Eyewitness News

Being fiscally responsible

Thursday, January 03, 2013
Bill Ritters daily take on the news.

Bill Ritter's daily take on the news.

We have a nifty feature on our internal Internet site that allows employees to see their pay stubs for their next payroll check. I'm obsessive about these things - like figuring out why this week's check is a dollar or two different than last week's - and I thought it was just my little secret, that I regularly check out the pay stub postings.

That is, until yesterday, when audible groans could be heard from folks at all income levels, as they spied the first pay checks-to-be for 2013. And this week's paystub doesn't include any change in the income tax rate - this was just the increase in social security deductions. Still to come, the surcharges on the health care reform (is calling it "Obamacare" pejorative? Many think it is), and any income tax hikes that some may be exposed to.

It's so easy to talk about paying more in taxes, until one sees her own paycheck slashed. Actually, I've found that peeps in the tri-state would be more accepting of paying more taxes if there had been some accompanying cuts in spending.

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Our own personal budgets are in some ways like the federal budget - the big-ticket items are set in place, things like housing and education and transportation. It's the smaller expenses that can be cut. Individually, they're not very much. But collectively, they can add up. I know that many have already slashed their phone and cable bills, or they go out to eat less. $25 a month here and $30 a month there adds up, right? So with that in mind - and having already given up phone lines and the all-you-can-watch cable options, I took a glance at my home-delivered bottled water bill. I will admit to this, at the risk of embarrassment - only because I suspect I'm not alone in how na´ve I've been. It's one of those we'll-bill-you-automatically accounts, so I haven't looked at the specifics. The truth is I have this water company as an emergency backup, in case NYC's water system goes down. I thought I was being smart.

Then I got a notice that the bottled water company was increasing its delivery fee. Heck, I didn't know I was paying a fee in the first place. So I looked at my bill, and discovered I was also paying a monthly rent on a water "crock"  the ceramic container that holds the water. This rent was added to my bill and I hadn't known that.

Mindful of trying to cut expenses, I called the company to cancel my account. I was transferred from the first receptionist to a very nice young woman who thanked me for being a customer for 20 years, and who made it clear that she would do whatever it took to keep me from cancelling the account.

Rent on the crock? Stopped. Price of water? Cut by a huge percentage. Plus an account credit to cover the delivery fee.

I was smart, after being stupid to try to cancel the service. The company was smart - after being sneaky and greedy - to give me a good deal.

The last time I went through every one of my family's expenses was in 2008 when the recession started. It was eye opening. It's like getting a fiscal facial, opening up the pores of the family budget and clearing out the gunk. We all have gunk, and it's healthy to purge it, regularly.

The new year usually brings the "new you" fitness ad slogans from gyms and diet plans. I suspect there are many people right now who are also getting ready for a kind of fiscal fitness campaign.

So here's to your New Year, may be it be physically and fiscally healthy. And with the federal spending cuts that are sure to come in the next two months - which could very well mean more taxes levied from state and local governments - 2013 could be a very rough year, and not just for the wealthy, but for all of us. I'm just sayin'.

We'll have the latest on the fiscal cliff, tonight at 11. And why, when it seems like Congress voted to avoid the cliff, do so many people feel as if they've just fallen off of it?

One more note, this one political, about the fiscal cliff: Speaker John Boehner was re-elected to that House post today, despite twice as many Repubs voting against the fiscal cliff bill as voting for it. And Boehner was one of those voting for it. Go figure. He received just 220 votes, just 4 more than he needed. Close.

Also at 11, the latest on the Journal News controversy. The paper has published the names and addresses of gun permit holders in Rockland and Westchester Counties. Now the clerk in Putnam County is refusing to release the names of gun permit holders in his county, even though he's required by law to do so. His argument implies that the framers didn't count on the impact of social media when they drew up the First Amendment. Of course those framers didn't count on the impact of assault weapons that fire 30 rounds in seconds when they drew up the Second Amendment. I'm just sayin'. Speaking of weapons, there's a fascinating report out of the Center for Public Integrity today saying U.S. taxpayers subsidize makes of assault rifles  the kind used in mass killings like the one at Sandy Hook Elementary last month. Five companies got more than $19 million in tax breaks  most within the past five years. New York is one of nine states that give those subsidies.

We'll also have any breaking news of the night, plus Meteorologist Lee Goldberg's AccuWeather forecast, and Rob Powers with the night's sports. I hope you can join Sade Baderinwa and me, tonight at 11.

BILL RITTER

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