Clean Energy Incentives and Tax Relief in the Senate: The Senate Finance Committee announces that it has reached agreement with the Senate's Democratic and Republican leadership on renewable energy credits and proposed adjustments to tax policy. The Energy Improvement and Extension Act of 2008 would offer tax incentives for sustainable power sources (including wind and solar), enhanced coal technology, and energy efficiency and conservation. Other tax provisions would decrease the number of Americans subject to the alternative minimum tax and extend tax breaks for tuition, child care, and disaster relief. The vote on these measures could come as soon as this week.
Teens, Video Games, and Civics: A vast majority—97 percent—of 12-to-17-year-olds surveyed play video games, whether on a computer, the Internet, or a gaming system, according to a report from the Pew Internet and American Life Project. Although 99 percent of boys and 94 percent of girls play video games, boys tend to play more often and longer. Nineteen percent of parents believe the games have a positive impact on their children, while 13 percent believe they have a negative impact. The report also found that teenage gamers who played with others in person were "more likely to be civically and politically engaged" than those who competed online.
Stabilizing and Rebuilding Iraq: Iraqi Revenues, Expenditures, and Surplus: In a follow-up to a report about large cash surpluses in Iraq, Joseph Christoff of the Government Accountability Office tells the House Budget Committee that Iraq's total "cumulative budget surplus" could reach $79 billion, fueled by high global oil prices and Iraq's inability to spend its own cash. With the third-largest known oil reserve in the world, Iraq raked in about $90.2 billion in oil revenues over the past two years, and the report predicts another huge windfall for 2008. However, Iraq consistently spends far less than it takes in on infrastructure, operations, and investment.
City Economies Suffering: Two thirds of U.S. cities are "less able to meet fiscal needs" than they were last year, and the outlook for 2009 is even grimmer, suggests a survey by the National League of Cities. Researchers surveyed hundreds of city finance officers about the economic health of their communities. Cities that rely mainly on property taxes for revenue have been hardest hit by the ongoing housing crisis, and the report notes that it is "likely that the full effects of changing housing conditions will not be felt by cities for another six to 12 months" because all the assessments are not yet in. Compounding the problem, cities face increasing costs for transportation and healthcare. Some cities say they are considering raising fees for city services, though the report notes that many localities have large cash reserves, which should help "provide a buffer against the current downturn."
Economic Freedom of the World 2008: Hong Kong wins the top ranking in the world for "economic freedom," according to a report from the pro-free-market Cato Institute and the Fraser Institute. In their annual study measuring "the degree to which the policies and institutions of countries are supportive of economic freedom," the United States is ranked eighth out of 141. Researchers evaluated the size and structure of the government, freedom to trade, protection of property, and access to money. The study further makes a connection between economic freedom and quality of life, noting that nations ranking high in this survey also tend to have better life expectancy, political rights, environmental policies, and poverty reduction plans. Top-ranked Hong Kong, a former British dependency, is part of China but is administered as a special region.