Saturday, March 19, 2005

 

More on the Pryce demotion

In case anyone believes the claptrap spin that hacks Jack Torry and Jonathon Riskind regurgitated in today's Dispatch, a story from last month in the Cincinnati Post has clues to what is really going on. Torry/Riskind claim House Republican Chair Deborah Pryce "has signalled her willingness to vacate her position." Well that's a diplomatic way to put it . The story goes on to indicate that Pryce has some deal where she is trading her position for some yet-to-be-determined committee chair.

But we think the real story is that Dayton area congressman John Boehner is bumping her out. According to a Feb. 12, 2005 column by the Post's Washington Bureau chief Michael Collins, Boehner has been plotting a move for some time:
The handicappers keeping track of who's in and who's out in Washington's power structure are abuzz over speculation that Rep. John Boehner might be plotting a comeback.

The source of the latest conjecture is a spreadsheet showing what Ohioans have known for a long time: the West Chester Republican is awfully good at raising money.

Boehner's political action committee, the Freedom Project, has circulated the document among some of the insiders and big political donors on Washington's influential K Street.

That has set off speculation that Boehner may be girding for another position in House Republican leadership. And, according to one published report, many donors are convinced that, if Boehner does run, he'll have to be taken seriously.

Whatever he's got in mind, Boehner isn't saying. He brushes aside talk about his future by saying that he's focused for now on his role as chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee.

[. . .]

Ever since Boehner was booted as chairman of the House Republican Conference six years ago, he has made no secret of the fact that he'd like to get back on the leadership track. And in Washington, it's never too early to start the next campaign.

A glowing fund-raising report could provide the oomph he'd need for a tough race.

According to the Hill, a newspaper that follows the goings-on in Congress, the spreadsheet that Boehner's PAC has been passing around ranks the "efficiency" of the top 10 House leadership PACs. The document looks at how much each has raised and then compares how much actually went to candidates, political entities and other PACs.

Not surprisingly, Boehner's PAC fared well, coming in fourth overall. Boehner's budget of $1.5 million was larger than that of two other Ohioans in leadership -- Republican Conference Chairwoman Deborah Pryce, who reported raising a little over $1 million, and Republican Leadership Chairman Rob Portman, who raised $1.2 million.

Several lobbyists were said to be impressed that a lawmaker who is not even chairman of an "A" committee was able to raise so much money -- a sign that Boehner could be a serious contender in the leadership races at the end of next year.

Boehner has been the subject of such speculation before. Last year, some thought he might challenge House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, whose ethics problems and abrasive style rub some people the wrong way. But Boehner didn't run, and DeLay kept his job.
'Nuff said.

 

Bleeding jobs in Ohio

Given news like this, it's hard to believe that someone, someone can't mount a successful campaign against "politics as usual" for governor in Ohio.

For the record:

 

Why does Deborah Pryce fear her constituents?

Not sure how we missed this a couple of days ago, but Ohio's own U.S. Rep. Deborah Pryce is now opening telling her fellow Republicans to stop holding "town hall" meetings with their constituents. From USA Today:
Republicans in Congress have a game plan to avoid "March madness" when they go home this weekend to talk to constituents about Social Security during a two-week holiday recess. Shaken by raucous protests at open "town hall"-style meetings last month, House Republican Conference Chairwoman Deborah Pryce of Ohio and other GOP leaders are urging lawmakers to hold lower-profile events this time.

[. . .]

This month, Republican leaders say they are chucking the open town-hall format. They plan to visit newspaper editorial boards and talk to constituents at Rotary Club lunches, senior citizen centers, chambers of commerce meetings and local businesses. In those settings, "there isn't an opportunity for it to disintegrate into something that's less desirable," says Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, chairman of the Senate Republican Conference.

[. . .]

Pryce says many Republicans "came back amazed at the depths that the opposition is going to and a little wiser about how to promote our issues." She says opposition tactics scared away constituents with "legitimate concerns," and Republicans now want to "put a little more control back into it."
What constitutes a lower-profile event?
Republican leaders are urging their party's lawmakers to take the spotlight off themselves by convening panels of experts from the Social Security Administration, conservative think tanks, local colleges and like-minded interest groups to answer questions about the federal retirement program.
Say, does that mean Pryce suggests her cohorts not publicize the event or ice out those that aren't robo-supporters? Why, heck no!
Pryce denies that her party's members would limit participants or audiences to supporters, as the Bush administration has done during its current 60-day Social Security tour.
But, apparently not everyone got the word.
Rep. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, . . . offered advice on how to avoid disruptions to her fellow Republicans at a House caucus meeting last week. . . "You don't call on (protesters) when you see them in the audience, because you know who your constituents are," says Capito.
As House Republican chair, Pryce is not exactly being bombarded with kudos for how the whole Social Security thing is going. Our guess is that was a factor in yesterday's announcement that Pryce was crossed off the list of possible replacements for Tom Delay if (when) he is indicted and forced to take a demotion. (And we'll buy a case of beer for the first person who can explain to us exact what Pryce's new post is.)

Friday, March 18, 2005

 

More on the "lite" version of the Blackwell amendment

From Sandy Theis at the Plain Dealer:
Those leading Republicans have been meeting privately and appear to be moving closer to proposing their own spending limit amendment. [Senate President Bill] Harris, the only one who'd previously opposed such an amendment, is now predicting that one will show up on the Nov. 8 ballot and that he will have helped put it there.

Part of his apparent about-face stems from private polls showing that voters support Blackwell's plan by more than 2 to 1. With that sort of head start, opponents know the measure would be difficult - and expensive - to beat.

Reinforcing their belief is Blackwell's announcement that he has $1 million in commitments to help ensure that it passes. No opponent has stepped forward with a plan to raise the millions more needed to make sure it does not.
Now, we have a few problems with Theis's last paragraph above. First, shouldn't Theis at least be asking where Blackwell's money is coming from? He probably wouldn't answer at this point, but she could at least make him refuse to say.

The other problem we have is her suggestion that no one has a plan to raise millions to fight Blackwell. In fact, it's common knowledge around Ohio that groups are actively seeking pledges to wage a multi-million dollar campaign against Blackwell and that these groups are doing quite well with obtaining their pledges. Yes, it is true that no one is doing this in public. But a few calls around Columbus would have confirmed that there will be one helluva fight against either Blackwell or Blackwell "lite."

 

More Ohio tax follies

While it appears that the average taxpayer will get screwed either way, the infighting continues in the "business communty" over whether to retain the old, loop-hole riddle franchise tax system or go with the proposed Commercial Activity (gross receipts) tax.

From the Plain Dealer:
But Rep. Bill Seitz said automakers and dealers have testified that the tax will hurt their operations, and asked Cleveland State University economics professor Ned Hill why a sales-tax hike wouldn't serve just as well.

"That alternative does not entail offending the largest industry in the state, and does not entail dividing the business community against itself, which is what's happening now," Seitz said.

[. . . ]

Hill suggested that some automakers oppose the new tax because, under the current system, they have used credits, enterprise zones and other incentives "to reduce their tax rates to effectively zero."
Well, apparently not just automakers:
The Ohio Department of Taxation released data this week that showed 16 of the state's 50 largest companies - six in the top 10 - paid the $1,000 minimum corporate franchise tax last year. Two of the state's 10 biggest companies actually received tax refunds from the state through tax credits.


 

Bob Ney Day! - Help bring ethics back to Congress

Better late than never. See this Kos post on effort to get Bob Ney to get Republicans on record regarding the discharge petition for Alan Mollohan's bill (H. Res. 131), which would restore the now-gutted ethics rules to a functioning standard in Congress.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

 

What's in a name?

Actually there is a lot in a name when it comes to political issues. For progressives, the danger is falling into the trap of using their opponents languange to inflict self-damage. The classic example have been liberals who take up the use of the term "death tax" instead of "estate tax."

No matter what Blackwell calls his amendment - whether its the Taxpayer Bill of Rights or the Tax Expenditure Limitation, he will have chosen his name carefully. (Add your own cynical thoughts here.) Either way, acceptance of his title implicity supports his framing of the issue.

Therefore, we are amazed at how many groups who oppose Blackwell on this issue continue to call it TABOR or TEL. Is this a problem of lack of creativity, or are they just oblivious to the fact that Blackwell would probably love it if they continued to call it TABOR or TEL? We hope its the first problem and not the second.

That's why we were excited to hear that some groups were refering to it as the LIE Amendment (Last In Everything) that contains both a non-subtle reminder of what its done to Colorado and points out that the amendment is really about something else.

After hearing about people calling it the LIE amendment, we also heard that some are calling it the "Taxpayer Bill of Goods." Short, clever, pretty good overall.

But the list for Ohio - for now - ends there. While doing our research, a friend pointed us to a one of the funniest names we've heard. It was cooked up by Colorado State Senator Ken Gordon who has also sworn off any reference to TABOR.

Gordon's suggestion: The Revenue Neutral Restrictive Constitutional Knot.” This forms the acronym “TRNRCK,” or “TRAIN WRECK.”

 

Special interests to benefit from LIE Amendment?

Again, the Colorado experience tells us what we can expect from Blackwell's Last In Everything Amendment. This summer the Rocky Mountain News reported that the refunds promised taxpayers are going to be going into someone else's pockets:
Colorado taxpayers hoping to pocket healthy TABOR refund checks as the economy improves may be in for a surprise, State Treasurer Mike Coffman said Tuesday. An analysis of tax credits lawmakers have enacted over the past several years shows that special interests eventually will be walking away with the lion's share of the refunds, Coffman said.

[. . . ]

In 2005, taxpayers will pocket 73 cents of every surplus dollar returned, Coffman said. But three years later in 2008, he said, the amount ending up in the average taxpayers' pockets will be only 27 cents of every surplus dollar.

[ . . .]

"Colorado taxpayers, who paid the bulk of the taxes in the first place, are essentially at the end of the line when it comes time to return TABOR surpluses," Coffman said.

 

TABOR in Colorado - Bad for business

In our earier post, we mentioned some of the problems in Colorado with the misnamed Taxpayers Bill Of Rights amendment. That post focused on problems it created with education and health care.

Here is how a columnist in the Denver Business Journal describes some of its effects on the economics, jobs and business climate:
In 2002, we had the third-worst budget gap in the nation. In the third quarter of last year, Coloradans' incomes grew slower than any other state, except one, and we ranked 45th in the nation in personal-income growth (we ranked first during the 1990s). In the last two years, the state has lost some 76,300 jobs, essentially doubling our unemployment rate.

[. . . ]

Another recent report by the nonpartisan legislative staff concludes that in coming years, spending levels will be insufficient to cover rising school enrollments, prison populations, health care costs and other changes, resulting in continued erosion of public services.

But TABOR will not let up, forcing an additional $1.2 billion out of state coffers between now and 2009. In real terms - dollars adjusted for inflation - this means that per-capita spending on services will be at least 10 percent lower in 2009 than it was in 2002. To add insult to injury, these stringent spending limits leave the state no room to build a "rainy day" fund.
Why is the writer concerned about the erosion of public services? Is he a shill for the public employee labor unions? No. He says that the TABOR has been bad for attracting new business:
The bulk of research shows the level of public services is the key determinant in business location decisions. For those who already call Colorado home, TABOR means we can't repair our roads and bridges, afford to invest in a public system of colleges and universities, fully fund local schools or provide adequate public health care services. And businesses pay the price.

[. . . ]

[U]nless we amend TABOR, we will succeed only in putting a Band-Aid across the increasingly widening gap between reasonable resources and what we need to keep Colorado a terrific place to live. And that's just plain bad business.

 

George - WTF?

Yesterday, the U.S. Senate voted on a "sense of the Senate" non-binding (but full of political advertisement materials) resolution:
To express the sense of the Senate that Congress should reject any Social Security plan that requires deep benefit cuts or a massive increase in debt.
How did Ohio's two senators vote, you ask?
Mike Dewine - Yea
George Voinovich - Nay
Guess you can tell which one faces reelection next.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

 

Like chickens with their heads cut off

Many Democrats, Republicans and progressives have already talked themselves into a panic about Kenny Blackwell's Last In Everything Amendment. That's because, for months now, the common wisdom around the state is that 7 out of 10 Ohioans are going to vote for it.

Alas, the moans, the hysteria, the gnashing of teeth have already started. The headless chickens are running amok. Take this nugget, for example, from the Dispatch:
[Speaker of the House Jon A.] Husted said Taft and legislators must create an alternative to a plan pushed by Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell that would sharply limit tax and spending increases. Without another option, seven in 10 Ohioans would support the Blackwell-backed proposal.

"In the absence of a $3 million campaign (against it), there's no question in my mind that it's going to win,'' Husted said.
Get fucking real. IF the ONLY question taxpayers are asked is if they want to limit government spending, then, yes, a sizeable majority will support the LIE Amendment.

But of course that isn't going to be the ONLY question voters will be asked. That is, it won't be unless the opponents run a dumb campaign (or better put, a not-smart campaign like the anti-Issue 1, aka the Gay Marriage effort) which we admit is always possible.

Now, there are some campaigners and strategists who clearly haven't learned any lessons, have taken no responsibility for their misjudgments and errors, and are still wondering what happened to Ohio in November. These should be avoided like the plague.

But, truthfully, there are a few smart Democrat campaigners around who sound like they have learned the right lessons from the Kerry and Issue 1 defeats. At least we think they have.

The smarter, wiser strategists will immediate see that the campaign to defeat Blackwell and the LIE amendment could shape up as a major clash of two "framing" strategies. If you don't know what framing means, you had better catch up on your Lakoff readings - a point we expect to make again and again on these pages.

Blackwell will frame the amendment as simply being about the need to require government spending to stay in line with economic growth, something necessary because of a feckless legislature. It values the protection of taxpayers, etc.

Opponents will have to frame the amendment as simply being about a conservative scheme to cut spending on education, health care, parks, the elderly and infrastructure investments. It values preserving and expanding the opportunities for low-income and middle class Ohioans.

With the two choices posed like that, Ohioans on both sides can/will vote their values. And when we can pose the choices like that, then we can have some real polling and have a more accurate test of which way voters wanted to go.

There is one other thing that the opponents of the LIE Amendment have the edge on: we know it doesn't work, we know it wreaks economic disaster and we can beat the supporters to death with the Colorado experience.

We're bettors and we strongly like the odds that would result from combining a good framing strategy and wise use of the Colorado experiences.

One important additional point needs to be made. In the Dispatch story above, Husted says Taft and legislators must create an alternative to a plan pushed by Blackwell. This comment about an "alternative" is NOT a reference to a campaign to defeat the lie amendment. Instead, Husted and others want to introduce a watered down version of the LIE amendment, Blackwell "lite" if you prefer.

This is asinine and will only harm LIE amendment opponents. Husted and his acolytes will try to spin it that they are only trying to drain votes from Blackwell, but the opposite will occur. The only people that will be attracted to a milder amendment are those that are convinced that some amendment is going to pass and that it is the lesser of the two evils. Each of those would be a vote drained from the anti-LIE camp.

Democrats and progressives should dig their heels in fight those that would throw up a diversion to a head-on battle against Blackwell.

 

Ohio tax "reform": The devil or the deep blue sea

It's no wonder the business community is divided over the tax changes being contemplated in Columbus. Under the current system, the fat cats have this (from the Dispatch):
Although their sales topped $1.5 billion apiece, only four of Ohio’s 10 largest companies paid more than the state’s $1,000 minimum corporate franchise tax last year. Two got money back from the state after tax credits. More than a third of the top 50 companies paid the minimum in the state’s main business tax or got money back, according to Ohio Department of Taxation data requested by The Dispatch. Company names weren’t released.

"At a time when we’re charging people to go to parks and cutting people off Medicaid, certainly the largest corporations ought to be paying more than they are," said Zach Schiller, research director of Cleveland-based Policy Matters Ohio.
On the other hand, the Taft tax change proposals would have this affect on taxpayers (via the Campaign to Stop Ohio's Slide):

Average Tax Change Under Governor Taft’s Plan



So, let's face it. There is no serious attempt to bring about any tax fairness or equity going on among the Republicans in Columbus. (The outnumbered Democrats are essential irrelevant in this matter.) Yes, yes, we know there is also a new commercial-activities tax that's been thrown in. And, yes, there is a huge revenue gap that must be addressed in the state budget. But as John Honeck, another PMO staffer pointed out today before the Senate Ways and Means Committee:
. . . the tax changes introduced would generate insufficient revenue in 2006-07, result in a net revenue shortfall of $2.1 billion by 2010 when compared to extending the current tax structure, and shift the tax burden from wealthy individuals to the poor and middle-class. The income tax cut would result in one-seventh of the reduced payments to the state being shifted to the federal government because of reduced deductions on federal tax forms.
Armed with this data and what appears to be a little of the "go with the devil you know" attitude, PMO says a better approach is to keep the corporate franchise tax but modify it or eliminate the loopholes.

The SOS, however, says:
It’s time to go back to the drawing board and come up with a revenue package that’s fair, that will fund the critical services we need, and that won’t mortgage Ohio’s future.
While we don't give the PMO solution much of a chance, at least it is grounded in the reality that there is sizeable distaste among some of the business community (like the Retailers and the Chamber of Commerce) for the proposed CAT tax. The SOS's ideas are long on enthusiasm but short on practicality given the Republican domination of state politics. It's worth talking up these ideas, but we are unclear why the SOS isn't backing PMO and explore whether or not its possible to get the disparate political force to clean up the franchise tax.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

 

The LIE Amendment

One topic we plan on focusing more on in the future is a proposed Ohio constitutional amendment being cooked up by the likes of Kenny Blackwell (and others, although Blackwell's will be the most extreme). The amendment would - in brief - ostensibly limit the growth of state and local government spending, and index it to inflation and population growth measurements.

As we understand it, the amendment would also require a supermajority vote of the legislature plus a vote of the people to alter taxes outside of these indexes. The limits and override rules would also apply to local government spending.

But the real agenda at work is not to limit government, but strangle it. Actually, considering the probably effect, it would be more like applying a garrotte to government.

Blackwell hasn't announced many details, but it is well known that he is enamored with a similar amendment passed about a decade ago in Colorado that was given an Orwellian name, the Tax Payers Bill Of Rights (TABOR). The amendment is alternatively called a Tax Expenditure Limitation amendment. Partial versions of this have been passed in other states, and full versions have been defeated in states like Maine and Wisconsin.

For anyone not involved with government (which we acknowledge is just about everyone) there is a certain initial "common sense" traction to the idea that government shouldn't grow any faster than inflation and the population. But the business of running government requires real sense, not common sense.

Consider, for example, two situations: prisons and Medicaid.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s there was a "get tough on crime" mood that swept the nation and the state. Republicans in Ohio in that era were in many cases swept into the General Assembly (and eventually won a majority) in part by posturing that they were going to be tougher on crime and criminals than the Democrats. And, indeed, they passed many new crime and sentencing laws that caused the number of inmates in Ohio's prisons to double in just a few years. The number grew so fast that it overwhelmed the state's prison system, particularly because bills can get passed much faster than prisons can be built. The 1993 11-day prison riot in Lucasville was largely a by-product of the overcrowding and understaffing that was triggered by this tidal wave of new inmates.

To cope, the state of Ohio went on a prison building spree that effectively doubled the number of prisons, and as logic would require, double the number of staff, etc. The prison agency's budget quickly became the largest of all state agencies, growing at a pace much faster than inflation during the period of the 1990s.

While prison spending reached a plateau and eventually dropped (in inflation-adjusted dollars) by 2000, state Medicaid spending began to soar. This has mainly been do to health care inflation that has grown at double-digit annual rates since the last part of the Clinton administration. Stopping this growth in spending would have required cutting the care and opportunities to the poorest Ohioans and to those who are disabled. In fact, how to respond to the ballooning Medicaid costs is a big topic in Columbus these days. But until now, legislators have bitten the bullet and allowed Medicaid expenditures to increase rather than make harmful cuts.

The point of the prison example is that state and local government is representative government. We elect legislators, commissioners and city council members who, as part of their job, make certain policy decisions that have budgetary impact. And, according to the theory, they are held accountable and can be voted out if they are doing a lousy job controlling the government's purse strings.

The point of the Medicaid example is that state and local government officials often face factors that are largely outside their control. Health cost inflation is one. Homeland security is another.

But amendments like Blackwell's make a mockery of representative government and substitute a mechanistic approach for accountability of election officials.

Even more insidious is the tendency of these types of amendments to "rachet" down state and local government budgets. This is the garrotting effect, and this concept will be the subject of future posts. Suffice it to say that, once this type of amendment is in place, budgets can never recover their real or effective spending levels after sharp economic downturns.

The strong racheting effect in places like Colorado have curtailed spending particularly on education and health care. Here are some current measures of what the TABOR amendment has done in Colorado:
Looking forward to what might occur in Ohio, some opponents have aptly taken to calling Blackwell's initiative the LIE Amendment - Last In Everything.

Like many things, people's attitude toward things like their government and taxes is complex at this point. It's hard to separate cause and effect. As analysts like George Lakoff have pointed out, conservatives have spent over three decades in a largely successful ideological campaign to convince the public that government and taxes are the problem, not the solution.

At the same time, it would appear that some in Ohio have major doubts about exactly how accountable their elected representatives actually are. Gerrymandering and redistricting have made incumbents in Congressional seats as well as state and local government positions nearly defeat-proof. Thus - in the absence of other major political changes - there are many that will say, "So what?" if Blackwell's amendment does undermine legislators' accountabilities and responsibilities.

This leads us to conclude that effectively defeating Blackwell must go hand in glove with another constitutional amendment to change the way legislative districts are drawn, changing it from a strictly partisan effort to one that is non-partisan or truly bi-partisan.

The good news is that defeating the LIE amendment and ending fixed elections are not just parlor dreams. Dozens of groups, from what we hear, are laying the ground work to make sure that this happens. Let's hope so.

We've just begun to scratch the surface on these issues. Much, much more is to come . . .

In the meantime, it's worth checking out some of the background materials here and here being offered by the Center for Community Solutions.

Monday, March 14, 2005

 

Sign the petition

As we have noted, Congressman Pat Tiberi has tiptoed around the issue of supporting the Bush administration's plan to phase out Social Security. He, and every other Republican member of the Ohio congressional delegation, have failed to hold public town meetings on the subject.

Now the Licking County PAC is trying to do something about it. They are asking that Tiberi constituents sign a petition asking that Tiberi hold a public forum on the issue. Sign the petition now - don't let your representatives try to sit out this issue.

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