March 31, 2006

Matt Brown's Campaign Finance Woes

Carroll Andrew Morse

In today's Pawtucket Times, Jim Baron reports on the continuing fallout from Matt Brown's campaign finance problems...

In a ceremony Thursday in the law offices of Republican Attorney General candidate J. William Harsch, state GOP Chairwoman Patricia Morgan signed on to an FEC complaint already filed by the Hawaii Republican Party.

The complaint charges a "tit for tat" arrangement in which donors who had already contributed the maximum amount allowable under law to the Brown campaign sent donations to Democratic Party organizations in Hawaii, Massachusetts and Maine, and then those party organizations contributed a similar amount to Brown.

Brown continues to assert that the matter is about appearance and not substance...
Brown, who has campaigned as a reformer and clean government candidate, has since returned the money, insisting that the arrangement was "completely legal" but acknowledging that it presents a "perception problem."

Brown campaign spokesman Matt Burgess brushed the complaint off as "just politics. It is Republicans filing complaints against Democrats. It was all completely legal and that's what the FCC will find.

Asked Thursday if the Brown campaign would do the same thing again, spokesman Matt Burgess said no, but only because it presented a perception problem, not because it was a wrong thing to do.

I suspect that Mr. Brown will eventually be vindicated in a legal sense.

However, this incident shows how campaign finance "reform" has become a barrier preventing the politically unconnected from entering politics. Mr. Brown has (had?) a legitimate shot at a Senate seat because his career in politics allowed him to develop the nationwide connections needed to set up an elaborate fundraising network capable of delivering small contributions from all over the country. Someone who has not made politics their entire career rarely has that kind of access.

Under the current system, the only people who can raise the money needed to run for statewide office are those who are in a position to spend years building a fundraising network, those with the right connections who are granted access to someone else's established network, or those who are independently wealthy. To level the playing field between the connected and unconnected, a better solution is to simplify campaign finance regulations but increase transparency and tighten up the rules regarding disclosure.

Finally, a question: Do people think that Matt Brown survives this or not? Since the Democratic primary is basically a beauty contest between two candidates with identical positions on the issues, I don't see what Mr. Brown can do to differentiate himself from Sheldon Whitehouse and bounce back from this.


Immigration Issues II

Carroll Andrew Morse

Earlier in the week, I noted an asymmetrical aspect of the immigration debate

An overlooked aspect of the immigration debate is how the United States is consistently assumed to be the only country involved; it’s the United States and an amorphous sea of non-citizens. The post-patriotic commercial elites driving the debate on the Republican side could earn some popular support by asking the countries sending immigrants to America to make some changes to accomodate the US.
Today, at his National Review Online blog, David Frum finds some possible areas of accomodation. Frum describes how the Mexican economy is actually more dependent than the American economy on illegal immigration into the US, and how Mexico's dependency is at least partially the result of Mexican government policies...
Follow the money: In 2005, Mexicans in the United States remitted some $20 billion home. That's 3% of Mexico's entire national income.

Remittances have surpassed tourism, oil, and the maquiladora assembly industry to emerge as the country's top single source of foreign exchange…

Remittances have cushioned Mexico's failure, but they cannot achieve Mexico's success. Only internal change in Mexico can do that. Mexico desperately needs foreign investment in its energy industry, a rationalization of its tax system, and free-market reform of its labor laws...

In the context of an immigration reform in the American interest - meaning a restrictive immigration reform - the US should of course help Mexico find substitutes for any reductions in remittance income. One good place to start would be the energy industry, which could contribute much more to Mexican wealth if Mexico abandoned its 75-year-old protectionist policies.

So how about tying the scope of a “guest worker” program to the degree to which Mexico opens up its energy industry to American investment? Then, America could help Mexico modernize its economy and regularize the flow of immigration and capital between the two countries.


Terri Schindler Schiavo: One Year Later

Terri Schindler Schiavo died one year ago today. Father Robert J. Johansen reflects on the anniversary.

There was a lot of hysterical talk in the public debate a year ago and that made it essentially impossible to conduct a reasoned discussion on the underlying moral and ethical issues in this case.

For example, this was pitched by some as only a "religious right" issue and nobody talked about how roughly 20 major groups representing disabled people had filed briefs in support of Terri's right to live. It would have been worth discussing rationally why those groups thought this was such an important case.

In the last weeks of Terri's life, I made some attempts on this blog site at a more reflective review of the important issues. Some attempts were better than others.

Here are what I believe were several of the more helpful postings as we debated the issues a year ago. I hope you will take the time to read them:

RIP, Theresa Marie Schindler Schiavo

Nat Henoff: Judicial Murder - Her crime was being disabled, voiceless, and at the disposal of our media. Note that Henoff describes himself as an atheist.

Let's Not Delude Ourselves About the Consequences of Killing Terri Schiavo

Why the Rush to Kill Terri Schindler-Schiavo?

What If This Was Our Daughter or Sister or Wife? What If It Was "Only" A Stranger's Life?

Terri may be dead but these issues remain important and unresolved issues in our culture. To be more direct, I offered these summary-level thoughts on what this debate was ultimately about:

...As observers from afar, we cannot independently confirm the veracity of all of the information described above. But reasonable people must admit that the information pattern raises enough material questions about the behavior of Terri’s husband and the judge to have grave concerns.

And that leads us back to the more fundamental question about what value we will place on human life, including that of a disabled woman. If we begin to say it is okay to kill off "weak" human beings, think where that will take us over time. It will take us to a place where certain people will seek to play "God" so they can set the criteria for who lives and who dies. Why not then an elderly parent or a young child, should either become a financial or emotional burden? The freedom to do such great evil will only invite more profound evil over time.

Holocausts do not begin with operational concentration camps; they start on a smaller scale and steadily break down our resistance while many people plead that they are "too busy" to pay attention and get involved.

The stakes are enormous here and there is no neutral ground. Not to decide is to decide. The fight for Terri’s life is another battle to determine whether we are to live in a culture of life or a culture of death.


March 30, 2006

Leading Opponents of Voter Initiative Show They are Implacable Foes of the Public Good

I have been clear about my skepticism regarding the Voter Initiative (VI).

Yet, consider these March 30 words from Tom Coyne about the words and actions by people firmly opposed to the VI:

Anybody who doubts that we are in the middle of a war for the future of Rhode Island should have been at the House Judiciary Commitee hearing on Voter Initiative the other night. To say that the disdain of General Assembly Democrats and their supporters was on full display would be a vast understatement. To begin with, they chose a hearing room far too small to accomodate all the VI supporters who came from all over the state to testify at the 4:30 hearing. With most VI supporters forced to cool their heels in the hallway, committee chairman Rep. Don Lally (North Kingstown and Narragansett) proceeded to let opponents of the proposal testify first...

And who was leading the opposition testimony -- with a straight face -- and waxing eloquent about the evils of the "special interest influence" that Voter Initiative might bring to our innocent Ocean State? None other than Bob Walsh, Marti Rosenberg, and George Nee. If hell has a special place for hypocrites of this high caliber, their reservations are surely confirmed. It was like watching three mafia dons defend their right to run their turf as they saw fit -- the taxpayers be damned. Sadly, the Democrats on the House Judiciary Commitee gave every indication that they shared this view -- belittling the 21,000 signatures (with accompanying addresses and emails) on the Voter Initiative petition as signifying nothing of consequence. I guess we'll see about that later this election year...

On the other hand, it was priceless to watch Rep. Amy Rice become apoplectic when Reps. Jim Davey and Larry Ehrhardt decided to aggressively question Walsh, Rosenberg, and Nee's arguments. "We'll call the Speaker," she shreiked.

Of course, it only got better after the first supporters began to testify at 8:30 pm, well after the press had left. All the predictable liberal attack lines were thrown at them -- including accusations of being racist, sexist homophobes, and anti-undocumented worker (er, illegal immigrant) to boot. It's comical to watch -- you can set your watch by how long it takes a lefty to demand that any opponent admit to being either an angry racist sexist homophobe or still in denial and in need of more therapy. In their minds, anyone who opposes their views really has only these two choices...

The most colorful part of the evening took place not in the hearing room, but out in the hallway (and in the elevators), where the insults really got personal, and almost came to blows on more than one occasion.

What are we to make of all this? We have three reactions. The first is, of course, to keep this sad spectacle in mind during the fall campaigns for the seats now occupied by the esteemed Democratic members of the House Judiciary Committee. Their disdain and insults should not go unpunished.

The second is to ask a simple question: Rhode Island now has the fourth highest tax burden in the nation, in exchange for which we receive some of its worst performance in public education, social welfare and the condition of our roads and bridges. Honestly, do you think we would be worse off today if we had had Voter Initiative for the past ten years?

Finally, the arrogance and disdain of the General Assembly Democrats, as well as Bob Walsh, Marti Rosenberg and George Nee, all beg one critical question: just what do they think is the end game in Rhode Island? It was Lloyd Monroe who put his finger on this in an acrimonious exchange with Rep. Shanley. "If the voters don't like it, they can throw me out on my rear end," Shanley said. Monroe pointed out that the voting had already begun, with more and more people and businesses leaving the state. Remember, Rhode Island and Louisiana are the only two states in the nation facing revenues below rather than above expectations this year. And what hurricane hit us? Decades of failed policies imposed on the state by the Democrat controlled General Assembly, perhaps?

The key point is this: even if Walsh, Rosenberg, and Nee (and their General Assembly lackeys) win this battle, they have lost the war. Their pyrrhic victory will only accelerate the decline of Rhode Island toward an inevitable date with bankruptcy. And as anyone who has looked at our exploding welfare spending and enormous unfunded public sector pension and retiree health care liabilities knows, given our dying private sector economy that day is fast approaching. The brutal truth of the matter is this (listen up teachers and other government employees): if things don't change soon in Rhode Island, one day your pension check isn't going to arrive in your mailbox in Florida. If things don't change, your taxpayer financed Florida (no income tax!) retirement plans are toast. And the longer Bob and Marti and George and the boys and girls on Smith Hill (not to mention Charlie Fogarty and Elizabeth Roberts) keep battling to preserve the current system, the more they will hasten its demise and with it your nasty surprise. If we were in your shoes, we'd be asking our "leaders" a lot more hard questions about just how they think their brilliant strategy is going to keep all those welfare and pension checks coming. Because more performances like the other night are guaranteed to make things worse, not better -- and Amy Rice running off to tattle tale to the Speaker can't change that...

These people are greedy enemies of the public good. Their commitment to continue the failing status quo is why many of us will vote for the VI, even as we have some misgivings about it.


Local Town Drama in East Greenwich

Last week, there was a thoughtful editorial in the North East Independent newspaper, entitled Seniors need tax help, in which the writer argued that the seniors need assistance from the town of East Greenwich and are asking for a tax freeze.

A story in this week's edition talks about the upcoming April 4 public meeting to discuss the tax freeze for seniors idea in East Greenwich.

Also in this week's edition is my editorial entitled Freezing taxes for seniors shifts the burden unfairly, which argues that the tax freeze for seniors is bad public policy. One of my key points is that people want relief from high taxes but not enough people are talking about challenging the cause of those high taxes - the public sector union contracts, especially the teachers' union contract.

A new editorial in the North East Independent says it is time to pay more attention to the school facility issues in East Greenwich. I would challenge one part of the editorial, which says: "It's a bit ironic, though, because previous school committees deferred maintenance issues to focus on curriculum. It was a decision that left students with a high quality education, but sub-par surroundings. The most recent school committees have found themselves in the unenviable position of having to clean up the costly mess." Maintenance was deferred, but not because of curriculum. It was deferred because 9-12% annual salary increases, zero co-payments on health insurance until this year, and paying people as much as $7,500/year when they didn't use the school's health insurance left no money for curriculum or facility maintenance.

In another typical move, the NEA teachers' union is being its usual, uncooperative self and won't consider moving from Blue Cross Blue Shield to United even though there would be savings to the taxpayers from such a change. This after they refused to pay more than 4-6% co-payments on their existing Blue Cross Blue Shield insurance.

(And the uncooperative attitude toward taxpayers gets extended to our children in North Kingstown, where the teachers are now operating under work-to-rule - to the detriment of the children once again - because the School Committee there wants to change insurance carriers for cost reasons.)

Meanwhile, the East Greenwich School Committee continues its longstanding habit of dysfunctional behavior.

School Chair Vincent Bradley offers his editorial viewpoint on the dysfunctionality here.

And the East Greenwich Pendulum summed up its view on the dysfunctionality in an editorial last week.

How ironic that we pay the fourth highest state and local taxes out of the 50 states so we can have the privilege of paying for the demands of outlandishly greedy unions combined with incompetent, dysfunctional public officials.

Simply pathetic - on all fronts.


Allan Fung for Mayor of Cranston

Carroll Andrew Morse

Republican Cty Councilman Allan Fung has officially announced his candidacy for Mayor of Cranston. In his announcement speech, Mr. Fung promised to build upon the successes Cranston has had in restoring government accountability and fiscal responsibility in the last four years…

As your Citywide Councilman, I worked relentlessly with Mayor [Steve] Laffey and many others to pull Cranston back from the brink of financial disaster. We made difficult decisions that had not been made for far too long. We cut wasteful spending, and implemented safeguards to ensure that appropriate checks and balances were in place. The concept of local government accountability was being restored. I’m proud to say that we have put Cranston back on track to fiscal stability. In three short years, we’ve gone from the verge of bankruptcy to once again enjoying the benefits of an investment grade bond rating.

We can not, however, allow complacency to set in because in reality much work remains to be done. We have come too far during these last few years to go back to the old ways of doing business. Cranston needs someone who has seen firsthand the devastating results when elected officials put their own needs ahead of those who elected them. We must continue the progress of the last four years.

Mr. Fung has already succeeded in winning two citywide elections for the at-large council seat that he holds. The entire text of Mr. Fung’s speech can be found at his official campaign website.


Mass. Supreme Court Obeys the Law

Marc Comtois

Lookee here, the Massachusett's Supreme Court has decided that--yes indeed--the State can't legally marry couples if that marriage would be illegal in the state in which the couple permanently resides:

In an eagerly awaited landmark decision, the state's highest court ruled today that Governor Mitt Romney and Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly had the authority to invoke a 1913 state law that Massachusetts used to block out-of-state gay couples from marrying here when same-sex marriage became legal in 2004.

The Supreme Judicial Court upheld the 1913 law when it was used to block same sex-couples from Connecticut, Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont, because gay marriage is prohibited in those states.

The court, however, did not rule on the claims of the couples from New York and Rhode Island because state laws there are unclear about whether same-sex marriage is barred. The court sent the case back to Superior Court Judge Carol Ball, who upheld the 1913 law that was appealed, to determine on an "expedited basis" when same-sex marriage is legal in those two states.

The Supreme Judicial Court said the state did not overstep its bounds, though a lawyer for eight lesbian and gay couples from outside Massachusetts had argued in October that the officials had dusted off a 48-word law that had "sat on the shelf unused for decades" in a blatantly discriminatory and unconstitutional ploy.

The law, whose constitutionality was defended before the court by Reilly's attorneys, says Massachusetts cannot marry an out-of-state couple if their marriage would be void in their home state. Romney had said he did not want Massachusetts to become the "Las Vegas of same-sex marriage."

Of course, it's not so clear about Rhode Island because Rhode Island apparently has no clear-cut law banning gay marriage. What that means is that when the law was written all those years ago, the authors didn't think they had to define that marriage was between a man and a women. They kind of took it for granted. The sums it up like this:
Rhode Island Marriage/Relationship Recognition Law
* Licenses marriages for same-sex couples? No explicit prohibition.
* Honors marriages of same-sex couples from other jurisdictions? No explicit prohibition. The state attorney general issued a statement in May 2004 that stated “the office [of the attorney general]’s review of Rhode Island law suggests that Rhode Island would recognize any marriage validly performed in another state unless doing so would run contrary to the strong public policy of this state. Public policy can be determined by statute, legal precedent, and common law.” This is not a binding opinion and the attorney general noted that this question will most likely be answered by the courts.
* Any form of statewide relationship recognition for same-sex couples? No.
Thus, there is a legal avenue open to "define" marriage, much like Massachusetts. (I would note that the official "Marriage Requirements in the State of Rhode Island" (
PDF) mentions "Bride" and "Groom" not generic "spouse 1" or "spouse 2".) I just hope that Rhode Island voters are the one's who decide, not the courts.


An Eminent Domain and Tax-Lien Reform Update from Senator Leo Blais

Carroll Andrew Morse

Last week, the Rhode Island Senate Judiciary Committee voted to hold the tax-lien and eminent domain reform bills under consideration for further study. This morning, I spoke with Senator Leo Blais (R-Coventry/Foster/Scituate), who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee, about the future prospects of the reform bills.

I asked Senator Blais if he believed that the state legislature was serious about passing eminent domain and tax-lien reforms this session. He answered that he believes that public reactions to the United States Supreme Court's Kelo decision and to the Madeline Walker incident have “created a sentiment in the building for taking a hard look” at these two issues.

I asked about what the implications of “holding a bill for further study” were. Senator Blais answered that further study gives sponsors of different bills addressing the same topic a chance to agree on language they can all live with. Then, a bill can be redrafted or a substitute can be introduced.

I asked about Governor Carcieri’s eminent domain bill, and the fact that it protects only owner-occupied residential properties, while several other bills protect all properties, though they make other kinds of exceptions. Senator Blais answered that how the different proposed exceptions fit into the larger issues regarding eminent domain is what is being debated in the assembly.

Finally, I asked about the the tax-lien reform bills (Senator Blais is the Senate sponsor of the Governor‘s version). He answered that, currently, there are no curbs on what triggers a tax-lien sale. The Governor’s bill would remedy this by setting up a corporation under the Rhode Island Housing and Finance Mortgage Corporation to deal with tax-lien issues. Senator Blais said that he will be sitting down with Senator Metts (the primary sponsor of the other tax-lien reform bill pending in the Senate) and with representatives from the Governor’s office to work on a bill that can hopefully be passed by the end of the session.


Noonan: Teach Immigrants Love the U.S.

Marc Comtois

Peggy Noonan digs in and thinks she's found what is bothering American's about immigration:

There are a variety of things driving American anxiety about illegal immigration and we all know them--economic arguments, the danger of porous borders in the age of terrorism, with anyone able to come in.

But there's another thing. And it's not fear about "them." It's anxiety about us.

It's the broad public knowledge, or intuition, in America, that we are not assimilating our immigrants patriotically. And if you don't do that, you'll lose it all. . . .Do we teach our immigrants that this is what they're joining? That this is the tradition they will now continue, and uphold?

Do we, today, act as if this is such a special place? No, not always, not even often. American exceptionalism is so yesterday. We don't want to be impolite. We don't want to offend. We don't want to seem narrow. In the age of globalism, honest patriotism seems like a faux pas.

And yet what is true of people is probably true of nations: if you don't have a well-grounded respect for yourself, you won't long sustain a well-grounded respect for others.

Because we do not communicate to our immigrants, legal and illegal, that they have joined something special, some of them, understandably, get the impression they've joined not a great enterprise but a big box store. A big box store on the highway where you can get anything cheap. It's a good place. But it has no legends, no meaning, and it imparts no spirit.

She continues by calling for a more positive teaching of U.S. history. I've got some thoughts on that too.


March 29, 2006

Excelling by Daring to be Different

Don Boudreaux guides us to a thoroughly enjoyable article entitled The Secret of George Mason: What its Final Four basketball team and its unusual economics department have in common.


Taxpayers' Bill of Rights, Revisited

I have previously expressed my reservations about whether the Voter Initiative (VI) will truly fix the status quo problem of an engorged public sector. In that posting, I expressed a preference for a Taxpayers' Bill of Rights (TABOR) constitutional amendment and presented numerous links to TABOR information sources. Mark has challenged some of my thinking about the VI here.

In a subsequent conversation with Andrew, he articulated one of my concerns about the VI which I had been unable to state as well:

...I think that voter initiative supporters sometimes put too much emphasis on the purely procedural stuff and not enough emphasis on the things that need changing. The Voter Initiative Alliance should have presented the text of a bunch of laws that they would like to see passed along with their petition and then said to the legislature "prove we don't need VI by giving these a fair hearing." Then they would have either gotten some of the changes they wanted or have gotten definite issues to run on in the Fall...

Such procedural talk makes VI sound less threatening but it also does not stir any passionate commitment or convince anyone of its significance. While a bit of an overstatement, it sounds like we are going through the procedure of re-arranging the chairs on the Titanic instead of changing the direction of the ship before it hits an iceberg. And that is part of what magnifies my worries that the entrenched powers will simply develop new ways to manipulate the modified system for their benefit.

Successful political movements articulate a vision during campaigns so they can legitimately claim a clear mandate after winning. So what is the mandate VI proponents are seeking from voters? Is it to modify a process or is it to change specific policies?

I think the VI movement would be ignited if they declared that the first thing they were going to do after VI passes would be to submit a TABOR to the voters. Put a constitutional cap on government spending increases. Empower state and local officials to turn down outrageous union contracts that nobody can afford.

That kind of positioning would have immediate relevance. E.g., property tax increases are driving seniors in East Greenwich to demand a tax freeze for themselves. I think it is a bad policy decision to grant the freeze but it is merely one more example of how the high taxes in RI are making people mad enough to demand change now.

Last week's edition of the Providence Business News contains an article entitled Coalition calls for constitutional spending cap, available online to subscribers only, which notes:

Comparing their actions to the Boston Tea Party, Gov. Donald L. Carcieri, the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council, and several business leaders last week proposed a constitutional amendment to restrict future state and local expenditure growth.

The measure, inspired by Colorado’s Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR), Massachusetts’ Proposition 21/2, and other mandatory tax expenditure limits across the United States, would do two main things:

Limit the allowable growth in state spending each year to the inflation rate (as reflected in the U.S. Consumer Price Index) plus 1.5 percent.

Limit annual increases in each town’s property tax levy to 4 percent, and bar the total levy from exceeding 2.5 percent of the full market value (a level that no town has reached yet, though Providence comes close).

Rhode Island currently has no cap on annual state spending growth. But it does require, per a 1992 law, that expenditures not exceed 98 percent of projected revenues. On the local side, property tax rate hikes of more than 5 percent require state approval.

I know from experience on the East Greenwich School Committee that getting a waiver on the 5% increase has become a procedural certainty, not something that leads to any challenging of the proposed increases. We need real limits.

The article continues:

Under those current rules, state spending from general revenue will have grown by about 18.9 percent from fiscal 2002 to fiscal 2007 (as budgeted by the governor), just above the cumulative growth of the Consumer Price Index for Northeast urban areas.

Local property tax collections, on the other hand, have grown by an average of 4.2 percent annually for the last 10 fiscal years, according to RIPEC.

With projected deficits averaging $135 million for each year through the remainder of the decade, however, and a history of double-digit state spending hikes as recently as 2000 and 2001, RIPEC Executive Director Gary Sasse believes tight controls are sorely needed. Rhode Island’s recent history shows that "the only thing that controls the growth of spending is the amount of money available," Sasse said in an interview – and that means the state gets used to splurging during good times, and doesn’t save enough for tough times.

At a news conference at the Old State House, on Benefit Street in Providence, Carcieri said high taxes are overwhelming Rhode Islanders, leading the wealthy to move away and leaving the middle class to pay the bills. State revenue is lagging, but expenditures keep going up.

The article then describes the TABOR supporters:

A growing number of business and citizens groups seem to agree. With strong support from the Northern Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce, RIPEC and the governor have assembled a new alliance called the "Affordable Rhode Island Coalition," which so far includes, among others, the R.I. Association of Realtors, the R.I. Manufacturers Association, Operation Clean Government, the Voter Initiative Alliance, and several chambers of commerce...

The measure also has the support of some Democrats, most notably former Senate Finance Committee Chairman J. Michael Lenihan, of East Greenwich...

Senator Lenihan has often been one of the few thoughtful Democrats in the state legislature and I am pleased to see him supporting this.

The article then notes the usual opponents:

...House Finance Chairman Steven M. Costantino, D-Providence, said he hadn’t examined the details, but what he knows about Colorado’s TABOR – which was recently amended by voters because it had devastated higher education, road maintenance and other key services – makes him think such measures are "extremely dangerous."

In a written statement, Senate President Joseph A. Montalbano, D-North Providence, also cited Colorado’s "failed experiment," and he added that while "efficient government is a worthy goal," elected leaders "also recognize that citizens demand a government with the flexibility to repair roads, educate children and provide a health care safety net for the most vulnerable. These factors all contribute to strong economic development."

Once again, Senator Montalbano doesn't get it. We are not looking just for efficient government - even as some of us would argue that such a concept is an oxymoron given the incentives that exist in the public sector. Rather, we are looking for limited government, just like our Founders envisioned.

Here is a feature of the Rhode Island TABOR that deserves further vetting:

Lenihan and others argue that the Rhode Island proposal is better than Colorado’s TABOR because it includes an "escape clause" – it can be overridden with a two-thirds vote in both legislative chambers – and it doesn’t mandate a full refund to taxpayers of state revenue collected above the proposed cap, but rather requires that excess go into a "rainy-day fund" of up to 5 percent of the budget.

Finally, another predictable opponent has these comments:

But Ellen Frank, an economist at the Poverty Institute at Rhode Island College, noted that the escape clause is to be used only in "emergencies."

The local limit also doesn’t make allowances for actual growth, Frank added. (The town with the biggest average tax levy increase between 1996 and 2006, for example, was West Greenwich, because of high levels of development.) And "most disturbing," she said, because the only exception to the local limit is if state aid drops, "what this would undoubtedly mean would be that cutting state aid would be the one cut that legislators could do, knowing that the cuts could be made up at the local level."

Frank also took exception to the notion that forced limits would encourage political leaders to make smart, creative spending decisions.

"I don’t think a tax expenditure limit in any state has been shown to lead to a kind of thoughtful long-term planning," Frank said. "It leads instead to a constant crisis mentality, in which the state jumps from one fiscal crisis to the next, and cuts are made at the last minute based on who is the weakest lobby."

Like we have anything close to "thoughtful long-term planning" today! Or don't live in a "constant crisis mentality" today when hefty annual spending increases result in large and perpetual budget deficits! Sometimes you just have to wonder if these people have any connection to the the real world of living within our economic means.

The really big point is one of economic fairness. As I wrote in a ProJo editorial last year:

...Even so, this debate is about more than current taxation levels and today's family budgets. It is about freedom and opportunity for all -- and family budgets in the future. The greatness of our country is that people can live the American dream through the power of education and hard work.

High taxation and mediocre public education create a disincentive for new-business formation in Rhode Island. That means fewer new jobs, and less of a chance for working people to realize the American dream. It also means people have an economic incentive to leave the state -- and the ones who can afford to do so will continue to leave.

Unfortunately, the ones who cannot afford to leave are the people who can least afford the crushing blow of high taxation and mediocre education. The status quo dooms these families to an ongoing decline in their standard of living. That is unjust...

Tom Coyne has some pithy comments worth reading in his March 14 posting.

You can also read more about the Affordable Rhode Island Coalition and related issues in articles here, here, here.


Proposed Rhode Island Legislation on Education

In his March 29 posting, Tom Coyne writes:

There is clear and convincing evidence that Rhode Island taxpayers don’t get value for money when it comes to public education. There is no doubt that we spend more generously than most states. As a percentage of our per capita state income, Rhode Island’s per pupil spending is the second highest in the country. At 92%, the percentage of per pupil spending that goes to salaries and benefits in Rhode Island is the nation's highest. Our average teacher salary, as a percentage of its average private-sector worker's salary, is the highest in the country, and has been since at least 1990. And Rhode Island has the nation’s second highest number of teachers per student.

But what do we get for our money? On the National Assessment of Educational Progress (the only test taken by students in all fifty states), our children perform poorly, even when scores are adjusted for differences in poverty levels between states. Whether they are black, white or Hispanic their scores trail far behind number one ranked Massachusetts. If we do not take dramatic steps to improve this situation, we are condemning our children to declining standards of living in the future.

The good news is that there are bills pending before the General Assembly that could significantly improve public education in Rhode Island. The bad news is that there are pending bills that could make things even worse. Let’s look at the good bills first.

The first step in improving public education is to spend taxpayer money more efficiently, to provide more funds for books, classroom materials, and performance bonuses for the best teachers. An important move in this direction is bipartisan legislation introduced by Reps. Malik and Singleton (H. 7730 and H. 7795) that would move school district employees into the state health insurance plan. Similarly, H. 6853A and S. 2531 (introduced by Rep. McNamara and Sen. Doyle) would allow for state-wide purchasing of non-health insurance items by school departments. Finally, H. 7841 and S. 2895 (Rep. Mumford and Sen. Bates) would put the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority in charge of all out-of-district school transportation. Since the potential cost savings increase geometrically with the size of the network being optimized, the benefits from this change should be substantial.

The second step in improving education is to more effectively spend the money produced by efficiency improvements. This is an important point to emphasize: improving public education in Rhode Island is not about spending more or less; it is about spending smarter.

A number of bills have been introduced that would help achieve this goal. H. 7385 (Story) and S. 2697 (Blais) adds science to the current math and English language arts statewide curriculum requirements. H. 6850 (Crowley) and S. 2196 (Gibbs) lifts the ban on charter schools. Yet to be introduced legislation by Reps. Almeida and Davey will propose a public school choice program. H. 7542 (Smith) establishes an alternative public school for the most disruptive students. A number of other bills would ban unfunded state mandates that impose additional costs on local communities. For example, H. 7570 (Ehrhardt) lets local school committees decide whether to use costly bus monitors. Perhaps most important, H. 7581 (Singleton) returns management rights to school committees and principals, including decisions over staffing and other issues. This implements the common sense idea that teachers unions should not be running our schools.

Unfortunately, other bills have been introduced that could make today’s bad public education situation even worse. Some would require the state to pay a larger share of the cost of educating students with disabilities. However, no bill has been introduced to implement the recommendations of the General Assembly’s own 2001 report ("Special Education in the Context of School Reform") which found that Rhode Island classifies too many children as "learning disabled." At 20.1%, we have a higher percentage of disabled students than any other state in the country – the national average is only 13.8%. Since it has been estimated that these students cost 1.9 times more than non-disabled students (in large part due to the higher union staffing requirements for teaching disabled students), only fear of the teachers unions explains the failure of the General Assembly to address this very expensive issue.

Other highly questionable bills include new unfunded state mandates to hire more speech pathologists (H. 7559, Smith), pay them $3,500 bonuses (H. 6830, San Bento), and give power over teacher certification to a union-controlled board (H. 7560, Smith). Another set of bills would give the teachers unions even more bargaining power. H. 7008 (Gemma) would require binding arbitration for both monetary and non-monetary issues if a teachers union and school committee could come to no agreement after a year of mediation. This might seem like a good idea, were it not for bills like H. 6732 (Moura) and S. 2633 (McCaffrey) which would limit an arbitrator’s power to rule against the union position, and H. 7602 (Lally) that would make it even harder for town councils to win so-called "Caruolo lawsuits" brought when school committees take towns (and, indirectly, taxpayers) to court demanding more funds. Finally, H. 7858 (Moura) would prevent changes to union contracts when the state intervenes at a failing school. This would make it much more difficult to improve performance at places like Hope High School.

Last, but certainly not least, a number of bills have been introduced that would mandate higher state aid to local education, and proposed different formulas to divide it. The most egregious of these is H. 7765 (Slater, Diaz, Williams, Almeida and Dennigan). It would add language to the Rhode Island Constitution to make it much easier to launch so-called "adequacy" lawsuits, which attempt to use the courts to force substantial increases in spending on urban schools without any improvement in the way the money is used– all paid for by higher taxes on the suburbs. Indeed, what is missing in this whole discussion is an honest picture of the real problem. Between 1996 and 2006, annual state General Revenue spending on social welfare programs increased by $553 million, from $681 million to $1.2 billion per year. With Rhode Island’s state income, sales, and excise taxes already among the highest in the country, this meant there was less money for state education aid to cities and towns. As a result, local property taxes had to increase by $579 million per year – more than $1,000 per year for every household in Rhode Island.

In sum, the General Assembly has an historic opportunity to pass legislation that would significantly improve public education in Rhode Island. Whether they will have the courage to do so over the objections of the teachers unions remains to be seen.


Dueling Wiretap Impressions

Carroll Andrew Morse

Here's the New York Times on yesterday's NSA wiretap hearing...

In a rare glimpse into the inner workings of the secretive court, known as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, several former judges who served on the panel also voiced skepticism at a Senate hearing about the president's constitutional authority to order wiretapping on Americans without a court order. They also suggested that the program could imperil criminal prosecutions that grew out of the wiretaps.

Here's the Washington Times, on the same hearing, same subject...

A panel of former Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court judges yesterday told members of the Senate Judiciary Committee that President Bush did not act illegally when he created by executive order a wiretapping program conducted by the National Security Agency (NSA).

The five judges testifying before the committee said they could not speak specifically to the NSA listening program without being briefed on it, but that a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act does not override the president's constitutional authority to spy on suspected international agents under executive order...

The judges, however, said Mr. Bush's choice to ignore established law regarding foreign intelligence gathering was made "at his own peril," because ultimately he will have to answer to Congress and the Supreme Court if the surveillance was found not to be in the best interests of national security.

Senator Specter, could you please post the actual hearing testimony on the Senate Judiciary Committee website so the American people can learn what was really said?


Welcome to the Edward Achorn Legislative Tracker

Carroll Andrew Morse

In a column in yesterday’s Projo, Edward Achorn described a number of reform bills before the Rhode Island legislature. The descriptions of the contents of each bill are from Mr. Achorn, I've added a brief description of each bill's status, and a link to the bill's text...


H7123 would require Rhode Island to follow the example of New Hampshire and Vermont, in letting citizens immediately and easily call up, on the Internet, the voting record of any legislator. At present, Rhode Island citizens can only extract a legislator's voting record from the tallies of each bill, a laborious process.

Status: Has been heard once by the House Finance Committee and is awaiting a second hearing.


H6814 would require cities and towns to post on the Web their budgets, charters, and collective-bargaining agreements.

Status: The House Judiciary Committee has voted to hold this bill for further study, which means no further action is required this session.


H7733 would require that, before ratification of a collective-bargaining agreement, the public would have to be notified of its principal terms and projected cost. That would give citizens a much better sense of how their tax dollars are being spent.

Status: Still awaiting a first hearing by the House Finance Committee, which has not yet been scheduled.


H7580 would remove the pensions from local collective bargaining, as they are from state collective bargaining. That would tend to limit the little-observed deals at the local level that end up driving property taxes into the stratosphere.

Status: The House Labor Committee has voted to hold this bill for further study, which means no further action is required this session.


H6802 and H6803 would require the Joint Committee on Legislative Services, the administrative arm of the legislature, to be regularly audited, with the results posted on the Web. That would let citizens easily figure out how $37 million of their tax dollars are being spent each year.

Status: Both bills have been heard once by the House Finance Committee and are awaiting second hearings


March 28, 2006

What Does The Future Hold?

Charles Krauthammer has written an important editorial entitled Today Tehran, Tomorrow the World: What's at stake in the dispute over Iranian nukes? Ultimately, human survival in which he says:

Like many physicists who worked on the Manhattan Project, Richard Feynman could not get the Bomb out of his mind after the war. "I would see people building a bridge," he wrote. "And I thought, they're crazy, they just don't understand, they don't understand. Why are they making new things? It's so useless."

Feynman was convinced man had finally invented something that he could not control and that would ultimately destroy him. For six decades we have suppressed that thought and built enough history to believe Feynman's pessimism was unwarranted. After all, soon afterward, the most aggressive world power, Stalin's Soviet Union, acquired the Bomb, yet never used it. Seven more countries have acquired it since and never used it either...

But that's the point. We're now at the dawn of an era in which an extreme and fanatical religious ideology, undeterred by the usual calculations of prudence and self-preservation, is wielding state power and will soon be wielding nuclear power.

We have difficulty understanding the mentality of Iran's newest rulers. Then again, we don't understand the mentality of the men who flew into the World Trade Center or the mobs...who...embrace the glory and romance of martyrdom.

This atavistic love of blood and death and, indeed, self-immolation in the name of God may not be new--medieval Europe had an abundance of millennial Christian sects--but until now it has never had the means to carry out its apocalyptic ends.

That is why Iran's arriving at the threshold of nuclear weaponry is such a signal historical moment. It is not just that its President says crazy things about the Holocaust. It is that he is a fervent believer in the imminent reappearance of the 12th Imam, Shi'ism's version of the Messiah. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been reported as saying in official meetings that the end of history is only two or three years away...He believes that the Islamic revolution's raison d'etre is to prepare the way for the messianic redemption, which in his eschatology is preceded by worldwide upheaval and chaos. How better to light the fuse for eternal bliss than with a nuclear flame?

Depending on your own beliefs, Ahmadinejad is either mystical or deranged. In either case, he is exceedingly dangerous. And Iran is just the first. With infinitely accelerated exchanges of information helping develop whole new generations of scientists, extremist countries led by similarly extreme men will be in a position to acquire nuclear weaponry. If nothing is done, we face not proliferation but hyperproliferation. Not just one but many radical states will get weapons of mass extinction, and then so will the fanatical and suicidal terrorists who are their brothers and clients.

That will present the world with two futures. The first is Feynman's vision of human destruction on a scale never seen. The second, perhaps after one or two cities are lost with millions killed in a single day, is a radical abolition of liberal democracy as the species tries to maintain itself by reverting to strict authoritarianism...

Can there be a third future? That will depend on whether we succeed in holding proliferation at bay. Iran is the test case. It is the most dangerous political entity on the planet, and yet the world response has been catastrophically slow and reluctant. Years of knowingly useless negotiations, followed by hesitant international resolutions, have brought us to only the most tentative of steps--referral to a Security Council that lacks unity and resolve. Iran knows this and therefore defiantly and openly resumes its headlong march to nuclear status. If we fail to prevent an Iranian regime run by apocalyptic fanatics from going nuclear, we will have reached a point of no return. It is not just that Iran might be the source of a great conflagration but that we will have demonstrated to the world that for those similarly inclined there is no serious impediment.

Our planet is 4,500,000,000 years old, and we've had nukes for exactly 61. No one knows the precise prospects for human extinction, but Feynman was a mathematical genius who knew how to calculate odds...

Michael Leeden has more, with even more editorials on Iran spread throughout his archive.

These are not nice people.


Remembering Quality Men From California

I grew up in California, in Reagan Country. Except for about 2 years, I lived there for the first 41 years of my life. Over the years, I had the opportunity to meet many interesting people. One of the more memorable ones was Howard Jarvis, the author of Proposition 13.

Two quality men from that era in California died today: Lyn Nofziger and Cap Weinberger. They each made a difference in our country. Here are some reflections on the two of them:

Nofziger, in his own words:

I am a Republican because I believe that freedom is more important than government-provided security. Sometimes I wish I were a Democrat because Democrats seem to have more fun. At other times I wish I were a Libertarian because Republicans are too much like Democrats.

What I actually am is a right-wing independent who is registered Republican because there isn't any place else to go. In the future I expect to be critical of both parties and their leadership...

Here is more.

Writing in The Corner, Kathryn Jean Lopez had this to say about Cap Weinberger:

I'm getting a lot of e-mails like these:
Kathryn I wanted to share with you a story about Mr. Weinberger. As a college senior, I wrote my thesis on SDI and its impact on ending the Cold War. On a whim, I figured I'd call Mr. Weinberger to see if he'd be willing to be interviewed for my thesis. I had no expectation that he'd answer my call, much less talk with me. I contacted his office at Forbes and spoke with his secretary. I explained to her what I was doing and she told me that she talk to him and get back to me. 15 minutes later she called back and asked if I had time to talk with him. He then gave me 30 minutes of his time, answering all of my questions and sharing a few stories as well. He could not have been more generous or gracious. I'm writing in hopes that you can in some way share my story with your readers. Too often it seems that we lose perspective on the human side of those serving in government. Here was a former Secretary of Defense willing to take time out of his day to talk to some no name college student he didn't know. I've always been impressed and somewhat awed by this. Anyway, I enjoy reading The Corner, keep up the good work. Best regards, Mike LaFontaine

Jay Nordlinger wrote this review of Weinberger's memoir In the Arena: A Memoir of the 20th Century:

Of all the men in the Reagan era, few made as deep an impression as Caspar Weinberger. And by "Reagan era," we mean, in this case, Sacramento, too, for "Cap" was there-working by the governor's side. He was also with Nixon and Ford, in Washington...

The boy was always smitten by politics and government. By 15, he was reading the Congressional Record "avidly and daily." He made endless scrapbooks filled with bits about the national conventions and the like. He was an incorrigible Republican, arguing to one and all about the "Soviet menace" and the beauty of small government. In his senior year of high school, he was elected student-body president, promising a new constitution. His graduation speech was entitled "The Honorable Profession of Politics."

With a scholarship to Harvard College, he was really on his way. He majored in government...He spent much of his time in journalism, contributing a column to a magazine back home, and becoming president of the Crimson, the student newspaper. He was intensely idealistic, then as now: The "street side" of Dexter Gate said, "Enter to Grow in Wisdom"; the "Yard side" said, "Depart to Serve Better Thy Country and Thy Kind." "It has been an inspiration to me ever since."

There is no snickering in Weinberger.

He went on to Harvard Law School...He finished law school in June 1941, then signed up with the U.S. infantry in September, still eager, and restless: He idolized Churchill, and saw the conflict as one of pure good and evil. After Pearl Harbor, he was sent to Australia, and ended up a captain on General MacArthur's intelligence staff...

Weinberger always had a perfectly fine job at a law firm, but he was forever looking for ways into public life. "The trouble with Cap," said a friend, "is that he can't stand making money." His all-enduring wife, Jane, would sigh over her husband's "non-profit activities." He was elected to the state assembly, ran for attorney general — losing — and served as chairman of the California GOP. He also kept his hand in journalism, writing a column and hosting a public-TV show called Profile: Bay Area. Among his guests was "an extremely eloquent and persuasive Malcolm X."

When Reagan was elected governor, he called on Weinberger to be the state's finance director. Not long after, Nixon called, from Washington — to ask Cap to serve as chairman of the Federal Trade Commission. He did so. Then he became deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget (under George Shultz), then director...He ended his Nixon-Ford career as secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare. Weinberger is engrossing on the various Nixon weirdnesses, and on the major policy debates of the time, including the (pathetic) imposition of wage and price controls. Gerald Ford, he holds in suitably high esteem.

It was when Reagan called again — this time after being elected president-that Weinberger had his real rendezvous with destiny: serving as secretary of defense at a time when the military desperately needed rebuilding; only six years after the helicopters had lifted off from the embassy roof in Saigon; when the Soviet Union was enjoying unprecedented advantage. Weinberger may be seen as the very embodiment of Peace Through Strength, a meaningful slogan for once. He saw things with rare moral clarity, and talked that way, and acted that way. He and Reagan were intent on rollback — musty notion — not detente. In the present volume, Weinberger gives what is probably as good a short brief for Reagan's foreign and defense policies as can be found...

It is, in many ways, a formidable book. It comments incisively on the events, ideas, and political personalities of a very long and difficult stretch...Weinberger is at least as absorbed by domestic affairs as he is by grand world affairs. He has written a deeply personal book, too. He expresses great love: for his parents, for his brother, for his wife, for his children-and that's not to mention other objects of love, such as California and country (and cooking...). The author, throughout, is modest, self-deprecating, amusing, candid, earnest, and naturally patriotic. There is in these pages an overarching sense of decency. Weinberger is a throwback (high compliment). He is a Frank Capra American, though never naive. He reminds one a lot of Reagan: a more detail-oriented Reagan, without the Hollywood past.

The book is far from sugary, and not only with respect to Bill Clinton and other Democrats: Weinberger unquestionably has Nixon's number, and he jabs repeatedly at George Shultz, who was long a rival...This is by no means a score-settling or resentful book, but neither is it docile.

In telling his story, Weinberger is keen not only to pronounce on major events...Although he is "in the arena," he is also the wide-eyed spectator, delighting in the workings and pomp of government. He is wowed at inaugurations, and reverent in the presence of Congressional Medal of Honor winners. At one point, he writes, "Now I, a schoolboy from California, was making decisions that might affect the course of history." OMB was "particularly good fun for someone as fascinated by government as I am." OMB "particularly good fun"? Weinberger is a wonk with a song in his heart.

It is impossible — at least I found it so — not to read this book in the light of September 11. It is also impossible — at least I found it so-not to conclude that this is exactly the kind of man we could use right now, many times over. But then, he is the kind of man this country can always use...

Here is more.

RIP


Immigration Issues

Carroll Andrew Morse

Here is the Washington Post’s description of the key points of the immigration bill passed by the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday…

The bill would double the Border Patrol and authorize a "virtual wall" of unmanned vehicles, cameras and sensors to monitor the U.S.-Mexico border. It also would allow more visas for nurses and agriculture workers, and shelter humanitarian organizations from prosecution if they provide non-emergency assistance to illegal residents.

The most contentious provision would permit illegal aliens currently in the country to apply for citizenship without first having to return home, a process that would take at least six years. They would have to pay a fine, learn English, study American civics, demonstrate they had paid their taxes and take their place behind other applicants for citizenship, according to aides to Kennedy, D-Mass., who was instrumental in drafting the legislation. Kennedy credited the "faith community" for building support for a guest worker program.

The Judiciary Committee also approved a five-year plan to provide visas for about 1.5 million agriculture workers and allow them to eventually seek legal residency.

The bill still needs to be passed by the full Senate, then reconciled with a tougher House bill passed last year, before it becomes law.

Glenn Reynolds has a short but comprehensive description of the immigration debate at his MSNBC blog site. Let me add three points I haven't seen made elsewhere...

1. Why aren’t the unions pressuring Democrats to stop a wage-depressing flow of immigrants? Because they figure they’ll be able to organize guest workers, instill in them an affinity for the Democratic Party, and convert a significant number of them into yellow-dog Democratic voters in the near future.

What is the Republican strategy for countering this? I don’t think they have one. They are applying the same political acumen to this problem that they applied to the Medicare prescription drug benefit, where they managed to alienate their base without winning any new support for themselves. I hope the Chamber-of-Commerce types pushing a guest worker program make enough extra profit from the use of guest workers in the short term to buffer themselves against the tax-increases and increased regulation that will come from a Democratic controlled Congress.

2. An overlooked aspect of the immigration debate is how the United States is consistently assumed to be the only country involved; it’s the United States and an amorphous sea of non-citizens. The post-patriotic commercial elites driving the debate on the Republican side could earn some popular support by asking the countries sending immigrants to America to make some changes to accomodate the US.

For instance, the US should tie the legal immigration quotas of various countries to their proficiency at teaching English in their schools. Countries that don’t want to teach English will have their legal immigration quotas lowered. Countries that do, and do it well, will have their quotas raised.

3. Cultural changes stemming from immigration can occur in both directions. The US has to do a bit of soul searching to explain why we fear that 12 million immigrants are going to change a nation of 300 million more so than 300 million are going to change 12 million.

Along these lines, some conservative foundation-oriented person of immodest means should fund a program for creating civics courses for immigrants that explain a) the history of the US, b) American civics, and c) how the new immigrants to the United States have a wonderful opportunity to learn how the greatest nation on the world operates and an opportunity to use that knowledge to help change whatever corrupt, anti-competitive, opportunity-crushing political culture they came from into something civilized and modern.

I suspect that if the leaders of many of the countries sending immigrants to the US believed that point c) was catching on amongst immigrants to America, there would be renewed interest from outside in stemming the rate of illegal immigration to America.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION:

Scott MacKay has a roundup of the reaction of the Rhode Island Congressional delegation to the immigration reform bill in today's Projo.


March 27, 2006

Lieutenant Governor Fogarty Wants Term Limits on State Legislators

Carroll Andrew Morse

Did you know that current Lieutenant Governor and gubernatorial candidate Charles Fogarty favors term limits for Rhode Island legislators? (h/t RI Future)…

I will make Rhode Island this country’s leader for clean, honest, effective government that respects the values of our citizens.

I’m going to do that by calling for term limits in the state legislature, just as we have for the general officers. This will eliminate the temptation and ability of officials to build backroom networks for their own gain.

Ian Donnis of the Providence Phoenix also mentions term limits in his coverage of Fogarty’s official campaign announcement.

But if Lieutenant Governor Fogarty believes term limits are a good idea, then why hasn’t he introduced a term limits bill during any of his eight legislative sessions as lieutenant governor? And given that record, why should the people of Rhode Island expect him to introduce one should he become governor?


A Serious Challenge to the Bush Doctrine?

Carroll Andrew Morse

The Bush doctrine -- the idea the fighting terrorism requires changing the nature of authoritarian regimes -- may have its first serious challenger. Francis Fukuyama and Adam Garfinkle (who have their own journal with which to promote their views) have an essay in today’s OpinionJournal where they argue that dismantling tyranny and defeating radical Islamism are two different conflicts that should be decoupled from one another…

As an editorial in The Wall Street Journal recently asked: "Anyone out there have a better idea" than the Bush administration's policy of high-profile democracy promotion in the Arab and Muslim worlds as a means to fight terrorism? Well, yes, there is one. That better idea consists of separating the struggle against radical Islamism from promoting democracy in the Middle East, focusing on the first struggle, and dramatically changing our tone and tactics on the democracy promotion front, at least for now…

Democracy promotion should remain an integral part of American foreign policy, but it should not be seen as a principal means of fighting terrorism. We should stigmatize and fight radical Islamism as if the social and political dysfunction of the Arab world did not exist, and we should shrewdly, quietly, patiently and with as many allies as possible promote the amelioration of that dysfunction as if the terrorist problem did not exist. It is when we mix these two issues together that we muddle our understanding of both, with the result that we neither defeat terrorism nor promote democracy but rather the reverse.

This idea has the potential to replace the Bush Doctrine for two reasons. First, the willingness to identify "Islamic radicalism" as the problem makes this idea, in part, stronger than the Bush Doctrine. The Bush administration usually describes America's enemies as terrorists who exploit Islam, not radical Islamists who use terrorism, resulting in a focus on defeating a culturally neutral “terrorism”. Since Fukuyama and Garfinkle talk about America's enemies in a way more direct than the administration does, politicians embracing their ideas won't be labeled as wimpy (though they may be labeled as "insensitive" by the left).

Second, Fukuyama and Garfinkle's willingness to discuss defeating Islamic radicals -- an identifiable group of people -- rather than defeating a more abstract enemy of "terrorism" narrows the focus of the war. Since Americans prefer foreign committments with clear objectives to potentially open-ended ones, this shift will gain its adherents.

I'm not yet sure if the Fukuyama/Garfinkle Doctrine is a good idea or not -- at the very least, more about their specific program for confronting Islamic radicalism needs to be known before it is evaluated -- but I am sure that you'll be hearing more about it in the coming months.


Why One Conservative Supports Voter Initiative

Marc Comtois

In his recent post, Don made some good points about the inherent problems of RI's government--it's too big--and proposed that Rhode Island was in desperate need of a TABOR (Taxpayer Bill of Rights). Moreover, Don explained his reasoned reluctance to support Voter Initiative (VI):

Should the Voter Initiative pass, special interests will simply adjust and change their modus operandi. They will likely be no less powerful. Rather, they will simply direct their efforts in other ways, just like Guy Dufault did in the recent constitutional convention vote. Or by organizing voters who are a part of their public sector activities, like union workers.
Gary Boden also provides some evidence to bolster this position:
The idea of a more direct democracy seems appealing, but a recent action by Matthew Thomas, chief sachem of the Narragansett Indian Tribe, shows how voter initiative will be corrupted by special interests. As explained in the Providence Journal today, Thomas has requested that the V.I. Alliance "announce publicly its unconditional support of a constitutional amendment to 'let the people decide' the Narragansett Indian casino."
Both Don and Gary offer excellent precautionary tales . They are also voicing a traditional conservative--and some would say pragmatic--argument against VI. I also share some of those concerns. But last October, Andrew addressed essentially these same arguments and explained that maintaining the status quo is untenable because the status quo is largely to blame for RI's current broken political system. Thanks to a unique combination of both geographic and population size, one party-rule has established near permanence in state government. I don't think I need to go over the well-trod ground again, but suffice it to say that this has led to the killing of bills in committee and the sort of legislative obfuscation that has succeeded in making it hard for the average voter to know what is being proposed and shelved in the State House. As the official RI Voter Initiative website explains:
VI serves as a safety valve for use when the state legislature is not responsive to the needs and requests of the citizens, as has been the case all too often in our recent history. There have been many instances of corruption and foot dragging in the RI legislature, where connected and powerful legislators de-railed the lawmaking process, all for the improper benefit of a few special interests. VI is a safety valve to prevent these abuses and to expedite important reforms.
Don's characterization that VI would replace one set of special interests with another set of special interests--albeit one (hopefully) more amenable to conservatives--is probably correct. However, some special interests could be supportive of TABOR and I happen to think that the only way that TABOR would be enacted in Rhode Island would be via Voter Initiative. The current Democrat-controlled legislature would never allow such a referendum.

We need look no further than our politically similar neighbor, Massachusetts, for an example of the successful use of the voter initiative. Without the opportunity provided by voter initiative, Proposition 2 1/2--which set a cap on property tax increases in Massachusetts--would probably have never seen the light of day, much less been brought to the voters or passed. At least with VI, ideas like TABOR or Prop 2 1/2 can be proposed and--with enough public support--be brought to a public vote without having to deal with the roadblocks to reform that the RI General Assembly likes to throw up.

Would it be better if public opinion could be brought to bear on the legislators who would then place reform legislation such as TABOR on the ballot? Of course, but there is little in recent history to suggest that this would actually happen here in Rhode Island. After living in the Ocean State for a little more than a decade, I am slowly coming to believe that only through Voter Initiative do such reform ideas as TABOR or School Choice have a fighting chance.

I understand the well-reasoned conservative antipathy towards VI. I would love it if we could fix the RI government via the normal process of legislative turnover. However, I've seen no indication that such turnover is imminent and, frankly, I've come to be in favor of a more immediate solution to some of the problems faced by Rhode Islanders.

My wife and I are raising two young, school-age kids and we can't afford to wait for a slow and methodic changing of the political guard. Yes, I'll do my part to continue to help promote such change, but the reform battle can be fought on multiple fronts. As such, I think that VI can be a more immediate and effective tool in the reform process while we conservatives wait for the groundswell of voters who are amenable to our views.

Is that naive of me? Am I being too idealistic towards the hoped-for goals of VI? Perhaps. But waiting for that groundswell may be just as naive, and the political system as it stands now isn't helping my family. Even if the worst case scenario as offered by Don and Gary should come to pass, the result would be nothing more than a different version of the status quo. I'm willing to at least take a shot with the Voter Initiative.

Here are a couple additional notes on Voter Initiative:

There's a good chance that Voter Initiative may actually save the state--and more importantly taxpayers--money. A study (PDF) done in 1995 on the fiscal effects of the voter initiative over 30 years concluded:

Initiatives led to significantly lower spending and taxes. per capita spending, for example, was about $83 per capita lower in a typical initiative state than a typical non-initiative state, which translates into $332 less expenditure (and hence taxes and fees) for a family of four. Compared to the average level of state and local spending, $2300 per capita, initiatives caused a reduction of 4 percent.

Initiatives led states to decentralize spending decisions. Local spending was 10 percent higher in initiative states than non-initiative states, while state spending was 12 percent lower. Thus, voters used initiatives to force spending decisions to be made closer to home.

Initiatives led states to adopt a less redistributional revenue system. In initiative states, broad based taxes (primarily on property, income, and sales) were 8 percent lower than in non initiative states, while fees for services (such as college tuition) were 7 percent higher. Initiative states charged users for services they received instead passing the costs on to other taxpayers. [Note: The author of the study took much more into account than whether or not a state had VI.-MAC]

I'd also like to address Gary's particluar fear concerning the influence that special interests will have on the Voter Initiative process:
without the benefit of an established opposition ready to debate the issue. Opponents of an idea will have to scramble like mad under a severe timeline. It will be like a trick play in football; the defense simpley [sic] will have no time to prepare to stop it. There will be no way to build in sundown clauses or checks and balances. There is no guarantee that future legislation will control any crazy idea that passes. Someone once said, "there is a simple answer to every problem, an in every case it is the wrong answer."
On this, Gary is simply incorrect. Again, according to the RI VI website:
The bottom line is that VI law is much more thoroughly reviewed, debated, and deliberated than other laws. The debate period would be at least 18months, including the signature gathering period, review by the General Assembly and then the time necessary to have it placed on the ballot. If it were practical, all bills should be as well reviewed by the legislature and the public as VI proposals. . .the proposed VI legislation for RI very much involves the participation of the General Assembly. Before an initiative goes on the ballot the General Assembly will hold hearings and vote on it. If approved by the General Assembly and the Governor, the initiative becomes law. If not approved, it will go on the ballot. . .

Many ballot question campaigns have been lost by ‘big money.’ The proposed legislation includes strict campaign finance disclosures during the initiative process. Voters are able to see the source of campaign contributions and who is sponsoring the initiative. The existing legislative system --with its high priced lobbyists and back room dealings --is much more vulnerable to big money influence. . .


Urban Arrogance & Fixing Education

Carroll Andrew Morse

Last week, the Providence Journal, Pawtucket Times, Westerly Sun, and Newport Daily News (story links) all reported on a recent evaluation of the quality of education in Rhode Island conducted in the form of the New England Common Assessment Program. Jennifer D. Jordan of the Projo summarizes the results...

Statewide, about half of the 72,000 third-through eighth-grade students tested last fall were proficient in math and about 60 percent were proficient in reading. Fifth and eighth graders also took a writing test; 51 percent were proficient.

But in the urban districts -- Providence, Pawtucket, Central Falls and Woonsocket -- just 28 percent of students were proficient in math; 35 percent in reading; and 33 percent in writing.

Results from Cranston, East Providence, Johnston, Newport, North Providence, Warwick and West Warwick, so-called urban-ring communities, were far higher; 50 percent in math; 62 percent in reading; and 55 percent in writing.

And students in suburban and rural communities scored the highest rates: 65 percent in math; 72 percent in reading; and 61 percent in writing.

The political direction where this is heading is foreshadowed in Douglas Hadden's Pawtucket Times story on reaction from Pawtucket...
"I would bet the urban districts are performing quite a bit" below non-urban school systems. "That wouldn't come as a surprise really," said School Committee Chairman Alan Tenreiro, who teaches at Mount St. Charles Academy in Woonsocket. "Socio-economics is one of the biggest indicators, besides the educator in the classroom, for student achievement....

Tenreiro state the urban core results showed the need for more state financial support.

"I think we have to look at the education funding formula and make one that's adequate and equitable for all students. I'm not saying money is the whole answer, but we do have to provide a lot of support services to kids that walk in the doorway."

Making education funding "adequate and equitable" is code for raising taxes and/or cutting services in non-urban communities so that their resources can be transferred to the failing urban school districts that already receive a disproportionate share of state aid. Mr. Tenreiro's remarks exhibit the distressing tendency of urban officials to demand that everyone give the cities what the cities want, based on the belief that urban problems are more important than everyone else's, and that smaller communities will always have enough for dealing with their piddling little small-town problems from whatever is leftover.

Unfortunately, like government bureaus everywhere, urban school districts tend to lose their focus and view increasing their budgets as an end to itself. Before demanding that they be provided with even larger subsidies, urban school districts have a responsibility to show that they have meaningfully considered all available options for improving the quality of education available to their students -- even options that foster educational improvement without increasing the amount of money under traditional bureaucratic control -- including school choice, charter schools, and -- dare it be said -- voucher systems.

Additional coverage of the results of the New England Common Assessment Program is available from...


March 26, 2006

Will The Voter Initiative Change The Status Quo If Our Core Problem Is The Large Size Of Government?

Responding to the editorial mentioned in Marc's posting, I would offer this cautionary view about expectations expressed by Joseph Weaver regarding the Voter Initiative:

We have serious political problems in Rhode Island, due to an oversized government that tramples on nearly all aspects of our lives and taxes us to the extreme. Furthermore, Rhode Island state and local government is dominated by some very powerful special interests.

The Voter Initiative is based on the premise that its approval would allow other interests, who are currently less powerful, to have more influence over governmental processes and thereby weaken today's well-entrenched special interests.

I think this is a naive view of the world.

Should the Voter Initiative pass, special interests will simply adjust and change their modus operandi. They will likely be no less powerful. Rather, they will simply direct their efforts in other ways, just like Guy Dufault did in the recent constitutional convention vote. Or by organizing voters who are a part of their public sector activities, like union workers.

The core issue is that government plays too large a role in our state's economy. As was written here,

Government has become a huge business, which means there is a lot of money for various interest groups - of all political persuasions - to grab, some for legitimate reasons and much in the form of pork. Money flows into politics to buy influence because so much is at stake financially. While no one wants to talk about it openly, the flow of large sums of money into politics is yet another unfortunate price we pay for allowing government to become such a pervasive part of our lives. If we truly had limited government, the pressure to buy influence would be much reduced. It is nothing but foolish ignorance to seek limits on the flow of money without first reducing the structural incentives that currently give people an economic reason to buy influence.

Unfortunately, the Voter Initiative does not change the structural incentives and, therefore, assist in returning us to the Founders' principle of limited government.

An additional perspective on this issue has recently been written about in a book I read over Spring Break entitled The New New Left: How American Politics Works Today by Steven Malanga. The book was reviewed in the Claremont Review of Books, where the reviewer had these comments:

...Steven Malanga's The New New Left...premise is that competitive markets, low taxes, and entrepreneurial spirit are far better at lifting people out of poverty than are government programs, however well intentioned. ..

...For Malanga, however, power-hungry union leaders are in cahoots with cynical politicians, and brave correspondents must uncover the truth to protect taxpayers and business entrepreneurs. "Politics in America today," he holds, is a "faceoff" between taxpayers and "tax eaters." He warns that "the vast expansion of the public sector is finally reaching a tipping point, giving tax eaters the upper hand, especially in America's cities."

The most prominent element of the "tax eater" coalition—the one to which Malanga devotes most attention—is the government-employee union. Nearly as important but often overlooked by journalists and political scientists are the "social services groups created by the War on Poverty" with their ever-growing number of "quasi-public workers." He notes that health care jobs, for instance, have grown from less than 4% of the work force in 1965 to almost 10% today. Most of the funding comes from Medicare, Medicaid, and highly regulated insurance plans.

Malanga argues that the venal motives of public-employee union and social service group leaders are cleverly disguised by another member of the "new new left," political activists with cushy university jobs. He may exaggerate the influence of those individuals (one hesitates to call them academics) working in "labor studies" programs in public universities, yet the stories he tells show how deeply some institutions of higher learning have sunk into the swamp of unabashed partisanship.

At a time when we are bombarded with newspaper articles and expert analysis about the overwhelming power of conservatives, businessmen, and the Religious Right, it is useful to be reminded that the welfare state's supporters continue to wield substantial political clout. This helps explain why a quarter of a century after the Reagan Revolution, and a decade since the Gingrich Revolution, the public sector is bigger than ever. Although many beneficiaries of government programs are not organized, those who provide government services are. Not only do they vote, but they can help mobilize all those beneficiaries who would be threatened by retrenchment of the welfare state...

More telling is Malanga's point that the new New Left's influence has grown at the state and local level at the same time that it has declined at the national level. An odd but crucial feature of American government over the past 50 years is that the number of federal civilian employees has remained constant despite the enormous expansion of the federal government's role. This is because most federal programs are carried out by state and local employees, whose numbers have grown by leaps and bounds since the 1960s. This peculiarity of our government bureaucracy reduces the power of public-employee unions at the national level, but magnifies it at the state and local level.

Malanga warns that the "tax eaters" will demand more and more of the golden goose known as the taxpayer...

The Voter Initiative does not directly address the issues raised by Malanga.

My personal belief is that the first priority for change should be a Taxpayers' Bill of Rights (TABOR)-type initiative which seeks to limit the size of government and, by default, limit the power of all special interests.

For more information on TABOR, go here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here (and then type in TABOR).


Voter Initiative: Special Interests and Voters' Competence

Marc Comtois

Another day, another letter to the ProJo on Voter Initiative, but this time arguing in favor. Joseph H. Weaver's argument echoes that given here and elsewhere, but he brought up two interesting points that warrant attention. Weaver believes that the two issues at the heart of the debate are "the role of special interests and the voters' competence to handle the situation." Concerning the competence issue, Weaver writes:

Overall, I think everyone, except our state legislators, believes Rhode Island voters can handle the responsibilities of voter initiative. It is interesting that on the issue of a casino, the legislature wants to place the issue before the voters, just as a voter initiative would place an issue before the voters. Either we are competent or we are not: Which is it, Legislators?
I'd also add that many legislators probably think the voters showed great judgement in sending them to public office! As for the special interest argument, Weaver makes the pithy point that:
And here we have to listen to our legislators with awed respect, because if anyone knows about selling out to the special interests, they do. Harrah's, CVS . . . the list is endless.

Will special interests have a role to play in a voter initiative? Perhaps. Can the voters do a worse job of controlling the special interests than have our legislators? Of course not. Actually, can anyone do a worse job than they do? I don't think so.

Finally, Weaver points out that Voter Initiative is really nothing more than a fallback to the historical precedent of the New England town meeting. As he correctly notes, the town meeting form of government became untenable "[w]hen populations and distances became too great" and the modern form of representative government developed. With technological advance, both the hurdles of counting the votes of a large population and overcoming the travelling distance to the seat of state government have been removed. Finally, I do find it a bit ironic that a conservative such as myself--who still favors the electoral college, for instance--would be all for putting more direct power into the hands of the people. The republican form of government is the very root of our political system, after all. But sometimes contemporary necessity dictates that we let go the ideal.


March 25, 2006

Hayek: Helping Us Clarify How A Society Works

Donald B. Hawthorne

We frequently hear phrases like "the government should do something about that." Do any of us really know what that phrase truly means?

Moreover, do any of us really think the government is capable of doing something constructive about the numerous challenges across a society? (If so, why do most government programs fail to meet their original policy objectives and rarely, if ever, stay within original budget projections?)

These latter questions beg a larger, philosophical question about whether the government should act in the first place, in spite of what is a common expectation among many that we should turn first to government for solutions. The larger question arises because many people do not have a clear understanding of how a "society" really works. A number of earlier postings - which address the misguided incentives that result from many government actions - are found at the bottom of this posting. But, while these postings often identify many failure points, we need to understand better what really drives positive outcomes in the world around us.

I recently discovered a wonderful new blog site, Cafe Hayek, run by two economics professors from George Mason University.

One of the site's contributors, Professor Don Boudreaux has published an article entitled Triumph of the Individual at Tech Central Station in which he discusses Nobel Laureate Hayek's contribution to our understanding about how it is individuals - not government or markets - that make things happen in any society:

...Hayek spent most of his career watching the worship of power supplant the love of liberty. Nazism and Stalinism were the two most grotesque forms of this power-worship, but as Hayek warned in his most famous book, The Road to Serfdom (1944), even milder forms are surprisingly dangerous.

...the source of Hayek's fundamental contributions to our understanding of society comes from the method of doing social theory that he learned from these scholars.

This method is one of rigorous adherence to the tenets of "methodological individualism" -- a fancy name for recognizing that the only units in society who think and act are individual persons. Society doesn't think or act; the market doesn't think or act; the United States government doesn't think or act. Only individuals think and act...

Whatever the topic -- war, economic growth, government regulation -- the only way to achieve genuine understanding of what's going on is to trace all actions back to the individuals who take them. The fact that individuals often act in concert -- say, as voters -- still requires those of us seeking to understand the outcomes of elections to understand the incentives and the constraints that confront the individuals who make up these groups.

Failure to be a consistent methodological individualist leads to misunderstanding. Consider, for example, that politicians and pundits frequently go on about how "we as a nation" did this, or how "we as a nation" must not do that.

"We" who make up the American nation number 300 million people, each with our own preferences, beliefs, and expectations. It's only an illusion that "we" act -- or can act -- as one. It's no less an illusion that "we" act when government acts in our name...

The Hayekian also understands that the individuals who make up government are spending other people's money for yet other people's benefit. So these officials lack both the incentives and the knowledge to spend this money wisely.

...The Hayekian isn't misled by romantic talk of "we as a nation" rebuilding New Orleans (or doing any other task) because the Hayekian never forgets that only individuals choose and act -- and that the market is the only means of harnessing individual knowledge and effort for the greater good.

Boudreaux, in the comments section of his posting, offers this Leonard Read classic, I, Pencil.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION:

Bankrupt pensions, extraordinary healthcare insurance benefits, outrageous demands by private and public sector unions, lousy decision-making by some management teams as well as misguided incentives and marketplace meddling by government have been discussed previously on Anchor Rising:

Public Sector Issues
Misguided Incentives Drive Public Sector Taxation
A Call to Action: Responding to Government Being Neither Well-Meaning Nor Focused on the Public Interest
The Coercive Role of Government
Walter Williams: Attacking Lobbyists is Wrong Battle
Goldwater: A government that is big enough to give you all you want is big enough to take it all away
Bankrupt Public Pensions: A Time Bomb That Will Explode
Why Truly Free Markets & Timely, Transparent Information Are Needed to Protect the Freedom of American Citizens
RI Public Pension Problems
The Cocoon in which Entitled State Employees Live
The Union's Solution for the Future: Get More People in Unions
Bankrupt Public Pensions, Part II
How Public Pensions Make People Well-Off at Taxpayers' Expense
Public and Private Unions
Now Here is a Good Idea
Be Watchful
Rhode Island Unions Again Resist True Pension Reform

Private Sector Issues
Government Meddling Creates Marketplace Distortions, Increasing Long-Term Costs
If You Won't Deal With Economic Reality, Then It Will Deal With You
Underfunding Pensions, Public and Private, can Hurt Taxpayers
Why Truly Free Markets & Timely, Transparent Information Are Needed to Protect the Freedom of American Citizens
Outrageous Employee Compensation Liabilities Continue to Haunt General Motors; Will American Taxpayers End Up Paying the Bill?
Why the Big Three Auto Companies Could Easily Fail
Airline Industry: How Government Meddling in Marketplace Costs Taxpayers & Consumers


Hayek: Helping Us Clarify How A Society Works

We frequently hear phrases like "the government should do something about that." Do any of us really know what that phrase truly means?

Moreover, do any of us really think the government is capable of doing something constructive about the numerous challenges across a society? (If so, why do most government programs fail to meet their original policy objectives and rarely, if ever, stay within original budget projections?)

These latter questions beg a larger, philosophical question about whether the government should act in the first place, in spite of what is a common expectation among many that we should turn first to government for solutions. The larger question arises because many people do not have a clear understanding of how a "society" really works. A number of earlier postings - which address the misguided incentives that result from many government actions - are found at the bottom of this posting. But, while these postings often identify many failure points, we need to understand better what really drives positive outcomes in the world around us.

I recently discovered a wonderful new blog site, Cafe Hayek, run by two economics professors from George Mason University.

One of the site's contributors, Professor Don Boudreaux has published an article entitled Triumph of the Individual at Tech Central Station in which he discusses Nobel Laureate Hayek's contribution to our understanding about how it is individuals - not government or markets - that make things happen in any society:

…Hayek spent most of his career watching the worship of power supplant the love of liberty. Nazism and Stalinism were the two most grotesque forms of this power-worship, but as Hayek warned in his most famous book, The Road to Serfdom (1944), even milder forms are surprisingly dangerous.

…the source of Hayek's fundamental contributions to our understanding of society comes from the method of doing social theory that he learned from these scholars.

This method is one of rigorous adherence to the tenets of "methodological individualism" -- a fancy name for recognizing that the only units in society who think and act are individual persons. Society doesn't think or act; the market doesn't think or act; the United States government doesn't think or act. Only individuals think and act…

Whatever the topic -- war, economic growth, government regulation -- the only way to achieve genuine understanding of what's going on is to trace all actions back to the individuals who take them. The fact that individuals often act in concert -- say, as voters -- still requires those of us seeking to understand the outcomes of elections to understand the incentives and the constraints that confront the individuals who make up these groups.

Failure to be a consistent methodological individualist leads to misunderstanding. Consider, for example, that politicians and pundits frequently go on about how "we as a nation" did this, or how "we as a nation" must not do that.

"We" who make up the American nation number 300 million people, each with our own preferences, beliefs, and expectations. It's only an illusion that "we" act -- or can act -- as one. It's no less an illusion that "we" act when government acts in our name…

The Hayekian also understands that the individuals who make up government are spending other people's money for yet other people's benefit. So these officials lack both the incentives and the knowledge to spend this money wisely.

…The Hayekian isn't misled by romantic talk of "we as a nation" rebuilding New Orleans (or doing any other task) because the Hayekian never forgets that only individuals choose and act -- and that the market is the only means of harnessing individual knowledge and effort for the greater good.

Boudreaux, in the comments section of his posting, offers this Leonard Read classic, I, Pencil.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION:

Bankrupt pensions, extraordinary healthcare insurance benefits, outrageous demands by private and public sector unions, lousy decision-making by some management teams as well as misguided incentives and marketplace meddling by government have been discussed previously on Anchor Rising:

Public Sector Issues
Misguided Incentives Drive Public Sector Taxation
A Call to Action: Responding to Government Being Neither Well-Meaning Nor Focused on the Public Interest
The Coercive Role of Government
Walter Williams: Attacking Lobbyists is Wrong Battle
Goldwater: A government that is big enough to give you all you want is big enough to take it all away
Bankrupt Public Pensions: A Time Bomb That Will Explode
Why Truly Free Markets & Timely, Transparent Information Are Needed to Protect the Freedom of American Citizens
RI Public Pension Problems
The Cocoon in which Entitled State Employees Live
The Union's Solution for the Future: Get More People in Unions
Bankrupt Public Pensions, Part II
How Public Pensions Make People Well-Off at Taxpayers' Expense
Public and Private Unions
Now Here is a Good Idea
Be Watchful
Rhode Island Unions Again Resist True Pension Reform

Private Sector Issues
Government Meddling Creates Marketplace Distortions, Increasing Long-Term Costs
If You Won't Deal With Economic Reality, Then It Will Deal With You
Underfunding Pensions, Public and Private, can Hurt Taxpayers
Why Truly Free Markets & Timely, Transparent Information Are Needed to Protect the Freedom of American Citizens
Outrageous Employee Compensation Liabilities Continue to Haunt General Motors; Will American Taxpayers End Up Paying the Bill?
Why the Big Three Auto Companies Could Easily Fail
Airline Industry: How Government Meddling in Marketplace Costs Taxpayers & Consumers


March 24, 2006


Voter Initiative Advice from WA

Marc Comtois

John Roskelly, a former Washington state politician, thinks that RI should steer clear of the Voter Initiative:

There are some Washington State initiatives I have personally promoted, such as I-901, which passed by 66 percent of the vote, and eliminated smoking in all public places, including restaurants and bars. But in general, the initiative process limits debate to those with money, runs government by emotion, and wreaks havoc on your local government's ability to provide necessary services. Show me a state with the initiative process, and I'll show you a state legislature that failed to do its job.
Too bad Mr. Roskelly doesn't live in Rhode Island, because then he would have realized that all of those fine points he has proferred actually explain what is currently going on in this state!!! He continues:
During my time as a county commissioner (1995-2004), I dealt with the local budgetary fallout of statewide voter initiatives. For instance, I-747 limited property-tax revenue-collections to a growth factor of 1 percent per year. As a home owner, I was pleased it passed. As a commissioner, in charge of the county's budget, I had to scramble to balance the budget, while providing the necessary services demanded by the same people who cut our purse strings.
Now, that's too bad, isn't it? What Mr. Roskelly can't appreciate is that the "necessary services" provided in Rhode Island are some of the most expensive and inefficient in the nation. However, he does save himself a bit with his last suggestion:
So, before you let this feisty horse out of the barn in Rhode Island, I would encourage you to put legislators in office who will make the tough decisions they were elected to make, and to severely limit what can be legislated through the initiative process.
Good idea, but we've been trying that, haven't we?


Casino Revenue and Property Tax Relief

Carroll Andrew Morse

In today's Projo, Katherine Gregg reports on figures provided by Rhode Island's casino supporters describing how taxes on gambling revenues might be used to provide property-tax relief to Rhode Island cities and towns. Unfortunately, a figure discussed by state budget analyst Peder Schaefer (who is very skeptical of the casino advocates' analysis) is presented in a manner that may confuse the issue...

Legislative backers of the proposed West Warwick casino are dangling the promise of $119 million to $144 million in "property-tax relief" for their cities and towns back home.

The promise was contained in one of the handouts the casino's legislative backers provided at the news conference earlier this week to trumpet their campaign to change the state Constitution to specifically allow the Harrah's-backed casino.

The handout shows communities getting anywhere from $1.6 million in new money on Block Island to $22.9 million in Providence under the rosiest scenario...

But none of the legislative backers could explain exactly how they arrived at the numbers.

The state's chief budget analyst, Peder Schaefer, said the suggested allocation bears little resemblance to the "revenue-sharing" formula the state used to allot $51 million in municipal aid last year.

"We don't understand what they have done," said Schaefer yesterday. "Whether the $144-million figure is any good or not, I don't know. . . . But it ends up, they are giving all the rich communities a much bigger share of the money."

Mr. Schaefer is discussing how one portion of state aid is distributed, not the total amount of state given to cities and towns, but the comparision of the $119,000,000-$144,000,000 in estimated casino aid to the $51,000,000 in existing "municipal" aid may create the impression that casino revenue will double -- maybe almost triple -- the amount of aid available to cities and towns.

This is not the case. $51,000,000 is only a small portion of the the total state aid given to cities and towns. At the very least, it does not include the approximately $650,000,000 that the state provided to cities and towns in the form of education aid (included on a separate line item in the state budget) last year.

Since casino revenue is supposedly "replacing" property tax revenue, the best way to make an initial estimate of the impact of casino revenue on property taxes is to compare the amount of casino aid slated for a city or town to the amount of property tax collected by that city or town and not to the amount of state aid it received.

Providence is a useful example for this, because it has a very high property tax rate (making it a prime candidate for property tax relief), and because a casino revenue figure for Providence is provided in Ms. Gregg's article. According to the city budget, Providence expects to collect about $237,000,000 in property taxes this year. This means, assuming that the $22,900,000 in projected casino-based aid all goes towards replacing property tax revenue, the result is a less-than-10% reduction in property taxes. And that is the result using the casino advocates' best case numbers.

Is that the scale of relief that casino supporters have in mind when they envision the benefits that a casino brings?


March 23, 2006

Quick Eminent Domain & Tax-Lien Reform Update

Carroll Andrew Morse

According to Rhode Island Senate Press Secretary Greg Pare, Tuesday's Judiciary Committee vote tallies in favor of holding the three tax-lien reform and four eminent domain reform bills for further study were all unanimous.

Since the sponsors of three of the bills are on the Juidicary Committee; Senators Harold Metts (D-Providence), Rhoda Perry (D-Providence), and Leo Blais (R-Coventry/Foster/Scituate), the unanimous votes may be an indication that "further study" is, in this case, part of the process of picking a single bill or combining features from the various options that have been introduced.


Healthcare Assumptions

Carroll Andrew Morse

In Slate magazine, Michael Kinsley responds to a Paul Krugman/Robin Wells article in the New York Review of Books that argues that complete government control of healthcare -- where the government is the only insurance company, and maybe even all doctors work directly for the government -- is the only system of healthcare delivery that can work. (h/t Mickey Kaus).

Kinsley points out flaws in a number of Krugman's and Wells' assumptions. First, the argument for forcing everyone into a single government-run insurance pool is no more compelling for health insurance than it is for any other insurance sector...

Krugman and Wells note repeatedly that 20 percent of the population is responsible for 80 percent of health-care costs. But that doesn't explain why health insurance should be different from other kinds. The small fraction of people involved in auto accidents in any year is responsible for almost all the cost of auto insurance. You insure against the risk of being in that group.
Second, Kinsley argues that advocates of government controlled healthcare too uncritically assert that centralizing bureaucracy is automatically a good thing...
Even the most competitive industry can seem wasteful and inefficient when described on paper. Dozens of computer companies making hundreds of different, incompatible models, millions spent on advertising: Wouldn't a single, government-run computer agency producing a few standard models be more efficient? No, it wouldn't.
Third, Kinsley questions the argument that high-risk individuals will be left uncovered in any system not tightly controlled by the government. As he points out, this is based upon the assumption that there can be only one cost for health insurance...
Krugman and Wells say that private insurance is flawed by "adverse selection": Insurance companies will avoid riskier customers. Only a single payer (that is, an insurance monopoly) can insure everybody and spread the risk. But anyone is insurable at some price -- a price that reflects the cost they are likely to impose on the insurer. Adverse selection is only a problem to the extent that insurance is not really insurance, but rather a subsidy.

Unfortunately, Kinsley doesn't tell us exactly what a health coverage system based on his adjusted assumptions would look like (except to say it would be something more incremental than a complete government takeover of healthcare). So, after minutes of thinking about this particular article, I'll propose a system...

  1. Either government or mandatory catastrophic insurance for everyone from the moment they're born.
  2. Health-savings accounts (even with tax-breaks!) for preventative and routine measures.
  3. A robust, competitive private insurance market for stuff in-between.


Re-Examining the Dubai Port (non)Deal

Marc Comtois

Now that the hyperbolic rhetoric surrounding the Dubai Port deal has reduced a bit, it's time to look at the consequences of this little exercise in political gamesmanship. In a recent issue of Newsweek, Robert Samuelson recently explained the nature and effect of the politicization of the port deal:

The idea of letting an Arab-owned company, Dubai Ports World, run container terminals at five U.S. ports struck many Americans as an absurdity. Why not just turn control directly over to Al Qaeda?. . . The company's withdrawal last week can be seen as a triumph of public opinion. Or it can be acknowledged for what it is: a major defeat for the United States, driven by self-indulgent politicians of both parties who enthusiastically fanned public fears.

Leadership in a democratic society requires a willingness and ability to challenge and change public opinion when it is based on misinformation, no information, prejudice or stupidity—as it was in this case. There never was a genuine security problem. The Dubai company wouldn't have "taken over" the U.S. ports. It simply would have run some terminals. Cargo would still have been handled by American, unionized longshoremen. The Coast Guard and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency would still have been responsible for port security. . .

As political theater, the posturing might be harmless. But all the grandstanding—precisely because the criticisms were overblown—damages American interests. It's a public-relations disaster in the Middle East. The United Arab Emirates—of which Dubai is a part—has been a strong American ally, permitting the use of its ports and airfields for U.S. ships and military aircraft. . .If this isn't what we want from Arab countries, what do we want? Much bitterness is reported in Dubai, especially among those who are pro-Western. They blame racism. That's understandable and perhaps correct. . .

Every country has the right to protect its security interests. But those interests must be defined coherently and not simply as the random expression of political expediency.

Bernard Kerik echoes Samuelson and believes that the rejection of the deal will hurt U.S. port security in the long run.
"For four years we have been trying to tell the Arabs that we are not anti-Arab, we are anti-fundamentalist," said Bernard Kerik, the former New York Police Department commissioner who oversaw rescue efforts after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Kerik...said Arab countries were as much a target of al Qaeda as was the United States, and should be embraced as allies, not turned into foes.

"I think they (U.S. Congress) hurt our relationships with people that we are trying to get communication and coordination from," Kerik told a maritime security conference in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Kerik said Arab nations' sympathy for the United States could well be in doubt.

"We the United States were looking at all the Arab countries we possibly could to be our partners in the war on terrorism, including Dubai. I got no doubt about what they're thinking now. It's pretty insulting," he told Reuters in a later interview.

But it's more than U.S. security that could suffer. Samuelson also notes that there could be a significant negative economic impact:
The ports furor also hurts the United States in another way. It weakens confidence in the dollar as the major global currency. The U.S. trade deficit now spews more than $700 billion into the world annually. To some extent, global economic stability depends on foreigners' keeping most of those dollars. Mass dollar sales could trigger turmoil on the world's currency, stock and bond markets. People outside the United States hold dollars because they believe the currency maintains its value and offers a wide menu of investment choices. The message from Congress is that the menu is shorter than people thought. Once any investment is stigmatized—rightly or wrongly—as a "security problem," Congress may act against foreigners.
Indeed, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Duncan Hunter, a Republican from California, seems to be looking in that direction. Perhaps the ProJos David A. Mittell, Jr. has it right by offering that the port fiasco is really a different sort of McCarthysim:
Hollywood is still looking for McCarthyism, but won't find it where it found it 55 years ago. But we may find McCarthyism in mutated form if we look for distinguishing characteristics: 1) A legitimate fear about a threat to the nation. 2) A degree of public hysteria. 3) Charges by demagogic politicians loosely based on guilt by association. 4) A self-serving rush by the rank and file of both political parties to fall into line with the demagoguery and hysteria.

Each of these was present 55 years ago, and each was present three weeks ago in the frenzy to reverse the purchase of six U.S. port facilities by the United Arab Emirates -- a faithful American ally in the war on terrorism.

"Two of the 9/11 conspirators came from there" was the best the demagogues could say. The answer to that is that two of the Oklahoma City bombing conspirators came from the United States.

I just think that too many sought to make political hay over this whole mess, got caught up in emotionalism and threw logic out the window. We're in a global economy. And our success in both foreign and economic policy is symbiotic. It is true that we do need to use the Big Stick every now and then, but we can also benefit from the use of a bunch of carrots now and again, too. Maybe cooler heads will prevail next time. (If your interested in more frequent coverage on these sorts of issues, I'd recommend the Port Security, Maritime Security, and Homeland Security Blog).


March 22, 2006

My Father Always Told Me That When the Other Side Has Nothing On You, They Make Up a Study to Say You're Crazy

Carroll Andrew Morse

Maybe it's because I'm a whiny conservative, but I can't tell if this posting from RI Future is for real or a parody...

Well, this is obvious. Whiny children, claims a new study, tend to grow up conservative while confident, resilient, self-reliant kids mostly grow up to be liberals. It’s clear that Liberalism is a higher state of mind. Liberals want to challenge where society has been and push the further evolution of our society. Conservatives accept the status quo and seek to “conserve” what already exists. I want progress. I’m a liberal.
What do you think?

By the way, since liberals apparently want change, I'm looking forward to RI Future's support on replacing the 1930s era Social Security structure with something suitable for the present day, school choice reform, health-savings accounts, and replacing the United Nations with an institution that actually works.


Confronting Afghanistan

Carroll Andrew Morse

The President needs to make sure he is in synch with the American people's fully justified negative reaction to the case of the Afghan man facing a death sentence for converting to Christianity or else he will face a loss of public confidence that will be bigger than what followed from the Dubai Ports World deal.

Fortunately, he seems to be aware of and concerned about the problem…

Bush said in a speech that a young democracy is growing in Afghanistan, but he's concerned about the case.

"We expect them to honor the universal principle of freedom," Bush said. "I'm troubled when I hear, deeply troubled when I hear, the fact that a person who converted away from Islam may be held to account. That's not the universal application of the values that I talked about.



Tax-Lien Reform Tabled in the Senate

Carroll Andrew Morse

In addition to eminent domain reform, the Senate Judiciary Committee also considered two sets of tax-lien reform proposals last night. Senate bill 2424, introduced by Senator Leo Blais (R-Coventry/Foster/Scituate) at the request of Governor Donald Carcieri, and Senate bills 2092 and 2453 introduced by Senators Harold Metts (D-Providence), Juan Pichardo (D-Providence), and Rhoda Perry (D-Providence), would change the tax-lien sale procedure in Rhode Island to automatically involve the Rhode Island Housing and Finance Mortgage Corporation in any sale involving a residential property of four or fewer units. Both sets of bills would also strengthen the procedures for notifying delinquent owners that take place as part of a tax-lien sale.

Had this law been in place last year when Madeline Walker defaulted on her obligations, the government, through RIHFMC, would have been charged with trying to find a way to get its money without evicting Ms. Walker from her home.

The Judiciary Committee voted to hold both sets of tax-lien reform bills for further study. A quick look at the legislative record from past years shows that “further study” is basically sometimes a euphemism for killing a bill.

This doesn’t yet mean that tax-lien reform is officially done for this year; there are still 3 bills (H6704, H7364, H7740) pending in the House, though none has yet been scheduled for a committee hearing.

UPDATE:

Upon further review of last year's record, I see that bills sometimes do come back from "further study" to be passed, though "further study" can also be the last official action taken on a bill.


Eminent Domain Reform: Senate Votes to Hold All Bills "For Further Study"

Carroll Andrew Morse

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted last night to hold all 4 eminent domain reform bills (the Governor's bill, the Lieutenant Governor's bill, the Attorney General's bill, and the Cote/Badeau/Breene bill) before the committee "for further study", meaning that the Senate is not required to take any further action on them this session.

Whether this means that the legislature plans no action on eminent domain reform this year, or plans to pass one of the 4 bills still before the Rhode Island House (the Davey bill, the McHugh bill, the Lima bill, or the House version of the Attorney General's bill) remains to be seen.

Details on all of the bills are available here, here, here, and here.


March 21, 2006

Eminent Domain Reform: The Senate’s Turn

Carroll Andrew Morse

The Rhode Island Senate Judiciary Committee is taking its turn at considering eminent domain reform bills today. The bills up for consideration are the Governor’s bill (S2408), the Lieutenant Governor’s bill (S2155), the Attorney General’s bill (S2771), and a seventh bill (the details of the first 6 can be found here, here, and here).

The seventh bill is Senate bill 2785, introduced by Senators Marc Cote (D-Woonsocket/North Smithfield), Roger Badeau (D-Cumberland/Woonsocket), and Kevin Breene (R-Charlestown/Exeter/Hopkington/Richmond/West Greenwich). S2785 starts off strong…

Except as provided in this chapter and notwithstanding any other provision of law, the state, any political subdivision of the state, and any other entity with eminent domain authority may not condemn property: (a) For the purpose of private retail, office, commercial, industrial, residential, or economic development; (b) Primarily for the enhancement of tax revenue; or (c) For transfer to a person, nongovernmental entity, public-private partnership, corporation, firm, association or other business entity.
S2785 applies to all properties, not just owner occupied ones. However, the bill then goes on to make a whopping big exception…
The provisions of this chapter shall not be deemed to abrogate or diminish the powers heretofore exercised by local redevelopment agencies, as provided for in chapters 45-31 and 45-32 of the general laws, to undertake redevelopment projects, but just compensation, in all cases, must continue to be first made to the owner.
This is from section 45-32-24 of Rhode Island law, the part of the law "not diminished" by S2785...
Notwithstanding the provisions of any other law, each agency has the right to acquire all or any part of the real property or any estate or interest in it within a project area, by the exercise of the power of eminent domain, whenever it is judged by the agency that the acquisition of the real property or any estate or interest in it is in the public interest and necessary for the public use.
Though the proposed bill may be well intentioned the exception clause seems to create a great deal of ambiguity.

H7151, which provides the strongest protection to the public, is now the only eminent domain bill submitted this session not to be considered by either the House or Senate. So far, no eminent domain bill has considered by both houses of the legislature. If there is a frontrunner amongst the different proposals, it is not yet obvious from the public record.


Iraq: Open Forum

Marc Comtois

Since Anchor Rising is primarily a blog about Rhode Island, we don't talk about the War in Iraq much. But I'm curious as to how Rhode Island conservatives view the situation three years out. So whether you're a neocon, a paleocon, a realist or a "to-hell-with-them-hawk," please comment on whether or not your outlook on the Iraq project has changed and in what ways. (If you're not a conservative, you can chime in too...but let's stay away from "war for oil" and all that, ok?)


The Laffey School Choice Program is the School Funding Reform that Rhode Island Needs

Carroll Andrew Morse

In an op-ed published in Monday's Projo, Cranston Mayor Steve Laffey makes his case for using school choice to increase the educational opportunities available to Rhode Island students. Here is the Mayor's description of the first step, a voluntary pilot school choice program for Providence students...

This program will let students in Providence's failing schools enroll in better schools in Cranston or other neighboring communities that choose to participate. At the same time, Cranston (or other accepting districts) will be reimbursed by the failing school district. The program lets parents choose the school that best fits their children's needs and injects competition into the system, inducing failing schools to make real and tangible improvements.
Providence Mayor David Cicilline has expressed a different view of how to best improve the education of Providence students. In his recent State of the City address, Mayor Cicilline expressed dissatisfaction with the growth-rate of state aid given to the city of Providence...
Republican policies at the Federal level have amounted to a political sleight-of-hand that has transformed politically expedient federal tax cut programs into destructive property tax increases in nearly every city and town in America.

And at the state level the Governor offers the same approach. Every year -- a decreasing share of school funding from the state. Every year -- a little more weight the property tax payer must bear.

Note that Mayor Cicilline decries the "share" of aid given to Providence, not the absolute amount. State education aid to Providence has either gone up or stayed the same every year for at least the last four years. In 2006, Providence was budgeted to receive about $20,000,000 more than it did in 2002. All through that period, and continuing to the present, Providence has received a disproportionate of state aid on a per-student basis. According to the Rhode Island's fiscal year 2006 budget (see page 442 of the Program Supplement), Providence received about $185,000,000 in aid for about 28,000 students (about $6,600 per student), while Cranston received about $34,000,000 for a little over 11,000 students (about $3,000 per student). Despite this, Mayor Cicilline's position is that the Providence school system needs more.

Getting more education resources to Providence students can only take a few forms. The first would be to have Providence provide more for Providence students...

  • Raise property taxes in Providence.
This is a non-starter, at least in direct form. Data compiled by the Rhode Island Department of Administration bears out that Providence is already being taxed to the hilt.

If additional resources cannot come from Providence, then they have to be taken from somewhere else. That leads to two possibilities...

  • Raise taxes in other Rhode Island communities to subsidize Providence schools.
  • Cut services in other Rhode Island communities to subsidize Providence schools.
Both plans are on the table, in the guise of income-tax or sales-tax increases targeted to transfer wealth from the rest of the state into Providence, or in the guise of education aid formula changes that give Providence an even larger share of state aid, while other towns must either raise their own property taxes or cut services to make up the difference.

Now, there is now a third option on the table, the school choice option...

  • Distribute existing resources directly to the schools that Providence parents and students have chosen as best meeting their needs.
A school choice program is the education funding formula change needed to improve the opportunities available to Rhode Island students. School choice is a formula for organically adjusting resource allocation to the needs of parents and students, not to the interests of legislators, lobbyists, and bureaucrats.


March 20, 2006

Bill Harsch for Attorney General: "The Present System Benefitting the Chosen Few at the Expense of Working Rhode Islanders has to be Changed"

Carroll Andrew Morse

At his official campaign kick-off on Friday, Rhode Island Attorney General candidate William Harsch explained that a key component of his campaign will be increasing awareness about what the office of the Attorney General should be doing, but is not doing under the tenure of the current office-holder.

According to Mr. Harsch, the mission of the Attorney General is twofold. The AG must act both defensively and proactively, fighting crime and corruption after something goes wrong, as well as advocating for the public in areas like utility rates and health costs before problems begin. Mr. Harsch laments that in Rhode Island, because "the pro-active piece has been totally missing for so long", people have forgotten that it is an important part of the job.

With regard to corruption, Mr. Harsch promised to…

  • Join with Governor Carcieri to eliminate existing corruption and prevent future abuses and work to replace Rhode Island's culture of corruption with a culture of integrity.
  • Hold individuals who have betrayed the public trust, including members of non-profit boards and members of the General Assembly, accountable for their actions.
With regard to utilities, Mr. Harsch promised to…
  • "Participate aggressively in every utility rate and facility filing before the Public Utilities Commission". Mr. Harsch noted that, by law, the Attorney General is a party to board meetings and that his absence is noted if he fails to attend.
  • Go to Washington to address the fuel cost formula that determines utility rates in RI, because at least 70% of costs are determined by a formula that artificially ties all energy costs -- even energy generated from alternative sources -- to snapshots of oil and natural gas prices. According to Mr. Harsch, this odd system exists because nobody from the Attorney General’s office was present to represent Rhode Island when the current formula was created.
With regard to healthcare, Mr. Harsch promised to…
  • Look very hard and very aggressively at future proposals for rate increases, at proposals for coverage decreases, and at costs that have been wrapped up in the past for "bonuses, gifts, and perks of every kind".
  • Investigate monies being lost to special reserve accounts and because of legislative add-ons.
Mr. Harsch went on to cite a few highlights from his 30-years of advocating for the public interest, including defending the constitutional rights of individuals from well-connected landfill owners who tried using lawsuits to suppress public criticism of their operation, taking on state government insiders who wanted to build an incinerator at Quonset (a project that would have stifled the development potential that the state is now realizing there), taking on the electric company "to end the rate-increase scam called pancaking", taking on Foxwoods and Time-Warner to prevent them from building an amusement park in a rural town, and stopping the General Assembly from driving shell fisherman off of Narrgansett Bay.

Mr. Harsch said he has been and will continue to be effective in serving the public because he is willing to step on some toes, even well-connected toes, when that is what is necessary to protect the public interest. In concluding, he said that he does not view the rewards of public service in terms of access to special deals or fancy jobs. Instead…

“My reward is being able to stand here today and say to you that I am ready give Rhode Islanders what they deserve for a change. Let the message be very clear. This state does not exist to make a few powerful families rich...Rhode Island needs an Attorney General who will be the people’s lawyer, an Attorney General who will do the people’s business, and not the business of a political machine or a political party, or some other special interest. I humbly submit to you that I am that candidate.”


Big Loving Responsibility

Marc Comtois

I recently saw HBO's preview of their new series "Big Love," which is about the trials and tribulations of a polygamist and his three wives (and, oh yea, his kids, more on that in a bit). George Neumayr writes that American audiences probably are more willing and able to accept the premise than one would think at first blush:

A culture of routine divorce. . . makes polygamy thinkable. . . many Americans have had three spouses. Just not simultaneously. Isn’t the show’s concept of a harried man juggling multiple wives just a small extension of the divorce comedy genre? The creators of the show have talked about overcoming the “yuck factor.” But that shouldn’t be too hard, given that characters carrying on with many women at once is a staple of most shows.

The simultaneous sexual carrying on of polygamy is somewhat more obvious and centralized than other forms of promiscuity, but it is essentially indistinguishable from the alternative lifestyles based upon promiscuity the culture has already absorbed. If Paxton sees Bill Clinton as a model for polygamists, that’s because promiscuity/open marriage and polygamy aren’t very far apart, differing not in their essence but in their outward appearance.

Neumayr touches on the role of polygamy in the context of the wider gay marriage debate, though Stanley Kurtz deals with that topic in more detail. I'm still not totally convinced of the "slippery slope" of gay marriage -> polygamy argument (so long as children aren't involved, though I recognize that's a bit idealistic), but that's another topic for another day (again, read Kurtz). For me, Neumayr's most important observation is about role that the kids play in "Big Love":
It is revealing that press stories about the show barely even mention the impact of the polygamous arrangement on the children in it. The impression left is that if polygamy is morally problematic at all that’s only because it is unfair to the wives. But that problem disappears through modern life’s favorite absolutions -- “choice” and “consent.”

To the extent that children are even factored into the moral equation, polygamists are now borrowing another handy fallacy from the gay-marriage movement: the principle that children need one father and one mother permanently interested in them is mere prejudice and not a reflection of the natural law. Say polygamists: If Heather has three mothers instead of two, so what? Doesn’t society now say that families are self-defined and that love, in whatever package it comes, is more important than adhering to natural form?

In HBO's preview, they do highlight the anxiety of the oldest daughter about being "different." They also highlight the desire of the oldest son to follow in his father's footsteps. So, it would seem that at least the feelings of the older children will be examined.

In general, I fear that our desire to make everything "OK" for everyone clouds our vision and we forget that the impact of such "freedom" is often felt hardest by those not consulted during the decision making process. I've got a bit of a social libertarian streak, but I also recognize that not all--if any--decisions made by adults are really made in a vacuum. I am especially concerned when the long-term cultural and societal impact of those decisions are unknown. But my concern encompasses more than just gay marriage or drug legalization. I'm also troubled by the idea that divorce is a viable escape clause or that having an affair is OK if no one gets caught or hurt in the process. Hopefully, "Big Love" will focus on the consequences of the decisions made by adults and how the kids--and others, for that matter--are affected. We need to be reminded that the decisions we make affect others, too.


Bill Harsch For Attorney General: “It’s Time to Drive the Snakes Out of Rhode Island”

Carroll Andrew Morse

Legend has it that St. Patrick drove the snakes out of Ireland in the fifth century AD. On St. Patrick’s Day of this year, William Harsch drew upon that image to kick off his campaign for the office of Rhode Island Attorney General.

In his announcement, Mr. Harsch told a crowd numbering in the hundreds -- including Governor Donald Carcieri, Senator Lincoln Chafee, and former Attorney General Arlene Violet -- that he is running for Attorney General to serve the "hard-working, honorable, proud people of Rhode Island" who are shut out of a system where political insiders expect the people to "pay taxes, keep quiet and stay out of the public process". He believes that Rhode Island needs an Attorney General who will prevent corruption and big-business monopolies from taking advantage of Rhode Island citizens "as they go about their daily tasks of providing for their families, paying taxes, making a living and making their communities better”.

Mr. Harsch called out the snakes he seeks to drive from Rhode Island -- snakes that have the form of entrenched, self-serving interests -- by name. First, he discussed the institutional snakes.

  • Utilities -- Mr. Harsch explained how Rhode Island's small size makes certain portions of its economy vulnerable to large entities that seek to eliminate competition. Specifically, certain utility companies have become “effectively unchallenged and effectively unregulated monopolies” that have had “their abuses rewarded“. Mr. Harsch criticized the gas company for getting a 30% rate increase at the start of the heating season, then setting a record for shutting people off. He also warned that their profits have made them such "a fat and attractive takeover target" that Rhode Island is well on its way to being served by only a single, foreign-owned gas and electric utility.
  • Beacon Mutual -- Mr. Harsch explained that Beacon Mutual was intended to be the worker's compensation insurer of last resort and intended to encourage insurance competition, but "with the help of the General Assembly, they turned themselves into an effective monopoly". He decried Beacon Mutual's “egregious” profits, taken from "the profits and the pockets of every single business in the state, including small business" and questioned their practice of fighting against taxpayer interests using taxpayer money. Mr. Harsch also noted that the current Attorney General is "nowhere to be seen in that particular fight".
  • Blue Cross -- According to Mr. Harsch, Blue Cross has been allowed to exert "a stranglehold on the healthcare market in this state". He believes that health maintenance organizations (HMOs) need to be returned to their basic mission and become something different from what they have now become -- monopolies "loaded with political friends who are doing good things for other political friends and being protected and encouraged by our General Assembly"-- and that Rhode Island legislators have corrupted "something that was a very good idea" by using anti-competitive standards and requirements that discourage other insurers from entering Rhode Island's healthcare market. As an example of this, Mr. Harsch cited laws requiring all insurers to cover -- and all insurees to pay for -- fertility treatments of any kind, something he believes should "be the election of an individual" and not "imposed on the public by action of the General Assembly".
Mr. Harsch also named some individual snakes…
  • The departed and discredited former president of Blue Cross who received a $600,000 "divorce present" from the company.
  • The Roger Williams Hospital board member hospital who received a $500,000 payment while overseeing a hospital President caught abusing expense accounts.
  • Former Senators John Celona and William Irons.
  • "What about the fire officials in West Warwick?"
Mr. Harsch criticized the current Attorney General for being absent from these cases; "None of these people and none of these organizations have anything to fear from the present Rhode Island Attorney General's office. That is a disgrace. Rhode Islanders deserve far, far, better".

Coming later today: How Bill Harsch plans to drive the snakes away...


March 18, 2006

What is a Fair Tax?

Carroll Andrew Morse

An unsigned editorial in today's Projo explains how high-tax advocacy is often driven more by ideology than by considerations of what makes good policy...

Some folks say that taxes should always go up and/or stay up to pay for new or expanded public programs. After all, human needs and/or wants are infinite. And many people consider the very existence of rich people a moral and aesthetic affront, and would like to do away with them -- to make everything perfectly "fair," at least economically. Better to have everyone poor. That was tried in communist states. The effect, besides the deaths of millions, was economic paralysis, which wasn't very fair even to poor people, and the creation of the new sole class of rich and privileged people: the ones running the government.
One group that states their ideological approach to taxation is the Institute for Taxation and Economic Policy, cited yesterday in the Projo by the Rhode Island Poverty Institute's Ellen Frank in a letter to the editor arguing that high taxes are not stopping people from settling in Rhode Island. The ITEP's introduction to "Tax Fairness Fundamentals" declares that fair taxation is based on one simple principle...
A fair tax system asks citizens to contribute to the cost of government services based on their ability to pay.
Is ITEP saying that the ideal government operates on the principle of "From each according to their ability, to each according to their need"? I won't go there just yet, but I will point out that, under the ITEP definition, the following system would be considered "fair"...
Everyone gets to keep $1,000 of their own income to spend.

Citizens making $20,000 per annum must pay $19,000 to the government each year.

And citizens making $200,000 per annum must pay $199,000 to the government each year.

Do the supporters of strongly progressive taxation agree that this system meets the definition of fair? Or would they like to offer a few qualifiers and concede that "fair" taxation cannot be defined without also taking into consideration the size and scope of government, and what it is exactly that tax-money is being used to paid for?


March 17, 2006

Bill Harsch Makes it Official

Carroll Andrew Morse

Republican Bill Harsch officially kicks off his campaign for Rhode Island Attorney General at noon today, at the Garden Room at the Biltmore in Providence.


Casinos, Monopolies, and the Right to Vote

Carroll Andrew Morse

Tracy Scudder of the Kent County Times reports that the West Warwick Town Council will vote on a casino resolution next week…

A casino item has been added to the West Warwick Town Council agenda for Tuesday night. The council will vote whether or not to ask the Rhode Island General Assembly to allow the voters to decide if there should be a casino in West Warwick.

The resolution reads: "We are memorializing the General Assembly to enact legislation to permit the qualified voters of the State of Rhode Island to vote on the establishment of a casino in the Town of West Warwick."

Casino supporters (and the Town Clerk) emphasize that the resolution is not an endorsement of a casino, just an endorsement of the people’s right to vote on a casino…
Town Clerk David D. Clayton said the resolution doesn't say that the council is in favor of the casino or against it.

The council is "just asking the General Assembly to enact legislation to allow the voters to vote on the subject," said Clayton. "This is strictly asking (the General Assembly) to do legislation so people can vote"...

If the governor is for the voter initiative, the governor should be for letting the people decide on the casino, according to [Councilor Jeanne] DiMasi.

"I think one way or another we will know if the people in Rhode Island want a casino," she said.

"What the council will be voting on is whether they believe that the people should have the right to vote on the issue. I think that is very important. So it will be very interesting to see how the two opponents of the casino on the council will vote on this because this is what the issue has become," said Council Vice-President Edward A. Giroux (D-Ward 3).

"Let the people decide. Let the people have a choice. Get it on the ballot once and for all and put it to bed."

However, if the West Warwick effort is really mostly about the right of Rhode Islanders to vote, then a gambling referendum that does not favor any specific town, corporation, or Indian Tribe should be acceptable.

And as the Cato Institute’s John Samples points out in today’s Projo, breaking the state-created monopoly on gambling is the most effective way to end the problems associated with gambling corruption (problems that spawned the creation of a lobbyist named "Abramoff")…

By raising barriers to market entry, government fleeces its citizens. The resulting monopolies also induce people to take risks with ethics and the law, in the interest of preserving their unjustified status. The government-created monopoly of Indian gaming and [lobbyist Jack] Abramoff's shenanigans are two sides of the same coin. That's the real scandal we're in danger of missing in the Abramoff affair.

What can we do? If the government simply permitted free entry into gambling, monopoly profits would be washed away by competition, reducing the incentive for wrongdoing. Should this prove politically untenable, a possible second-best solution would be auctioning off the right to enter the gambling business. Investors would pay sums for that right consistent with reasonable (not abnormal) profits.

What exactly is the rationale behind locking a provision for locking a single mega-casino in the Constitution -- besides the fact that a casino monopoly can make one town, corporation, or Indian tribe rich? If this really is about the right to vote on a casino, and not the casino itself, is there any reason why the sections of casino amendments creating monopolies are not disposable?


March 16, 2006

Censure Pong

Carroll Andrew Morse

From a Monday news article in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel by Craig Gilbert

One liberal GOP senator, Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, offered some praise for Feingold, saying the resolution would be "positive" if it fueled debate over the legality of some policies in the war on terrorism.
From a Tuesday posting on Senator Chafee’s campaign website titled "Senator Chafee Opposes Feingold's Censure Resolution"…
As I travel around Rhode Island, I am surprised by the lack of discussion on the proper balance between civil liberties and national security. While I do not agree with Senator Feingold's motion to censure the President, I believe in the need for a vigorous dialogue about this proper balance. It would be a positive step and in the best interest of the President and the American people for a constructive discussion to take place, but this censure resolution is not that step and therefore does not have my support.
From today’s Projo story by John E. Mulligan titled "Chafee refuses to rule out voting to censure Bush"...
But Chafee, a Republican, currently does not support the Wisconsin Democrat's proposal to punish the president with a censure, he said.

"Everything should occur in steps," Chafee said in an interview citing, for instance, the Senate Judiciary Committee's hearings on the wiretapping program.

Chafee was asked whether those steps might lead to a censure of Mr. Bush that he would support. "I know you want me to go there," Chafee said, but he did not answer the question directly.

However, Chafee said he does not rule out an eventual decision to back the censure resolution, introduced Monday.

And from a new item posted today on the Senator’s website titled "Chafee reiterates opposition to Feingold's Censure Resolution"…
As I stated on Tuesday, I do not support Senator Russell Feingold’s resolution to censure the President. In a news article, the Providence Journal reporter chose to interpret the notion that I will not rule out the censure of any president in any number of hypothetical circumstances as an endorsement of the drastic censure resolution currently being offered in the Senate. This is misleading concerning my recent comments on this issue. From the first mention of this resolution, I have never expressed support for it.

I have joined colleagues on both sides of the aisle in calling for a vigorous dialogue about the balance between civil liberties and national security. I believe that as the only bodies authorized to be briefed on the full range of the wiretapping program, the House and Senate Intelligence Committees must conduct the necessary oversight, reach a final conclusion and make recommendations. I stand by that position.

How else can you interpret this last statement except as meaning nothing more than the Senator will favor any censure resolution that he does not oppose?


A Challenge to Senator Russell Feingold

Carroll Andrew Morse

At least part of the criticism of Senator Russell Feingold's propsed resolution to censure the President because of the NSA wiretap program concerns the Senator's decision to pursue a symbolic gesture when there are real policy matters to be considered. Here is a policy issue, currently before the US Senate, where Senator Feingold could help lead a more meaningful deliberation about the relationship between executive and legislative authority than he is currently doing.

According to the Washington Post, (h/t Kathryn Jean Lopez from NRO’s Corner) the United Nations is about to create a new body to replace its discredited Commission on Human Rights

The Bush administration indicated Tuesday that it is prepared to help fund and possibly try to join a U.N. Human Rights Council despite deep reservations about the value of the new rights body.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Undersecretary of State R. Nicholas Burns assured U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan and General Assembly President Jan Eliasson by telephone that the United States will formally oppose the creation of the council in a General Assembly session Wednesday but supports its overall mission, U.S. and U.N. officials said…

The United States backed a proposal by Annan to set higher standards for membership in the rights body, including a requirement that members get support from two-thirds of the General Assembly to be elected.

But the United States balked at a compromise offered by Eliasson that did not include several of its amendments -- including a proposal to bar countries facing U.N. sanctions from joining -- and that would have required new members be elected by an absolute majority -- at least 96 countries. A final U.S. push to persuade Eliasson to make several changes to the text or to reopen negotiations failed.

There is a conflict brewing here. Any proposal allowing countries facing United Nations sanctions to join human-rights bodies runs counter to two different pieces of legislation currently before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (of which Senator Feingold is a member).

This is from Section 201(b) of Senate Bill 1394, which has already been passed by the United States House of Representatives…

(2) A Member State shall be ineligible for membership on any United Nations human rights body if such Member State is (A) subject to sanctions by the Security Council or (B) under a Security Council-mandated investigation for human rights abuses.
A competing bill, Senate Bill 1383, imposes the same requirement in its section 9(b)...
It is the sense of Congress that the United States should use its voice and vote at the United Nations to pursue meaningful reform of international human rights institutions that includes actions by the United Nations…to make ineligible for membership on any United Nations human rights body a Member State that is (A) subject to sanctions by the Security Council or (B) under a Security Council-mandated investigation for human rights abuses.
How is this at all related to the Feingold censure resolution, you ask? The difference between the two bills is that the first bill mandates automatic cuts in UN funding if the UN refuses to implement human rights commission reform (as well as other reforms). The second bill is more of a suggestion than a requirement. It leaves decisions about witholding funding entirely to the discretition of the President

Senator Feingold's Democratic colleagues in the House overwhelmingly supported the second approach, leaving enforcement of UN reform in the hands of the President -- the same President that Senator Feingold wants to censure, because he doesn't trust his judgement on matters of national security. House Republicans overwhelmingly supported the first bill, where UN funding cuts become automatic if reforms are not implemented, no Presidential intervention required.

Will Senator Feingold, supposedly concerned about too much unchecked Presidential authority, lead a Democratic effort to pass the version of UN reform that does not involve Presidential discretion? Or will Senator Feingold's interest in Presidential authority suddenly vanish in a case where Congress would be taking a stronger stand than the executive branch on inhibiting the actions of dictators, terrorists, and other assorted human rights abusers?


Inconsistent Standard of "Careful Consideration"

Marc Comtois

While Senator Chafee toyed with the idea of censuring the President--based on the alleged illegality of the NSA wire-tapping program--he has since stated he's against the idea. Nonetheless, he's still convinced that the program is illegal...even though the Senate hearings on it have not yet concluded:

When Chafee was interviewed in January about the wiretaps program, he criticized it but said he would draw no conclusions about its legality or constitutionality until the Senate Judiciary Committee completed its inquiry.

Why, Chafee was asked Tuesday, has he come to the conclusion that the program is illegal, with the committee's inquiry still under way?

Chafee answered by reiterating his initial criticism of the program. "From what I've seen," he said, the wiretap program "is outside the parameters" of the Constitution's ban on unreasonable searches and existing law governing such programs.

I recall that also back in January, Senator Chafee refrained from making another decision until he "heard all the facts" and considered them carefully. In that case, it was whether or not he was going to support now-Justice Alito and he stated that he wanted to wait until after the Senate Judiciary hearings were finished before making a (finger in the wind) decision. Apparently, he doesn't feel the need apply the same careful consideration here, does he? Maybe it was a January thing?

(Cross-posted at OSB).


March 15, 2006

More Federal Budget Fun

Carroll Andrew Morse

1. As best as I can tell, the new, improved line-item veto (Senator Lincoln Chafee is a co-sponsor) is actually a decent proposal. It is a gimmick, but it's a gimmick that’s being used to close a loophole.

Presently, individual spending earmarks in appropriations bills don’t have to be approved by both houses of Congress. So long as both houses agree upon the total amount of earmarked money being spent, only one house has to specify how an earmark will be used. The “line-item veto” allows the President to ask Congress to reconsider individual budget items, earmarks included. If both houses don’t vote to re-approve an individual item returned to Congress by the President, then the item is removed from the bill it was originally attached to.

It’s not really a “veto”, line-item or otherwise, because if Congress re-approves an item, then the President can’t stop it without vetoing the entire bill it’s attached to.

Incidentally, a similar proposal was introduced in the House of Representatives in 2004. Congressman James Langevin voted for the “line-item veto”, Congressman Patrick Kennedy voted against it.

2. Yesterday, Congress again rejected PAYGO by a 50-50 margin (Senators Jack Reed and Lincoln Chafee both voted to restore PAYGO). This year’s version looks the same as last year’s version, meaning it had no provisions for capping automatic entitlement growth, meaning it was a plan to address growing the national entitlement liability with mandatory tax increases.

3. The House of Representatives' Republican Study Committee has put forth a serious budget-balancing plan called the “Contract With America: Renewed”. The goal of the RSC plan is a balanced budget by 2011. Brian Riedl of the Heritage Foundation provides a summary…

The RSC proposal would keep tax rates at the current levels that have helped the economy expand. Instead of forcing Americans to send more money to Washington to fund wasteful and outdated programs, the RSC would:
  • Eliminate over 150 programs, such as the Advanced Technology Program, a notorious bit of corporate welfare;
  • Turn back the gas tax and federal highway program to the states; (Currently, states send their gas tax revenues to Washington, which subtracts a hefty administrative fee and then sends the funds back to the states, with many strings attached.)
  • Eliminate all pork projects from the recent highway bill;
  • Pare back a fraction of the 137 percent increase in education spending since 2001 in return for providing states with more freedom to spend federal education dollars how they wish;
  • Convert Medicaid and S-Chip into block grants and provide states with freedom and flexibility to tailor these programs to the needs of their low-income citizens;
  • Pare back Medicare growth by requiring that upper-income recipients pay slightly more for their benefits and by reforming Medicare based on the successful Federal Employee Health Benefits Program (FEHBP) and providing seniors with an annual health insurance contribution that they could use to purchase the health care plan of their choice; and
  • Fully budget for the anticipated costs of maintaining troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Contract With America: Renewed is a serious spending reduction plan that recognizes no sacred cows, calling for big spending reductions in programs like the Space Program, USAID, and agricultural and energy subsidies.


Voter Initiative, Checks, and Balances

Carroll Andrew Morse

In today's Projo, Senator Marc Cote (D-Woonsocket/North Smithfield), the primary sponsor of Rhode Island's voter initiative legislation in the Senate, responds to Representative John Shanley�s (D-South Kingstown) anti-voter initiative op-ed from earlier in the week...

Voter initiative threatens only those legislators who wield disproportionate power in shaping public policy, and the lobbyists and special interests that effectively advance their agendas at the expense of the taxpayers. Shifting any amount of political power from the powerful to the people is commonly resisted.
As part of his article, Senator Cote reviews the many checks and balances built into the RI voter initiative proposal. Both the Secretary of State and the courts have opportunities to prevent an issue from being put on the ballot on civil rights/civil liberties grounds...
Before petition papers are issued, all initiatives must be submitted to the secretary of state for a legal review, to ensure that the civil rights and liberties of individuals and groups will be protected. Not only are these safeguards in place, but should any person or group believe that a proposed initiative will violate their civil rights, after review and determination by the secretary of state's office, our legislation provides for appeal and an expedited Superior Court review and disposition,
And the legislature has the power to undo the results of any initiative...
Representative Shanley states in his article that "initiatives are virtually impossible to change once passed." That is true only in California. In our legislation, if a mistake has been made with an initiative (even legislators make mistakes with some of the bills they pass), the General Assembly can override or amend any initiative approved by the voters with a three-fourths vote during the first four years following the vote. After four years, a simple majority of legislators can override or amend an initiative.
This provision highlights that the value that initiative brings to the lawmaking process -- it prevents bills from being hidden in the committee system. Laws passed via the initiative process can still be killed, they just cannot be killed by a single committee. To repeal a passed initative, every legislator will have to make his or her position known.

This is a healthy thing in a representative democracy.


March 14, 2006

An Accuracy Deficit Won't Help Close Rhode Island's Fiscal Deficit

Carroll Andrew Morse

The Emergency Campaign for Rhode Island’s Priorities wants to blame George W. Bush for the state budget deficit

In fact, a significant state deficit is due to slashed spending by the Bush Administration in order to fund deep tax breaks for millionaires.
Yet most other states aren’t facing defecits, they are running surpluses. If the problem is Federal level tax-cuts, then why is Rhode Island one of the only states affected?

There are further problems with the ECRIP position. It's not really accurate to say that tax breaks that are being "funded" by the Federal Government at the expense of other programs. First, the actual amount of revenue collected by the Feds has gone up since the 2003 tax cuts. Even more directly, the Bush administration has presided over major increases in social spending. Here are the statistics from USA Today

A sweeping expansion of social programs since 2000 has sparked a record increase in the number of Americans receiving federal government benefits such as college aid, food stamps and health care.

A USA TODAY analysis of 25 major government programs found that enrollment increased an average of 17% in the programs from 2000 to 2005. The nation's population grew 5% during that time…

It was the largest five-year expansion of the federal safety net since the Great Society created programs such as Medicare and Medicaid in the 1960s.

Spending on these social programs was $1.3 trillion in 2005, up an inflation-adjusted 22% since 2000 and accounting for more than half of federal spending. Enrollment growth was responsible for three-fourths of the spending increase, according to USA TODAY's analysis of federal enrollment and spending data. Higher benefits accounted for the rest.

If ECRIP wants to address the budget problem in an honest way, they need to explain why Rhode Island has been unable to take advantage of the current economic and policy climates to meet its needs in the way that most other states have.


A Public Education Merit Pay System That's Working

Carroll Andrew Morse

Two arguments made (in this forum and elsewhere) against implementing a merit pay system in public education are 1) objective evaluations of the jobs that teachers do are not possible and 2) teachers are motivated differently than are members of other professions, so merit pay would not improve the quality of education.

Brad Jupp, the sixth gentleman on the list of Edutopia magazine’s "Daring Dozen…Who are Reshaping the Future of Education" (h/t Kiersten Marek of Kmareka) casts serious doubt on the idea that these points should end the discussion of merit pay. Edutopia describes Mr. Jupp as a "Teacher Pay Trailblazer"…

When Brad Jupp became lead negotiator for the Denver Classroom Teachers Association in 1990, he recalls, the union and the Denver Public Schools were "highly committed adversaries." In 1994, as the two parties sparred over policy and pay, Jupp led a five-day teacher strike. The upshot was a paltry boost in pay raises from 1 percent to 1.2 percent, and a revolution in Jupp's vision of collective bargaining.

Now, twelve years later, having fostered cooperation between the two former antagonists, Jupp has successfully spearheaded a groundbreaking reform of teacher pay. In 2004, union members ratified the Professional Compensation System for Teachers, the nation's most comprehensive overhaul of a system that has until now rewarded teachers equally whether they work hard or just show up. Last November, Denver voters sealed the deal by approving an annual $25 million property tax hike to fund the initiative…

Under the new system, also called ProComp, teachers will receive raises higher than their regular cost-of-living boosts for, among other things, exceeding expectations of student growth on the state test, meeting student-growth objectives set collaboratively by teachers and supervisors, and earning positive performance evaluations. The system provides additional bonuses to teachers working in hard-to-fill positions and hard-to-serve schools.

An article by Mr. Jupp in the Spring 2006 issue of the Hoover Institution journal Education Next describes the details of the ProComp plan…

Denver teachers hired before 2006 have a choice between the traditional salary schedule and this four-dimensional merit pay system. Teachers hired after January 1, 2006 will automatically enter the new system.

Learning Gains
  • Teachers who exceed expectations for student growth as measured by a statewide Colorado test will receive a sustainable 3% raise.
  • All teachers will set two student growth objectives with the help of supervisors. Teachers who meet both objectives will receive a 1% raise; those who meet one objective will receive a 1% bonus.
  • Teachers at schools identified as distinguished will receive a 2% bonus.
Evaluation
  • Teachers found to be unsatisfactory will have their salary increase delayed for a minimum of one year.
  • Probationary teachers will be evaluated every year in their first three years of service and will receive a 1% raise if they are judged to be satisfactory.
  • Non-probationary teachers will be evaluated every three years and will receive a raise of 3% if they are deemed satisfactory.
Battle Pay
  • Teachers working in assignments identified as hard-to-staff and in schools termed hard-to-serve will receive a 3% bonus.
Credentials
  • Teachers with active licenses from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (MBPTS) will be awarded a salary increase of 9%.
  • Teachers who complete one Professional Development Unit in their concentration will receive a 2% raise.
  • Teachers who complete an advanced degree relevant to their assignment will receive a 9% raise.

Mr. Jupp also addresses the idea that teacher motivation makes associating pay with performance in the education profession infeasible...

In fact, Denver teachers have shown surprising open-mindedness about merit pay programs. The Denver Public Schools, with the collaboration of the teacher union, launched a Pay for Performance pilot program in 1999 and, when it ended in 2003, started a more comprehensive Professional Compensation System for Teachers (ProComp). Our independent researchers discovered a surprising amount of support for merit pay by teachers in both programs.

The hallmark of the Pay for Performance pilot was paying teachers $1,500 bonuses for meeting measurable objectives set collaboratively with their principals and based on the academic growth of the students they taught. When asked in the spring of 2003, just as the pilot program was ending, to rate whether setting measurable objectives for bonuses of up to $1,500 had an impact on “cooperation among teachers,” 53.2 percent of the participating teachers said the impact was positive; only 2 percent said the impact was negative.

Could the Denver system work here, or is there something substantially different between Colorado and Rhode Island?


March 13, 2006

Senator Chafee's PAYGO Proposal & Automatic Tax Increases

Carroll Andrew Morse

Senator Lincoln Chafee is once again trying to pass off his preference for high tax rates as "fiscal responsibility". This is from a recent press release on the Senator's campaign website...

Leading deficit hawk, U.S. Senator Lincoln Chafee today joined with Senator Bill Frist and Senator John McCain to co-sponsor legislation that will help get federal spending under control by establishing a Presidential Line Item Veto. Like Senator Chafee's proposed Pay-As-You-Go approach to the federal budget, this will help return fiscal responsibility to the federal government and ensure that our legacy to our children is not billions and billions of dollars of debt.
We'll take up the line-item veto a little later. For now, let's discuss the "pay-as-you go" proposal, also known as PAYGO.

The problem with Senator Chafee's most recent version of PAYGO was that it placed no limit on the overall increase in Federal spending. It only limited spending on the creation of new programs. PAYGO 2005 didn't apply to already existing entitlements -- or their automatic increases. (According to statistics quoted by Isabel Sawhill of the Brookings Institution, entitlements now account for 53% of the budget, a total that grows each year.)

To meet the requirements of PAYGO, the automatic growth of established entitlements like Medicare and Medicaid (Social Security is defined as "off-budget" and not considered for the purposes of PAYGO) would have to be offset by either yearly tax-increases or yearly cuts in existing programs -- real cuts, not just reductions in the rate of growth or limits on new spending.

Brian Riedl of the Heritage Foundation explains why a PAYGO program that ignores entitlement spending would almost certainly force automatic tax increases...

While PAYGO allows current entitlement programs to grow on autopilot, it would likely lead to the expiration of the current tax cuts. Merely retaining the tax relief that Americans now enjoy would, under PAYGO, require 60 votes in the Senate and a waiver in the House. To avoid this supermajority requirement, lawmakers seeking to prevent tax increases would have to either: A) raise other taxes; or B) reduce mandatory spending by a larger amount than has ever been enacted. Option A is still a net tax increase (raising one tax to avoid raising another), and Option B is probably politically unrealistic.


Life Issues in Rhode Island

Carroll Andrew Morse

In today's Pawtucket Times, Jim Baron speculates on the effect that South Dakota's abortion ban may have on Rhode Island…

A quick check of the General Assembly website shows there are 17 abortion bills currently in the hopper (some of those are duplicate House-Senate bills). For a decade or so there has been a gentlemen’s agreement (pun intended) in the legislature that no abortion bills would pass - no pro-abortion bills, no anti-abortion bills. That maintained the status quo (which was safe to do as long as abortion was exclusively a federal issue, which it would no longer be if Roe went by the boards)and cut down on a lot of acrimony.

It is worth noting that while the anti-abortion Women’s Right to Know Act has been introduced this year in both chambers, the pro-abortion bill from a few years ago that would assure the procedure would remain legal in Rhode Island if Roe were overturned has not.

Baron also suggests, in the realm of the purely political, that the re-emergence of abortion as a state issue could effect the electoral prospects of second district Congressman James Langevin, who is pro-life.

Related to another life issue, the Projo’s Political Scene column notes that the House’s Health, Education, and Welfare Committee will consider an assisted suicide bill during a marathon committee session this Wednesday where 37 other bills will be considered. Here’s the core of the proposed bill (House bill 7428)…

An adult who is capable, is a resident of Rhode Island, and has been determined by the attending physician and consulting physician to be suffering from a terminal disease, and who has voluntarily expressed his or her wish to die, may make a written request for medication for the purpose of ending his or her life in a humane and dignified manner in accordance with this chapter.
A Charles Bakst column from earlier this year, where he quotes bill sponsor Edith Ajello (D-Providence), suggests that this bill probably won’t pass in this session. Still, it seems that a matter like this -- quite literally a life-and-death issue -- deserves more than 1/38th of a committee session.


March 10, 2006

The Fogarty Campaign Acknowledges the Rhode Island Budget Shortfall!

Carroll Andrew Morse

A Jim Baron article in today’s Kent County Times puts to rest one question about the upcoming gubernatorial campaign that had been largely unanswered. The campaign of Charles Fogarty does acknowledge that the state budget shortfall is a problem…

"In Rhode Island we have a poorly managed state," [Fogarty campaign spokesman Adam] Bozzi asserted. "What you are seeing is failed economic policy. We have the greatest budget deficit in three years under Governor Carcieri. Things have gotten worse, not better. He's been governor three years and the structural deficit is growing."
Mr. Bozzi offered no details on the nature of the structural contributions to the defecit, nor any specifics on how the budget should be reconciled.

Whether Lt. Gov. Fogarty will present a plan to reconcile the shortfall or will advocate letting the state go bankrupt by not presenting any plan remains to be seen.


March 9, 2006

Two Eminent Domain Bills to be Heard Tomorrow

Carroll Andrew Morse

The House Finance Committee has scheduled a hearing for tomorrow on Representative Charlene Lima’s (D-Cranston) eminent domain reform bill (House bill 6739). Representative Matthew McHugh’s (D-Charlestown/New Shoreham/South Kingstown/Westerly) reform bill (House bill 6725) is scheduled to be considered at the same meeting.

H6739 is one of the weaker eminent domain reform proposals that has been introduced this session. Here is the first paragraph of the bill…

No taking of private property for public use under the provisions of this chapter shall in any instance result in ownership of that property in any private entity or individual not related to this state or a municipality or any subdivision therein in an amount greater than twenty percent (20%) of non-state ownership.
The “not related to this state” hedge creates a gaping loophole. The legislature could, for instance, invent some process by which it certifies a developer as “related to the state” for the purposes of eminent domain. Then, suddenly, the provisions of this bill would not apply.

The second paragraph of H6739 suggests that this is not only a possibility, but is the intent of the bill…

It is the express intent of this section that the state or municipality shall not use powers over acquisition of land to benefit a private party or entity to the detriment of another private party or entity unless the general assembly expressly provides otherwise.
The final clause quite clearly assumes that the legislature has reserved to itself the power to mandate, in some fashion, transfers of property from one private owner to another via eminent domain.

Strike the "not related to this state" clause from the first paragraph and the entire second paragraph and you might get a decent bill out of H6739. Otherwise, there are 3 bills before the legislature that are better options, as is Representative McHugh’s bill, if applied to the state level as well as the local level.


Providence: Ground Zero in the Clash of Architectural Philosophies?

Carroll Andrew Morse

Over at RI Future, Providence City Councilman David Segal discusses the concept of “Inclusionary Zoning” (IZ) which he hopes to bring to Providence…

IZ’s one of the few, and one of the best, tools that cities have to provide affordable housing. It requires developers of big projects to provide affordable units, while allowing them to offset those costs by building higher or denser than zoning typically allows.
But in a column describing a recent seminar held in Providence on the subject of the "New Urbanism", David Brussat of the Projo describes zoning as more of a problem than a solution…
New Haven architect Robert Orr introduced the seminar to a key tool of New Urbanism, the transect: a diagram that shows how, in a more natural environment, countryside should evolve gradually and gracefully into farmland, villages, towns, suburbs, urban neighborhoods and, at last, downtowns.

What the transect illustrates may seem obvious, but it would help planners and zoning officials. Using the transect, they could envision and classify elements of a natural civic order that 50 years of modern planning and design have blurred.

Orr illustrated the transect with slides of places in New England that epitomize what New Urbanists want to recapture. Such places, which most people love instinctively, would be illegal to build under zoning codes in most of America, even in New England.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and speculate that encouraging developers to build “higher and denser” is not going to mesh all that well with a people-friendly New Urbanism.

The disconnect stems from the fact that inclusionary zoning is based on the premise that human beings are primarily economic units. Packing people into tight spaces is ok, if it is economically efficient to do so. New Urbanism, on the other hand, takes a broader view of human nature and tries to design in a way that makes people go to places because they want to, not because they have to..

UPDATE:

In an e-mail, David Brussat says that I'm wrong about there being any inherent incompatibility between Inclusionary Zoning and New Urbanism...

I don't think Councilman Segal's "inclusionary zoning" is incompatible with an environment based on the transect -- which promotes greater density toward the center. The transect would push city officials to zone more density toward the center. Inclusionary zoning would presumably incent (hate that word) developers to build more toward the center, where height restrictions could be relaxed for those projects that include affordable housing.

Of course, I oppose anything that's modernist and support anything that leans toward the classical.



March 8, 2006

Voter Initiative and Special Interests

Carroll Andrew Morse

Katherine Gregg’s article in today’s Projo about the presentation of the 20,000-signature voter initiative petition at the state house sums up what will be the controlling dynamic of the voter initiative debate...

Governor Carcieri's words filled the State House rotunda yesterday: "Let the people decide."…

He was talking about the years' long drive by a group that now calls itself the Voter Initiative Alliance, to give both ordinary citizens -- and big-monied interest groups -- the power to get proposed laws and constitutional amendments on the ballot, by petition, without having to go through the General Assembly...

Most of the commentary yesterday -- and on the voterinitiative.org Web site -- centered on the suggested need for a way to end-run legislators who "do not represent the interests of the citizens" because they are in the thrall of "special interests."

"I think we all know who that probably is," said Thompson. "I think we have unions now who definitively have a big influence over our General Assembly. What I am saying is: Who represents the people?

Opponents will argue that VI will make the system too susceptible to special interests. Proponents will have the harder job, as the party trying to change something and not just obstruct something, usually does. Voter initiative proponents have to make the case that the system has already been so corrupted by special interests that a change is necessary. This will mean moving beyond pure process arguments and giving meaningful, substantive examples of bad legislation that has been passed, or good legislation that has failed to pass due to special interest influence.

Here is an example from the good legislation that has failed to pass category. Well before the government forced Providence resident Madeline Walker out of the house she owned for failing to pay less than $1,000 of sewer charges, legislation that would have helped ameliorate her situation was introduced to the RI legislature. However, the provisions that would have protected Ms. Walker were stripped out of the bill by a small group of legislators who decided that protecting the power of government to enrich itself was more important than protecting the rights of individuals.

Tax-lien reform is considered by the House Finance Committee and the Senate Judiciary committee. In House Finance, the legislation can be killed or gutted by just 10 legislators, in Senate Judiciary, by just 5. And if your legislator is not on the relevant committee, then you have no voice in the decision.

Although most Rhode Islanders had no representation in the deliberations, a gentleman by the name of Patrick Conley apparently did. According to another Katherine Gregg article from the January 13, 2006 Projo...

[Patrick] Conley has also figured -- and is likely to figure again this year -- in State House efforts to rewrite the state's ever-controversial tax-sale laws.
Mr. Conley by himself qualifies as a "special interest". He receives direct financial benefits from Rhode Island's tax-lien laws...
One of the busiest players in this field, Conley recently estimated having bought titles to 8,000 pieces of tax-delinquent property in Providence since 1979. About 5,700 were redeemed by their owners.
Mr. Conley also donates campaign money to the Democratic leadership.

Since the RI leglislature is unlikely to change its rules to create a system where representatives of all Rhode Islander’s have input on important legislation and is likely to continue to allow special interests special access to the process of lawmaking, voter initiative is a reasonable alternative for passing laws that serve the public interest when the legislature refuses to consider them.


Eminent Domain Reform: Do We Have a Winner?

Carroll Andrew Morse

Representative Matthew McHugh’s (D-Charlestown/New Shoreham/South Kingstown/Westerly) bill on eminent domain reform (House bill 6725) will be considered by the House Finance Committee this Friday. H6725 is a strongly-worded ban against taking private residential property from one owner and giving it to a different private owner for “the purpose of improving tax revenue, expanding the tax base or for the sole purpose of promoting economic development”.

Given the high political profile of the backers of some of the other reform options that have been introduced, it is a tad surprising that Rep. McHugh’s bill is the first one out of the chute. H6725 does seem to get most of the job done, though it is not as detailed as the other reform bills.

The major area of possible concern is that H6725 does not protect private ownership of all properties; it only applies to residential ones.

UPDATE:

I missed something. There is a bigger concern about this bill. It applies only to municipalities and not to the state...

Notwithstanding any other provision of the general or public laws to the contrary, no city or town, nor any political subdivision thereof shall exercise their power of eminent domain to acquire private residential property and then transfer it to a private developer for the purpose of improving tax revenue, expanding the tax base or for the sole purpose of promoting economic development.
For this to be a truly meaningful reform, the prohibitions in this bill need to be extended to the state level of government.


March 7, 2006

Hospital Attitudes Towards Healthcare Delivery II

Carroll Andrew Morse

The Providence Business News article by Marion Davis on healthcare pricing also discusses legislation introduced at the behest of Governor Carcieri...

Gov. Donald L. Carcieri this year is pushing for legislation to require health plans to disclose to patients the negotiated amounts they pay to providers for services, procedures, tests, drugs or supplies that are subject to a deductible or coinsurance.

Prices for the most common items would have to be posted on the Internet, while the rest would have to be disclosed over the phone upon request.

The disclosure provisions are included as part of Senate bill 2614, introduced by Senator Leo Blais (R-Coventry/Foster/Scituate), scheduled for a hearing tomorrow.

Both hospitals and insurers seem to think that disclosing the price of hospital costs is a bad idea...

Stephen J. Farrell, CEO of UnitedHealthcare of New England, has already expressed concerns about the legislation (Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island did not reply to a request for comment for this story). Hospital executives aren't keen on it, either.

For starters, they say, the information is proprietary, part of their business dealings. Secondly, they say posting prices alone to guide consumers could be disastrous, because price is only one of many important factors they should consider.

"I happen to be a fan of consumer-driven health care," [Lifespan network senior vice president John] Gillespie said, but "it is utopia to say we're going to have a totally transparent system" with prices on the Internet.

[Women & Infants CEO Constance] Howes and [South County Hospital CEO Louis] Giancola noted that prices alone can be deceiving, too, because consumers won't know if a higher fee reflects higher-end equipment or expertise. Hospitals also have to keep their equipment available 24 hours a day, Howes said, and that increases their costs.

A concern about people making healthcare decisions based purely on costs is understandable. However, the executives quoted above seem to be taking this to an extreme.

People are able to realize that price is not the only factor in decision making. An appropriate analogy here is higher education. The tuition at Brown University is very much higher than the tuition at Rhode Island College, yet the difference doesn't create a shortage of students wanting to attend Brown. People are willing to pay extra for the advantages -- that could accurately be described as advantages in "higher-end equipment and expertise" -- that Brown provides.

In an emergency situation, of course, you go to the nearest hospital available. But in non-emergency situations, is there really an argument against giving people information that can help them more easily match their needs with their means?


Hospital Attitudes Towards Healthcare Delivery

Carroll Andrew Morse

Marion Davis has an interesting article in this week's Providence Business News that discusses the maze of factors involved in healthcare pricing. One section of the article discusses how hospitals seem not to like the health-savings account/high deductible insurance combination because they don't want to deal with some basic record-keeping that would be involved...

Hospital officials tend to loathe high-deductible plans, because it forces their institutions to collect large amounts of money from their patients -- a task they neither like, nor are particularly successful with.

There are complications, too: Constance A. Howes, president and CEO of Women & Infants Hospital, said it's common for the hospital not to be able to figure out how much a patient actually needs to pay, because there's no up-to-date information on how much of the deductible has already been met.

I have a hard time seeing how this is a real issue and not mostly inertia on the part of hospitals. Why should keeping track of usage information and collecting under-deductible payments be any more difficult for health insurance than it is for something like auto insurance?


March 6, 2006

Revisiting Jean Kirkpatrick's "Blame America First Democrats" Speech

Andrew's two posts (here, here) about Senator Jack Reed's recent foreign policy speech made me recall former U. S. Ambassador to the United Nations Jean Kirkpatrick's speech at the 1984 Republican Convention:

This is the first Republican Convention I have ever attended.

I am grateful that you should invite me, a lifelong Democrat...

I want to begin tonight by quoting the speech of the president whom I very greatly admire, Harry Truman, who once said to the Congress:

The United States has become great because we, as a people, have been able to work together for great objectives even while differing about details.

He continued:

The elements of our strength are many. They include our democratic government, our economic system, our great natural resources. But, the basic source of our strength is spiritual. We believe in the dignity of man.

That's the way Democratic presidents and presidential candidates used to talk about America.

These were the men who developed NATO, who developed the Marshall Plan, who devised the Alliance for Progress.

They were not afraid to be resolute nor ashamed to speak of America as a great nation. They didn't doubt that we must be strong enough to protect ourselves and to help others.

They didn't imagine that America should depend for its very survival on the promises of its adversaries.

They happily assumed the responsibilities of freedom.

I am not alone in noticing that the San Francisco Democrats took a very different approach.

A recent article in The New York Times noted that "the foreign policy line that emerged from the Democratic National Convention in San Francisco is a distinct shift from the policies of such [Democratic] presidents as Harry S Truman, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson."

I agree...

When the San Francisco Democrats treat foreign affairs as an afterthought, as they did, they behaved less like a dove or a hawk than like an ostrich - convinced it would shut out the world by hiding its head in the sand.

Today, foreign policy is central to the security, to the freedom, to the prosperity, even to the survival of the United States.

And our strength, for which we make many sacrifices, is essential to the independence and freedom of our allies and our friends...

The United States cannot remain an open, democratic society if we are left alone - a garrison state in a hostile world.

We need independent nations with whom to trade, to consult and cooperate.

We need friends and allies with whom to share the pleasures and the protection of our civilization.

We cannot, therefore, be indifferent to the subversion of others' independence or to the development of new weapons by our adversaries or of new vulnerabilities by our friends...

The inauguration of President Reagan signaled a reaffirmation of historic American ideals.

Ronald Reagan brought to the presidency confidence in the American experience.

Confidence in the legitimacy and success of American institutions.

Confidence in the decency of the American people.

And confidence in the relevance of our experience to the rest of the world.

That confidence has proved contagious.

Our nation's subsequent recovery in domestic and foreign affairs, the restoration of military and economic strength has silenced the talk of inevitable American decline and reminded the world of the advantages of freedom.

President Reagan faced a stunning challenge and he met it.

In the 3 1/2 years since his inauguration, the United States has grown stronger, safer, more confident, and we are at peace...

And at each step of the way, the same people who were responsible for America's decline have insisted that the president's policies would fail...

They said that saving Grenada from terror and totalitarianism was the wrong thing to do - they didn't blame Cuba or the communists for threatening American students and murdering Grenadians - they blamed the United States instead.

But then, somehow, they always blame America first.

When our Marines, sent to Lebanon on a multinational peacekeeping mission with the consent of the United States Congress, were murdered in their sleep, the "blame America first crowd" didn't blame the terrorists who murdered the Marines, they blamed the United States.

But then, they always blame America first.

When the Soviet Union walked out of arms control negotiations, and refused even to discuss the issues, the San Francisco Democrats didn't blame Soviet intransigence. They blamed the United States.

But then, they always blame America first.

When Marxist dictators shoot their way to power in Central America, the San Francisco Democrats don't blame the guerrillas and their Soviet allies, they blame United States policies of 100 years ago.

But then, they always blame America first.

The American people know better.

They know that Ronald Reagan and the United States didn't cause Marxist dictatorship in Nicaragua, or the repression in Poland, or the brutal new offensives in Afghanistan, or the destruction of the Korean airliner, or the new attacks on religious and ethnic groups in the Soviet Union, or the jamming of western broadcasts, or the denial of Jewish emigration, or the brutal imprisonment of Anatoly Shcharansky and Ida Nudel, or the obscene treatment of Andrei Sakharov and Yelena Bonner, or the re-Stalinization of the Soviet Union.

The American people know that it's dangerous to blame ourselves for terrible problems that we did not cause.

They understand just as the distinguished French writer, Jean Francois Revel, understands the dangers of endless self- criticism and self-denigration.

He wrote: "Clearly, a civilization that feels guilty for everything it is and does will lack the energy and conviction to defend itself."...

Jean Kirkpatrick reminds us of the days when Democrats stood for something noble and strong on foreign policy. Our country would be so much better off if today's Democratic party offered a viable and vigorous alternative to the policies of President Bush. Instead, we get speeches that trigger memories of this 22-year-old speech - a speech that shows both how weak-kneed Democratic policies have become and how nothing has changed for the better in that party over the last 30+ years. With many empirical history lessons to the contrary in recent years, Democrats should know better.


Jack Reed's I-Told-Ya-So, Part 2

Carroll Andrew Morse

In his Stephen Ogden International Affairs Lecture at Brown University, Senator Jack Reed repeated the now-standard Democratic line that there is no connection between the War in Iraq and the War on Terror…

[T]he Bush Administration faced a significant strategic choice. The first option was to focus on the Long War, which I define as the generational struggle against terrorism, using all of our power, not just our military power. A focus on the Long War would have required completing the stabilization of Afghanistan and concentrating overwhelming resources on the destruction of Al Qaeda and its associated elements worldwide while strengthening states like Pakistan so that they could root out these groups. The other option facing the Administration was to return to their pre-9/11 agenda of regime change in Iraq, first outlined in a letter sent to President Clinton in January 1998 by Secretary Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz and other prominent neoconservatives.
Senator Reed omits the fact that regime change was more than an idea mentioned in a single letter. Regime change in Iraq was a policy that the Senator himself voted in favor of and became the official policy of the United States government. This is from the text of the Iraqi Liberation Act of 1998, signed by President Bill Clinton (after unanimous passage by the Senate) on October 31, 1998...
It should be the policy of the United States to support efforts to remove the regime headed by Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq and to promote the emergence of a democratic government to replace that regime.

In the fall of 2002, President Bush defined regime change. Contrary to how it is remembered now, regime change didn’t necessarily involve a military invasion, or even bringing democracy immediately to Iraq. In September of 2002, the President spoke before the United Nations General Assembly spelling out five conditions that Iraq had to meet to comply with the Security Council resolutions that were in effect. Those conditions were…

  • "Immediately and unconditionally forswear, disclose, and remove or destroy all weapons of mass destruction, long-range missiles, and all related material."
  • "Immediately end all support for terrorism and act to suppress it, as all states are required to do by U.N. Security Council resolutions."
  • "Cease persecution of its civilian population, including Shi'a, Sunnis, Kurds, Turkomans, and others, again as required by Security Council resolutions.”
  • "Release or account for all Gulf War personnel whose fate is still unknown....return the remains of any who are deceased, return stolen property, accept liability for losses resulting from the invasion of Kuwait, and fully cooperate with international efforts to resolve these issues, as required by Security Council resolutions."
  • "Immediately end all illicit trade outside the oil-for-food program. It will accept U.N. administration of funds from that program, to ensure that the money is used fairly and promptly for the benefit of the Iraqi people."
The next month, in an address to the nation, the President stated that these steps -- by themselves -- constituted regime change. He gave an abbreviated version of the 5 steps, then added…
By taking these steps, and by only taking these steps, the Iraqi regime has an opportunity to avoid conflict. Taking these steps would also change the nature of the Iraqi regime itself.
This was the backdrop of the October 2002 vote to authorize the use of force against Iraq. Yet Senator Reed would not vote to authorize the use of force to pursue these publicly stated goals. Here is what the Senator said in Friday's lecture about his vote...
[W]hen we first debated the resolution to authorize force against Iraq, a resolution I opposed. At that time, I said:

…looking at Iraqi capabilities alone, the threat is not immediate. If unchecked, the threat is inevitable and dangerous. But, at this time, we have the opportunity to pursue a collective solution to Iraq. This is an approach that offers a greater chance of success and a greater chance of long-term stability.

The Administration rested its case on the claim that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction and was in close collaboration with terrorists.

In this statement, the Senator has again played fast and loose with the facts, ignoring the detailed reasons that the President gave for action against Iraq and referring to WMD as if they were the only item ever mentioned.

In the abstract, Senator Reed likes the idea of international community handling crises. In the abstract, he liked the idea of regime change in Iraq. Yet when the time came, he would not vote to give the President the authority to act in support of these ideals. How is this explained?

The answer lies in another part of the Senator Reed's speech, where the Senator stakes out an unmistakably blame-America-first position to explain two of the biggest foreign policy problems (after Iraq) facing America…

It is a stunning example of unintended consequences that the Bush Administration’s policies have enhanced the position of Iran. And this turn of events undoubtedly has emboldened Iran to continue to pursue its nuclear ambitions, which threaten the region, Israel and the global non-proliferation regime. Iran must not be allowed to have the capacity to create nuclear material. The international community must work to eliminate their nuclear aspirations.

As Iraq and the Middle East have consumed so much of our attention and concern, other dangers continue to fester. The North Koreans have abandoned any pretense of arms control and represent a continuing threat in the North Pacific. In addition, the North Koreans are constant proliferators – willing to sell anything to anyone.

In Senator Reed's analysis, nuclear programs in Iran and North Korea would not now pose a threat if the United States had not led the liberation of Iraq. Senator Reed leans towards the view that intrinsically hostile leadership of other nations is not a key driver of foreign affairs. Instead, actions and intentions of other nations are shaped primarily in response to the actions of the United States.

One of the many the problems with this view of events is that it leads to a foreign policy of constant retreat. If you believe that other nations are motivated mostly by a fear of America, you end up repeatedly calling for America to walk away from any confrontation. If a dictator resists opening up his country for internationally sanctioned inspections, you say that America has to ask more patiently and more nicely for inspections. If foreign powers fund an insurgency in a region when where your troops are stationed, you say America has to withdraw its troops so they won’t be a target. The hope is that removing a destabilizing American presence will calm affairs down.

But if dictators and fanatics know that the United States will retreat wherever they are pushed, then the dictators and fanatics will keep pushing. Rewarding aggressive behavior through a policy of never-ending retreat is what emboldens militant behavior, not what deters it.


Jack Reed's I-Told-Ya-So, Part 1

Carroll Andrew Morse

This was Senator Jack Reed’s conclusion to his Stephen Ogden Memorial Lecture on International Affairs at Brown University, delivered this past Friday…

We are engaged in a Long War that transcends the boundaries of any one country. It is a generational struggle that calls upon all of our national power, not just our military strength. It is a clash of ideas as well as armed forces. It demands a strategy grounded in a realistic assessment of threats, not ideological presumptions…
For someone criticizing policies for having too much ideology and not enough realism, in other parts of his speech, Senator Reed plays awfully fast-and-loose with the facts. Here are two examples from two consecutive sentences from the opening section…
In the fall of 2002, Iraq did not pose an imminent threat to the United States or to the region. After a disastrous and inconclusive war with Iran, after a decisive defeat in Desert Storm and ejection from Kuwait, and after a decade of sanctions, Iraq was a bankrupt nation with little military capability…
1. American policy was not based on the imminence of an Iraqi threat. Here is the President's most high-profile statement on the imminence of an Iraqi threat from the January 2003 State of the Union address
Before September the 11th, many in the world believed that Saddam Hussein could be contained. But chemical agents, lethal viruses and shadowy terrorist networks are not easily contained. Imagine those 19 hijackers with other weapons and other plans -- this time armed by Saddam Hussein. It would take one vial, one canister, one crate slipped into this country to bring a day of horror like none we have ever known. We will do everything in our power to make sure that that day never comes.

Some have said we must not act until the threat is imminent. Since when have terrorists and tyrants announced their intentions, politely putting us on notice before they strike? If this threat is permitted to fully and suddenly emerge, all actions, all words, and all recriminations would come too late. Trusting in the sanity and restraint of Saddam Hussein is not a strategy, and it is not an option.

The old Spinsanity website had a good round-up on the entire imminent threat debate.

2. Calling pre-March 2003 Iraq "bankrupt" is a dubious characterization at best. Iraq’s leaders, at least, we doing quite well through oil-for-food corruption, and Iraq was developing robust commercial ties with the countries of Europe. Resources may not have been getting to the Iraqi people, but that didn't mean that the Iraqi government wasn't getting what it needed to fund its schemes.

The most serious problem in Senator Reed’s speech, however, comes in his view of the policy options that are available to the United States of America...


March 5, 2006

The Role of Government In Our Society, Revisited

Cafe Hayek has a very good posting entitled Government Ain't Us, which says:

The idea is prevalent that little or nothing beneficial happens for people generally unless it is done by government. Things people do individually -- for their own purposes, using their own gumption, own wits, and own resources, neither incited by nor directed by government -- too often are not counted as things that "we" do. The assumption seems to be that unless certain things are done by government, they aren't done -- even if they are done!

...I first encountered this comment in this Business Week Online article by Michael Mandel:

I'm not an economist, but it seems to me that one problem with Mandel's argument is that we're not investing in human capital. Government spending on universities has been slashed, leading to huge increases in tuition and much greater burdens on individuals and families. --Rebecca Allen, commenting on delong.typepad.com

"We're not investing in human capital" laments Ms. Allen -- who then immediately says that tuition is rising and that "individuals and families" apparently are paying this higher tuition despite the fact that doing so is a great burden. So, individuals and families are investing in human capital. But in Ms. Allen's view, we're not investing.

Why not?

Why reserve the "we" for actions taken by government? As a shorthand, it's perfectly appropriate to say about ourselves as Americans that, for example, "we drive a lot" or "we like NFL football." Not everyone drives, and some Americans can't tell a football from a foosball. Nevertheless, these statements make sense, we (!) know what they mean, and I dare say that they're correct.

No one would reply "Oh no Boudreaux, you're mistaken!" and then explain that, because most driving is done privately and because football fans buy their tickets to NFL games with their own resources, we don't drive a lot or like NFL football.

So why say say that "we're not investing in human capital" simply because (assuming that it's true) "government spending on universities has been slashed"?

It's just not true that government'r'us -- or that us'r'government.

Should government be the driver of these so-called investment ideas? If it were the driver, would the investments be successful?

An earlier posting on this site, entitled A Call to Action: Responding to Government Being Neither Well-Meaning Nor Focused on the Public Interest, brings clarity to the core issue about the proper role of our government, given the frequently misguided incentives that exist within the public sector which are rarely discussed publicly:

...the question arises regarding whether American citizens should continue to assume the actions of government are well-meaning and focused primarily on the public interest. The answer is no.

Why this claim? Just think about it. Most American citizens have personal stories about how various public sector players (politicians, bureaucrats, lobbyists, and other parties with an economic stake in government actions like corporations and unions) act in their own self interest and not in the public interest. In fact, the bottom of this posting contains numerous previous postings which provide examples of such behavior.

The balance of this posting will elaborate on public choice theory, which explains why we cannot assume government is either well-meaning or focused primarily on the public interest. The posting then concludes with specific recommendations in a Call to Action.

Read the entire posting for further information.


Congressman John Conyers: Another Liberal Pursues School Choice For His Kids While Blocking Needy Children From Having The Same Opportunities

In an editorial entitled Choice for me, not for you, Michael Franc has yet another example of the hypocrisy of liberal Democrats regarding school choice:

The latest ethics flap in Washington exploded last week...It involves veteran Michigan Democrat and would-be chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. John Conyers. Two former staffers allege a pattern of corruption by Conyers, self-proclaimed "Dean of the Congressional Black Caucus," including forcing them to work on several state and local political campaigns while on his congressional payroll and allowing a senior staff counsel to conduct her private law practice out of his office.

Also among the charges is that Conyers required his staff to care for his two young boys, including providing tutoring services to Conyers' elder son while he attended a posh private school in Bloomfield Hills. The school "Little John" Conyers attends is the Cranbrook School. According to its Web site, tuition at Cranbrook runs a cool $17,880 for grades 1-5, $19,280 for middle school, and $21,730 for high school. Parents who send their kids to board at Cranbrook must cough up more than $30,000.

Yet Conyers is a longstanding opponent of any form of school choice for low-income children. At a "Stand Up for Public Schools" rally a few years back, Conyers decried educational choice as a "scheme" which "will only harm our public schools" and pointed instead to the sort of "real" school reforms drawn from the educational unions' playbook – teacher training, reduced class size, and school construction. "It is vital," he said then, "for parents, educators, and community leaders to join together to strengthen Detroit’s public schools."

Unless, of course, you can afford to send your child to The Cranbrook School.

A lengthy review of school choice issues was recently posted here. Included in that posting is this Clint Bolick quote about Hillary Clinton's recent comments on school choice and the Clinton's years-ago school choice decision for the benefit of their daughter Chelsea:

We now have nearly two decades of experience with school choice. We do not see white supremacy schools. We do not see jihadist schools. We do not see religious strife or rioting in the streets. What we do see is children who never before have gotten a break learning in safe environments chosen by their parents. And we see the power to choose providing a catalyst for public schools to improve. School choice is the tide that lifts all boats.

Never was there greater testimony to the importance of school choice than Mrs. Clinton herself. When the President and Mrs. Clinton moved into the White House, they were offered something that no other resident of the nation's capitol had: the choice of any public school for their daughter. They decided that sending their daughter to a defective school system was too great a sacrifice, and chose a private school instead. That led Wisconsin Rep. Polly Williams, the sponsor of Milwaukee's school choice program, to quip that "Bill and Hillary Clinton should not be the only people who live in public housing who get to send their kids to private schools."

I think school choice is the ultimate domestic policy issue and an aggressive pursuit of school choice policies will transform domestic political parties and domestic politics in this country. It is the one issue that can unite Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, blacks and whites, as well as the economically needy and well off - as I saw last night at a dinner party of people who themselves covered the entire political spectrum. Why? Because what happens to your child is the ultimate personal issue to a parent, an issue that stirs deep passion. This posting elaborates on that point:

...Education is inherently personal and inherently value laden. The key relationships in schools are those between individual teachers and individual students: If the teachers are not willingly committed and highly motivated, no centralized rule books or formulas are going to inspire peak performance…

Moreover, schooling inescapably involves judgments about truth and virtue, about what kind of person a youngster should aspire to be. Americans inevitably disagree with each other about those judgments…Today's Americans have no more chance of reaching consensus on [these] questions than of agreeing on what church (if any) we should all attend; that is why we keep the state out of controlling churches, just as we keep it out of other value-forming institutions such as publishing and journalism. The more we entrust such decisions to centralized state agencies, the more conflicts we foment. Zero-sum "culture wars" for control of coercive state monopolies make enemies of people who could otherwise be friends...

These are the reasons why parents, not educational bureaucrats and unionist teachers, should be in control of their childrens' educational decisions. It is why that control should be empowered by educational vouchers or tax credits to give parents the necessary leverage to ensure their children receive a proper education.

Why will it transform domestic politics? In addition to stirring passion among parents, we have a visibly failing status quo in America and in Rhode Island.

Why will it transform domestic politics? It will because school choice simply will succeed if given a chance. The posting continues and explains why:

Rather than continuing to use centralized government decrees to turn mediocre institutions into excellent ones, as they have been trying but failing to do for decades, the state and federal governments should be empowering individual families to transfer to schools of their own choice.

That strategy would bring three advantages that are absent from the command-and-control model embodied in NCLB. First, it would allow parents to rescue their children from dysfunctional schools immediately…Second, it would allow families to pick schools that are compatible with their own philosophical and religious beliefs instead of locking them into zero-sum conflicts to decide which groups win power to impose their beliefs on others. Third, it would unleash the dynamic force of competition. Real accountability to customers free to go elsewhere is qualitatively different from fake accountability to government agencies that can almost always be pressured into keeping the money flowing to schools that are manifestly failing.

The key locus for genuine reform is the states. Under the Constitution it is the states that have legal responsibility for education…The best contribution the national government can make is to get out of the way.

And I think Steve Laffey has found an issue that, if managed well, could get a non-RINO Republican elected to the United States Senate from Rhode Island.


March 3, 2006

Rhode Island Politics & Taxation, Part XXIII: Ranking a Dismal 48th in our Business Tax Climate

In an article entitled Research group finds state's business-tax climate dismal: Rhode Island gets poor marks for its high unemployment -insurance tax, high property taxes and high personal-income taxes, we have yet another example of how the economic policies of Rhode Island are miserably ineffective:

Rhode Island has one of the most unfriendly business-tax climates in the nation, according to a study by a nonprofit think tank in Washington, D.C.

The Tax Foundation, a tax research organization, released its third annual state-by-state ranking of business-tax climates earlier this week. Rhode came in 48th in this year's study.

With a high unemployment-insurance tax, high property taxes and high personal-income taxes, Rhode Island's climate is one of the most unattractive in the nation for businesses, according to the study.

This is not the first time the state has fared poorly in a ranking study. Rhode Island came in 37th in a competitiveness report released in December by the Beacon Hill Institute, a think tank at Suffolk University in Boston. And in prior Tax Foundation studies, the state also landed near the bottom.

While state legislators questioned Beacon Hill's results, the Tax Foundation's study does have some merit, said Gary Sasse, executive director of the Rhode Island Public Expenditures Council, a business-backed research group.

Property taxes in Rhode Island communities and the state's decision to "levy several wealth-based taxes" are deterrents to business, according to the study. In addition, the state's temporary-disability insurance, its double-digit unemployment-insurance tax rate, and its top income-tax rate all contributed to its low performance in the rankings.

"My concern is that we do have a punitive tax environment for company builders," said Michael McMahon, executive director of the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation.

RIPEC research has generated similar results, said Sasse. For example, during a recent property-tax study, RIPEC found that Providence's commercial property tax is 70 percent higher than the national average, and 72 percent higher than the New England average.

"There's nothing that's unexpected in the work of the Tax Foundation. In terms of benchmark and direction, I think it's an accurate description of our relative situation," said Sasse.

Rhode Island was ranked lowest of the six New England states. New Hampshire, with no sales tax, was ranked highest in the region and was the sixth-most business-friendly state in the nation. All of the states in the top 10 reached that status because they did not have one of the three major taxes -- business, income or sales, according to the study. Massachusetts, known in prior decades as "Taxachusetts," came in 27th...

Some state officials either get it or are beginning to get it:

Although Governor Carcieri said earlier this year that broad-based tax relief is not an option in the fiscal 2007 budget due to a $222-million deficit, he would like to eventually lower the state's sales tax to match Massachusetts'.

House Democratic leaders took a more aggressive stance this year on addressing the state's tax climate by proposing last month a tax-cutting package that includes a two-day sales-tax holiday in August; an income-tax credit for low-income, disabled or elderly people; an increase in the tax credit for low-wage workers; and a flat-rate income tax for Rhode Islanders making more than $250,000 a year.

And some people will never get it:

There are some people, however, who disagree with studies that contend Rhode Island's tax climate is unfriendly to business. The Poverty Institute at the Rhode Island College School of Social Work, has spoken out about the proposed tax cuts and the notion that the state's tax structure is unattractive. The income tax Rhode Islanders pay is not that high when deductions and tax credits are factored in, said Ellen Frank, senior economist for the institute.

"It's an anti-tax foundation that counts all taxes as bad," said Frank, adding that the Tax Foundation hasn't proven that the tax issues it measures in its index actually affect business decisions.

Delusional thinking by ignorant fools. Go read the Executive Summary on pages 2-3 of the RIPEC report entitled Rhode Island 2010: Charting a New Course and try to tell us again there are no major problems building in this state.

Then go read Tom Coyne's testimony before the Rhode Island Senate and try to tell us again there are no problems with the cost and performance of social services in this state.

High taxes, lousy public schools combined with ineffective and costly social services. What a formula for success!

As a corporate CEO who has worked in venture-financed healthcare companies for 21 years and lived in Silicon Valley for 17 years, I can state emphatically that I would never bring a business to Rhode Island until there are serious changes for the better in the business taxes, personal income taxes, and public schools. And, since there are many of us who feel that way, think about the cumulative opportunity cost of lost jobs and the many lost societal and financial benefits that those jobs would have brought to this state.

We are not competitive in our region, in our country or in the global economy and this report is another wake-up call.

There is no rational reason to live long-term in Rhode Island. And once the intangible reasons that hold some of us here are gone, the cost of continuing to live here will become even more expensive.

It doesn't have to be that way. Let's put real pressure on our state and local officials to change the status quo for the better.

This posting continues a periodic series on Rhode Island politics and taxation, building on twenty-two previous postings:

I - Guiding Principles for Sound Public Policy
II - The Outrageous Tax Burden in Rhode Island
III - 2004: The Year in Review
IV - The NEA's Disinformation Campaign
V - Governor Carcieri's State of the State Address
VI - "Citizens for Representative Government's" Deceitful Manipulation of the Constitutional Convention Vote
VII - The Extreme Tax Burden in the City of Providence
VIII - Rhode Island Gets a C+ on its Report Card
IX - How Speaker Murphy's Changing of the Rules of the House Reduces Your Freedom
X - East Greenwich Teachers' Salary and Benefits Data
XI - What Was Rep. Fox Doing in Portsmouth?
XII - Why Do RI Citizens Passively Consent to Governmental Control by Powerful Interests?
XIII - RI House Leaders Show No Respect for Rule of Law by Undermining Separations of Powers, Part I
XIV - More Bad Faith Behavior by the NEA
XV - RI House Leaders Show No Respect for Rule of Law by Undermining Separations of Powers, Part II
XVI - Tom Coyne - RI Schools: Big Bucks Have Not Brought Good Results
XVII - RI Public Pension Problems
XVIII - Union Doublespeak, Again
XIX - Another Stab at Killing Off Future Economic Growth
XX - Defining a Core Problem in Rhode Island
XXI - Blocking More Charter Schools Means Hurting Our Children
XXII - Will Financial Disclosure Requirements Be Dropped?


Eminent Domain Update: And Then There Were Six

Carroll Andrew Morse

There are now at least six different eminent reform bills before the Rhode Island legislature that, if enacted, would ban, limit, or regulate the government's ability to take private property from one owner and give it to another owner in the name of economic development. Three of the bills are reasonable, one is obsolete, and two are not very good. As of the date of this posting, none of the six have been scheduled for a committee hearing.

The Good

The strongest eminent domain reform bill is House Bill 7151 (sponsors), which tries to slam the door shut on any use of eminent domain to transfer property from one private owner to another to foster economic development. The bill's first section applies at the state level...

Notwithstanding any other provision of the general or public laws to the contrary, neither the state nor any of its departments, divisions, agencies, commissions, corporations, quasi-public corporations, boards, authorities, or other such entities thereof, may exercise the power of eminent domain to condemn property for purposes of private retail office, commercial, industrial, or residential development; or for enhancement of tax revenue; or for transfer to a person, nongovernmental entity, public-private partnership, corporation or other business entity.
H7151 does include an exception for public utilities, but, except for that, allows no other loopholes. The second section of the bill applies the same prohibition -- no forced transfers of property from one private owner to another in order to promote economic development -- to municipal government.

(House bill 6725 (sponsor) is also a general ban on the use of eminent domain for economic development, but expressed more loosely. H6725 is based on a local ordinances passed by the Cranston City Council and Charlestown Town Council.)

Governor Donald Carcieri has had his own version of eminent domain reform introduced to the Senate in the form of Senate bill 2408 (sponsors)...

Notwithstanding any other provision of law, neither this state nor any political subdivisions thereof...shall use that power of eminent domain to take residential property owned by and used by a person as their primary owner-occupied residence without the consent of the owner if that property is intended to be used for economic development, for which purposes the property will be transferred to, or used for, private enterprise or where the action primarily benefits a private person or entity.
S2408 very specifically limits its scope to owner-occupied residential property. What are the feelings of eminent domain reform advocates on this? Is the good fight only to prevent people from being forced out of their homes, or is there a concern about a broader class of property rights? Also, the condition that a taking not "primarily benefit a private person or entity" opens up some wiggle-room. How, for instance, would S2408 apply to takings related to the development of a casino that supposedly benefits both a private operator and the state?

A third reform proposal has been introduced in the Senate at the behest of Lieutenant Governor Charles Fogarty. Senate bill 2155 (sponsors) differs from the Governor's proposal in that it applies to all residential property, not just those that are owner occupied. S2155, however, leaves a (maybe reasonable) loophole allowing for the occasional economically motivated eminent domain taking...

The entity shall not take by eminent domain property for economic development purposes that is significantly residential and is not in substantial violation of applicable state laws and regulations and/or municipal ordinances and codes, regulations governing land use or occupancy at the time of the proposal of the development plan for development, but may acquire such property in accordance with the development plan for a negotiated, mutually agreed on price.
In other words, S2155 allows eminent domain transfers of property from one private owner to antoher in cases where the property is in violation of building and zoning codes, leaving open the possibility of zoning board mischief involving politically-connected developers. Still, S2155 applies to a broader class of properties than does the Governor's bill in its current form.

The Not-So-Good

There are also two not-so-good eminent domain reform options before the legislature. The first is House bill 6739 (sponsors)...

No taking of private property for public use under the provisions of this chapter shall in any instance result in ownership of that property in any private entity or individual not related to this state or a municipality or any subdivision therein in an amount greater than twenty percent (20%) of non-state ownership.
This bill is far too vague. The key is not the 20% non-state ownership ceiling, but the "not related to this state or municipality..." hedge. Does a private owner who works with some economic development board become sufficiently "related to the state" to get eminent domain rights? To eliminate any possible misinterpretation in this vein, the "not related to this state" phrase should be dropped from this bill. A hearing on this bill had been scheduled for today, but was cancelled.

Finally, there is House bill 7350 (sponsors) introduced at the behest of Attorney General Patrick Lynch. H7350 seeks to legitimize eminent domain takings for economic development 1) by requiring the government to file a report before seizing land for economic development (ooh, tough requirement there) and 2) by requiring the government to pay 150% market value in certain cases -- but NOT in cases where the public would have "free public access" to 50% or more of the land given to a private developer (they don't even have to write the report in this case). This provision might be used to allow, for instance, residential property to be taken to to build a privately owned shopping mall, because the public would have "free public access" to the shops in the mall.

In summary, H7151, S2408, and S2155 could become the bases of a real eminent domain reform. H6739 are H7350 too vague to be viable starting points when better proposals are already out there.

Sponsors List

H7151 was introduced by Representatives James Davey (R-Cranston), Carol Mumford (R-Cranston/Scituate), John Loughlin (R-Little Compton/Portsmouth/Tiverton), John Savage (R-East Providence), and David Caprio (D-Narragansett/South Kingstown) at the request of Cranston Mayor Steve Laffey.

S2408 was introduced by Senator Kevin Breene (R-Charlestown/Exeter/Hopkington Richmond) at the request of Governor Donald Carcieri.

S2155 was introduced by Senators James Sheehan (D-Narragansett/North Kingstown), John Tassoni (D-Smithfield/North Smithfield), Michael Lenihan (D-East Greenwich, North Kingstown, Warwick), Teresea Paiva-Weed (D-Jamestown/Newport), Dennis Algiere (R-Westerly/Charlestown) at the request of Lieutenant Governor Charles Fogarty.

H6725 was introduced by Representative Matthew McHugh (D-Charlestown/New Shoreham/South Kingstown/Westerly)

H6739 was introduced by Representatives Charlene Lima (D-Cranston), Eileen Naughton (D-Warwick), Raymond Gallison (D-Bristol/Portsmouth), and Joseph Almeida (D-Providence).

H7350 was introduced by Representatives Brian Patrick Kennedy (D-Hopkinton/Westerly), Peter Lewiss (D-Westerly), Elaine Coderre (D-Pawtucket), William San Bento (D-North Providence/Pawtucket), and Peter Kilmartin (D-Pawtucket) at the request of Attorney General Patrick Lynch.


Doctor Seuss - Political Cartoonist

Carroll Andrew Morse

A Jessica Selby article in the Kent County Times describes yesterday's celebration of Dr. Seuss' birthday in local schools...

Yesterday was Dr. Seuss's Birthday and school children around the Valley took time out of their academic day to celebrate it....

Each year on March 2, millions of children nationwide join the National Education Association in celebrating "Read Across America Day," the day devoted to celebrating Dr. Seuss's birthday. It is, according to information from NEA, the nation's largest reading celebration and serves as a prime showcase for focusing the country's attention on literacy and the importance of reading.

What many people don't know (and this might make a nice addition to the celebration for the older kids) is that early in his career, Dr. Seuss was an uncompromising World War II political cartoonist who didn't pull any punches when challenging America through his artwork on subjects like isolationism, anti-semitism, racism, and most importantly, on the need for the United States to stand united and defeat its enemies.

The University of California at San Diego (the source of the above links) has a large collection of Dr Suess' World War II cartoons here.


March 2, 2006

The Moral Imperative for School Choice

Donald B. Hawthorne

The encouraging school choice proposal by Cranston Mayor Steve Laffey, discussed here, and the absurd response by Senator Chafee has led me to repost below an expanded version of a November 18, 2005 posting on the moral imperative for school choice.

Contrasting this week's posting with an earlier posting on this issue - also by Andrew and entitled Cranston's and Rhode Island's Need for a Sensible School Choice Program - shows how Mayor Laffey and other Cranston leaders have evolved their policy solution in recent months in response to a genuine problem. The comments section of that earlier posting is alive with a debate about two issues: Should children from Providence - where public schools are mediocre - have the right to attend better schools in Cranston and what effect does this have on education funding flows? These are two central questions underlying the school choice debate.

School choice is a moral imperative because the performance of our schools greatly influences whether (i) our children have a clean shot at living the American Dream; and, (ii) whether our country can maintain the strength of its economy via a well educated citizenry capable of competing successfully in an increasingly global economy.

To provide an indepth review of the school choice debate, this posting is divided into nine sections. Each section is identified below and you can proceed directly to it by clicking on the title of that individual section below:

I. The Unavoidable & Serious Performance Problems with Public Education

II. The Current Problem in Rhode Island: Spending a Lot of Money & Getting No Return on our Investment

III. The Structural Problem with Public Education

IV. Myths Propagated by Defenders of the Status Quo

V. Defenders of the Status Quo: Bureaucrats, Politicians & Teachers' Unions

VI. The Magnitude of Teachers' Union Monies at Work to Maintain the Status Quo

VII. Irreversible Change has Begun

VIII. Elaborating on the Rationale for School Choice

IX. Why School Choice is a Moral Imperative

I. THE UNAVOIDABLE & SERIOUS PERFORMANCE PROBLEMS WITH PUBLIC EDUCATION

There is a huge and well-documented performance problem with public education in America and in Rhode Island. The long-term implications of this problem are severe. Patrick Callan describes the likely future impact on Rhode Island.

Maintaining the status quo is not a viable option.

II. THE CURRENT PROBLEM IN RHODE ISLAND: SPENDING A LOT OF MONEY & GETTING NO RETURN ON OUR INVESTMENT

As Tom Coyne points out in his February 22 analysis:

Rhode Islanders are some of the most generous people in the nation. The facts speak for themselves: As a percentage of our per capita state income, Rhode Island's per pupil spending is the second highest in the country. Our per-pupil spending on [teacher] salaries and benefits is the nation's highest. Our spending on students below the poverty line is the seventh highest in the nation. Rhode Island's average teacher salary, as a percentage of its average private-sector worker's salary, is the highest in the country, and has been since at least 1990. Rhode Island has the nation's second highest number of teachers per student...And we also have the nation's highest percentage of students in very expensive special education programs...

Yet, Tom's November 17 posting shows we get a lousy return on this investment of our hard-earned monies:

The only tests taken by students in every state in the nation are the National Assessment of Educational Progress...On these tests, Rhode Island public school students perform poorly. Let's look at 8th grade reading...the national average score was 260. Rhode Island scored 261 (ranking 31st in the country)...Rhode Island's relative performance on 8th grade math was even worse. The national average score was 278. Rhode Island scored 272 (ranking 38th in the country)...

And what has been the outcome from this disconnect between lots of money invested and lousy performance results? The outcome is a sense of desperation in parents whose kids are trapped in schools that are failing them, a desperation easily understood when reviewing the abysmal performance data of the Providence schools on pages 4-7 of the above Cranston presentation.

Take a step back and ask what makes it necessary to have this debate in the first place? Just like it was ill-conceived government actions that made health insurance belong to companies instead of individual citizens, the school choice and related money issues are a structural problem created by unproductive government actions.

III. THE STRUCTURAL PROBLEM WITH PUBLIC EDUCATION & ITS CONSEQUENCES

Two previous postings define the structural problem with public education more clearly:

Parents or Government/Unions: Who Should Control Our Children's Educational Decisions?

...Elementary and secondary education in America is in serious trouble because government has combined the appropriate role of financing the general education of children with the inappropriate role of owning and operating schools. It would be much better and more equitable, [Friedman] argued, if the government would "give each child, through his parents, a specified sum [voucher] to be used solely in paying for his general education...The result would be a sizable reduction in the direct activities of government, yet a great widening in the educational opportunities open to our children."...it is imperative to remember that what we are talking about is a question of who controls education: parents or government. And so long as the government both finances education and administers schools it can't help but exert its power over parents...

Milton Friedman on School Choice

With respect to education,...government was playing three major roles: (1) legislating compulsory schooling, (2) financing schooling, (3) administering schools. I concluded that there was some justification for compulsory schooling and the financing of schooling, but "the actual administration of educational institutions by the government, the 'nationalization,' as it were, of the bulk of the 'education industry' is much more difficult to justify on [free market] or, so far as I can see, on any other grounds." Yet finance and administration "could readily be separated. Governments could require a minimum of schooling financed by giving the parents vouchers redeemable for a given sum per child per year to be spent on purely educational services. . . . Denationalizing schooling," I went on, "would widen the range of choice available to parents. . . . If present public expenditure were made available to parents regardless of where they send their children, a wide variety of schools would spring up to meet the demand. . . . Here, as in other fields, competitive enterprise is likely to be far more efficient in meeting consumer demand than either nationalized enterprises or enterprises run to serve other purposes."...

What really led to increased interest in vouchers was the deterioration of schooling, dating in particular from 1965 when the National Education Association converted itself from a professional association to a trade union...

...[The 1983 study] "A Nation at Risk" stimulated much soul-searching and a whole series of major attempts to reform the government educational system. These reforms, however extensive or bold, have, it is widely agreed, had negligible effect on the quality of the public school system. Though spending per pupil has more than doubled since 1970 after allowing for inflation, students continue to rank low in international comparisons; dropout rates are high; scores on SATs and the like have fallen and remain flat. Simple literacy, let alone functional literacy, in the United States is almost surely lower at the beginning of the 21st century than it was a century earlier. And all this is despite a major increase in real spending per student since "A Nation at Risk" was published.

There is a lot at stake here for our country and for our children's ability to realize the American Dream. The problem is best stated in this excerpt from the "A Nation at Risk:"

For the first time in the history of our country, the educational skills of one generation will not surpass, will not equal, will not even approach, those of their parents.

Here is another quote from the report:

If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war. As it stands, we have allowed this to happen to ourselves.

That is a damning indictment of the status quo and those who support it.

IV. MYTHS PROPAGATED BY DEFENDERS OF THE STATUS QUO

Jay Greene's recent book, Educational Myths: What Special-Interest Groups Want You To Believe About Our Schools - And Why It Isn't So, "identifies, catalogues, and rebuts eighteen common myths that dominate education policy."

Greene writes:

...But by far the most important reason myths dominate education policy is that they are promoted by organized interests...Their goal is simply to advance their agendas; they are relatively indifferent to whether their claims are based on myths or facts...

He then identifies the myths, breaking them into four parts:

Resources

1. The Money Myth: Schools perform poorly because they need more money.

2. The Special Ed Myth: Special education programs burden public schools, hindering their academic performance.

3. The Myth of Helplessness: Social problems like poverty cause students to fail; schools are helpless to prevent it.

4. The Class Size Myth: Schools should reduce class sizes; small classes would produce big improvements.

5. The Certification Myth: Certified or more experienced teachers are substantially more effective.

6. The Teacher Pay Myth: Teachers are badly underpaid.

Outcomes

7. The Myth of Decline: Schools are performing much worse than they used to.

8. The Graduation Myth: Nearly all students graduate from high school.

9. The College Access Myth: Nonacademic barriers prevent a lot of minority students from attending college.

Accountability

10. The High Stakes Myth: The results of high-stake tests are not credible because they're distorted by cheating and teaching to the test.

11. The Push-Out Myth: Exit exams cause more students to drop out of high school.

12. The Accountability Burden Myth: Accountability systems impose large financial burdens on schools.

Choice

13. The Inconclusive Research Myth: The evidence on the effectiveness of vouchers is mixed and inconclusive.

14. The Exeter Myth: Private schools have higher test scores because they have more money and recruit high-performing students while expelling low-performing students.

15. The Draining Myth: School choice harms public schools.

16. The Disabled Need Not Apply Myth: Private schools won't serve disabled students.

17. The Democratic Values Myth: Private schools are less effective at promoting tolerance and civic participation.

18. The Segregation Myth: Private schools are more racially segregated than public schools.

Read the book to see the data supporting the refutation of these myths.

V. DEFENDERS OF THE FAILED STATUS QUO: BUREAUCRATS, POLITICIANS & TEACHERS' UNIONS

And who do you think defends ever increasing spending with no connection to performance outcomes? It is the education bureaucrats, many politicians, and the teachers' unions - all of whom resist major reforms such as school choice or even more charter schools.

The Education Bureaucrats

Lawrence Uzzell, a former staff member of the US Department of Education and the US House and Senate Committees on education, wrote a policy paper entitled No Child Left Behind: The Dangers of Centralized Education Policy. An excerpt of that paper, found here, is the single best synopsis I have found for describing the problems with federal and state education bureaucracies and is highlighted in this earlier posting.

My single most consistent experience while serving on the East Greenwich School Committee was asking many questions and getting few answers from the bureaucrats. There was simply no clear way to penetrate the bureaucratic fog and that creates the opportunity for mischief. Neal McCluskey, an education policy analyst at the Cato Institue, addresses that concern in a policy paper entitled Corruption in the Public Schools: The Market Is the Answer:

One of the most frequently voiced objections to school choice is that the free market lacks the"accountability" that governs public education. Public schools are constantly monitored by district administrators, state officials, federal officials, school board members, and throngs of other people tasked with making sure that the schools follow all the rules and regulations governing them. That level of bureaucratic oversight does not exist in the free market, and critics fear choice-based education will be plagued by corruption, poor-quality schools, and failure...

So which system is more likely to produce schools that are scandal free, efficient, and effective at educating American children? The answer is school choice, precisely because it lacks the bureaucratic mechanisms of public accountability omnipresent in public schools.

In many districts bureaucracy is now so thick that the purveyors of corruption use it to hide the fraud they've perpetrated and to deflect blame if their misdeeds are discovered. However, for the principals, superintendents, and others purportedly in charge of schools, bureaucracy has made it nearly impossible to make failed systems work. Public accountability has not only failed to defend against corruption, it has also rendered many districts, especially those most in need of reform, impervious to change...

Politicians

This recent reaction by Hillary Clinton is another example of how politicians twist the facts about school choice:

"First family that comes and says 'I want to send my daughter to St. Peter's Roman Catholic School' and you say 'Great, wonderful school, here's your voucher,'" Clinton said. "Next parent that comes and says, 'I want to send my child to the school of the Church of the White Supremacist ...' The parent says, 'The way that I read Genesis, Cain was marked, therefore I believe in white supremacy. ... You gave it to a Catholic parent, you gave it to a Jewish parent, under the Constitution, you can't discriminate against me.'"

As an adoring, if somewhat puzzled, audience of Bronx activists looked on, Clinton added, "So what if the next parent comes and says, 'I want to send my child to the School of the Jihad? ... I won't stand for it."

This press release from Clint Bolick at the Alliance for School Choice had the best response to Clinton's hypocritical words:

Never was there greater testimony to the importance of school choice than Mrs. Clinton herself. When the President and Mrs. Clinton moved into the White House, they were offered something that no other resident of the nation's capitol had: the choice of any public school for their daughter. They decided that sending their daughter to a defective school system was too great a sacrifice, and chose a private school instead. That led Wisconsin Rep. Polly Williams, the sponsor of Milwaukee's school choice program, to quip that "Bill and Hillary Clinton should not be the only people who live in public housing who get to send their kids to private schools."

Daniel Lips of the Heritage Foundation also responds to Clinton:

...Families who crave school vouchers for their children aren't hoping to enroll their children in white -supremacist schools madrassas. All they want is the opportunity to send their children to a school where they will learn.

Under a voucher program, policymakers could require that participating children attend private schools that are accredited by the state, in order to protect against the possibility of extremist schools. Sen. Clinton ignores how similar protections have been built into other government programs - such as Pell Grants, the Hope tax credit, and subsidized loan programs - that help students attend a chosen school...

...If the children attending Kennedy High used vouchers to transfer into private schools, would they be leaving for any reason other than having a decent opportunity to succeed in life - an opportunity their current public school can't give them?

Teachers' Unions

A January 23 Wall Street Journal editorial entitled The Education Borg (available for a fee) described the resistance to change by the teachers' unions:

Teachers unions keep telling us they care deeply, profoundly, about poor children. But what they do, as opposed to what they say, is behave like the Borg, those destructive aliens in the Star Trek TV series who keep coming and coming until everyone is "assimilated."

We saw it in Florida this month when the state supreme court struck down a six-year-old voucher program after a union-led lawsuit. And now we're witnessing it in Milwaukee, where the nation's largest school choice program is under assault because Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle refuses to lift the cap on the number of students who can participate.

Milwaukee's Parental Choice Program, enacted with bipartisan support in 1990, provides private school vouchers to students from families at or below 175% of the poverty line. Its constitutionality has been supported by rulings from both the Wisconsin and U.S. Supreme Courts.

Yet Mr. Doyle, a union-financed Democrat, has vetoed three attempts to loosen the state law that limits enrollment in the program to 15% of Milwaukee's public school enrollment. This cap, put in place in 1995 as part of a compromise with anti-choice lawmakers backed by the unions, wasn't an issue when only a handful of schools were participating. But the program has grown steadily to include 127 schools and more than 14,000 students today. Wisconsin officials expect the voucher program to exceed the 15% threshold next year, which means Mr. Doyle's schoolhouse-door act is about to have real consequences.

"Had the cap been in effect this year," says Susan Mitchell of School Choice Wisconsin, "as many as 4,000 students already in the program would have lost seats. No new students could come in, and there would be dozens of schools that have been built because of school choice in Milwaukee that would close. They're in poor neighborhoods and would never have enough support from tuition-paying parents or donors to keep going."...

The unions scored a separate "victory" in Florida two weeks ago when the state supreme court there struck down the Opportunity Scholarship Program. Passed in 1999, the program currently enrolls 700 children from chronically failing state schools, letting them transfer to another public school or use state money to attend a private school. Barring some legislative damage control, the 5-2 ruling means these kids face the horrible prospect of returning to the state's education hellholes next year...

What the Milwaukee and Florida examples show is that unions and their allies are unwilling to let even successful voucher experiments continue to exist. If they lose one court case, they will sue again -- and then again, as long as it takes. And they'll shop their campaign cash around for years until they find a politician like Jim Doyle willing to sell out Wisconsin's poorest kids in return for their endorsement. Is there a more destructive force in American public life?

Locally, they ran a disinformation campaign during the East Greenwich negotiations last year and were willing to use work-to-rule methods to hurt our kids - all so they could minimize their health insurance co-payment, get retroactive pay, and receive 9-13% annual salary increases for 9 of the 10 job steps. It's all about taking our money for themselves and it has nothing to do with our kids.

Valerie Forti of the Education Partnership in Providence offers these thoughts on the challenges of the status quo:

...Is the current spending even appropriate? How can policymakers and taxpayers be certain that local school districts actually require more money (and so, increased taxes), if those districts have not taken the crucial steps of looking at how their money is being spent and asking the tough question of whether that spending is really helping students?...We have spent the last 16 months analyzing teacher contracts in Rhode Island, and have found that, to a stunning degree, they focus on adult entitlements. The contracts that we have studied are not about students, accountability, and improvement of our public education system...

...we are startled by the degree to which school boards and administrators are paralyzed by their district contract and obligations that have been previously negotiated...

The general public is rarely aware of the role that collective bargaining plays in education. Most taxpayers are typically unaware of what is negotiated by union representatives and school boards, and they probably assume that education dollars are being spent to improve learning...Union leaders, on the other hand, do receive instruction on how to negotiate contracts...

...it is reasonable to ask this question: Is it even possible to dramatically improve our education system with the current delivery system of union contracts that severely constrain school districts?...

We believe that districts with strong unions must take decisive action to determine the appropriateness of their contractual obligations. And they must undertake a new commitment to become truly student-centered.

The Education Partnership recently completed a most insightful study on the various management rights and financial issues in union contracts. All of the Rhode Island teacher union contracts can also be found on their website.

In addition, this posting offers my personal indictment of teachers' unions and the status quo at national, state, and local levels as well as a reflection on some lessons learned during my time on the East Greenwich School Committee. If you have a lot of free time, the numerous postings at the bottom of this posting cover an even broader range of national, state and local issues - a number of which are linked to in this posting.

Public education in this country will only improve when we accept that the current mediocre status of public education cannot be fixed as long as it is controlled by unaccountable government bureaucrats and the teachers' unions.

VI. THE MAGNITUDE OF TEACHERS' UNION MONIES AT WORK TO MAINTAIN THE STATUS QUO

A January 3 Wall Street Journal editorial (available for a fee) discusses the new Department of Labor disclosure requirements:

If we told you that an organization gave away more than $65 million last year to Jesse Jackson's Rainbow PUSH Coalition, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, Amnesty International, AIDS Walk Washington and dozens of other such advocacy groups, you'd probably assume we were describing a liberal philanthropy. In fact, those expenditures have all turned up on the financial disclosure report of the National Education Association, the country's largest teachers union.

Under new federal rules pushed through by Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao, large unions must now disclose in much more detail how they spend members' dues money. Big Labor fought hard (if unsuccessfully) against the new accountability standards...They expose the union as a honey pot for left-wing political causes that have nothing to do with teachers, much less students.

We already knew that the NEA's top brass lives large. Reg Weaver, the union's president, makes $439,000 a year. The NEA has a $58 million payroll for just over 600 employees, more than half of whom draw six-figure salaries. Last year the average teacher made only $48,000, so it seems you're better off working as a union rep than in the classroom...

..."What wasn't clear before is how much of a part the teachers unions play in the wider liberal movement and the Democratic Party," says Mike Antonucci of the Education Intelligence Agency, a California-based watchdog group. "They're like some philanthropic organization that passes out grant money to interest groups."...

When George Soros does this sort of thing, at least he's spending his own money. The NEA is spending the mandatory dues paid by members who are told their money will be used to gain better wages, benefits and working conditions. According to the latest filing, member dues accounted for $295 million of the NEA's $341 million in total receipts last year. But the union spent $25 million of that on "political activities and lobbying" and another $65.5 million on "contributions, gifts and grants" that seemed designed to further those hyper-liberal political goals.

The good news is that for the first time members can find out how their union chieftains did their political thinking for them...

It's well understood that the NEA is an arm of the Democratic National Committee. (Or is it the other way around?) But we wonder if the union's rank-and-file stand in unity behind this laundry list of left-to-liberal recipients of money that comes out of their pockets.

You can go to here for more/ongoing LM-2 report information on labor union financial matters.

A follow-up editorial (also available for a fee) added several other interesting points:

...the NEA also works though these same state affiliates to further its political goals by bankrolling ballot and legislative initiatives. To that end, the Kentucky Education Association received $250,000 from the NEA last year; the Michigan Education Association received $660,000; and the California Teachers Association received $2.5 million. We doubt this cash goes into buying more laptops for poor students.

And then there's the money that the NEA sends directly to sympathetic interest groups working at the state level, such as the $500,000 that went to Protect Our Public Schools, an anti-charter outfit in Washington State (never mind that charters are "public schools," albeit ones allowed to operate outside the teachers' union education monopoly)...

A January 28 ProJo editorial added several other insights:

...The national NEA spent $47 million on "representational activities," such as bargaining contracts; $25 million on political activities and lobbying; $64 million on overhead; and $65 million on contributions, gifts, and grants, many to political causes associated with the Democratic Party.

At the local level, National Education Association Rhode Island reported giving total compensation of more than $100,000 to nine people: Executive Director Robert Walsh ($142,015); Deputy Executive Director Vin Santaniello ($131,952); President Larry Purtill ($116,332); General Counsel John Decubellis ($109,862); Business Manager Walter Young ($106,306); and field representatives Jane Argenteri ($108,790), Jerry Egan ($110,111), Robert Roy ($103,985), and Jeannette Woolley ($107,252). Another four received total compensation of $86,000 or more.

The Rhode Island NEA spent $63,432 on "public relations" at Warwick's Cornerstone Communications, the company of Guy Dufault, who last made news by promising to defeat Governor Carcieri by revealing the names of Mr. Carcieri's apparently nonexistent girlfriends. Another $58,800 went to WorkingRI, a political group opposed to the governor also linked to Mr. Dufault.

(The Rhode Island chapter of the American Federation of Teachers also filed a report, showing five employees each receiving more than $100,000: President Marcia Reback [$128,542], Director of Professional Issues Colleen Callahan Delan [$116,243], and field representatives Robert Casey [$125,656], Michael Mullane [$116,243], and James Parisi [$116,243]. The AFT gave $5,000 to Cornerstone Communications, and $7,500 to the lobbying group Citizens for a Representative Government, also associated with Mr. Dufault, which helped block a constitutional convention in Rhode Island.)

If serving the unions' economic interests is the goal, it is hard to argue that these local leaders have been overpaid.

How well that has served the state's students is, of course, up for debate...

The 2006 NEA Rhode Island agenda calls for: increased spending on schools; reduced class sizes (translating into more teachers); shifting more of the burden of school spending onto state government from the localities; stopping privatization or outsourcing of jobs; revising pension reforms passed last year by the General Assembly; and removing any barriers on public employees' and their spouses' running for public office.

That is an agenda that would keep money and power flowing to the teachers' unions, something they are well within their rights to seek. But it's fair to ask how much good it would do our struggling students.

An earlier posting also discussed the nearly unlimited amount of funding unions invest in politics to maintain the failed status quo.

VII. IRREVERSIBLE CHANGE HAS BEGUN

In spite of the opposition, school choice is gathering momentum. Here is a list of key school choice programs. Another website offers these observations:

Six states--Florida, Maine, Ohio, Vermont, Utah and Wisconsin--and the District of Columbia now have state or district-funded scholarship programs for elementary and secondary students.

Six states offer tax credits or deductions for education expenses or contributions to scholarship programs.

Forty states and the District of Columbia have enacted charter school laws.

Fifteen states guarantee public school choice within or between districts. (Other states have choice programs that are optional for districts, target only specific populations, and/or require that parents pay tuition.)

In all 50 states, homeschooling is legal. As many as 2 million students are homeschooled nationwide.

The Supreme Court has repeatedly upheld the constitutionality of parental choice in education. In Zelman v. Simmons-Harris (June 27, 2002), the court ruled that Cleveland's voucher program, which includes religious schools, does not violate the Establishment Clause of the Constitution. In previous cases, the court turned away a challenge to Arizona's scholarship tax credit program and ruled in favor of Minnesota's education tax deduction.

This study expounds on another important argument: "Much of the debate over school choice has focused on the educational benefits it could bring. It can bring significant fiscal benefits as well."

Stay tuned to the latest school choice news on some of these important websites:

Milton and Rose D. Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice
Cato Institute on Education
Alliance for School Choice
National Center for Policy Analysis
Education Policy Institute
Heritage Foundation on Education
Thomas B. Fordham Foundation
Center for Education Reform
Heartland Institute on Education
School Choices
Mackinac Center for Public Policy

If you want to dive more deeply into the debate, here are some education books in my personal library (besides Greene's book mentioned earlier) that I would recommend reading:

Koret Task Force: A Primer on America�s Schools
Politics, Markets and America�s Schools
Schools, Vouchers, and the American Public
Koret Task Force on Choice with Equity
Market Education: The Unknown History
Left Back: A Century of Battles Over School Reform
The Troubled Crusade: American Education, 1945-1980
New Schools for a New Century: The Redesign of Urban Education
We Must Take Charge: Our Schools and Our Future
Charter Schools in Action: Renewing Public Education
Voucher Wars: Waging the Legal Battle over School Choice
Public Education: An Autopsy
The Teachers� Unions: How the NEA and AFT Sabotage Reform and Hold Students, Parents, Teachers, and Taxpayers Hostage to Bureaucracy
Understanding the Teacher Union Contract: A Citizen�s Handbook
Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics

VIII. ELABORATING ON THE RATIONALE FOR SCHOOL CHOICE

In an excellent and accessible way, Milton Friedman said this about school choice in the November 2005 issue of The School Advocate (not available on line):

...Government ownership and operation of schools alter fundamentally the way the industry is organized. In most industries, consumers are free to buy the product from anyone who offers it for sale, at a price mutually agree on. In the process, consumers determine how much is produced and by whom and producers have an incentive to satisfy their customers. These competitive private industries are organized from the bottom up...

In elementary and secondary education, government decides what is to be produced and who is to consume its products, generally assigning students to schools by their residence. The only recourse for dissatisfied parents is through political channels, changing their residence or forswearing the government subsidy and paying for their children's schooling twice, once in taxes and once in tuition...In short, this industry is organized from the top down...

...Top down organization work no better in the United States than it did in the Soviet Union or East Germany.

The prescription is clear. Change the organization of elementary and secondary schooling from top-down to bottom-up. Convert to a system in which parents choose the schools their children attend - or, more broadly, the educational services their children receive...Parents would pay for educational services with whatever subsidy they receive from the government plus whatever sum they want to add out of their own resources. Producers would be free to enter or leave the industry and would compete to attract students. As in other industries, such a competitive free market would lead to improvements in quality and reductions in cost.

The problem is how to get from here to there. That is where vouchers come in. They offer a means for a gradual transition from top-down to bottom-up. However, not just any voucher program will do. In particular, the kind of voucher programs that have been enacted so far will not...They are what I have called charity vouchers, not educational vouchers.

They have served their limited purpose well. The families that received them have benefited; the educational performance of the voucher schools has been better than of the government schools from which the voucher students came. And the educational performance of those government schools has improved...

An educational voucher of reasonable size, though less than the current government spending per student, that was available to all students regardless of income or race or religion and that did not prohibit add-ons or impose detailed regulations on start-up service providers, would end up helping the poor more than a charity voucher - not instantly, but after a brief period as competition did its work. Just as the breakup of the Ma Bell monopoly led to a revolution in communications, a breakup of the school monopoly would lead to a revolution in schooling.

There has been some progress toward charity vouchers but almost none toward educational vouchers. The reason, I believe, is that centralization, bureaucratization and unionization have enabled teachers' union leaders and educational administrators to gain effective control of government elementary and secondary schools. The union leaders and educational administrators rightly regard extended parental choice through vouchers and tax-funded scholarships as the major threat to their monopolistic control...

...the "voiceless," among whom are surely the residents of low-income areas in big cities, are clearly the main victims of the present schooling system and would be major beneficiaries of a more competitive educational system. Every poll shows them to be strongly in favor of vouchers...

Similarly, teachers in government schools, especially the more competent ones, would be among the major beneficiaries of a transition to an educational system dominated by competition and choice. Under the present system, not much more than half of the money spent on government schools goes to teachers in the classroom. The rest goes to administrators, advisors, consultants and the whole paraphernalia of non-teaching bureaucrats. In private schools, the bulk of the spending ends up in the classroom...

Public support for educational vouchers is growing. More and more states are considering proposals for vouchers or tax-funded scholarships. Pressure is building behind each of the 50 dams erected by the special interests. Most major public policy revolutions come only after a lengthy build-up of support. But when the break comes, what had been politically impossible quickly becomes politically inevitable. So it will be with the goal of a competitive free market education system compatible with our basic values.

IX. WHY SCHOOL CHOICE IS A MORAL IMPERATIVE

School choice - where parents, not the government, control educational decisions for their children - is the only reform that has the potential to make American public education great again.

A January 16 Wall Street Journal editorial (available for a fee) entitled He's Throwing Away My Dream: Today it's liberal Democrats who stand in the schoolhouse door notes:

...Teacher unions have their own answer to the collapse of public education in the inner cities: ship truckloads of money to poorer districts in the name of "social justice." But many Milwaukee parents aren't buying that. They have painfully learned that more money spent on a failed system does not produce better education. They want to make their own decisions about their children's future.

In the early battles over establishing the Milwaukee program, opponents backed down only when Milwaukee parents began comparing Bert Grover, then the state school superintendent, to George Wallace standing in the schoolhouse door. The front lines of today's civil rights struggle are not in the South but in Milwaukee.

This is a moral crusade. Access to a quality education is the great equalizer in enabling all children to have a fair shot at living the American Dream. We cannot and will not continue to deny our children what is their birthright as citizens of this great land.


The Moral Imperative for School Choice: The Complete Posting

The encouraging school choice proposal by Cranston Mayor Steve Laffey, discussed here, and the absurd response by Senator Chafee has led me to repost below an expanded version of a November 18, 2005 posting on the moral imperative for school choice.

Contrasting this week's posting with an earlier posting on this issue - also by Andrew and entitled Cranston’s and Rhode Island’s Need for a Sensible School Choice Program - shows how Mayor Laffey and other Cranston leaders have evolved their policy solution in recent months in response to a genuine problem. The comments section of that earlier posting is alive with a debate about two issues: Should children from Providence - where public schools are mediocre - have the right to attend better schools in Cranston and what effect does this have on education funding flows? These are two central questions underlying the school choice debate.

School choice is a moral imperative because the performance of our schools greatly influences whether (i) our children have a clean shot at living the American Dream; and, (ii) whether our country can maintain the strength of its economy via a well educated citizenry capable of competing successfully in an increasingly global economy.

To provide an indepth review of the school choice debate, this posting is divided into nine sections. Each section is identified below and you can proceed directly to it by clicking on the title of that individual section below:

I. The Unavoidable & Serious Performance Problems with Public Education

II. The Current Problem in Rhode Island: Spending a Lot of Money & Getting No Return on our Investment

III. The Structural Problem with Public Education

IV. Myths Propagated by Defenders of the Status Quo

V. Defenders of the Status Quo: Bureaucrats, Politicians & Teachers' Unions

VI. The Magnitude of Teachers' Union Monies at Work to Maintain the Status Quo

VII. Irreversible Change has Begun

VIII. Elaborating on the Rationale for School Choice

IX. Why School Choice is a Moral Imperative

I. THE UNAVOIDABLE & SERIOUS PERFORMANCE PROBLEMS WITH PUBLIC EDUCATION

There is a huge and well-documented performance problem with public education in America and in Rhode Island. The long-term implications of this problem are severe. Patrick Callan describes the likely future impact on Rhode Island.

Maintaining the status quo is not a viable option.

II. THE CURRENT PROBLEM IN RHODE ISLAND: SPENDING A LOT OF MONEY & GETTING NO RETURN ON OUR INVESTMENT

As Tom Coyne points out in his February 22 analysis:

Rhode Islanders are some of the most generous people in the nation. The facts speak for themselves: As a percentage of our per capita state income, Rhode Island’s per pupil spending is the second highest in the country. Our per-pupil spending on [teacher] salaries and benefits is the nation's highest. Our spending on students below the poverty line is the seventh highest in the nation. Rhode Island's average teacher salary, as a percentage of its average private-sector worker's salary, is the highest in the country, and has been since at least 1990. Rhode Island has the nation’s second highest number of teachers per student...And we also have the nation’s highest percentage of students in very expensive special education programs...

Yet, Tom's November 17 posting shows we get a lousy return on this investment of our hard-earned monies:

The only tests taken by students in every state in the nation are the National Assessment of Educational Progress...On these tests, Rhode Island public school students perform poorly. Let's look at 8th grade reading...the national average score was 260. Rhode Island scored 261 (ranking 31st in the country)...Rhode Island's relative performance on 8th grade math was even worse. The national average score was 278. Rhode Island scored 272 (ranking 38th in the country)...

And what has been the outcome from this disconnect between lots of money invested and lousy performance results? The outcome is a sense of desperation in parents whose kids are trapped in schools that are failing them, a desperation easily understood when reviewing the abysmal performance data of the Providence schools on pages 4-7 of the above Cranston presentation.

Take a step back and ask what makes it necessary to have this debate in the first place? Just like it was ill-conceived government actions that made health insurance belong to companies instead of individual citizens, the school choice and related money issues are a structural problem created by unproductive government actions.

III. THE STRUCTURAL PROBLEM WITH PUBLIC EDUCATION & ITS CONSEQUENCES

Two previous postings define the structural problem with public education more clearly:

Parents or Government/Unions: Who Should Control Our Children's Educational Decisions?

...Elementary and secondary education in America is in serious trouble because government has combined the appropriate role of financing the general education of children with the inappropriate role of owning and operating schools. It would be much better and more equitable, [Friedman] argued, if the government would "give each child, through his parents, a specified sum [voucher] to be used solely in paying for his general education...The result would be a sizable reduction in the direct activities of government, yet a great widening in the educational opportunities open to our children."...it is imperative to remember that what we are talking about is a question of who controls education: parents or government. And so long as the government both finances education and administers schools it can't help but exert its power over parents...

Milton Friedman on School Choice

With respect to education,...government was playing three major roles: (1) legislating compulsory schooling, (2) financing schooling, (3) administering schools. I concluded that there was some justification for compulsory schooling and the financing of schooling, but "the actual administration of educational institutions by the government, the 'nationalization,' as it were, of the bulk of the 'education industry' is much more difficult to justify on [free market] or, so far as I can see, on any other grounds." Yet finance and administration "could readily be separated. Governments could require a minimum of schooling financed by giving the parents vouchers redeemable for a given sum per child per year to be spent on purely educational services. . . . Denationalizing schooling," I went on, "would widen the range of choice available to parents. . . . If present public expenditure were made available to parents regardless of where they send their children, a wide variety of schools would spring up to meet the demand. . . . Here, as in other fields, competitive enterprise is likely to be far more efficient in meeting consumer demand than either nationalized enterprises or enterprises run to serve other purposes."...

What really led to increased interest in vouchers was the deterioration of schooling, dating in particular from 1965 when the National Education Association converted itself from a professional association to a trade union...

...[The 1983 study] "A Nation at Risk" stimulated much soul-searching and a whole series of major attempts to reform the government educational system. These reforms, however extensive or bold, have, it is widely agreed, had negligible effect on the quality of the public school system. Though spending per pupil has more than doubled since 1970 after allowing for inflation, students continue to rank low in international comparisons; dropout rates are high; scores on SATs and the like have fallen and remain flat. Simple literacy, let alone functional literacy, in the United States is almost surely lower at the beginning of the 21st century than it was a century earlier. And all this is despite a major increase in real spending per student since "A Nation at Risk" was published.

There is a lot at stake here for our country and for our children's ability to realize the American Dream. The problem is best stated in this excerpt from the "A Nation at Risk:"

For the first time in the history of our country, the educational skills of one generation will not surpass, will not equal, will not even approach, those of their parents.

Here is another quote from the report:

If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war. As it stands, we have allowed this to happen to ourselves.

That is a damning indictment of the status quo and those who support it.

IV. MYTHS PROPAGATED BY DEFENDERS OF THE STATUS QUO

Jay Greene's recent book, Educational Myths: What Special-Interest Groups Want You To Believe About Our Schools - And Why It Isn't So, "identifies, catalogues, and rebuts eighteen common myths that dominate education policy."

Greene writes:

...But by far the most important reason myths dominate education policy is that they are promoted by organized interests...Their goal is simply to advance their agendas; they are relatively indifferent to whether their claims are based on myths or facts...

He then identifies the myths, breaking them into four parts:

Resources

1. The Money Myth: Schools perform poorly because they need more money.

2. The Special Ed Myth: Special education programs burden public schools, hindering their academic performance.

3. The Myth of Helplessness: Social problems like poverty cause students to fail; schools are helpless to prevent it.

4. The Class Size Myth: Schools should reduce class sizes; small classes would produce big improvements.

5. The Certification Myth: Certified or more experienced teachers are substantially more effective.

6. The Teacher Pay Myth: Teachers are badly underpaid.

Outcomes

7. The Myth of Decline: Schools are performing much worse than they used to.

8. The Graduation Myth: Nearly all students graduate from high school.

9. The College Access Myth: Nonacademic barriers prevent a lot of minority students from attending college.

Accountability

10. The High Stakes Myth: The results of high-stake tests are not credible because they're distorted by cheating and teaching to the test.

11. The Push-Out Myth: Exit exams cause more students to drop out of high school.

12. The Accountability Burden Myth: Accountability systems impose large financial burdens on schools.

Choice

13. The Inconclusive Research Myth: The evidence on the effectiveness of vouchers is mixed and inconclusive.

14. The Exeter Myth: Private schools have higher test scores because they have more money and recruit high-performing students while expelling low-performing students.

15. The Draining Myth: School choice harms public schools.

16. The Disabled Need Not Apply Myth: Private schools won't serve disabled students.

17. The Democratic Values Myth: Private schools are less effective at promoting tolerance and civic participation.

18. The Segregation Myth: Private schools are more racially segregated than public schools.

Read the book to see the data supporting the refutation of these myths.

V. DEFENDERS OF THE FAILED STATUS QUO: BUREAUCRATS, POLITICIANS & TEACHERS' UNIONS

And who do you think defends ever increasing spending with no connection to performance outcomes? It is the education bureaucrats, many politicians, and the teachers' unions - all of whom resist major reforms such as school choice or even more charter schools.

The Education Bureaucrats

Lawrence Uzzell, a former staff member of the US Department of Education and the US House and Senate Committees on education, wrote a policy paper entitled No Child Left Behind: The Dangers of Centralized Education Policy. An excerpt of that paper, found here, is the single best synopsis I have found for describing the problems with federal and state education bureaucracies and is highlighted in this earlier posting.

My single most consistent experience while serving on the East Greenwich School Committee was asking many questions and getting few answers from the bureaucrats. There was simply no clear way to penetrate the bureaucratic fog and that creates the opportunity for mischief. Neal McCluskey, an education policy analyst at the Cato Institue, addresses that concern in a policy paper entitled Corruption in the Public Schools: The Market Is the Answer:

One of the most frequently voiced objections to school choice is that the free market lacks the"accountability" that governs public education. Public schools are constantly monitored by district administrators, state officials, federal officials, school board members, and throngs of other people tasked with making sure that the schools follow all the rules and regulations governing them. That level of bureaucratic oversight does not exist in the free market, and critics fear choice-based education will be plagued by corruption, poor-quality schools, and failure...

So which system is more likely to produce schools that are scandal free, efficient, and effective at educating American children? The answer is school choice, precisely because it lacks the bureaucratic mechanisms of public accountability omnipresent in public schools.

In many districts bureaucracy is now so thick that the purveyors of corruption use it to hide the fraud they've perpetrated and to deflect blame if their misdeeds are discovered. However, for the principals, superintendents, and others purportedly in charge of schools, bureaucracy has made it nearly impossible to make failed systems work. Public accountability has not only failed to defend against corruption, it has also rendered many districts, especially those most in need of reform, impervious to change...

Politicians

This recent reaction by Hillary Clinton is another example of how politicians twist the facts about school choice:

"First family that comes and says 'I want to send my daughter to St. Peter's Roman Catholic School' and you say 'Great, wonderful school, here's your voucher,'" Clinton said. "Next parent that comes and says, 'I want to send my child to the school of the Church of the White Supremacist ...' The parent says, 'The way that I read Genesis, Cain was marked, therefore I believe in white supremacy. ... You gave it to a Catholic parent, you gave it to a Jewish parent, under the Constitution, you can't discriminate against me.'"

As an adoring, if somewhat puzzled, audience of Bronx activists looked on, Clinton added, "So what if the next parent comes and says, 'I want to send my child to the School of the Jihad? ... I won't stand for it."

This press release from Clint Bolick at the Alliance for School Choice had the best response to Clinton's hypocritical words:

Never was there greater testimony to the importance of school choice than Mrs. Clinton herself. When the President and Mrs. Clinton moved into the White House, they were offered something that no other resident of the nation's capitol had: the choice of any public school for their daughter. They decided that sending their daughter to a defective school system was too great a sacrifice, and chose a private school instead. That led Wisconsin Rep. Polly Williams, the sponsor of Milwaukee's school choice program, to quip that "Bill and Hillary Clinton should not be the only people who live in public housing who get to send their kids to private schools."

Daniel Lips of the Heritage Foundation also responds to Clinton:

...Families who crave school vouchers for their children aren't hoping to enroll their children in white -supremacist schools madrassas. All they want is the opportunity to send their children to a school where they will learn.

Under a voucher program, policymakers could require that participating children attend private schools that are accredited by the state, in order to protect against the possibility of extremist schools. Sen. Clinton ignores how similar protections have been built into other government programs — such as Pell Grants, the Hope tax credit, and subsidized loan programs — that help students attend a chosen school...

...If the children attending Kennedy High used vouchers to transfer into private schools, would they be leaving for any reason other than having a decent opportunity to succeed in life — an opportunity their current public school can't give them?

Teachers' Unions

A January 23 Wall Street Journal editorial entitled The Education Borg (available for a fee) described the resistance to change by the teachers' unions:

Teachers unions keep telling us they care deeply, profoundly, about poor children. But what they do, as opposed to what they say, is behave like the Borg, those destructive aliens in the Star Trek TV series who keep coming and coming until everyone is "assimilated."

We saw it in Florida this month when the state supreme court struck down a six-year-old voucher program after a union-led lawsuit. And now we're witnessing it in Milwaukee, where the nation's largest school choice program is under assault because Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle refuses to lift the cap on the number of students who can participate.

Milwaukee's Parental Choice Program, enacted with bipartisan support in 1990, provides private school vouchers to students from families at or below 175% of the poverty line. Its constitutionality has been supported by rulings from both the Wisconsin and U.S. Supreme Courts.

Yet Mr. Doyle, a union-financed Democrat, has vetoed three attempts to loosen the state law that limits enrollment in the program to 15% of Milwaukee's public school enrollment. This cap, put in place in 1995 as part of a compromise with anti-choice lawmakers backed by the unions, wasn't an issue when only a handful of schools were participating. But the program has grown steadily to include 127 schools and more than 14,000 students today. Wisconsin officials expect the voucher program to exceed the 15% threshold next year, which means Mr. Doyle's schoolhouse-door act is about to have real consequences.

"Had the cap been in effect this year," says Susan Mitchell of School Choice Wisconsin, "as many as 4,000 students already in the program would have lost seats. No new students could come in, and there would be dozens of schools that have been built because of school choice in Milwaukee that would close. They're in poor neighborhoods and would never have enough support from tuition-paying parents or donors to keep going."...

The unions scored a separate "victory" in Florida two weeks ago when the state supreme court there struck down the Opportunity Scholarship Program. Passed in 1999, the program currently enrolls 700 children from chronically failing state schools, letting them transfer to another public school or use state money to attend a private school. Barring some legislative damage control, the 5-2 ruling means these kids face the horrible prospect of returning to the state's education hellholes next year...

What the Milwaukee and Florida examples show is that unions and their allies are unwilling to let even successful voucher experiments continue to exist. If they lose one court case, they will sue again -- and then again, as long as it takes. And they'll shop their campaign cash around for years until they find a politician like Jim Doyle willing to sell out Wisconsin's poorest kids in return for their endorsement. Is there a more destructive force in American public life?

Locally, they ran a disinformation campaign during the East Greenwich negotiations last year and were willing to use work-to-rule methods to hurt our kids - all so they could minimize their health insurance co-payment, get retroactive pay, and receive 9-13% annual salary increases for 9 of the 10 job steps. It's all about taking our money for themselves and it has nothing to do with our kids.

Valerie Forti of the Education Partnership in Providence offers these thoughts on the challenges of the status quo:

...Is the current spending even appropriate? How can policymakers and taxpayers be certain that local school districts actually require more money (and so, increased taxes), if those districts have not taken the crucial steps of looking at how their money is being spent and asking the tough question of whether that spending is really helping students?...We have spent the last 16 months analyzing teacher contracts in Rhode Island, and have found that, to a stunning degree, they focus on adult entitlements. The contracts that we have studied are not about students, accountability, and improvement of our public education system...

...we are startled by the degree to which school boards and administrators are paralyzed by their district contract and obligations that have been previously negotiated...

The general public is rarely aware of the role that collective bargaining plays in education. Most taxpayers are typically unaware of what is negotiated by union representatives and school boards, and they probably assume that education dollars are being spent to improve learning...Union leaders, on the other hand, do receive instruction on how to negotiate contracts...

...it is reasonable to ask this question: Is it even possible to dramatically improve our education system with the current delivery system of union contracts that severely constrain school districts?...

We believe that districts with strong unions must take decisive action to determine the appropriateness of their contractual obligations. And they must undertake a new commitment to become truly student-centered.

The Education Partnership recently completed a most insightful study on the various management rights and financial issues in union contracts. All of the Rhode Island teacher union contracts can also be found on their website.

In addition, this posting offers my personal indictment of teachers' unions and the status quo at national, state, and local levels as well as a reflection on some lessons learned during my time on the East Greenwich School Committee. If you have a lot of free time, the numerous postings at the bottom of this posting cover an even broader range of national, state and local issues - a number of which are linked to in this posting.

Public education in this country will only improve when we accept that the current mediocre status of public education cannot be fixed as long as it is controlled by unaccountable government bureaucrats and the teachers' unions.

VI. THE MAGNITUDE OF TEACHERS' UNION MONIES AT WORK TO MAINTAIN THE STATUS QUO

A January 3 Wall Street Journal editorial (available for a fee) discusses the new Department of Labor disclosure requirements:

If we told you that an organization gave away more than $65 million last year to Jesse Jackson's Rainbow PUSH Coalition, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, Amnesty International, AIDS Walk Washington and dozens of other such advocacy groups, you'd probably assume we were describing a liberal philanthropy. In fact, those expenditures have all turned up on the financial disclosure report of the National Education Association, the country's largest teachers union.

Under new federal rules pushed through by Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao, large unions must now disclose in much more detail how they spend members' dues money. Big Labor fought hard (if unsuccessfully) against the new accountability standards...They expose the union as a honey pot for left-wing political causes that have nothing to do with teachers, much less students.

We already knew that the NEA's top brass lives large. Reg Weaver, the union's president, makes $439,000 a year. The NEA has a $58 million payroll for just over 600 employees, more than half of whom draw six-figure salaries. Last year the average teacher made only $48,000, so it seems you're better off working as a union rep than in the classroom...

..."What wasn't clear before is how much of a part the teachers unions play in the wider liberal movement and the Democratic Party," says Mike Antonucci of the Education Intelligence Agency, a California-based watchdog group. "They're like some philanthropic organization that passes out grant money to interest groups."...

When George Soros does this sort of thing, at least he's spending his own money. The NEA is spending the mandatory dues paid by members who are told their money will be used to gain better wages, benefits and working conditions. According to the latest filing, member dues accounted for $295 million of the NEA's $341 million in total receipts last year. But the union spent $25 million of that on "political activities and lobbying" and another $65.5 million on "contributions, gifts and grants" that seemed designed to further those hyper-liberal political goals.

The good news is that for the first time members can find out how their union chieftains did their political thinking for them...

It's well understood that the NEA is an arm of the Democratic National Committee. (Or is it the other way around?) But we wonder if the union's rank-and-file stand in unity behind this laundry list of left-to-liberal recipients of money that comes out of their pockets.

You can go to here for more/ongoing LM-2 report information on labor union financial matters.

A follow-up editorial (also available for a fee) added several other interesting points:

...the NEA also works though these same state affiliates to further its political goals by bankrolling ballot and legislative initiatives. To that end, the Kentucky Education Association received $250,000 from the NEA last year; the Michigan Education Association received $660,000; and the California Teachers Association received $2.5 million. We doubt this cash goes into buying more laptops for poor students.

And then there's the money that the NEA sends directly to sympathetic interest groups working at the state level, such as the $500,000 that went to Protect Our Public Schools, an anti-charter outfit in Washington State (never mind that charters are "public schools," albeit ones allowed to operate outside the teachers' union education monopoly)...

A January 28 ProJo editorial added several other insights:

...The national NEA spent $47 million on "representational activities," such as bargaining contracts; $25 million on political activities and lobbying; $64 million on overhead; and $65 million on contributions, gifts, and grants, many to political causes associated with the Democratic Party.

At the local level, National Education Association Rhode Island reported giving total compensation of more than $100,000 to nine people: Executive Director Robert Walsh ($142,015); Deputy Executive Director Vin Santaniello ($131,952); President Larry Purtill ($116,332); General Counsel John Decubellis ($109,862); Business Manager Walter Young ($106,306); and field representatives Jane Argenteri ($108,790), Jerry Egan ($110,111), Robert Roy ($103,985), and Jeannette Woolley ($107,252). Another four received total compensation of $86,000 or more.

The Rhode Island NEA spent $63,432 on "public relations" at Warwick's Cornerstone Communications, the company of Guy Dufault, who last made news by promising to defeat Governor Carcieri by revealing the names of Mr. Carcieri's apparently nonexistent girlfriends. Another $58,800 went to WorkingRI, a political group opposed to the governor also linked to Mr. Dufault.

(The Rhode Island chapter of the American Federation of Teachers also filed a report, showing five employees each receiving more than $100,000: President Marcia Reback [$128,542], Director of Professional Issues Colleen Callahan Delan [$116,243], and field representatives Robert Casey [$125,656], Michael Mullane [$116,243], and James Parisi [$116,243]. The AFT gave $5,000 to Cornerstone Communications, and $7,500 to the lobbying group Citizens for a Representative Government, also associated with Mr. Dufault, which helped block a constitutional convention in Rhode Island.)

If serving the unions' economic interests is the goal, it is hard to argue that these local leaders have been overpaid.

How well that has served the state's students is, of course, up for debate...

The 2006 NEA Rhode Island agenda calls for: increased spending on schools; reduced class sizes (translating into more teachers); shifting more of the burden of school spending onto state government from the localities; stopping privatization or outsourcing of jobs; revising pension reforms passed last year by the General Assembly; and removing any barriers on public employees' and their spouses' running for public office.

That is an agenda that would keep money and power flowing to the teachers' unions, something they are well within their rights to seek. But it's fair to ask how much good it would do our struggling students.

An earlier posting also discussed the nearly unlimited amount of funding unions invest in politics to maintain the failed status quo.

VII. IRREVERSIBLE CHANGE HAS BEGUN

In spite of the opposition, school choice is gathering momentum. Here is a list of key school choice programs. Another website offers these observations:

Six states--Florida, Maine, Ohio, Vermont, Utah and Wisconsin--and the District of Columbia now have state or district-funded scholarship programs for elementary and secondary students.

Six states offer tax credits or deductions for education expenses or contributions to scholarship programs.

Forty states and the District of Columbia have enacted charter school laws.

Fifteen states guarantee public school choice within or between districts. (Other states have choice programs that are optional for districts, target only specific populations, and/or require that parents pay tuition.)

In all 50 states, homeschooling is legal. As many as 2 million students are homeschooled nationwide.

The Supreme Court has repeatedly upheld the constitutionality of parental choice in education. In Zelman v. Simmons-Harris (June 27, 2002), the court ruled that Cleveland's voucher program, which includes religious schools, does not violate the Establishment Clause of the Constitution. In previous cases, the court turned away a challenge to Arizona's scholarship tax credit program and ruled in favor of Minnesota's education tax deduction.

This study expounds on another important argument: "Much of the debate over school choice has focused on the educational benefits it could bring. It can bring significant fiscal benefits as well."

Stay tuned to the latest school choice news on some of these important websites:

Milton and Rose D. Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice
Cato Institute on Education
Alliance for School Choice
National Center for Policy Analysis
Education Policy Institute
Heritage Foundation on Education
Thomas B. Fordham Foundation
Center for Education Reform
Heartland Institute on Education
School Choices
Mackinac Center for Public Policy

If you want to dive more deeply into the debate, here are some education books in my personal library (besides Greene's book mentioned earlier) that I would recommend reading:

Koret Task Force: A Primer on America’s Schools
Politics, Markets and America’s Schools
Schools, Vouchers, and the American Public
Koret Task Force on Choice with Equity
Market Education: The Unknown History
Left Back: A Century of Battles Over School Reform
The Troubled Crusade: American Education, 1945-1980
New Schools for a New Century: The Redesign of Urban Education
We Must Take Charge: Our Schools and Our Future
Charter Schools in Action: Renewing Public Education
Voucher Wars: Waging the Legal Battle over School Choice
Public Education: An Autopsy
The Teachers’ Unions: How the NEA and AFT Sabotage Reform and Hold Students, Parents, Teachers, and Taxpayers Hostage to Bureaucracy
Understanding the Teacher Union Contract: A Citizen’s Handbook
Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics

VIII. ELABORATING ON THE RATIONALE FOR SCHOOL CHOICE

In an excellent and accessible way, Milton Friedman said this about school choice in the November 2005 issue of The School Advocate (not available on line):

...Government ownership and operation of schools alter fundamentally the way the industry is organized. In most industries, consumers are free to buy the product from anyone who offers it for sale, at a price mutually agree on. In the process, consumers determine how much is produced and by whom and producers have an incentive to satisfy their customers. These competitive private industries are organized from the bottom up...

In elementary and secondary education, government decides what is to be produced and who is to consume its products, generally assigning students to schools by their residence. The only recourse for dissatisfied parents is through political channels, changing their residence or forswearing the government subsidy and paying for their children's schooling twice, once in taxes and once in tuition...In short, this industry is organized from the top down...

...Top down organization work no better in the United States than it did in the Soviet Union or East Germany.

The prescription is clear. Change the organization of elementary and secondary schooling from top-down to bottom-up. Convert to a system in which parents choose the schools their children attend - or, more broadly, the educational services their children receive...Parents would pay for educational services with whatever subsidy they receive from the government plus whatever sum they want to add out of their own resources. Producers would be free to enter or leave the industry and would compete to attract students. As in other industries, such a competitive free market would lead to improvements in quality and reductions in cost.

The problem is how to get from here to there. That is where vouchers come in. They offer a means for a gradual transition from top-down to bottom-up. However, not just any voucher program will do. In particular, the kind of voucher programs that have been enacted so far will not...They are what I have called charity vouchers, not educational vouchers.

They have served their limited purpose well. The families that received them have benefited; the educational performance of the voucher schools has been better than of the government schools from which the voucher students came. And the educational performance of those government schools has improved...

An educational voucher of reasonable size, though less than the current government spending per student, that was available to all students regardless of income or race or religion and that did not prohibit add-ons or impose detailed regulations on start-up service providers, would end up helping the poor more than a charity voucher - not instantly, but after a brief period as competition did its work. Just as the breakup of the Ma Bell monopoly led to a revolution in communications, a breakup of the school monopoly would lead to a revolution in schooling.

There has been some progress toward charity vouchers but almost none toward educational vouchers. The reason, I believe, is that centralization, bureaucratization and unionization have enabled teachers' union leaders and educational administrators to gain effective control of government elementary and secondary schools. The union leaders and educational administrators rightly regard extended parental choice through vouchers and tax-funded scholarships as the major threat to their monopolistic control...

...the "voiceless," among whom are surely the residents of low-income areas in big cities, are clearly the main victims of the present schooling system and would be major beneficiaries of a more competitive educational system. Every poll shows them to be strongly in favor of vouchers...

Similarly, teachers in government schools, especially the more competent ones, would be among the major beneficiaries of a transition to an educational system dominated by competition and choice. Under the present system, not much more than half of the money spent on government schools goes to teachers in the classroom. The rest goes to administrators, advisors, consultants and the whole paraphernalia of non-teaching bureaucrats. In private schools, the bulk of the spending ends up in the classroom...

Public support for educational vouchers is growing. More and more states are considering proposals for vouchers or tax-funded scholarships. Pressure is building behind each of the 50 dams erected by the special interests. Most major public policy revolutions come only after a lengthy build-up of support. But when the break comes, what had been politically impossible quickly becomes politically inevitable. So it will be with the goal of a competitive free market education system compatible with our basic values.

IX. WHY SCHOOL CHOICE IS A MORAL IMPERATIVE

School choice - where parents, not the government, control educational decisions for their children - is the only reform that has the potential to make American public education great again.

A January 16 Wall Street Journal editorial (available for a fee) entitled He's Throwing Away My Dream: Today it's liberal Democrats who stand in the schoolhouse door notes:

...Teacher unions have their own answer to the collapse of public education in the inner cities: ship truckloads of money to poorer districts in the name of "social justice." But many Milwaukee parents aren't buying that. They have painfully learned that more money spent on a failed system does not produce better education. They want to make their own decisions about their children's future.

In the early battles over establishing the Milwaukee program, opponents backed down only when Milwaukee parents began comparing Bert Grover, then the state school superintendent, to George Wallace standing in the schoolhouse door. The front lines of today's civil rights struggle are not in the South but in Milwaukee.

This is a moral crusade. Access to a quality education is the great equalizer in enabling all children to have a fair shot at living the American Dream. We cannot and will not continue to deny our children what is their birthright as citizens of this great land.


No Educational Bureaucrat Left Behind

Like many Americans, I have previously waffled on whether the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) act was good policy. I was drawn to the idea of performance standards and the suggestion that there would eventually be zero tolerance for mediocrity. But I was put off by another attempt by Washington to manage education from afar as well as the idea that the federal government could excel at driving state and local educational practices even if they wanted to. The most common reaction from people I talked to was the equivalent of a blank stare. Few of us really knew what the bill said or how it might work or fail.

Into that void of public knowledge, Lawrence Uzzell offers an outstanding synopsis of NCLB in an article entitled No Bureaucrat Left Behind. Here are some excerpts:

In domestic policy, the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) education act is the Bush administration's top claim to visionary leadership…NCLB's success will depend on whether it is possible to produce excellent educational performance through centralization. Its advocates are in a self-contradictory position. They recognize that the educational policies of the last four decades—a period of almost uninterrupted centralization—have failed, but their remedy for that failure is yet more centralization. While invoking the principles of an "ownership society" on issues such as Social Security reform, they are pursuing almost the exact opposite model in schools. In a period of growing social mobility and individual autonomy, they are promoting a top-down, Great Society model of reform—transferring power from individual parents, teachers, and principals to distant bureaucracies such as state education agencies. Ironically, education is precisely that area of social policy that by its nature is least susceptible to centralization. Education is inherently personal and inherently value laden. The key relationships in schools are those between individual teachers and individual students: If the teachers are not willingly committed and highly motivated, no centralized rule books or formulas are going to inspire peak performance…

Moreover, schooling inescapably involves judgments about truth and virtue, about what kind of person a youngster should aspire to be. Americans inevitably disagree with each other about those judgments…Today's Americans have no more chance of reaching consensus on [these] questions than of agreeing on what church (if any) we should all attend; that is why we keep the state out of controlling churches, just as we keep it out of other value-forming institutions such as publishing and journalism. The more we entrust such decisions to centralized state agencies, the more conflicts we foment. Zero-sum "culture wars" for control of coercive state monopolies make enemies of people who could otherwise be friends.

NCLB does not explicitly call for national curricula. It mandates standards for testing, not for curricula, and leaves the content and design of the tests up to the states. But in the long run tests, at least to some degree, shape curricula. NCLB is already promoting centralization within each state; it could become a force for national centralization as well if future administrations exercise to its full potential their power to deny federal funding to states whose testing programs are deemed inadequate…

…NCLB virtually guarantees massive evasion of its own intent: It orders the state education agencies to do things that many of them don't want to do—such as instituting detailed, rigorous testing programs that enable the public to distinguish successful from unsuccessful schools—while giving those agencies broad discretion about just how to do those things. As the states devise various tactics for evading the letter and spirit of the law, Washington policymakers will be forced either to let them get away with those tactics or to keep amending NCLB's statutory text (already about 1,100 pages long) and associated regulations in order to keep up with ever more inventive evasions.
If policymakers choose the former course, NCLB might as well not exist; like other federal education programs, it will be just one more drain on taxpayers and provide subsidies to special interests, in this case to the testing companies. But if policymakers instead choose to amend the statute, they will end up making it steadily more prescriptive and top-heavy. Washington's education officials will more and more resemble Soviet central planners trying to improve economic performance by micromanaging decisions from Moscow. Unlike Soviet bureaucrats, however, the federal government lacks a captive labor force; the more centralized the system becomes, the more likely the educators with the greatest creativity and leadership will be to seek careers elsewhere rather than accept being pawns of the central government. As a strategy for promoting "excellence," centralization is inherently self-defeating.

Thus NCLB is a reform strategy at war with itself: It can work on its own terms only if federal officials ride tight herd on their state counterparts, overriding them whenever they sacrifice reform to special-interest pressures. Its authors have already said that they will do no such thing, rightly invoking principles such as states' rights and the absence of a constitutional warrant for federal control of local schools. But if they were truly serious about those principles, they would never have enacted NCLB to begin with…

Thus NCLB may end up giving us the worst possible scenario: unconstitutional consolidation in Washington of power over the schools, with that power being used to promote mediocrity rather than excellence. It is too early to know which scenario will prevail, but it is already clear that state and local education officials are skillfully protecting their interests in ways that undermine the intent of NCLB. Especially telling has been their widespread dishonest reporting in at least four areas: graduation rates, school violence, qualified teachers, and proficiency tests…

The most important part of NCLB, its goal of 100 percent academic "proficiency" among America's schoolchildren by the year 2014, is also the easiest to manipulate. The statute does not even define the word "proficiency," though it appears hundreds of times. Under NCLB the states have manifold opportunities to "game the system."…Unfortunately, the first three years of NCLB have seen states using all of those tactics. As it becomes increasingly clear that the states can dumb down their standards without adverse consequences, there will likely be a "race to the bottom."

The incentives for evading the truth will grow as NCLB's annual targets get more ambitious…Moreover, the idea of an enlightened federal government forcing the states to do the right thing depends on the assumption that Washington is somehow immune to the interest-group pressures that warp decision making within the state education agencies. That assumption is utterly unrealistic…

State-level testing and accountability systems enacted before NCLB have tended over time, as Frederick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute puts it, to drift from "tough" to "soft." Standards are gradually relaxed as interest groups mobilize against them…

NCLB reflects an ideological strain that is novel for Republican presidents, utopianism. Like older forms of utopianism, the Bush administration emphasizes collective action rather than individual responsibility: NCLB implicitly treats students as passive commodities, mass-produced by state programs. It also treats parents as unable to select good schools…

Utopianism usually ends up transforming rhetoric more than reality…By 2014 NCLB will be seen to have failed, just as the other centralized education programs enacted since the 1960s have failed…Rather than continuing to use centralized government decrees to turn mediocre institutions into excellent ones, as they have been trying but failing to do for decades, the state and federal governments should be empowering individual families to transfer to schools of their own choice.

That strategy would bring three advantages that are absent from the command-and-control model embodied in NCLB. First, it would allow parents to rescue their children from dysfunctional schools immediately…Second, it would allow families to pick schools that are compatible with their own philosophical and religious beliefs instead of locking them into zero-sum conflicts to decide which groups win power to impose their beliefs on others. Third, it would unleash the dynamic force of competition. Real accountability to customers free to go elsewhere is qualitatively different from fake accountability to government agencies that can almost always be pressured into keeping the money flowing to schools that are manifestly failing.

The key locus for genuine reform is the states. Under the Constitution it is the states that have legal responsibility for education…The best contribution the national government can make is to get out of the way.

In a February 27 Wall Street Journal editorial (available for a fee), Chester Finn, Jr. and Diane Ravitch, offer further perspective:

U.S. students lag behind their peers in other modern nations -- and the gap widens dramatically as their grade levels rise. Our high school pupils (and graduates) are miles from where they need to be to assure them and our country a secure future in the highly competitive global economy. Hence, any serious effort at education reform hinges on our setting world-class standards, then candidly tracking performance in relation to those standards. Even when gains are slender and results disappointing, we need the plain truth. Which is why recent attempts by federal and state governments to sugarcoat the performance of students is so alarming.

Our most rigorous standards are those of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), a federally funded testing program that began in 1969. At a time when many states, responding to the accountability prods of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act, are embracing low performance norms for their students -- and pumping out misleading information about how many youngsters are "proficient" and how many schools are making "adequate yearly progress" -- NAEP functions as an indispensable external benchmark. It unblinkingly reported that only 29% of eighth grade public school pupils were "proficient" in math and reading in 2005. It also showed starkly that the results reported by many states are far too rosy...

Not surprisingly, NAEP's role as honest auditor makes state officials squirm. Since NCLB expects each state to set its own academic norms and choose its own tests, the temptation to dumb them down is irresistible; NAEP is the main antidote. Congress knew that in 2001 when, as part of No Child Left Behind, it required all states to take part in NAEP reading and math tests in grades four and eight. (Previously, state participation was voluntary.) Since 1988, NAEP's standards and policies have been set by the independent, bipartisan National Assessment Governing Board (NAGB). In 1990, that body promulgated three achievement levels for reporting NAEP results. These it labeled "basic," "proficient" and "advanced."

"Basic" denoted "partial mastery of knowledge and skills." "Advanced" signified "superior performance beyond grade-level mastery." "Proficient," though, was the key. NAGB termed it "the central level," representing "solid academic performance for each grade tested" and "a consensus that students reaching this level have demonstrated competency over challenging subject matter and are well prepared for the next level of schooling." NAGB intended that "proficient" would represent the skills that every student ought to possess -- even if many were not there yet. On NAEP tests since 1990, this level of performance has usually been reached by about three kids in 10. Everyone knows that's unsatisfactory. But it's also reality, an accurate gauge of the gap between U.S. pupils' prowess and what they need to match world standards.

From the outset, some educators protested that NAGB's "proficient" was too ambitious, but the board stuck to its guns. For the past 15 years, both NAGB and the Department of Education, which manages NAEP, have resisted pressure from politicians and educators to back away from, or dumb down, the "proficient" standard. With NCLB, however, that's begun to change. More voices are demanding that NAEP focus attention on the much-lower "basic" standard...But the White House and Education Department now crave proof that NCLB is succeeding and seek to accommodate state pleas for "flexibility" and pacify governors threatening to withdraw from NCLB.

Hence they, too, are subtly substituting "basic" for "proficient" when they report NAEP results -- and downplaying standards altogether in favor of simple up-and-down trend lines. In releasing the 2005 scores, the Education Department for the first time published comparison tables showing state-specific progress only in relation to "basic." And even NAGB members now highlight "basic" rather than "proficient."...

Is No Child Left Behind corrupting NAEP? It's too soon to be sure. But it's clear that, for those in the Bush administration and on Capitol Hill whose own reputations hinge on the perceived success of NCLB, NAEP results now carry consequences, just as they do for states...

America's great education problem is that for years we settled for "basic skills" rather than true proficiency. The Bush administration does a disservice to the nation if it tells educators and state officials that "basic" is acceptable. You can be sure that our competitors aren't doing any such thing.

Another relevant article can be found here. A previous posting is also relevant.


March 1, 2006

William Bennett: Kill the UAE Port Deal

Carroll Andrew Morse

William Bennett (and Seth Leibsohn) come out strongly against the United Arab Emirates port deal in today’s National Review Online

We are indeed a commercial republic, but we should not allow commerce to dictate our republican principles any more than we should allow it to trump our wartime sensibilities, goals, or lessons. The stakes are too high, and the nobility of our effort is too great. Kill the deal, Mr. President.
Bennett throws down the gauntlet to those who say barring the UAE from operating ports in the US would be nativist, isolationist, or Islamophobic and asks what compels the US to do business with a nation that itself refuses to do business with another American ally…
Despite post-9/11 reforms, to this day the UAE will not recognize Israel, and has funded Islamic terror movements, including Hamas, during the very time we are told it has changed it ways. It may have changed some of its ways, but it is a country that in its 34-years of existence has been unable to recognize the first, original, and perhaps only fully-fledged democracy in the Middle East — Israel — which has been in existence for almost 60-years, and where Arabs enjoy more freedoms than they do in the UAE.

To this day — and since it has become a post-9/11 ally — the UAE continues to support the Arab commercial boycott of Israel. Since we are told the UAE would be offended by being barred from trading with and in the United States, perhaps it might take the next 40 days or so to rescind its boycott of Israel, and — if it is not asking too much — actually see fit to recognize the existence of Israel.

Bennett also makes note of the intransigence of the UAE with respect to democracy…
Freedom House rates the UAE "not free" and puts it one notch above Saudi Arabia. The Economist actually ranks it one notch worse than Iran in its "political freedom index." In its report on the country, Freedom House reports that "[c]itizens of the UAE cannot change their government democratically. The UAE has never held an election. All decisions about political leadership rest with the dynastic rulers of the seven separate emirates of the UAE in what is known as the Supreme Council of Rulers." That is not something that can be said about Great Britain.

As for freedom of expression, the UAE "severely restricts this right." While freedom does exist in the economic sector-mostly for the promotion of trade-"Discrimination against non-citizens, who make up the vast majority of the population and at least half of the workforce, occurs in many aspects of life, including employment, access to education, housing, and healthcare."

I’m not sure how much pull Bennett has with this particular White House, but as a conservative celebrity, his message of “kill the deal” will certainly attract attention.

There is still a way, maybe, that the President can save this deal while staying true to the foreign policy framework he has established (and also stopping isloalationism from gaining its first serious post-September 11 foothold in American foreign policy). The President can come out and openly talk about some of the problems with the UAE cited by Bennett, talk about how engagement is they only way the problems can be fixed, and pick one or two items off of Bennett’s list as the ones he’d like to see the leaders of the UAE work on changing within some reasonable time frame.

If it works, the President gets the best of both the commercial and political worlds. He gets his port deal and he shows he can advance the democratization agenda without resort to force. But if it is not possible to discuss any of these issues because their public mention by the administration would cause the leaders of the UAE to back out of the deal, then it is perfectly reasonable to ask how entangled the US should become with an autocratic nation that is unwilling to even consider the possibility of liberalization in the future.


The Chafee Campaign on the Pilot Choice Program

Carroll Andrew Morse

The statement offered by the campaign of Senator Lincoln Chafee on Steve Laffey’s announcement of a proposed pilot school choice program between Cranston and Providence ignores most of the substance that was discussed by Mayor Laffey. If this is truly representative of the Senator’s view, then the Senator has a very narrow view of the objectives of the public education system…

At a press conference today, Mayor Laffey once again demonstrated a disregard for state statutes that clearly outline the proper procedure for dealing with non-resident students….

There is a set process in place to deal with the issues of disenrollment that the Mayor has chosen to ignore. Expedited hearings are available at the State Department of Education, which are routinely used by communities to remedy such matters. It is actually illegal for a school district to disenroll a student without first going through proper channels.

"This behavior is vintage Steve Laffey - shoot first, ask questions later," commented Chafee Campaign Manager Ian Lang. "There are appropriate procedures in place for dealing with these situations, but Mayor Laffey is either ignorant of them or simply doesn't care…
Apparently, the Chafee campaign has no interest in the pilot choice program, nor in the fact that Providence schools are failing, both discussed extensively in Mayor Laffey’s press conference, but not mentioned in the Chafee campaign press release.

If this statement truly represents the Senator’s position on public education, Senator Chafee’s interest in public education apparently ends at making sure that proper procedures are being followed in making sure that students are attending schools in their home districts, even if that means forcing students to go to bad schools when alternatives are available.


Suspicions of an Ex Post Facto Gotcha

Justin Katz

Fred's sarcasm in the comments to Andrew's foregoing post regarding my previous complaints that Mayor Laffey hadn't tied his arrest of Maria Hernandez to the issue of school choice doesn't really work based on Laffey's ex post facto announcement. Will's comments fair a little better, since his previous assertion was of an unseen plan on Laffey's part. But for all we know, it was discussion on this very blog that prompted Cranston's newly minted school choice policy. Probably not, but the timeline hardly invalidates my argument that Laffey had said absolutely nothing about the topic previously.

If this matter is unfolding according to some master plan, however, I have to say that I find the strategy to be unnecessarily manipulative. Pushing a family into the state spotlight with an arrest and promises of prosecution in order to embarrass foes and tentative allies alike with a gotcha probably isn't the most politic means of advancing conversation.

Of course, if there were a plan in operation, I'd have expected materials to have been prepared (e.g., on the Web site) for simultaneous release. I also wouldn't have expected this to be the case:

Laffey said he has not contacted Providence to brief them on his plan, or to work on the problems together.