“Show Me” The Money: Missouri’s Century-Long Battle For Reform

Last week, the Missouri legislature cut something that had only seen growth in over a century. Don’t worry, the Irish Tenors are still showing. Rather, the state House and Senate overruled Governor Jay Nixon’s  veto of income-tax breaks for Missourians. The most notable of these cuts is a .5 percent incremental decrease for the top marginal bracket and a 25 percent tax income-tax exemption for small businesses.

The Show Me State joins its neighbors in Oklahoma, Kansas and Indiana (among others) in what the Wall Street Journal calls “The Heartland Tax Rebellion” as states boasting income-tax reform plans that have showed seemingly positive results at both  the individual and state levels. Of course, these types of policies cross at the intersection of conservative and liberal ideologies, which has led to significant backfire from the Democratic Nixon and his legislative minorities.

The argument is predictable and even older than Missouri’s last tax cut. Nixon and his cohorts say the policy will take away from funding for other public services, namely education. On the other hand, Republicans advocate for their policy by saying that it puts more money in the pockets of individuals, thereby stimulating economic growth and job opportunities making Missouri more competitive with the other Heartland Rebels. Both sides look to other states with similar statutes to make their point, with Democrats showing the seemingly detrimental effects of Nevada and Florida’s policies and Republicans using Kansas and North Dakota’s as touchstones. However, both sides’ examples only demonstrate a facet of what comprises a state’s economic situation.

Therein lies the issue with these types of ideological bouts. No two states are the same. The whole reason the backbone of our government rests in the power of states is because they are dynamic. People reside in a certain state for a myriad of reasons: jobs, family, climate, tax incentives, etc. With something as complex as tax reform, and cuts in particular, each state must take into account its own demographic and customize the solution to the lives of their citizens. While studies indicate states with lower income-tax levels show better performance over time in employment, population, and state production, Missouri Republicans must be careful to not merely copy and paste methods that have worked in Kansas and Oklahoma. Rather, careful measurement and calculation is necessary in order to tailor this policy in a way that is mutually beneficial for individual prosperity and state growth.
For more information on Missouri’s journey towards comprehensive tax reform, check out this video from the Show-Me Institute

School Choice Week Is Now In Session

Times have changed. Gone are the days of the government’s monopoly on education.

As society adjusts to the incredible advances in technology and communication, our educational system has evolved with the changing landscape of culture. Despite government policies designed to corral these efforts, i.e. Common Core, states like Oklahoma are taking action to inform the public about their citizens’ options for education as well as their firm resolution to improve the quality of education for students.

Citizens from all over the country are bringing attention to the actions that states are taking to promote educational opportunity for all during  National School Choice Week, taking place Jan. 26 – Feb. 1, 2014.

Senior Vice President of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs (OCPA) backs the initiative in the below video explaining that a good public education system means simply providing the public with the best education possible, however that end may be achieved.

There is no doubt that the public school system in America falls gravely short of worldwide averages. In the same way that most Americans could agree that our healthcare system was in dire need of reform around the 2008 election, education improvements are of paramount importance. However, just as federal reform measures have become the laughing stock of the healthcare industry, the public cannot rely on government alone to fix the issues in education.

As a result, organizations like the OCPA are partnering with OK Governor Mary Fallin to get the word out about the many options parents and students have for quality education. And that’s what National School Choice Week is all about. From public school to virtual school, our current system offers many alternatives that people may not be aware of or never thought could be viable options.

One-size fits all solutions from Washington aren’t working, but the good news is that some state can choose to opt-out of national programs and set up systems of opportunity and choice .

Stay informed about all of next week’s activities and get involved by signing up at schoolchoiceweek.com.

Miss Utah & the Case for Education Reform

Could a better education have prevented Miss Utah from this embarrassing moment that went viral on Twitter and YouTube? We can’t be certain, but we do know there are problems with the education system in this country.

Somewhere in her “umm…” filled answer, Miss Utah was trying to connect the problem back to what she believed was the root of it all: education.

Currently, some education reformers and the federal government are pushing Common Core national education standards. In fact, the federal government is coercing states to adopt the standards by tying federal dollars to implementation. Unfortunately, Common Core standards make about as much sense for states as Miss Utah’s answer in the Miss USA pageant last night.

Common Core takes away local and state control in favor of one-size-fits-all standards for students. Rather than a local, student-focused reform approach, Common Core is centered around rigid federally controlled government standards that many believe won’t actually improve student performance.

Just ask states like Kentucky and New York that are struggling to implement the standards. Implementation problems for both states are detailed by The Heritage Foundation here. As we start to see Common Core implemented in some states, we will likely see teachers, parents and students who are just as lost as the Miss USA audience was last night.

Is the sequester all that bad for states?

Tomorrow, March 1, 2013, the dreaded and overly dramatized sequester will occur.

President Obama has called the sequester a “meat-clever approach” to cutting the budget. News reports and the president have been telling us that the TSA will shrink and  result in longer airport lines this summer, national parks will close down some of their campgrounds, and the military will be crippled. Further, he has been traveling the states saying that essential state services will also be cut, such as education or law enforcement.

The sequester has forced us to look at government spending a little bit closer to discern the myths from the facts. The good news is that when we dig in, we find these four facts to be true:

  1. States should not depend upon federal dollars to provide essential services, such as education and public safety.
  2. Sequestration will only cut 2.4 percent of a $3.6 trillion budget. Even with the cuts, total spending in 2013 will exceed what was spent in 2012.
  3. The President knew that sequestration was coming, and he has had the opportunity to work with Congress to cut other non-essential spending in lieu of what he now calls the “meat-clever approach.”
  4. Even after the defense cuts, we will be spending more on the military now than during the height of the Cold War.

Sequester

Nobody wants essential services cut, but the hard truth is that the federal government should not be holding the purse strings for any of these services to begin with. Education and public safety should be funded and managed at the state level.

The Texas Public Policy Foundation reported that in January the Texas House of Representatives convened the Committee on Texas Response to Federal Sequestration to prepare for the cuts. After listing the various state programs that might feel the impact of federal budget cuts, the committee concluded its report with this warning about “becoming too dependent on the federal government”:

“The situation we find ourselves in with sequestration should serve as a cautionary tale to consider carefully how much we expand programs on the state level utilizing federal dollars. As recent events demonstrate, the federal government could pull funding at any time and Texas would be left to deal with the ramifications.” Why the Sequester Won’t Be So Bad for Texas

Given the massive national debt, it is more important now than ever for states to take control of their fiscal houses. It’s just common sense– something that Washington politicians know very little about.

Change Starts in Your Community

JasonMooreQuote

Congress ended 2012 with a 15 percent average approval rating — its lowest yearly average in history, according to Gallup. Congress began 2013 with only a 14 percent approval rating. Perhaps not surprisingly, Congress is less liked than genocidal warlord Genghis Khan, cockroaches, and rock band Nickelback. (Statistics from HuffPost Politics)

We are clearly frustrated with Congress. Frustrated that the national debt is more than $16 trillion dollars and that Washington politicians seem to care more about pleasing special interests than the people they represent back home. The Tea Party and Occupy movements both reflect this sentiment, and they endeavored to make a radical change to the system.

Changing Congress or the White House is a monumental and worthy task to take on, but practically speaking it is difficult for those of us with day jobs. This does NOT mean we should become apathetic or give up on influencing policy. Rather, we can direct our time and talents toward making an impact on our spheres of influence.

Discover your sphere of influence:

  • What are your talents and abilities?
  • How much time do you have?
  • What issues do you care about?
  • Who can come alongside you? Friends, community organizations, advocacy organizations, policy groups, etc.
  • What level of government do you need to influence to make a change? This could be your school board, city council, state government, etc.

Jason Moore, a concerned citizen turned political influencer from Odessa, Texas, focused on his sphere of influence and made a big change in his state. Jason owns his own masonry building and has five children, but he was concerned with the education his children were receiving in public schools and the wasteful local government spending on a “Taj Majal”-style building.

He knew his sphere of influence and took action. Jason became a government watchdog and began doing his own investigative reporting, and eventually he created CitizenWatchdogs.com. He vigilantly attends city, county and school board meetings with his camera in hand to hold public officials accountable on how they are spending tax payer dollars. His recently educated the public on the large local debt in Texas ($322 billion) and the local bond initiatives that were on the November ballot.

If you can’t change city hall, then you can’t change Congress. Jason Moore

Besides becoming a citizen watchdogs, there are other ways to directly effect state and local policy.  One powerful tactic is to put an initiative on the ballot. Ballot initiatives can be filed by any citizen, at any time. They give you a way to propose laws directly and allow citizens to vote yes or no, without any politicians playing middle man (via Watchdog Wire).

There are many steps to getting an initiative on the ballot and successfully campaign for it. This free e-booklet by Leslie Graves breaks the process into 14 manageable steps:

You hold the power to change your local and state government if you take a good look at your sphere of influence and educate yourself on the political process.

Governors Reject Parts of Obamacare: The Moral & Economic High Ground

We’ve been told by the highest court in the land that the Affordable Care Act is indeed constitutional. Well, shoot… But there is still a bit of good news: the states can refuse to expand the Medicaid rolls without being penalized by the federal government. This essentially gives them (the states) an escape clause.

Is this that rarest of things, the perfect prenup? It appears to be. States with governors who recognize the inherent moral and economic problems in taking money from Peter in order to pay for Paul’s medical expenses can refuse to expand to Medicaid without worrying about having their existing Medicaid funding rescinded.

Governor Rick Scott of Florida issued a statement saying:

Florida will opt out of spending approximately $1.9 billion more taxpayer dollars required to implement a massive entitlement expansion of the Medicaid program.

Governor Rick Perry of Texas, in a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, stated:

Medicaid is a failed a program. To expand this program is not unlike adding a thousand people to the Titanic. You’re going to further drive this country into debt. You don’t expand a program that is not working already.

The criticism we’re hearing from the Left is that those governors planning on rejecting outright the additional Medicaid funds (Perry, Scott, Haley, Jindal, et al) from the federal government are in states with the highest rates of uninsured people. Thus, the states that stand to benefit the most are the ones choosing to opt out. This drives advocates of big government programs crazy. Why would people act ‘against their own economic interest?!?’

This argument comes around every time someone votes not to tax someone else who has more money. If you flip this question on its head, or place it in another context other than government taxation, you could phrase it like this: ‘Would you use force to take what someone else had earned in order to pay for your own bills?’ As soon as we take away the veil of legitimacy provided by the state, we see the sort of person who poses that sort of question for what they really are – thugs who misuse the force of government.

Even last week’s Economist didn’t quite phrase it right. Referring to the states that intend to take additional Medicaid funding as “happy to accept Washington’s cash,” it forgets that Washington HAS no cash except what it takes from individuals to begin with. Refusing to expand Medicaid might not be the best move politically, and it might bring some pain in the short term, but it is a principled move on the part of the governors. More should consider doing likewise.

Check out this video from the late, great Nobel Laureate Economist Milton Friedman:

When Government Fails to Act, Citizens Do

As Americans, we generally agree that government should do some things, though we may differ strongly in what those things are. But what happens when government fails to perform its core functions? In the right circumstances, a strong political leader can make a difference. Under Rudy Giuliani’s leadership, for example, New York City made great strides in controlling crime, a basic function of government.

It can take a long time for government entities to shape up, however, and citizens can’t always afford to wait. That’s one reason why a free people must sometimes peacefully take matters into their own hands.

The City of Detroit has been afflicted by a bloated, incompetent government for a long time. Just recently, the city was nearly taken over by the state. Years ago, citizens in one neighborhood came together to do what city government should do well, but did not. The Historic Boston-Edison Neighborhood Association contracted with a private firm to provide security. Residents pay a monthly fee of $30, and the association jointly purchases services from a private security firm. Currently, the firm spends 60 hours each week patrolling the streets of the neighborhood.

When a road on the island of Kauai, in Hawaii, needed repair, state officials said residents would have to wait up to two years before repairs were completed. Citizens and businesses, many of whom depended on the road for their livelihood, organized themselves. They didn’t lobby the government. Instead, they spent eight days fixing the road, doing what the state said would take $4 million.

One business owner said of the effort,

We can wait around for the state or federal government to make this move, or we can go out and do our part…. without the red tape of government or the self-serving interests of public unions.

Homeschoolers, for their part, aren’t content to wait for government-run schools to improve. Instead, they teach their children at home. Many organize together into co-ops, through which they share teachers for specialized or advanced subjects such as art or chemistry. Sometimes, a parent from the co-op does the teaching, while at other times the members pool their funds to hire teachers. By undertaking such activities, they continue the tradition of mutual aid and self-governance.

Health care, like education, is another human need that is often highly intertwined with government, and inadequately delivered. Federal and state governments minutely regulate health insurance, meaning that the decisions of government officials can have life or death consequences. While some people seek to improve the regulations, others opt out of insurance altogether. Health care sharing ministries serve over 100,000 people. Members of these mutual aid societies promise to share the financial needs of others, through means that don’t involve insurance contracts—or government.

Each of these efforts illustrates the private initiative of a self-governing population. Unfortunately, government can still get in the way. In Seattle and other cities, unions of city workers have stood in the way of individuals and companies offering volunteer help to clean up local parks. In Culver City, California, parents who offered volunteer labor to the local schools were met with resistance by a union, which wanted to control the money parents voluntarily spend to hire helpers.

When governments don’t serve the people, the people will find ways around the government. These obstacles, however, prompt the question: Should government serve the people, or should the people serve government?

John R. LaPlante as a senior fellow of the Free Market at the Center of the American Experiment and a contributor to TheMichiganView.com.

Make the Government Compete for Citizens

A book review by John R. LaPlante

Many Republicans cheered, or at least assented, when the federal government took on more powers during the presidency of George W. Bush. (See: the Patriot Act.) Democratic Party partisans, meanwhile, have taken the same tack after their own party took control the White House. (See: ObamaCare.)

But the political stars eventually realign, and then you may not be so happy with what happens. So a better approach is to support limits on government. There are various ways to do that. One is to hope for wise and benevolent rulers who won’t overstep their boundaries. (Good luck with that!) Another is to lay out in law what government can’t do, through spending limits or a Bill of Rights. Still another is to divide the power that government has among competing institutions.

In his book, “Power Divided is Power Checked,” Jason Lewis calls for reducing the power of the federal government over the states, drawing on the concept of “competitive federalism.” In brief, it means that the federal government manages national defense and foreign affairs, while the states make the laws and rules on other topics. People vote with their feet for the approach to government that suits them best.

Lewis explains how competitive federalism started (the Federalist Papers), how it has become weakened (by presidents, congresses and the Supreme Court), and how it might be strengthened once again. Along the way he talks about how federalism (or its lack) works itself out on issues such as minimum wage laws, the Americans with Disabilities Act, environmental regulations, the definition of marriage, and gun control. The book is a mini-seminar on the history of judicial interpretation, with some trips into political history along the way.

Lewis says:

Federalism has always been the sine qua non of limited government because it offers the only real safety valve from an overreaching government: the ability to flee.

Ironically, the federal government has weakened federalism by growing itself at the expense of the states.

Federal expansion has happened in several ways, including an open-ended reading of the “general welfare” and “interstate commerce” clauses of the U.S. Constitution. (Not surprisingly, advocates of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act—“ObamaCare”—often cite these clauses to support the law.)

Another example is the development of the “incorporation doctrine,” by which federal courts use the Bill of Rights and the Fourteenth Amendment to strike down state laws. The Amendment, enacted in 1868 in the aftermath of the Civil War, was meant, in Lewis’ words, “to constitutionalize the end of slavery in America.” That was the good news. The bad news: It has meant a diminished role for states, a larger role for the federal government, and increasing social conflict, as the cliché, “don’t make a federal case out of it” falls onto the dust heap of history. These days, it’s hard to think of something that can’t be the subject of a federal case.

Lewis is inspired by James M. Buchanan, a professor emeritus at George Mason University. In his essay, “Federalism and Individual Sovereignty,” Buchanan says that competitive federalism has a few benefits:

  1. It minimizes the risk of an oppressive central government, since much power is diffused to the states.
  2. It minimizes the power of state governments as well, by putting them into competition with each other.
  3.  It’s easier for a citizen to be effective in a smaller community than a large one.

Lewis closes his book with a look at ways of limiting federal power, especially against the states. He considers and dismisses several options. He ends by proposing a constitutional amendment—to be brought to the national debate by state legislatures, naturally—that strips the federal government of most of its power and even allows for secession. Many if not most Americans will find it fanciful or dangerous, but when we consider the political health of “we the people” today, some bracing words may be what we need.

Backlash from Health Care Law is a Good Sign for Freedom

Sometime in the future, historians may point to the passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) as the time when the centralizing power of the federal power reached its peak. The resulting push back from citizen activists and officials in the states set off a wave of successful efforts to reduce the size and scope of government generally, and the federal government, specifically.

Consider what has already happened:

More than half of the states have taken an argument with the federal government all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. In late March, the Court heard three days of oral argument in a lawsuit brought by Florida and 25 other states. The Court, which has never spent that much time on a single case, heard testimony on whether the law is an unconstitutional expansion of Medicaid. But the key issue was whether a government can require citizens to purchase something, in this case, health insurance, simply because they are alive. The Court should be issuing its ruling in mid- to late June.

States have also taken up political action. Legislators in 40 states have introduced “health freedom acts.” Generally, such acts would forbid a state from enacting a compulsory, single-payer healthcare system. It also provides leverage for states that have challenged the ACA in court. Seven states have enacted such an act.

Legislators in 18 states have introduced legislation to enact interstate compacts on health care, and six have enacted it. The compact would, if Congress consents, transfer responsibility for overseeing healthcare from the federal government to the states. Each state in the compact would be free to regulate health care and health insurance as its own people and Legislature saw fit.

Another key issue is the question of “health insurance exchanges.” While the ACA calls for states to create these politically driven and highly regulated “marketplace,” only 13 have done so. Most have been reluctant to do so, for various reasons. The exchanges present the states with financial risks, for starters. Even more significantly, however, the exchanges are part and parcel of the individual mandate. In a sign that the ACA continues to be controversial, gubernatorial candidates in New Hampshire have of late been sparring over the question of whether that state should enact an exchange.

The American founders called not only for checks and balances within the federal government, but also for the states to have a significant role. As James Madison wrote in Federalist #45, “The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government, are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite,” covering “the ordinary course of affairs” that citizens would address in their daily lives.

As Madison suggested, a state government can be oppressive to freedom. But as the response to the ACA is bearing out, the existence of many states is good for the cause of freedom.

John R. LaPlante as a senior fellow of the Free Market at the Center of the American Experiment and a contributor to TheMichiganView.com.

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