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States tapping historic surpluses for tax cuts and rebates

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States tapping historic surpluses for tax cuts and rebates

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Stoked by the largest surplus in state history, Missouri’s Republican-led Legislature devised a $500 million plan to send one-time tax refunds to millions of households. In a shock to some, GOP Gov. Mike Parson vetoed it.

Parson’s objection: He wanted a bigger, longer-lasting tax cut.

“Now is the time for the largest income tax cut in our state’s history,” Parson declared as he called lawmakers back for a September special session to consider a $700 million permanent tax reduction.

Upon its likely approval, Missouri will join at least 32 states that already have enacted some type of tax cut or rebate this year — an astounding outpouring of billions of tax dollars back to the people. Idaho lawmakers are convening Thursday to consider more tax breaks, and Montana lawmakers also are weighing a special session for tax relief.

Flush with federal pandemic aid and their own surging tax revenue, states have cut income tax rates for individuals and businesses, expanded tax deductions for families and retirees, pared back property taxes, waived sales taxes on groceries and suspended motor fuel taxes to offset inflationary price spikes. Many also have provided immediate tax rebates.

Republicans and Democrats alike have joined the tax-cutting trend during a midterm election year.

Yet divisions have emerged about how far to go. While Democrats generally have favored targeted tax breaks and one-time rebates, some Republicans have pressed for permanent income tax rate reductions that could lower tax bills — and state revenue — for years to come. Parson describes it as “real, lasting relief.”

Some budget analysts warn that permanent tax cuts could strain states during a future recession. The U.S. economy has shrunk for two straight quarters this year, meeting one informal sign of a recession.

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“Quite simply, relying on the current surplus to fund permanent tax changes isn’t fiscally sustainable, or responsible, and will ultimately require cuts to state services,” said Amy Blouin, president and CEO of the Missouri Budget Project, a nonprofit that analyzes fiscal policies.

For some states, the current surpluses are unlike anything they’ve previously seen.

The 2022 fiscal year, which ended June 30 for most states, marked the second straight year of large growth in tax collections after economic shutdowns triggered declines early in the coronavirus pandemic. Many states reported their largest-ever surpluses, according to the National Association of State Budget Officers.

“I don’t think there’s been a time in history where states are better equipped to ride out a potential recession,” said Timothy Vermeer, senior state tax policy analyst at the Tax Foundation, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank. “A majority, if not all, of the rainy day funds are in a really healthy position.”

Income tax rate cuts have passed in 13 states this year, already equaling last year’s historic total, according to the Tax Foundation. Republicans control the legislatures in all of those states except New York, where Democrats who wield power accelerated the timetable for a previously approved tax rate reduction.

Republican-led Arkansas was the most recent to take action during an August special session. A new law will speed up a gradual income tax rate reduction enacted last year and provide a one-time inflationary tax credit. Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson described the $500 million package as “a transfer of wealth from the government to the taxpayer” that “could not have come at a more important time.”

Nationwide, inflation is at a 40-year-high, raising prices on most good and services and squeezing incomes.

At least 15 states have approved one-time rebates from their surpluses, including 10 led by Democratic governors and legislatures, four by Republicans and one — Virginia — with split partisan control.

Democratic-led California, which posted a record $97 billion surplus, is sending rebates of between $200 and $1,050 to individuals earning less than $250,000 annually and households earning less than $500,000.

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All four GOP-controlled states providing rebates — Georgia, Indiana, Idaho and South Carolina — also made permanent income tax rate cuts.

Though often popular, tax rebates do little to fight inflation and “may actually be counterproductive” by enabling additional consumer spending on items in scarce supply and thus contributing to higher prices, said Hernan Moscoso Boedo, an economist at the University of Cincinnati.

Still, big surpluses coupled with inflation make rebates a tempting option for politicians, especially during an election year.

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican facing a re-election challenge from Democrat Stacey Abrams, has been among the most aggressive tax-cutters. He signed legislation gradually reducing the income tax rate from 5.75% to 4.99%. He also signed a measure providing a $1.1 billion tax rebate, with up to $250 for individuals and $500 for couples. He has proposed an additional $2 billion in income and property tax rebates. And after a law temporarily suspending the state’s gas tax expired in May, Kemp extended the gas tax break through mid-September.

“We’re trying to help Georgians fight through this tough time,” Kemp said.

In Colorado, legislative staff estimate it will cost $2.7 million to carry out legislation expediting an income tax refund of $750 for individuals and $1,500 for couples. The constitutionally mandated refund of surplus revenue was originally due to be paid next year but is being distributed now — along with a letter from Democratic Gov. Jared Polis touting it as inflation relief.

Polis, who is up for re-election in November, had been a previous critic of the automatic refund provision. His Republican challenger, Heidi Ganahl, is accusing him of “hypocrisy.”

Idaho Gov. Brad Little, a Republican, has called the Legislature back for a special session starting Thursday to consider more tax breaks.

He’s proposing to use part of the state’s projected $2 billion budget surplus for a $500 million income tax rebate this year. He also wants to cut more than $150 million annually by creating a flat 5.8% income tax rate starting next year. That comes after the state reduced the top tax rate each of the last two years.

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“Folks, this is conservative governing in action,” Little said while asserting the tax cuts still would leave enough money to boost education funding by hundreds of millions of dollars.

Montana lawmakers are weighing whether to convene a special session later in September to provide tax breaks from a budget surplus. A proposal calls for giving $1,000 rebates to homeowners who paid property taxes during the past two years. It also would provide income tax rebates of $1,250 for individuals and $2,500 for couples.

Montana’s Republican House and Senate majority leaders said in a joint statement that the rebates would offer help “as soon as possible with expenses such as gas, groceries, school supplies and so much more.” But some lawmakers, including term-limited GOP Rep. Frank Garner, have expressed reluctance.

“My first concern is if this proposal is driven by an imminent emergency or by those wanting to write checks to voters because their emergency is merely an imminent election,” Garner wrote in an opinion column.

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Associated Press writers Jeff Amy in Atlanta; Jim Anderson and Jesse Bedayn in Denver; Andrew DeMillo in Little Rock, Ark.; Amy Beth Hanson in Helena, Mont.; and Keith Ridler in Boise, Idaho, contributed to this report.

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Remember last year’s Memorial Day travel jams? Chances are they will be much worse this year

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Remember last year’s Memorial Day travel jams? Chances are they will be much worse this year

The patience of Memorial Day weekend travelers was tested Thursday by widespread delays across the country, but there were relatively few canceled flights, raising hopes that airlines can handle bigger crowds expected Friday.

By early evening on the East Coast, more than 6,000 flights had been delayed Thursday, with the biggest backups at the three major airports in the New York City area and Dallas-Fort Worth International.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pasha Pidlubniak waits for a domestic flight at Miami International Airport, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Miami. A record number of Americans are expected to travel over the 2024 Memorial Day holiday. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

 

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Pasha Pidlubniak waits for a domestic flight at Miami International Airport, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Miami. A record number of Americans are expected to travel over the 2024 Memorial Day holiday. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

 

The Transportation Security Administration predicted that Friday will be the busiest day for air travel over the holiday weekend, with nearly 3 million people expected to pass through airport checkpoints. It could rival the record of 2.9 million, set on the Sunday after Thanksgiving last year.

“Airports are going to be more packed than we have seen in 20 years,” said Aixa Diaz, a spokesperson for AAA.

When they aren’t waiting out flight delays, travelers are reporting sticker shock at the prices.

At Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, Larisa Latimer of New Lenox, Illinois, said her airfare was reasonable but other expenses for a getaway to New Orleans were not.

 

 

 

 

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Motorists travel along Interstate 24 near the Interstate 40 interchange Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Nashville, Tenn. A record number of Americans are expected to hit the pavement over the 2024 Memorial Day holiday. (AP Photo/George Walker IV)

 

Motorists travel along Interstate 24 near the Interstate 40 interchange Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Nashville, Tenn. A record number of Americans are expected to hit the pavement over the 2024 Memorial Day holiday. (AP Photo/George Walker IV)

 

“I just have to make the accommodation,” she said. “The rental car is up … this year, the hotel accommodations were very unusually expensive.”

Kathy Larko of Fort Meyers, Florida, used frequent-flyer miles — and some flexible scheduling — to pay for her trip to Chicago.

“I’m really conscious of looking at the cost of the entire trip. We’re staying a little farther out than we normally would” to get a lower hotel rate, she said. “We’re also flying back a day later, because we could get cheaper miles.”

More travelers will be on the road. AAA estimates that 43.8 million people will venture at least 50 miles (80 kilometers) from home between Thursday and Monday, with 38 million of them taking vehicles.

 
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Travelers wait at a TSA checkpoint at the Los Angeles International Airport, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Los Angeles. A record number of Americans are expected to travel over the 2024 Memorial Day holiday. (AP Photo/Ryan Sun)

 

Travelers wait at a TSA checkpoint at the Los Angeles International Airport, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Los Angeles. A record number of Americans are expected to travel over the 2024 Memorial Day holiday. (AP Photo/Ryan Sun)

 

Airport unions are using the holiday weekend to highlight their demands.

About 100 workers who clean airplane cabins and drive trash trucks at the airport in Charlotte, North Carolina, started a 24-hour strike Thursday, demanding better pay and healthcare, according to the Service Employees International Union. About 15% of flights were delayed, but it was unclear whether the strike played any role.

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A planned strike at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York was averted, however. Teamsters Local 553, which represents about 300 workers who refuel passenger and cargo jets at JFK, said that it reached a settlement with Allied Aviation Services and called off a walkout planned for Friday.

 

 

 

 

 

 

George Ridley, 4, left, rides on a suitcase as he and his father Chris Ridley make their way through the Nashville international Airport, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Nashville, Tenn. A record number of Americans are expected to travel over the 2024 Memorial Day holiday. (AP Photo/George Walker IV)

 

George Ridley, 4, left, rides on a suitcase as he and his father Chris Ridley make their way through the Nashville international Airport, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Nashville, Tenn. A record number of Americans are expected to travel over the 2024 Memorial Day holiday. (AP Photo/George Walker IV)

 

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“We are happy an agreement has been reached, a need for a strike averted, and we are hopeful that the deal will be ratified by our members,” said Demos Demopoulos, the secretary-treasurer of the local.

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Associated Press video journalist Melissa Perez Winder in Chicago and Associated Press radio reporter Shelley Adler in Washington contributed to this report.

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Texas health department appoints anti-abortion OB-GYN to maternal mortality committee

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Texas health department appoints anti-abortion OB-GYN to maternal mortality committee

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Texas’ health department has appointed an outspoken anti-abortion OB-GYN to a committee that reviews pregnancy-related deaths as doctors have been warning that the state’s restrictive abortion ban puts women’s lives at risk.

Dr. Ingrid Skop was among the new appointees to the Texas Maternal Morality and Morbidity Review Committee announced last week by the Texas Department of State Health Services. Her term starts June 1.

The committee, which compiles data on pregnancy-related deaths, makes recommendations to the Legislature on best practices and policy changes and is expected to assess the impact of abortion laws on maternal mortality.

Skop, who has worked as an OB-GYN for over three decades, is vice president and director of medical affairs for the Charlotte Lozier Institute, an anti-abortion research group. Skop will be the committee’s rural representative.

Skop, who has worked in San Antonio for most of her career, told the Houston Chronicle that she has “often cared for women traveling long distances from rural Texas maternity deserts, including women suffering complications from abortions.”

Texas has one of the most restrictive abortion bans in the U.S., and doctors have sought clarity on the state’s medical exemption, which allows an abortion to save a woman’s life or prevent the impairment of a major bodily function. Doctors have said the exemption is too vague, making it difficult to offer life-saving care for fear of repercussions. A doctor convicted of providing an illegal abortion in Texas can face up to 99 years in prison and a $100,000 fine and lose their medical license.

Skop has said medical associations are not giving doctors the proper guidance on the matter. She has also shared more controversial views, saying during a congressional hearing in 2021 that rape or incest victims as young as 9 or 10 could carry pregnancies to term.

Texas’ abortion ban has no exemption for cases of rape or incest.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, which says abortion is “inherently tied to maternal health,” said in a statement that members of the Texas committee should be “unbiased, free of conflicts of interest and focused on the appropriate standards of care.” The organization noted that bias against abortion has already led to “compromised” analyses, citing a research articles co-authored by Skop and others affiliated with the Charlotte Lozier Institute.

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Earlier this year a medical journal retracted studies supported by the Charlotte Lozier Institute claiming to show harms of the abortion pill mifepristone, citing conflicts of interests by the authors and flaws in their research. Two of the studies were cited in a pivotal Texas court ruling that has threatened access to the drug.

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Michigan farmworker diagnosed with bird flu, becoming 2nd US case tied to dairy cows

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Michigan farmworker diagnosed with bird flu, becoming 2nd US case tied to dairy cows

A Michigan dairy worker has been diagnosed with bird flu — the second human case associated with an outbreak in U.S. dairy cows.

The male worker had been in contact with cows at a farm with infected animals. He experienced mild eye symptoms and has recovered, U.S. and Michigan health officials said in announcing the case Wednesday.

A nasal swab from the person tested negative for the virus, but an eye swab tested Tuesday was positive for bird flu, “indicating an eye infection,” U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials said.

The worker developed a “gritty feeling” in his eye earlier this month but it was a “very mild case,” said Dr. Natasha Bagdasarian, Michigan’s chief medical executive. He was not treated with oseltamivir, a medication advised for treating bird flu, she said.

The risk to the public remains low, but farmworkers exposed to infected animals are at higher risk, health officials said. They said those workers should be offered protective equipment, especially for their eyes.

Health officials say they do not know if the Michigan farmworker was wearing protective eyewear, but an investigation is continuing.

In late March, a farmworker in Texas was diagnosed in what officials called the first known instance globally of a person catching this version of bird flu from a mammal. That patient reported only eye inflammation and recovered.

Since 2020, a bird flu virus has been spreading among more animal species — including dogs, cats, skunks, bears and even seals and porpoises — in scores of countries.

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The detection in U.S. livestock earlier this year was an unexpected twist that sparked questions about food safety and whether it would start spreading among humans.

That hasn’t happened, although there’s been a steady increase of reported infections in cows. As of Wednesday, the virus had been confirmed in 51 dairy herds in nine states, according to the U.S. Agriculture Department. Fifteen of the herds were in Michigan.

The CDC’s Dr. Nirav Shah said the case was “not unexpected” and it’s possible more infections could be diagnosed in people who work around infected cows.

U.S. officials said they had tested 40 people since the first cow cases were discovered in late March. Michigan has tested 35 of them, Bagdasarian told The Associated Press in an interview.

Shah praised Michigan officials for actively monitoring farmworkers. He said health officials there have been sending daily text messages to workers exposed to infected cows asking about possible symptoms, and that the effort helped officials catch this infection. He said no other workers had reported symptoms.

That’s encouraging news, said Michael Osterholm, a University of Minnesota epidemiologist who has studied bird flu for decades. There’s no sign to date that the virus is causing flu-like illness or that it is spreading among people.

“If we had four or five people seriously ill with respiratory illness, we would be picking that up,” he said.

The virus has been found in high levels in the raw milk of infected cows, but government officials say pasteurized products sold in grocery stores are safe because heat treatment has been confirmed to kill the virus.

The new case marks the third time a person in the United States has been diagnosed with what’s known as Type A H5N1 virus. In 2022, a prison inmate in a work program picked it up while killing infected birds at a poultry farm in Montrose County, Colorado. His only symptom was fatigue, and he recovered. That predated the virus’s appearance in cows.

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The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Science and Educational Media Group. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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