yours.
Lutz: In 2009, the Texas Legislature debated a local-option tax increase bill supported by many North Texas local governmental units. A key part of that bill was allowing cities to place a local gas tax increases on the ballot. There aren’t any tax increases in your federal jobs plan (such as a federal gas tax increase), are there?
Leppert: No. We’re not. My view, which we’ve done on a lot of these things, is push decisions down to the local level. Let people figure out what the right decision is. Don’t let Washington make these decisions. You see that theme all the way through our plan. You see it everywhere from regulatory issues, clearly on spending issues, trying to push these things all the way to the local level.
Lutz: Anything else about your plan or candidacy you’d like to highlight?
Leppert: In Dallas, we did things that you usually don’t do. We cut spending. We actually set priorities. Public safety-crime was a big issue, and it’s the one thing that you expect at the city level. We increased the police force by 20 percent, and we reduced the civilian workforce by 20 percent, clearly a significant number. We got out of a lot of things that government’s don’t need to be in. We privatized the zoo. Importantly, we walked into a government that was viewed as dysfunctional. And I think people saw a government that worked, where people [who] didn’t always agree worked together on the major issues and actually produced some results.
And that links into what I said earlier. Too many times, politicians think if they make the right speech, they declare victory. If you’re sitting in Richmond, Texas, that doesn’t make your life better, and it doesn’t address the debt that’s going to have to be inherited by your kids, and it doesn’t provide a job, or give you comfort that you’re not going to lose your job tomorrow … We’ve tried to do in this candidacy, and what I stand for, is not only getting the conservative rhetoric right, but making sure that we advance the conservative agenda.