Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Capital One fined $60 million for deceiving credit card customers into buying services like payment protection and credit monitoring.
The new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau announced its first enforcement action today, with Capital One Bank paying $210 million to settle charges that it deceived credit card customers into buying services like payment protection and credit monitoring.

The CFPB, set up by the Dodd-Frank financial reform law, said in a statement that Capital One call-center workers told customers the products were free, misled them about the benefits and let people think the services were required to hold a card.
Capital One will refund about $150 million to more than two million customers. It will pay penalties of $60 million.

Utah Valley Roundup: Orem and ObamaCare

                                                                    Daily Herald Editor Randy Wright
Utah Valley roundup: Orem and ObamaCare
Orem and ObamaCare
Does Utah's consumer protection law apply to government agencies -- the city of Orem, for instance -- or only to the private sector? It's an intriguing question posed this week by local political observer Peggy Burdett.
Orem is in the process of developing a recycling program like the one Provo started last year. Under the program, if a resident doesn't formally opt out by a certain drop-dead date, he is stuck paying for recycling for a year even if he doesn't want to recycle.
The reason for the rule is that the government must enter a contract with a private company for the recycled trash pickup, and so there needs to be a predictable number of residences participating in order to negotiate the best price. At least that's how it was explained in Provo. The pickup company wants a guaranteed customer base.
Burdett, always on the lookout for government overreach, offered an intriguing question on all this: Does the Utah Consumer Sales Practices Act prohibit government from imposing a recycling fee on a person who hasn't agreed to take the service?
She pointed out in an e-mail to the Daily Herald that the law says it's a "deceptive act or practice" when a supplier "charges a consumer for a consumer transaction or a portion of a consumer transaction that has not previously been agreed to by the consumer." (Utah Code, 13-11-4.)
"Orem City is requiring residents to keep the can they have NOT agreed to, for a year before they can get rid of it and stop paying the monthly fees," Burdett wrote in her email. "Am I reading the law wrong? Does the Utah Consumer Sales Practices Act protect consumers from being charged for things they didn't agree to buy, and does it apply to government agencies?"
We're not lawyers, but we think she makes a good point. On the other hand, it might be argued that local residents did, technically, agree to accept the service arrangement and fees by virtue of the fact that their representatives at City Hall acted on their behalf.
This is the problem of self-government: The government can act in your name, whether you like it or not. Your only recourse is the ballot box.
Still, it's an interesting discussion in light of the recent Supreme Court ruling on the national health care plan known (derisively) as ObamaCare. Chief Justice John Roberts cast the deciding swing vote by calling the imposition of a fee for non-participation a "tax."
Maybe that applies to Orem's recycling program, too. It's just a tax. But, like ObamaCare, some residents may want to repeal it.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Utah Consumer Sales Practices Act prevents charging consumers for something not previously agreed to by the consumer

Utah Code Title 13, Chapter 11
Commerce and Trade
Utah Consumer Sales Practices Act
Section 4
Deceptive act or practice by supplier.  
(r) charges a consumer for a consumer transaction or a portion of a consumer transaction that has not previously been agreed to by the consumer;  

Utah Annotated Code

Demanding Payment for Unsolicited Goods is a Criminal Offense

Unsolicited goods are those goods which are sent to someone without being asked those goods to be sent. Sending unsolicited goods in itself is not an offence. However, demanding payment for unsolicited goods is a criminal offence. Consumers can retain unsolicited goods or dispose them as they wish. They are under no obligation to keep them safe or to return them.
When unsolicited goods or services are provided to a person, the person has a right to accept the goods or services as a gift, and is not bound to return the goods or services. Goods or services are not considered to have been solicited unless the recipient specifically requested. Demanding payment for unsolicited goods constitutes an unfair or deceptive act or practice in trade or commerce for the purposes of applying Consumer Protection Act.

Friday is deadline to Opt Out of Orem's New Recycling Program

                                                           Hans Anderson
Hans Anderson was the only council member to oppose Orem City's new opt out recycling program.
call 801-229-7275 to opt out or go to by Friday July 20.

Prior to the new opt out program there were 6,400 Blue Cans in Orem.  4,700  residents have already
opted out, which leaves 7,800 residents who will receive a blue can they may not want or know
they are getting in Orem's new opt out recycling.

The blue cans are for newspapers, papers and plastic. If you get a surprise blue can, you will
be stuck with it for an entire year, and it is not free, there is an additional charge, of an undetermined
amount for the blue can.

I question the legality of requiring residents to keep the blue can they didn't want for an
entire year if they didn't realize they should opt out.  This adds a can to many senior
citizens who don't have enough trash to fill the can they already have and who need
someone to help get their can to the curb.

The question could be asked:  Why opt out for the blue can, but not the green waste cans?

"The green waste program for grass clippings, branches,  and the like will continue to be an opt-in program.  If you want a green waste can, please call and request one.  If you don’t want one, you will not receive one."  Orem City Mayor.  Jim Evans Orem's Mayor explains opt out
"In an effort to boost the number of residents paying for curbside recycling, Provo City will soon be utilizing a shady business practice employed by credit card companies and television infomercials — the “opt-out” billing method.  Under the opt-out plan, Provo City will automatically enroll all residents in their curbside recycling program and begin charging each household $4.75 per month, UNLESS the resident contacts the city and opts out of the program.  Residents must opt-out by August 7.  Service begins November 1."  Keri Witte.  Right View Mirror. Provo's Opt Out Recycling

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Fourth of July Trivia

If America's birthday had a greatest hits reel, this would be it.
Sparklers? Check. Head-to-toe red, white and blue outfit? Check. Pocket-sized Declaration of Independence? Heck yes.
The Fourth of July may be known for its stellar picnics, fabulous fireworks and heavy doses of patriotism, but what about the coincidental deaths and jumbo-sized gifts that have also marked America's 236 birthdays?
If the Fourth of July had a greatest hits reel, this would be it.
1776: Pomp and Parade, Two Days Late
America's second president John Adams is notorious for his love of Independence Day. But if you ask Adams, the country has gotten the date wrong for the past 236 years. Adams wrote that July 2, the date the Second Continental Congress voted to declare independence from Britain, not July 4, the date Congress' president John Hancock signed the Declaration of Independence, should be "the great anniversary Festival." "The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America," Adams wrote on July 3, 1776. "It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more." At least he got the pomp and parade part right.

1826 and 1831: The Death of a President (or Three)
For America's first five presidents, the Fourth of July was not only a celebration of their great achievement, but it was also, apparently, a prime day to die. Three of America's first five presidents died on Independence Day. John Adams, the second president, and Thomas Jefferson, the third president, were bitter rivals throughout their political careers, but nearly twins in their deaths. They died hours apart on July 4, 1826, Adams at age 90 in Massachusetts and Jefferson at age 83 in Virginia. James Monroe, the fifth president, also died on July 4, five years after Adams and Jefferson in 1831. The 30th president, Calvin Coolidge, was born on the Fourth of July in 1872.

1863: Vicksburg Victory
After one month, 15 miles of trenches, countless battles, near-constant bombing, Confederate Gen. John Pemberton surrendered to Union forces at Vicksburg, Miss. That surrender, on July 4, 1863 would mark a turning point in the Civil War, when the scales tipped in the North's favor. The South did not surrender for another two years. The town of Vicksburg refused to celebrate the Fourth of July for the next 81 years.
1938: Federal Employees Rejoice
Congress officially declared July 4 a federal holiday back in 1870, but it took them nearly
70 years to give federal employees a paid day off. July 4, 1938, was the first
 Independence Day that federal employees picnicked, barbequed and fireworked
without denting their paychecks.
The current president's first-born daughter, Malia, was
 born on the Fourth of July 14 years ago. For the past three years
she has celebrated her birthday with hundreds of military families
at a picnic on the White House lawn. Also in 1998, Congress passed
a bill declaring the 21 days between Flag Day and Independence Day as
 "Honor America Days," encouraging Americans to celebrate their country
for nearly a solid month. No more feeling guilty about throwing a barbeque and
lighting sparklers every night in June.

2011: 21st Century Problems
Three presidents have already died on Independence Day and last year hackers
tried to trick Twitter users into thinking President Obama had become the fourth.
Hackers broke into Fox News' Twitter account and fired off six tweets declaring Obama
had been shot and killed in Iowa. In reality, the president was barbequing at the White
House. The Secret Service investigated the tweets and Fox, after regaining control of its
Twitter password, promptly declared them "malicious" and "false."
Amy Bingham Good Morning America

Monday, July 2, 2012

Poll: Cut benefits before tax hikes?

Poll: Cut benefits before tax hikes?

JUNE 22, 2012 12:00 AM
"Ladies and gentlemen, this is the Highland City Council speaking. Please shut up, sit down and fasten your seat belt. Your taxes are going up whether you like it or not."
Over the objections of two council members and a large number of residents, Highland passed a budget with a $900,000 tax increase for the coming year. The money is clearly needed for road reconstruction, maintenance and parks, but the way in which the city has decided to raise it certainly leaves something to be desired.
It's the same story in Orem, where the tax increase is $3.5 million. The money is needed there, too, mainly to pay for the UTOPIA broadband boondoggle. Other funds were desired for an across-the-board 2 percent pay raise, but the city is now talking about one-time bonuses that don't permanently raise the compensation base.
This is good if Orem is willing to hold the line on those employees with high (some say excessive) rates of compensation. There are a lot of them in Orem, compared to other cities.
But in both Highland and Orem, the councils have refused to touch one of the rich employee benefits often associated with government service: retirement accounts. Both plan to continue funding 401(k) savings plans with dollar-for-dollar matches.
Is this the right strategy? We think not, and here's why:
From the look of some of Highland's real estate, one might judge that there's some money in town. For those who have it, along with a large home, an increase of $300 or $400 a year can be taken in stride.
But a tax hike amounting to $132 per year on a $200,000 home is real money to people with average wages and families to support. It's not trivial. Cash flow can be critical for many.
Now think of a 401(k) savings plan. Many companies in the private sector that offer this benefit to employees have been forced by the recession to be less generous in matching employee contributions.
Some companies have chosen to reduce matches, for example, to 50 cents for every dollar contributed rather than dollar-for-dollar. Others have eliminated company matches altogether for a time, in order to save money, and then restored again them later on.
Why are dollar-for-dollar matches by city government sacrosanct in an economy like this? They shouldn't be. After all, a reduction to 50 cents on the dollars is still generous, and it's still a positive for the employee. The 401(k) account continues to grow, just not as fast as it would with a full dollar match.
A reduction in match does not affect any employee's cash flow for living expenses. He or she continues to save into the program and continues to pay for living expenses with remaining salary, just as they always did.
Where is the obligation of the city to maintain the fastest possible pace for funding an employee's retirement? Again, any match is still a positive benefit. Reducing a match affects no one's ability to live the lifestyle to which they have become accustomed.
Employees of businesses in the private sector have slowed their rate of 401(k) growth because their companies needed savings, so why can't public employees?
"I know all the employees would be upset about that," one Highland staffer said. "We understand the budget is very tight, and we understand why we haven't gotten cost of living increases. But to cut a benefit by taking away our 401(k) match would be like a kick in the teeth."
Not so. It's like telling kids at the birthday party to take two cookies instead of four. What is so horrible? Reducing the rate of growth a little for 401(k) accounts -- and temporarily at that-- is not a cut in wages. It's a good business decision.
We do not say that all the revenue Highland and Orem need should come on the backs of city employees. But we do say that government should play by some of the same rules as business, and government employees should have the same expectation on that score as anyone else in the workforce. The burden should be balanced. A full match for a 401(k) account is not an entitlement.
The savings derived could go a long way toward keeping any tax increase to a minimum.
Like their government counterparts, many in the private sector have received paltry raises, or none at all, for a long time. Many of these same individuals have seen reductions in benefits, including cuts in matching 401(k) money or increases in health premiums. Where is it written that government employees should be immune to such things in a recession? If it is written, it should be erased.
A good argument can be made that government employees do not pay taxes anyway: All of their pay and fringe benefits ARE taxes -- taxes taken from everybody else in the private sector. This is good to bear in mind when deciding how to spread the burden involved when new revenues are needed.
Highland and Orem are going to need to justify their decisions to their residents, and it's going to be an interesting show. Other cities or taxing districts should pay close attention.
What do you think?
Should full dollar-for-dollar 401(k) matches for government employees be reduced before a tax increase is imposed on the general public? Send your comments or call (801) 344-2942. Please leave your name, hometown and phone number with your comments. E-mail comments should not exceed 100 words; voice-mail comments should be no longer than 30 seconds. Anonymous and unverifiable responses will not be published.
The Daily Herald will publish comments on July 1.

Why a tax increase isn’t so bad by Tai Raiser

Why a tax increase isn’t so bad

JUNE 19, 2012 10:57 AM  •  
Orem has long been considered one of the finest cities in the country in which to live and raise a family. I have chosen to make Orem my home because I love what the city has to offer.
Like nearly every other city in the state and country, Orem has suffered financially during the recent economic downturn. Now, mainly because of decisions made in the past and shrinking sales tax revenues, city leaders are faced with a shrinking budget and the need to find more revenue.
The big albatross around Orem’s neck is UTOPIA. Most everyone now agrees that UTOPIA was a mistake. However, I remember attending public meetings a few years ago where the vast majority of Orem residents wanted UTOPIA. It is easy to sit back, not be involved in the initial process and then, when it doesn’t turn out as planned, complain. Whether we like it or not, we are stuck with UTOPIA.  Here are some options to consider.
We can pay 100 percent of the obligation from our tax dollars and receive zero benefit. Or we can do our best to execute the current plan—increase usage. Orem is built out much more than most cities and could derive benefit from use, and revenues could help offset much of the tax. If the second option is successful, then more options could open up — possibly some of the larger internet providers would jump on board.
Overall, Orem has exercised fiscal discipline and has been conservative in the way it has managed its finances. Prior to the recession, Orem actually saved the maximum amount allowed by law. When times got tough and revenues decreased, the city has been able to access this “rainy day” fund. If the reserve falls below five percent, the legislature will force Orem to raise taxes. I believe most Orem citizens would much rather see a methodical, strategic, proactive approach to solving the financial dilemma rather than leaving the City’s financial circumstances in the hands of state legislators.
The Daily Herald’s recent article (Orem’s Dilemma Over Taxes) is perplexing. They say, “rather than acknowledge annual shortfalls forthrightly to the taxpayers — and seeking more money when it might have been a bit less painful — Orem officials simply tapped reserves.”
My question is this: When in the last few years would it have been “less painful” to seek more money? The economy has generally improved. Unemployment is lower. Things are not great, but they have improved. I think Orem did the right thing in tapping the reserves. Isn’t that the reason they had reserves in the first place?
Another concern I have is the statement by Mr. Royce Van Tassel of the Utah Taxpayers Association in the same article. He said, “They’ve made their bed, and the city of Orem is going to have to lie in it. They shouldn’t have to ask the taxpayers to make it more comfortable.”
That statement begs the question: Who is the city of Orem? As I understand it, Orem is made of a number of “taxpayers” living together, working together and paying taxes in exchange for services to make life more comfortable. I enjoy the fact that my toilet flushes; that when I turn on the tap, fresh water comes out; that if there is an emergency, the police or fire department will respond; and that when I have concerns, I can talk with competent city officials.
I was one of the 35 residents who attended the first Neighborhood in Action joint neighborhood meeting. I was extremely impressed with the caliber of people that work for the city of Orem. I strongly disagree with Councilman Hans Andersen’s proposal to scrap a wage increase and decrease the city’s 401(k) retirement match. His proposal doesn’t come close to fixing the problem and, in fact, adds to it. We risk disenfranchising employees who have been working extremely hard without pay increases for years. They are very well qualified and deserve a modest pay increase. The cost to replace an employee is much greater than a two percent raise.
There are no easy solutions to the problems Orem faces. Having gone to meetings and taken the time to educate myself about the issues, I take great comfort in knowing that the city staffers have come up with a sensible, sound budget plan. Yes, it may require a tax increase, which I, a staunch Republican, do not like. But my intense dislike of tax increases takes a back seat to my desire to have Orem remain at the top of America’s best places to live and raise a family.
  Tai W. Riser is a resident of Orem.

Jim Evans $8.00 a month an investment

June 19, 2012 Daily Herald Newspaper

When I offered my service to the City of Orem after the passing of Mayor Jerry Washburn, I knew there would be tough decisions to make. Responsible leadership requires tough decisions.
There's nothing easy about meeting the needs of a community with nearly 90,000 residents. Luckily, Orem is a great place. We live in a safe community with clean water, beautiful parks, amazing library and recreation programs and other high-quality services.
The cost of providing services has certainly changed over the years -- gas has increased, power has increased and materials have increased. Surprisingly, the one thing in Orem that hasn't increased since 1978 is the property tax rate. Sure, our tax bills have changed over the years, but those changes haven't had anything to do with Orem's portion of our taxes. Orem hasn't proposed an increase in property taxes for 34 years. Because of visionary economic development and frugality, Orem hasn't had to increase property taxes to provide the high-quality services residents and visitors have come to know and expect.
Nearly half of Orem's general fund revenue comes from sales tax. For many years, Orem was a regional shopping destination, and as a community, we have been well served by sales tax. Now there are shopping options all over the valley. Many people also love to shop on the Internet, but unfortunately, Orem doesn't get sales-tax revenue from all Internet sales. These factors along with the economic downturn have taken a substantial toll on Orem's revenue.
Every year the city must look at balancing its revenue with its needs and obligations. To compensate for declining sales-tax revenue, the city has cut costs in personnel, operations and projects. To maintain service levels, the city has also used money from its savings, or reserves. In order to continue to maintain high-quality services, we now must consider additional options, including the proposed increase in property taxes. It is definitely a time for tough decisions.
One of the reasons why Orem is looking at a property-tax increase is the city's UTOPIA obligation. Many years ago Orem and other cities decided to move forward with a plan to provide fiber-optic infrastructure. There are a lot of benefits to having fiber-to-the-door service available in our community. We all benefit from having this technology available for businesses, schools, hospitals and other important areas.
Some residents are already able to access this service for home and home-business use. Others are anxiously waiting for it. I completely understand the frustration from those who are waiting for the services and those who completely disagree with paying for UTOPIA. A commitment was made many years ago and Orem must honor its commitment.
Some have suggested that deeper cuts be made to cover the shortfall between revenue and needs. I believe the city has made significant, responsible cuts. I also believe that trying to cut the budget to cover the entire cost of the UTOPIA payment will have a negative impact on this community, and I don't want to see that happen. As a resident of Orem, I value the same services that you do. I raised my family here because of the great environment that those services help to create.
I appreciate all of the citizens who have shared their comments and concerns with me and the other members of the city council. Raising taxes is not something that any of us wants to do, and it is not an option that anyone is taking lightly. It is a very tough decision. I recognize the tremendous value of what we have here in Orem, and I believe that the increase of $8 per month on the average home is worth considering as an additional investment in our community.
• Jim Evans is mayor of Orem.
Jim Evans Op Ed Daily Herald