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A Letter from the Beach

From the Scrapbook

Jul 30, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 43 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
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The automaker has introduced a “ ‘Chevy Confidence’ program that allows buyers to return any model they’ve purchased within 30 or 60 days with less than 4,000 miles on the clock and no damage. GM calls it the ‘Love It Or Return It’ program,” reports the autoblog website. Now recall that one of the chief enticements to purchasing a Volt is that the government softens the blow of the car’s $41,000 price tag by offering a $7,500 tax credit to any purchaser. In March, President Obama was actually pushing to raise the Volt tax credit to $10,000.

However, Mark Modica of the National Center for Legal and Policy Analysis points out the “IRS tax form 8936, for plug-in motor vehicle credit, does not have any minimum time requirement for buyers to own their qualified vehicles. The vehicle only has to be new and purchased during the tax year being claimed.” That means you can buy a Volt, return it to get your money back, and still claim the tax credit the following April 15. Last year, Modica questioned whether some Chevy dealers were claiming the tax credit for themselves and then reselling the vehicles. According to Automobilemag.com, a Chevy spokesman “said there’s no real issue with the practice so long as dealerships are honest with customers” and point out “that the cars are technically used, and are therefore ineligible for the tax credit.” Modica also pointed out that last year’s IRS form didn’t even require those claiming the tax credit to list the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) of the car in question, so there was no way of telling whether the tax credit for a given Volt was being claimed multiple times. This year the tax form has been altered to require you include the VIN of your Volt. 

As for whether Chevy’s new return policy will result in people abusing the tax credit, well, that seems pretty likely. The angel on The Scrapbook’s shoulder tells us that taxpayers should refrain from abusing these tax credits. Then again, a study last year by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy found that each Chevy Volt might have as much as $250,000 in state and federal subsidies behind it. It’s hard to tell people to refrain from gaming the IRS when it can be argued that they’re just getting their own tax dollars back.

Bias? You Betcha!

A conceit of political reporting is that bias occurs least in the coverage of presidential campaigns. Both candidates are savaged equally. This hasn’t been true for years. It wasn’t in 2008 when Barack Obama was pampered. And it’s not true this year. A glaring example is the contrast between coverage of the date of Mitt Romney’s departure from Bain Capital and President Obama’s memorable gaffe: “If you’ve got a business​—​you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.”

Obama uttered his remark on July 13 while campaigning in Roanoke. ABC, CBS, and NBC ​broadcast exactly one segment on their morning and evening news shows over the next five days. That segment was on the NBC Nightly News on July 17. CNN waited four days before reporting the Obama statement and then only after Romney had jumped on it.

But the networks were all over Romney on the matter of when he left Bain Capital. From July 12 through July 19, there were 17 stories on the flap over whether he really quit Bain in 1999 when he moved to Utah to run the Winter Olympics. (Thanks to Brent Baker and the Media Research Center for compiling these numbers.)

Is there any question which story was more significant? The Obama gaffe was enormously revealing of his dim view of business and high regard for government. The Romney exit from Bain? Barely a story at all. He was physically gone from the company and there’s no evidence he took part in any financial decisions at Bain after that.

To underline the bias, let’s have Romney and Obama change places. If Romney had suggested government is the key to the success of a business, the media would have run with the story​—​it would be news. Had a question arisen of precisely when Obama left his job as a community organizer, the media would have yawned.

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