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Usually I’m a very patient person with respect to people owing me money. I pay my bills on time, I donate to charity regularly and fulfill my pledges when I receive the invoice. But what irks me alot these days is when people who owe me money don’t give me the same consideration.

Case in point – the State of Maryland. This year I happened to get a refund from the State of Maryland because I apparently overpaid my taxes a couple of years ago (and didn’t realize it). Anyway, this year, instead of owing the state money I was entitled to a refund of around $240. I filed my tax return on April 15th, paid the money I owed the federal government and waited. It’s now June 15th (some two months later) and the state of Maryland has yet to send me a check or deposit the refund in my account. If I owed the state $240 and didn’t pay on time they would tack on interest and fees…but since they owe me they apparently can take their sweet time in deciding when they want to pay me back. What would add insult to injury would be if the State of Maryland didn’t pay me my refund and then sent me a W-2 (yeah, here in Maryland they send you a W-2 for any state taxes that are refunded and you have to declare it as income to the IRS) for the money…hope they don’t try to pull that nonsense.

Perhaps I’m too patient with both the State of Maryland. Perhaps I should start charging interest and fees to them…maybe that will get them to be punctual with paying what they owe…just like I am with what I owe.

Update (June 16th 2010):
After speaking with Syngress Press it turns out that royalties are paid on a semi-annual basis. In previous work I had done for other publishers there was a period of three months before royalties were paid and then they were paid monthly after that (so long as the amount of royalty to be paid exceeded a specific limit). I had assumed that Syngress followed the same schedule. Now that I know the schedule I realize that I jumped the gun on Syngress in the original version of this post. I have chosen to revise this post to remove my complaint against Syngress since it was due to a mis-understanding regarding the royalty payment schedule. My beef with the State of Maryland, however, still remains.

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So USAA sent out a real estate appraiser to actually take a look at the house on Monday. I finally received a copy of the report from him and his estimate is that my house is only worth $380,000 which is outright ludicrous. Yes he gets the square footage nearly right but he uses as comps houses that are 400 – 600 sq. ft. smaller than mine and whose property sizes are also half of mine. He gets the room count incorrect — this idiot says that I’ve got a 4 bedroom house when I have a 5 bedroom house but at least he’s got the number of bathrooms right — 3 rather than the 2 that the other moronic appraiser said. This is absolute bullshit…I know of a house that sold just 3 weeks ago that has about 800 sq. ft. less than I do that sold for $450,000. On top of that I have a friend who had his house (the same as the one that just sold 3 weeks ago) appraised last October (during the whole financial meltdown) for also around $450,000. I also know of a house that is around the corner which is also smaller than mine which, as I understand it is under contract for $425,000 — and it’s not in as good a condition as mine and hasn’t been upgraded as I’ve done with mine.

In essence this appraiser, like the other one, is just plain wrong. I’ve had a real estate agent (who built her career on houses in this area) who says that my house is definitely worth more and, depending on the condition, may well be worth closer to my estimate of $550,000 (as determined from zillow.com). This is absolute bullshit. Looks like USAA may have just lost all of my business.

I recently came across an MSN article that was published recently on how a bill is currently winding its way through the halls of Congress that is essentially a “cash for clunkers” concept to encourage Americans to trade in their old vehicles and buy new ones. The general concept, on the whole, is not bad — American car buyers will get rid of their old, gas-guzzling vehicles and buy more fuel efficient (and hopefully less polluting) cars to replace them. The upshot is that theoretically America’s car fleet will, on the whole, go up in fuel efficiency which means that our gas consumption should, theoretically, go down and therefore our reliance on oil will, theoretically, go down.

On pure face value this is absolutely a “good thing”. However, the way the government is approaching this (and how the interests in Congress are shaping this bill) worries me. The government will offer consumers a $4500 voucher if the vehicle that they purchase gets 10 miles per gallon (mpg) more than the vehicle they are scrapping. If the new vehicle only gets 4 to 9 mpg more then the old one then the voucher is only worth $3500. And that’s just for cars. For light trucks the mileage gain would only have to be 5 mpg and 2 mpg for the respective vouchers.

Ok, yes, it’s an incentive (just like the incentive that sales tax on new vehicles purchased this year between February 17, 2009 and the end of the year will be deductible on your income taxes next year). The idea is to spur the American consumer to go out and “shop” (sound familiar?) and spend money they may not even have on a big ticket item (i.e. durable goods). In theory, Americans buy vehicles, old gas guzzlers are scrapped, car sales — which are about as anemic as they come — are boosted, and the automakers get a bit of a reprieve from the recession.

The problem is that this is money that the American government doesn’t have. Yes, we could just print more money and, voila!, we’ll have the money for this program. But to do so we must tread carefully. We are already seeing the effects of printing more money as the value of the U.S. dollar is declining with respect to other currencies. Other governments are becoming increasingly concerned about their investments (i.e. U.S. Treasury Notes) in the United States and may slow down or stop buying them altogether. With increased dollar circulation we are diluting the value of the dollar and driving inflation. This is what happened in the mid- to late-late 70s and early 80s and it took the Fed quite a bit of time to take enough dollars out of circulation to help stem the tide.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I understand the concept of deficit spending in order to help pull us out of this economic deep dive but I tend to be a fiscal conservative in my overall outlook. Yes, in my opinion, we need to spend on health care and on infrastructure but I see this bill as another congressional way of throwing a lifeline to the auto industry when already two out of the “Big 3” (i.e. G.M. and Chrysler) have already received a huge amount of bailout money and have both declared bankruptcy. The difference here is that this is something that Washington doesn’t have to do. Already the auto makers are doing an enormous amount to try and spur sagging sales. I recently traded in my 1997 Nissan Maxima for a 2009 Toyota Prius because Toyota was offering 0% financing on 2009 Toyota Prius models (the car that just 8 months ago dealers couldn’t even keep on the lots because they were such a hot item). I did it without a government voucher and got a great deal.

There were many other great offers from Toyota as well…I just happened to be in the market for a Prius. And that’s where this bill won’t do much. In the article “Cash in on your gas guzzler” on MSN Catherine Holahan notes

Even if it passes as now written, the bill might not affect sales much. In a recent Kelley Blue Book survey, nearly 40% of car buyers said that the bill wouldn’t spur them to purchase a new vehicle. Only 13% of survey respondents said that they would be “highly motivated” to buy a new car, if the bill passed.

(Holahan, Catherine, “Cash for your gas guzzler“, MSN, May 19, 2009)

And as for environmental impact — in the current form of this bill (it was originally calling for vouchers for new vehicles that “got at least 28 mpg and new SUVs that saw 23 mpg or more.” (Holahan, Catherine, “Cash for your gas guzzler“, MSN, May 19, 2009)) this bill will do little since it has been watered down.

“This will not benefit the environment, but it will help sell a new pickup truck,” said Ann Mesnikoff, the director of green transportation with the Sierra Club, the nation’s largest environmental protection group. “They are trying to make it possible to sell anything under this bill.”

(Holahan, Catherine, “Cash for your gas guzzler“, MSN, May 19, 2009)

The clear winners in this bill are the auto dealers and the auto manufacturers (which is not a bad thing for the auto dealers given the way that G.M. and Chrysler will be cutting thousands of them off in their bankruptcy proceedings). Even the aftermarket parts industry will lose (and so will many Americans who cannot or choose not to buy a new car at this time) as the parts from older vehicles that typically get refurbished and reconditioned for replacement parts are destined for the scrap heap under this bill. Repairing older cars will become more expensive as parts become scarce. The clear losers in this bill are the American taxpayers — both present and future who will have to pay back this additional debt.

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