Archive for April, 2011

Welcome to the new civility, same as the old (in)civility

So, how’s that whole “new civility” thing going? You know, the “new political tone” we were promised after Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., was shot by a lunatic at an event she was holding outside a Tucson supermarket?

In reality, it lasted no longer than it took for the alleged shooter, Jared Lee Loughner, to be branded a right-wing extremist simply because he shot a Democrat — a partisan jump to a conclusion that fell apart once personal details about Loughner emerged. But in case you had higher hopes, here’s what last week brought us:

  • A professor at the University of Iowa, Ellen Lewin, responded to a campuswide e-mail sent by the school’s chapter of the College Republicans with this message: “[expletive] YOU, REPUBLICANS.”
  • An unidentified counterprotester at a tea party rally in Madison, Wis., screamed “Who the [expletive] are you to lecture me, you little brat!” while a 14-year-old girl — that’s right, a 14-year-old — gave a boilerplate speech …

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Why ask retirees about changes that won’t affect them?

A request for any pollsters asking the public about changes to Medicare or Social Security: Will you please stop asking people 65 and older what they think?

It’s not that I have anything against retirees, but including them in opinion polls such as the CBS/New York Times poll released this week is skewing the results — and the policy decisions those results may influence.

Here’s why: No one is proposing to change the deal for people who have already retired. Even Paul Ryan’s allegedly “Draconian” budget plan exempts Americans 55 and older from any changes.

One reason is simple politics: Older people vote more consistently than younger ones. But it’s also of course a matter of fairness. People who are no longer working don’t have the opportunity to earn income to make up for anything they lose. They based their retirement planning on particular promises from their employers and the government, and it would be unfair to change those promises now. I think we all get that.

So, the …

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Poll: Voters like school reforms, but not school reformers

These poll numbers relate specifically to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s efforts to reform education and the budget in that state, but I’d be willing to bet they mirror public sentiment in a lot of places, including Georgia. From Quinnipiac University, via Jim Geraghty at NRO:

New Jersey voters approve 50 – 46 percent of the way Gov. Christopher Christie is handling the state budget, but disapprove 52 – 44 percent of the way he is handling education. Gov. Christie’s proposal to limit school superintendent salaries is a good way to balance the budget, 69 percent of voters say, while 27 percent say it is meddling.

By a 64 – 16 percent margin, voters have a favorable opinion of public school teachers, but by 45 – 30 percent they have an unfavorable opinion of the New Jersey Education Association. Teachers unions play a negative rather than a positive role in improving education, voters say 51 – 39 percent.

New Jersey voters favor merit pay for good teachers 69 – 27 …

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Alternative fuel for Georgia’s transportation needs

Higher gas prices are with us to stay, so the gas tax is headed for extinction.

That’s the counterintuitive message from Samuel Staley, a leading expert on free-market transportation policy.

Gas prices are destined to remain high, said Staley, director of urban and land use policy for the libertarian Reason Foundation, because of greater demand for oil from China, India and Africa.

“We’re not going to give up our cars” and the controlled environment and customized mobility they provide us, Staley said Tuesday at a luncheon held by the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, and in an interview with me beforehand. “What we’re going to do is find different ways to power our cars.” That means less gas used, and declining gas-tax revenues.

(Click here to see Staley’s PowerPoint presentation from Tuesday and here to watch video of his speech.)

Samuel Staley

Samuel Staley

Staley sees China’s rising demand first-hand. He spends much of his time there, counseling local governments on …

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Georgia’s students get a lesson in the ‘fees’ fudge factor

Our state government has become creative in devising ways to take more of your money without raising “taxes.” Chief among these methods is inventing or increasing “fees” that are for all practical purposes a different stream of general revenues — rather than a charge for, and carefully priced to cover, a particular service.

Substitute another T-word — tuition — for taxes, and you have what Georgia’s Board of Regents did Tuesday.

The headline on the press release from the University System of Georgia, which oversees the state’s public research universities and four- and two-year colleges, read: “Regents Approve Three Percent Tuition Increase for Fall 2011.” Three percent probably sounded pretty good to students and their parents, given that tuition has been rising much faster in recent years. It wasn’t until the 13th paragraph of the statement that one realized the overall increase, including a big increase in mandatory fees, comes out to 9 percent on average. It’s even higher …

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Obama bought high on GM, now thinking of selling low

Barack Obama reportedly plans to spend perhaps $1 billion of his supporters’ money to run for re-election next year. What are his ambitions going to cost taxpayers? Some $11 billion on GM stock alone, the way things look right now.

From The Wall Street Journal:

The U.S. government plans to sell a significant share of its remaining stake in General Motors Co. this summer despite the disappointing performance of the auto maker’s stock, people familiar with the matter said.

A sale within the next several months would almost certainly mean U.S. taxpayers will take a loss on their $50 billion rescue of the Detroit auto maker in 2009.

To break even, the U.S. Treasury would need to sell its remaining stake — about 500 million shares — at $53 apiece. GM closed off 27 cents a share at $29.97 in 4 p.m. trading Monday on the New York Stock Exchange, hitting a new low since its $33-a-share November initial public offering.

Shares have been hurt by rising fuel prices, industry production …

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On Tax Day, a simple explanation of tax reform’s unpopularity

At NRO, Jim Geraghty gets right to the point on Tax Day:

Gallup: “Half of Americans believe the amount they pay in federal income taxes is too high, while 43% consider it about right and 4% too low.”

Bloomberg news: “More than 45 percent of U.S. households won’t owe federal income taxes for 2010.” (links original)

Because it’s highly unlikely that people already paying no federal income taxes will see those taxes go down, opposition to broad-based tax reform is probably always going to start in the mid- to high 40s. I’d like to see a poll about tax reform conducted only among those who actually pay federal income taxes.

Relatedly, from The Hill: “Tax advisers: Prepare to pay higher rates in the future.” It seems these tax advisers don’t buy the idea that politicians are going to reform the tax code to broaden and simplify the tax base and then flatten and lower rates. Or, maybe tax advisers just don’t like the idea of a simpler, flatter tax code…

– By Kyle Wingfield

Find me on …

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Deal gets mostly good marks in first session as governor

Last year — back when Sonny Perdue was still the governor and Sen. Tim Golden of Valdosta was still a Democrat — Golden had this to say about filling a billion-dollar gap in the budget, the thorniest matter before the Legislature at that time:

“That takes a strong governor, quite frankly, to come in and lead that effort.”

In the just-ended 2011 legislative session, Golden’s year-old comment rang true once again.

On two of this year’s headline issues, repairing the HOPE scholarship and filling another budget hole, Gov. Nathan Deal engaged early and often, to strong effect. On others, less so — and it showed.

Regarding HOPE, Deal forced legislators’ hand by declaring from the outset that he would not use tax revenues to augment falling lottery receipts. Given that there wasn’t enough lottery money to fulfill the HOPE promises that have prevailed for nearly two decades, something had to be done.

While Deal was out front for much of the process of reforming HOPE, by …

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Obama’s op-ed declaration of war until Gadhafi’s out of power

All of a sudden, we’re going to be at war in Libya — excuse me, acting kinetic-militarily — until Col. Moammar Gadhafi is out of power. This is the same Gadhafi who, at last check, was on his way to a thorough defeat of the rebels.

We learn this turn of events not from a presidential address to Congress, but from reading an op-ed President Obama co-authored with British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Nicolas Sarkozy:

Our duty and our mandate under U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973 is to protect civilians, and we are doing that. It is not to remove Qaddafi by force. But it is impossible to imagine a future for Libya with Qaddafi in power. The International Criminal Court is rightly investigating the crimes committed against civilians and the grievous violations of international law. It is unthinkable that someone who has tried to massacre his own people can play a part in their future government. The brave citizens of those towns that have held out …

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Georgia tax-reform flop offers lessons for Washington

For a country with a spending problem, we sure are hearing a lot about taxes.

Tax reform features in the long-term budget-balancing plans of House Republicans and a couple of high-profile bipartisan commissions. (Even if President Barack Obama’s idea of tax “reform,” judging by his speech yesterday, is simply to raise taxes on “the rich.”)

If we’re going to get tax reform from Washington to go with spending cuts and changes to unsustainable entitlement programs, let’s hope the feds have been paying attention to the failed — for now — reform efforts in Georgia.

And the primary lesson from Georgia is that would-be reformers get off-track when they forget the principles that got them started in the first place.

Those principles are the same here as they are in the various plans coming from Washington: Broaden the base. Simplify the structure. Flatten and then lower the rates.

The idea is for more people to pay lower rates on more of their income. If that sounds …

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