Letters to the Editor

No frills

October 19, 2010


To the editor:

For the second year in a row, Social Security recipients will not get any cost-of-living increase. People on fixed incomes are balancing exponential growth costs for taxes, food, fuel and shelter and enjoying less for treats and niceties. The treats have to give in for the ever-increasing taxes and necessities making living conditions more austere.

Now, we are faced with another tax increase for library expansion. A fine library in Lawrence is a good thing. However, I have a problem if it is designed to be a show monument beyond that necessary for library operations. I submit that in these everlasting tight times, we must build a strictly functional building with more austerity and less eye candy treats.

The existing building could have been more efficient in the use of space when originally built. There is wasted space of 1,680 covered square feet worth over a million dollars of today’s building value that could have been utilized for 38 years if the east and south walls were originally built out to where the roof edge now is. That is an example of wasted space that public tax dollars must never support. I suggest that the project be efficient and tax-funded without all of the extra visual niceties. Those folks who want to see this library become a visual monument with added expensive decorative appointments should raise strictly private money to fund the necessary architectural design and adornment additions to make this their monument to look at.

Robert J. Vaughan,



Richard Heckler 7 years, 5 months ago

Congress may approve an increase in early 2010?

Social Security Trust fund is growing. From $2.2 trillion in 2007 to $2.5 trillion in 2010.

The 2010 annual Social Security Trustees report [pdf} has finally been released, and shows that long term, Social Security is doing just fine, thank you very much.

However, there's some bad news in the near-term economic situation because of continued high unemployment. Dean Baker provides this analysis:

The 2009 report projected that the unemployment rate would average 8.2 percent for 2009 and 8.8 percent for the current year. It projected that the unemployment rate would fall below 6.0 percent by 2014. The actual unemployment rate for 2009 was 9.3 percent. The new report projects that the unemployment rate in 2010 will average 10.0 percent and that unemployment will not fall below 6.0 percent until 2016.

What this means for the program is that the benefits Social Security is expected to pay out this year will slightly exceed the money coming in from payroll taxes. There are other sources of income for the program, however, including the interest income on the $2.5 trillion trust fund. Thus, the Trustees report the program should remain in surplus until 2024. That means the the trust fund can remain untouched until 2025, and--all things being equal to the situation in 2010--the fund would become exhausted in 2037. However:

[A]t a press conference Thursday, Social Security Commissioner Michael J. Astrue, one of the government trustees releasing the report, begged reporters not to scare the public by exaggerating the significance of trust fund exhaustion

"That does not mean that there will be no money left," Astrue said. At that point, even if Congress took no action, Social Security could still pay out 78 percent of expected benefits from annual revenues. "That would be a bad result, but it is a far cry from having no benefits at all," he said.

Now for the good news.

Robert Greenstein, a leading liberal budget expert who directs the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, called attention to what he called the "huge reduction" in Medicare's long-term budget problems. The new report projects an 80 percent reduction in the 75-year shortfall for the Medicare trust fund, from 3.88 percent of taxable payroll to a much more manageable 0.66 percent.

That means Medicare "is in dramatically better financial shape than it was prior to the enactment of the health reform law," even as the law simultaneously improves coverage and reduces premiums, Greenstein told the Huffington Post.

And these are reliable numbers, he said. "These are not political numbers. These numbers are based on the work of the Social Security and Medicare actuaries. Political officials can put whatever spin they want on the numbers, but the numbers themselves are generally not subject to political influence."

Richard Heckler 7 years, 5 months ago

Rumors of Social Security's demise are greatly exaggerated. Some powerful people keep spreading lies about the program to scare people into accepting benefit cuts.

Myth: Social Security is going broke. Reality: There is no Social Security crisis. By 2023, Social Security will have a $4.3 trillion surplus (yes, trillion with a 'T'). It can pay out all scheduled benefits for the next quarter-century with no changes whatsoever.1 After 2037, it'll still be able to pay out 75% of scheduled benefits--and again, that's without any changes. The program started preparing for the Baby Boomers retirement decades ago.2 Anyone who insists Social Security is broke probably wants to break it themselves.

Myth: We have to raise the retirement age because people are living longer. Reality: This is a red-herring to trick you into agreeing to benefit cuts. Retirees are living about the same amount of time as they were in the 1930s. The reason average life expectancy is higher is mostly because many fewer people die as children than did 70 years ago.3 What's more, what gains there have been are distributed very unevenly--since 1972, life expectancy increased by 6.5 years for workers in the top half of the income brackets, but by less than 2 years for those in the bottom half.4 But those intent on cutting Social Security love this argument because raising the retirement age is the same as an across-the-board benefit cut.

Myth: Benefit cuts are the only way to fix Social Security. Reality: Social Security doesn't need to be fixed. But if we want to strengthen it, here's a better way: Make the rich pay their fair share. If the very rich paid taxes on all of their income, Social Security would be sustainable for decades to come.5 Right now, high earners only pay Social Security taxes on the first $106,000 of their income.6 But conservatives insist benefit cuts are the only way because they want to protect the super-rich from paying their fair share.

Myth: The Social Security Trust Fund has been raided and is full of IOUs Reality: Not even close to true. The Social Security Trust Fund isn't full of IOUs, it's full of U.S. Treasury Bonds. And those bonds are backed by the full faith and credit of the United States.7 The reason Social Security holds only treasury bonds is the same reason many Americans do: The federal government has never missed a single interest payment on its debts. President Bush wanted to put Social Security funds in the stock market--which would have been disastrous--but luckily, he failed. So the trillions of dollars in the Social Security Trust Fund, which are separate from the regular budget, are as safe as can be.

Myth: Social Security adds to the deficit Reality: It's not just wrong -- it's impossible! By law, Social Security funds are separate from the budget, and it must pay its own way. That means that Social Security can't add one penny to the deficit.1

Richard Heckler 7 years, 5 months ago


1."To Deficit Hawks: We the People Know Best on Social Security" New Deal 2.0, June 14, 2010 http://www.newdeal20.org/2010/06/14/to-defict-hawks-we-the-people-know-best-on-social-security-12290/

  1. "The Straight Facts on Social Security" Economic Opportunity Institute, September 2009 http://www.eoionline.org/retirement_security/fact_sheets/StraightFactsSocialSecurity-Sep09.pdf

  2. "Social Security and the Age of Retirement"Center for Economic and Policy Research, June 2010 http://www.cepr.net/index.php/publications/reports/social-security-and-the-age-of-retirement/

  3. "More on raising the retirement age" Ezra Klein, Washington Post, July 8, 2010 http://voices.washingtonpost.com/ezra-klein/2010/07/more_on_raising_the_retirement.html

  4. "Social Security is sustainable" Economic and Policy Institute, May 27, 2010 http://www.epi.org/analysis_and_opinion/entry/social_security_is_sustainable/

  5. "Maximum wage contribution and the amount for a credit in 2010." Social Security Administration, April 23, 2010 http://ssa-custhelp.ssa.gov/app/answers/detail/a_id/240

  6. "Trust Fund FAQs" Social Security Administration, February 18, 2010 http://www.ssa.gov/OACT/ProgData/fundFAQ.html

  7. "To Deficit Hawks: We the People Know Best on Social Security" New Deal 2.0, June 14, 2010 http://www.newdeal20.org/2010/06/14/to-defict-hawks-we-the-people-know-best-on-social-security-12290/

Richard Heckler 7 years, 5 months ago

What sends medicare expenses through the roof sometimes?

Flag waving Republican criminals such as the Sen Bill Frist family = HCA Inc defrauds Medicaid, Medicare and Tricare (the federal program that covers the military and their families)

"What did HCA do? It inflated its expenses and billed the government for the overrun; it billed the government for services ineligible for reimbursement (like advertising and marketing costs). HCA violated both law and medical ethics when, as Forbes put it, "the company increased Medicare billings by exaggerating the seriousness of the illnesses they were treating.

It also granted doctors partnerships in a company hospitals as a kickback for the doctors' referring patients to HCA. In addition, it gave doctors 'loans' that were never expected to be paid back, free rent, free office furniture -- and free drugs from hospital pharmacies."

This is the ethical climate that reigned in the Frist family's money machine. In an unguarded moment, Senator Frist told the Boston Globe that conversations with his doctor father about the family calling were like "benign versions of the Godfather and Michael Corleone."

Apparently the senator considers defrauding the government "benign." So too did the Bush White House, which dictated the Justice Department deal with HCA that let the crooks escape jail just as Frist was being anointed the Senate's majority leader. A pure coincidence in timing, of course."



Flap Doodle 7 years, 5 months ago

Relax and have a popsicle, bub. It's a cool and fruity treat on a fall morning.

justforfun 7 years, 5 months ago

VOTE NO ON THE NEW LIBRARY!! don't need it don't want it!!!

SnakeFist 7 years, 5 months ago

"People on fixed incomes are balancing exponential growth costs for taxes, food, fuel and shelter..."

The reason there is no COLA for social security (i.e., senior welfare) recipients is that inflation has not increased. The assertion that we have "exponential" inflation is nothing less than a lie.

SnakeFist 7 years, 5 months ago

Federal and KS state taxes haven't increased; local taxes may have increased, but COLA isn't based on tax increases. If SS is your only income then you pay little tax anyway. Checkmate.

jafs 7 years, 5 months ago

Local sales taxes have gone up.

Local property taxes have gone up.

If an elderly person owns a home, and shops, their costs have increased.

I think it is likely a bad idea to tie COLA only to inflation for these reasons.

think_about_it 7 years, 5 months ago

Sales taxes have skyrocketed. Old people don't buy anything? You are stupid.

think_about_it 7 years, 5 months ago

Oh and gas is 30 cents higher than at this time last year.

SnakeFist 7 years, 5 months ago

Yes, we all understand that you can find some items that have increased in price. Some items, e.g., LCD televisions, have decreased. We're looking at the big picture, not the price of your favorite candy bar. Maybe you should follow your own advice and think about it.

canyon_wren 7 years, 5 months ago

For a change, I found merrill's post really informative (I admit I probably have missed other good info along the way because his posts are just too overwhelming). I hope his facts are right. I'm wondering if, even though SS payments "stand pat" this year, the amount taken out for Medicare and Humana will increase--which would, of course, mean our SS payments would actually be reduced. I haven't seen anything about this.

I don't live in Lawrence, but if I did, I would definitely vote NO on the library issue. This is not a good time for that sort of burden to be put on residents.

Jimo 7 years, 5 months ago

His facts are generally correct. (Better that than precisely wrong.)

In fact, there are multiple, adjustments that can be made to the program to solve any long-term inflow/outflow problems. Eliminating the cap on income would by itself do away with much of the problem.


I don't know how much you paid to SS in tax last year but I paid $6,622. So did Bill Gates. And Oprah. And LeBron James. And Paris Hilton. You see, after that amount the government refuses to collect any more money. "No thanks, here's your refund." Imagine a chart with two columns: one runs from the bottom of the page to the top; next to it is a tiny one barely visible. That's the ratio of Bill's Gates' income to how much tax he's paying to fund this insurance plan.

If anything, we should reinstate a strong Estate Tax and earmarks the funds to SS including increasing the pay-out to the poor and the lower middle class (we could also stop qualifying millionaires to receive SS too). Right now the pay-out is roughly 33% of working wages. I'd increase that to 50%. It is a tragedy that you can spend your life working full time in this country and be left destitute in your old age. I realize such "death taxes" poll poorly but I wonder how they'd poll if the question was: do you want a tax an windfall inherited wealth or do you want to eat discount cat food in your kid's basement? (I'd predict 75% popularity.)

beezee 7 years, 5 months ago

I need a yard sign that reads "Vote NO for DEBT". The proposed bond issue's MAIN expense will be for a parking garage! So let the downtown bar owners pay for the damned thing. Presenting this as a library issue is as fraudulent as the squeals of "For the KIDS" when the school board wanted to play "me too" and show how it could waste tax money.

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