Taxes not only fund a functioning government, they fund a variety of public services that benefit all Americans. Over many decades, our tax system has grown nightmarishly complicated, unnecessarily bloated, confusingly inconsistent, and simply unfair. It is a frustrating headache for everyone. True tax reform, not just tax cuts, is essential to make the tax code fairer and easier to understand.
RATES: We can make things simpler and fairer by removing deductions and loopholes, and lowering rates for both individuals and businesses, like we did in 1986 when “Tip” O’Neill, Bill Bradley, and Ronald Reagan achieved the last major reform of the US tax code.
INCOME: One way to make a fairer system is to treat all income, be it from employment, capital gains, or carried interest, as the same. Add up all income no matter where it came from, then find the bracket that matches and you’re done!
RETURN-FREE FILING: If we are making taxes easier, let’s go one step further. It is time to move to a “return-free” tax system in which the IRS completes the tax process for an individual, and the individual just checks it and corrects anything that is incorrect. These have existed for more than 70 years in other countries (e.g. Japan and the United Kingdom) and have even had successful tests in states like California.
We are near a 40-year low in entrepreneurship. This is bad for the economy and bad for American workers. New businesses help grow the economy, provide opportunities for employment, and push innovation. The good news is that millennials are slowly changing this trend and starting up new businesses at an increasing rate. We need to help keep this going by removing the barriers that keep entrepreneurs from starting the businesses of tomorrow. That means wide-ranging efforts to reform many key players.
HEALTH INSURANCE: A major barrier to entrepreneurship is health insurance. How many people in this country work for established companies for insurance coverage? This stops many potential entrepreneurs and their potential employees from leaving a job with insurance to take a chance on a new startup. Decoupling insurance from work is a step to removing this barrier.
CAPITAL: Without capital, a new business cannot get off the ground, and not every potential entrepreneur is fortunate enough to have easy access through established connections. We need to work with state and federal entities to increase access to capital and reach more potential entrepreneurs.
IMMIGRATION: Immigrants start new companies at very high rates. Increasing legal immigration can lead to the founding of new companies that employ Americans and grow our economy.
RESEARCH: Most new companies and products are based upon publicly funded research, but we have been scaling back on basic and applied-science funding. Increasing funding can provide entrepreneurs with invaluable knowledge and ideas for new products.
COMPETITION: Many large companies use their size to make the market less competitive and carve out monopolies. This hurts entrepreneurship, small businesses, consumers, and the economy as a whole. We need to crack down and ensure fair competition is maintained.
We can and must do a better job of ensuring that all Americans get the care they need. I support universal healthcare, but the focus on healthcare has been almost exclusively on insurance, and this is only one piece of the complicated healthcare puzzle.
The other pieces include insurers, hospital systems, doctors, allied health, pharmacists, pharmaceutical and device manufacturers, and public research and development. Much of this system is not competitive, which drives up costs and lowers access. We must focus on the entire system if we are going to lower costs and increase access to care:
REGULATIONS: We must work with states to remove unnecessary regulations that keep healthcare professionals from delivering the care that they are trained to deliver.
- In many states, nurse practitioners and physician’s assistants cannot open their own practice, even though for basic medical services and screenings they deliver the same level of care at a lower price.
- We can also make it easier for Americans to purchase safe, non-narcotic prescription medicines by allowing pharmacists to prescribe them. This will save patients from having to take time off work to go in for a doctor’s visit, which isn’t always an option for everyone.
PHARMACEUTICALS: The US market is simply not competitive. As a result, pharmaceutical companies hold a monopoly and costs are unnecessarily high, especially compared to other countries. One way to increase competition is to allow Americans the option of purchasing prescriptions across international borders. Since the same or similar quality prescriptions can be obtained at considerably lower prices this way, it should compel US companies into lowering theirs to stay competitive.
RESEARCH: Pharmaceutical companies rely heavily on scientific literature that comes from publicly-funded research. Unfortunately, these companies have found they cannot always replicate those findings. This costs them time and money, and consequently, they pass these costs onto the consumer. We should fund more public replication studies to keep costs down. We can then expect these savings to be passed on to the American consumer.
COMPETITION: In some parts of the country, there is only one healthcare system for a hundred miles in any direction and only one insurer on the exchange. This lack of competition drives up prices and leads to poorer care. We can increase competition in these cases by providing public options, breaking up healthcare monopolies, and adding access to competitors through innovative technologies such as telemedicine.
MEDICARE: Many Americans would like to retire before they are eligible for Medicare, but may not be able to because of the high cost of private insurance. We need to allow Americans the option to buy into Medicare starting at age 50. Not only does this provide an affordable option for these Americans, it also makes the insurance pool in the public sector younger and healthier, likely leading to lower costs and premiums.
Education is critical to the success of every individual American as well as the success of our society and the economy as a whole. I’m pro-business and pro-individual; I want all Americans and American businesses to succeed. To make that happen, an educated workforce is essential, and we can do better. We need to give people better access to education as well as better education, and then businesses will have a better workforce.
WORKFORCE TRAINING: Many businesses have openings for skilled labor but cannot find workers to fill them. At the same time, many workers would like to take these jobs but do not have the necessary skill set.
- Working with federal, state, and local entities, we can make sure that anyone who wants to work can get trained to learn the skills they need to fill open positions in their market.
- We can also better prepare students before they enter the workforce. Every student should come out of high school with a marketable skill. These skills can be advanced so that the student can move up to a better job over time.
PRESCHOOL: The earlier we invest in our children, the larger the return on investment. Access to universal preschool greatly benefits children by accelerating their education and preparing them to be contributing members of society.
- It is especially beneficial for poor and disadvantaged children. It helps them catch up with their more advantaged peers in the classroom, and mitigates some of the devastating effects of poverty and adversity.
- It also benefits parents by allowing them the opportunity to return to work or school so they can better provide for their families.
TECHNOLOGY: Technology is everywhere, and more and more jobs require not only technological literacy, but deeper levels of technical skill. Technology is the future and we must embrace it.
- Incorporating coding into elementary, middle, and high school for all students will teach them to think in a different way, and ensure that they are comfortable and proficient working deeply with technology.
- Coding will also give them skills that are necessary in many disciplines, even beyond traditional tech jobs: critical thinking, problem-solving, self-sufficiency, creativity, patience, and persistence.
TEACHERS: There are a lot of wonderful teachers out there doing great work, but we need more and are needlessly keeping people away with nonsensical regulations.
- By working with states to make it easier to transfer teaching licenses between states, we can make sure that people who are already trained and ready to work can fill the jobs that are currently sitting vacant. We already do this for doctors, nurses, lawyers, and many other professions.
- We also need to work with states to expand alternative certification options. I have a PhD in Psychology and taught dual-credit courses to high school students at a high school, but it was only legal because I was employed by a community college. According to the state of Texas, I was not qualified to be employed by that same high school to teach that same course. It is time to cut through the red tape that keeps good teachers out of the classroom.
COMMUNITY COLLEGE: Community colleges are excellent options for Americans to receive training in a new field, earn a certification, or save money while completing their “basics” before moving on to a four-year university. We should make them even more accessible by working with community colleges to lower the cost of textbooks and provide on-campus child care for students.
TUITION: A four-year degree is associated with substantially improved financial outcomes for the rest of one’s life. Unfortunately, they have become more and more difficult to obtain because of rising tuition costs.
- Much of the rising cost is due to state legislatures cutting funding that helped subsidize tuition and operating expenses. To make four-year degrees affordable, we will need to work with state governments to increase funding.
We can also look to examples like the partnership between Arlington ISD, Tarrant County College, and the University of Texas at Arlington, which provides students with a four-year degree for $10,000. They achieve this with the use of dual-credit courses, affordable community college classes, and then full course loads at the university once the Associate’s degree is complete. This makes education affordable for both the state and the student.
We have a lot of room for improvement when it comes to infrastructure. Repair and new construction not only maintain the safety of our infrastructure, they also provide immediate jobs, support businesses in their transport of goods, workers, and information, and help citizens move about more freely.
REPAIRS: The American Society of Civil Engineers rated Texas’ infrastructure at a C-. This is not acceptable or safe long-term; we need to get that up to at least a B+. This includes roads, bridges levees, waterways, dams, electric grids, airports, and sea ports.
MASS TRANSIT: Providing more public transit options cuts down on traffic congestion, saves gas, and frees workers to live where they want instead of having to live where the jobs are. It also reduces parking needs, freeing up real estate for businesses. Denser business areas incentivize citizens and visitors to shop and play more, helping the local economy grow. There are many ways to grow mass transit, and several are already in the works in the DFW Metroplex:
- High-Speed Rail: The proposed Dallas to Houston line is a great example. Many people commute to Houston for work and pleasure, spending hours in a car. The new train will get them there in 90 minutes!
- Light Rail: The new TexRail opening in late 2018 will connect downtown Fort Worth to DFW Airport, with stops in several key communities, including Grapevine, along the way. This will greatly improve access to the Metroplex for workers and visitors.
HIGH-SPEED INTERNET: High-speed internet is no longer a luxury; it is a necessity. Everyone needs access to the internet to function in modern society. Expanding access will improve education, healthcare, personal communication, and business communication, to name a few.
An all-of-the-above strategy is necessary to achieve energy independence, lower the costs of goods and transportation, and clean our air and water in the face of climate change. Plus, renewable energy is a thriving industry that provides millions of jobs in the U.S.
EFFICIENCY: Improving efficiency lowers the cost of new products and energy bills for homes, businesses, and transportation, potentially saving hundreds of dollars a year for homeowners and millions of dollars a year for businesses. Efficiency is the most cost-effective way to address climate change.
CLEAN ENERGY: Clean renewable energy is not only necessary to combat climate change, it is a fast-growing industry that provides lots of job opportunities and economic growth. We should be using wind, solar, hydroelectric, tidal, next generation nuclear, geothermal, natural gas, and biofuels. The ratios will vary depending on what is available in each region.
- Wind: Texas is the number one provider of wind energy in the country, producing more than the next top three states combined. DFW International Airport uses wind energy in a comprehensive strategy to become the first carbon-neutral airport and cutting their energy bill by $16 million annually.
- Thorium Nuclear: Thorium is safer, cleaner, and more abundant than traditional plutonium nuclear power. It is also substantially more difficult to weaponize, making it a less risky option internationally.
- Biofuels: Corn, wheat, sugar cane, and algae are making great headway. Plants are nearly carbon neutral since they convert CO2 into sugar and release O2 into the atmosphere in order to grow. Fuels are necessary for planes because electric engines are not an option right now. Improved biofuels could fuel planes more cleanly than traditional fossil fuels. According to NASA, this could lead to 50-70% reductions in particle emissions from aircraft.
- Natural Gas: It is still a non-renewable fossil fuel, but it is 50% cleaner than coal, making it a good transition fuel while we work towards 100% clean, renewable energy.
- Tidal: While not widely used yet, it has potential for the future. We have a big coast in Texas and should capitalize as soon as this is technologically and economically feasible.
Immigrants are valuable contributors to our economy and society, and they are human beings deserving of respect and dignity. They contribute in a variety of ways, so we can help ourselves by making legal immigration easier for promising candidates.
ENTREPRENEURSHIP: Immigrants start new businesses at a higher rate than native-born citizens. If we want entrepreneurs, we need more legal immigrants.
TAXES: Americans are living longer and having fewer children. That means we will have increased medical costs but a smaller tax base. Legal immigration can offset this by bringing in young, healthy workers who pay taxes.
LABOR: We have a need for both high-skilled and low-skilled workers, and we do not always fill this need with natural-born citizens. Legal immigration can make up the difference.
- In certain professions, such as medical doctors, we do not produce enough high-skilled workers to meet demand. Legal immigrants with compatible education and certification can help fill this gap.
- Low-skilled labor that Americans are unwilling to do, such as agricultural picking, is vital to the state of Texas. Immigrants are more than willing to take these jobs and American companies are desperate to hire them.
GUEST WORKERS: Sometimes, our need for workers and immigrants desire for American work are both temporary. We can expand guest worker programs to make them easier for companies to use, allowing immigrant workers to legally come to the US, work for a while, and then return to their home country after their job is completed.
CHILDREN: Children brought to this country through no fault of their own, who are contributing members of society and do not have a criminal record, should be allowed a path to citizenship. We have already invested so much time, effort, and money into these children, it is beneficial to both them and us to allow them to continue being contributing members of society.
Too much time, money, and resources are being spent enforcing marijuana laws when we should be focusing on the deadly opioid crisis. To take care of our citizens, we need to first change marijuana laws and then revolutionize our approach to opioids.
MARIJUANA: Currently classified as a Schedule 1 drug, putting it on the same level as more dangerous drugs like heroin. The federal government should first reclassify it as a Schedule 2 drug, allowing it to be studied to assess its pros and cons, while also allowing states to make their own decisions on legalization and medicinal use.
- If marijuana possession is legalized or reduced from a felony to a misdemeanor, it will help millions of people currently incarcerated unnecessarily or crippled by felon status. Felons have trouble getting jobs, finding housing, and cannot buy guns. After release from prison, they are more likely to commit future crimes because of the hardships and stigma, even if possession of marijuana had been their only prior crime. We should not be keeping good people out of society for something as small as marijuana.
- Texas currently has about 150,00 inmates at an average cost of $20,000 each per year. Thousands of people convicted of marijuana possession could be freed, saving millions of dollars as well as law enforcement manpower and resources.
- Freeing up money and resources from marijuana will allow us to shift our focus to cracking down on the more dangerous opioid crisis.
OPIODS: We need to stop the flow of illegal opioids into our communities, but fighting a drug war simply is not enough to solve the problem. Americans who have become addicted to opioids need help. It is time to focus on harm reduction and change the way we treat addicts. We can, and should, help them heal and return to being productive members of society.
- First Responder Medications: Lives can be saved by giving first-responders (firefighters, EMTs, nurses) access to non-addictive medications that reverse overdose, such as naloxone. States and cities that have expanded access have seen dramatic reductions in overdose deaths.
- Doctors/Pharmacies: We need to work with doctors and pharmacies to stop the over-prescription of addictive painkillers. Responsible businesses have already started implementing successful programs that encourage pharmacists to discuss dosages of dangerous medications with doctors before fulfilling prescriptions. We need to make this universal.
- Needle Exchange: Needle exchange programs do not increase illicit drug use and are effective in reducing the spread of diseases, such as HIV.
- Treatment Centers: More lives can be saved by investing in treatment centers where addicts can seek evaluation, counseling, detoxification, or medication.
Social Security has helped millions of retired Americans over the years. Unfortunately, it is a simple fact that it will not remain solvent if adjustments are not made to account for the population changes that have occurred over decades. Americans are living longer and having fewer children, but Social Security has not caught up. We need to implement fair and incremental changes that ensure its solvency without undue burden on vulnerable Americans.
INCOME CAP: The income cap should be raised to $250,000 to account for wage disparity but still remain fair. It must also be permanently indexed to inflation so that it keeps up with economic growth.
LONGEVITY GAP: The top 10% of earners live almost a decade longer than the bottom 10%. Many in the bottom 10% die before they ever reap the benefits of the Social Security they paid into, while those that need it the least benefit the most. We need to bridge this gap as much as possible with universal health care coverage so that all Americans are adequately cared for and can live long, healthy lives. Additionally, we need to provide more skills training to help low earners move away from manual labor jobs that take a huge toll on their health.
RETIREMENT AGE: Americans are not only living longer than they used to, they are healthier in old age and able to work longer. A small increase in the retirement age, a few months to a year, gradually phased in over time can help keep the program in place for generations to come. However, it is imperative the longevity gap between high and low earners is bridged first. Otherwise, it would be inconceivable to raise the retirement age. Let’s take care of Americans before asking more of them.
All women, regardless of background or ability to pay, should have access to quality health care, sex education, contraception, and legal reproductive services. They have the right to education and quality medical care so they can make their own choices about their own bodies. There are a variety of ways to help.
HEALTH CARE: Universal health care will ensure all women get the care they need, but until we can make that a reality, we must work with state legislators to make sure Medicaid is expanded so all Texans can get the care they need. We should also support, not attack, private organizations that help provide a variety of medical services to women who otherwise cannot afford it.
SEX EDUCATION: All teens, male and female, need comprehensive, age appropriate, and medically accurate sex education, whether it is provided publicly or privately. Colorado lowered their teen pregnancy rate by nearly 50% by providing teens with comprehensive sex education and access to contraceptives. Now is the time to empower Texans to protect themselves.
MATERNAL MORTALITY RATE: Texas has the highest maternal mortality rate in the entire developed world. It used to be much lower, but has spiked since 2010 and the reason is unclear. We need to work with local and federal agencies to study the problem and figure out how to fix it. This approach has been effective in other states and it can work here too.
REPRODUCTIVE SERVICES: The government should not be in the business of telling women and couples when to start their families. We should make sure every woman has access to safe, legal services in a healthcare setting that is equipped, licensed, and properly trained to provide it, and support their right to receive it unencumbered.
Constitutional rights are the heart of American citizenship and democracy. I support the constitutional right of citizens to keep and bear arms for personal protection and hunting.
LOOPHOLES: We need to enforce existing laws and close loopholes that are being used to sneak around them. For example, the rules overseeing automatic weapons are well-established, but modifications that convert semiautomatic weapons to automatic weapons are legal. Loopholes such as this violate the spirit of the law and endanger lives. They must be closed.
MENTAL HEALTH: I support increasing access to mental health services, especially for men and veterans, who are significantly less likely to utilize such services but make up the vast majority of gun-related suicides. We need to ensure they get the help they need.
RESEARCH: As a scientist, I know that research can help us understand a problem and give us options to address it. What leads to gun deaths is poorly understood in the US because of a regulation that effectively prohibits the CDC from studying gun deaths. We need to get rid of this regulation and allow the CDC to study this issue, just like we study every other issue.