It’s no secret that state and local government employment has nosedived during the current economic crisis. According to the St. Louis Fed, total local government employment has declined from 14,481,000 when the recession began in December 2007 to 14,033,000 in March. State government employment has fallen from 5,139,000 to 5,050,000 over the same period, for a total loss of 537,000 state and local government jobs.
This starkly illustrates the opportunity cost of out-of-control use of subsidies to business at the state and local level. In my academic work, I estimated these to be $48.8 billion a year in 1996, of which $26.4 billion was for investment attraction, and almost $70 billion in 2005, of which $46.8 billion was aimed specifically at investment attraction.
Many critics of investment incentives, such as Alan Peters and Peter Fisher, argue that the money would generally be better spent on education and infrastructure, policies that benefit businesses generally as well as the entire population. My cost estimates show just how true this is.
Total business subsidies could be used to hire 1.4 million government workers at $50,000 per year in salary and benefits. Instead, what we have seen in state after state is that there have been sharp cuts to these very areas, even extending to such economic development crown jewels as the state university systems in California and North Carolina, among others.
This is doubly short-sighted: It weakens the very factors that make a state or locality attractive to investment in the first place, and the state/local economic development subsidies largely cancel each other out with little net effect on the overall location of investment in the country. From the point of view of the country as a whole, then, most of these subsidies are a waste of money. But changing the way the economic development game is played will require tremendous effort at the local, state, and federal government level.
By: Kenneth Thomas, U. S. News and World Report, April 10, 2013
“Grounding Of A Romulan”: Federal Judge Strikes Down Part Of Scott Walker’s Anti-Collective Bargaining Law
A Wisconsin federal district court judge has ruled that some key elements of Wisconsin’s Act 10—Governor Scott Walker’s anti-collective bargaining law—violates the equal protection rights of affected state employee unions.
The ruling extends to the law’s prohibition of automatic dues collecting and the requirement that the affected unions hold annual recertification elections requiring a majority of the union’s workforce members.
At the heart of the court’s ruling is the exemption Scott Walker gave to police and firefighter unions who remain free to automatically collect membership dues and require no annual recertification vote.
Walker has long claimed that these unions were given special treatment because the state could not afford a strike or any disruption of the critical services provided by police and firefighters as a result of being saddled with the restrictions placed on the general service unions.
The remaining unions have never bought the explanation, believing that the exemption was payback for the support given to Walker’s candidacy by the police and firefighters. Clearly, Federal District Judge William Conley agreed, writing in his ruling published today,
The fact that none (emphasis provided by the Judge) of the public employee unions falling into the general category endorsed Walker in the 2010 election and that all (emphasis provided by the Judge) of the unions that endorsed Walker fall within the public safety category certainly suggests that unions representing general employees have different viewpoints than those of the unions representing public safety employees. Moreover, Supreme Court jurisprudence and the evidence of record strongly suggests that the exemption of those unions from Act 10’s prohibition on automatic dues deductions enhances the ability of unions representing public safety employees to continue to support this Governor and his party.
Acting on the ruling, the Court issued an injunction allowing all of the state’s public employee unions to begin the automatic collection of member dues and striking the requirement that they recertify each and every year.
In a statement on the ruling, Wisconsin Democratic Party Chairman, Mike Tate, said;
Scott Walker’s so-called budget repair bill has been divisive, unfair, radical and offensive to the values of Wisconsin. Now it’s been found to be offensive to the Constitution. Wisconsin deserved better than this bill, just as it deserves better than Scott Walker.
Governor Scott Walker is facing recall on June 5th.
By: Rick Ungar, Contributing Writer, The Policy Page, Forbes, March 30, 2012
While Rick Perry campaigned in South Carolina Thursday, criticizing Mitt Romney’s tenure at Bain while bragging about his own pro-business record, another controversial conservative governor was hanging out in Texas: Scott Walker. The Wisconsin governor, who sparked a firestorm last spring with his effort to eliminate collective-bargaining rights for state employees, keynoted a lunch at the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s annual legislative orientation, held at the Hilton Hotel. Outside, a large crowd protested with signs supporting the effort to recall the polarizing Wisconsin chief executive.
The Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF)—a think tank with a clear and aggressive policy agenda of slashing government until it’s all but nonexistent—is a dominant player in Texas conservative politics. While the Texas Legislature won’t meet until next year, TPPF’s annual policy orientation is nonetheless a gathering of many big names in Texas politics, and its panels often help set the conservative agenda. Not surprisingly, the group ferociously defends Perry’s record in Texas, arguing that the Texas model is the one every state might emulate. Walker was there to tell them just how much he agreed. But not before a Russian-doll-like series of introductions set the stage for him.
“If America is where the world turns for liberty, Texas is where America turns,” began Brooke Rollins, the president and CEO of TPPF. Then came Wendy Gramm, the wife of former Senator Phil Gramm, Ronald Reagan’s favorite economist, and a woman now perhaps best known for sitting on Enron’s board during its scandal. She currently chairs TPPF’s board of directors. She was introducing Steve Moore, the former head of the Club for Growth.
In case Walker’s appearance didn’t already have enough gravitas, Moore decided to offer some scale. He explained that Walker is “a hero of our movement” for having taken on “the evil empire of the public employees’ unions.” “I have very rarely seen such a profile in courage,” Moore told the crowd.
When Walker finally walked on stage, the room of conservative policymakers gave him a standing ovation just for showing up. You might say it was a friendly crowd.
The thing is, though, that none of Walker’s actions sound particularly revolutionary in Texas. The Wisconsin governor outlined his policy approach—tort reform, lowering taxes, and dismantling union power—to a crowd that lives in a right-to-work state with low taxes and few regulations. Walker hardly needed to explain why raising taxes wasn’t an option. For most Texas Republicans, to do so would be heretical. While Wisconsin protests against Walker were bringing that state to a standstill last year, Perry signed a budget slashing state services, including a more-than 10 percent cut in education funding, and it’s still unclear whether there will be any political ramifications. In a state where Republicans have won every statewide race for over a decade, the thing Texas conservatives are sometimes missing is an enemy.
Walker, on the other hand, isn’t lacking for foes. Walker’s war stories about dealing with protesters and fighting against the Wisconsin teachers’ unions captivated his audience. “Collective bargaining is not a right,” he told the cheering crowd. “Collective bargaining is an expensive entitlement, and it’s time we stood up and put the power back in the hands of the taxpayers!”
“The reason I became the number-one target of 2012 public employees’ union is because I took away their money,” he went on, later noting that after his policies took effect, one union fired 42 percent of its staff. The crowd chortled at that. Walker noted that he would almost undoubtedly face a recall election this summer and that the opposition had more intensity and enthusiasm than the taxpayers he’d been protecting.
When Rollins came back on stage to thank the governor, she seemed enchanted. Walker’s story, she said, reminded her of Ronald Reagan’s speech on the 40th anniversary of D-Day. She read selections from Reagan’s speech that detailed the courage of Marines, and explained that “the courage and the incredible heart that it takes to do the right thing is something that is missing from the public square.”
She then noted that she was “not comparing the AFL-CIO to Germans.”
That didn’t stop the crowd from giving Walker his second standing ovation.
We heard plenty of contradictions, distortions and untruths at the Republican candidates’ Tea Party debate, but we heard shockingly little compassion — and almost no acknowledgement that political and economic policy choices have a moral dimension.
The lowest point of the evening — and perhaps of the political season — came when moderator Wolf Blitzer asked Ron Paul a hypothetical question about a young man who elects not to purchase health insurance. The man has a medical crisis, goes into a coma and needs expensive care. “Who pays?” Blitzer asked.
“That’s what freedom is all about, taking your own risks,” Paul answered. “This whole idea that you have to prepare and take care of everybody. . . .”
Blitzer interrupted: “But Congressman, are you saying that society should just let him die?”
There were enthusiastic shouts of “Yeah!” from the crowd. You’d think one of the other candidates might jump in with a word about Christian kindness. Not a peep.
Paul, a physician, went on to say that, no, the hypothetical comatose man should not be allowed to die. But in Paul’s vision of America, “our neighbors, our friends, our churches” would choose to assume the man’s care — with government bearing no responsibility and playing no role.
Blitzer turned to Michele Bachmann, whose popularity with evangelical Christian voters stems, at least in part, from her own professed born-again faith. Asked what she would do about the man in the coma, Bachmann ignored the question and launched into a canned explanation of why she wants to repeal President Obama’s Affordable Care Act.
According to the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus told the Pharisees that God commands us to “love thy neighbor as thyself.” There is no asterisk making this obligation null and void if circumstances require its fulfillment via government.
Bachmann knows a lot about compassion. She makes much of the fact that she and her husband took in 23 foster children over the years. But what of the orphaned or troubled children who are not lucky enough to find a wealthy family to take them in? What of the boys and girls who have stable homes but do not regularly see a doctor because their parents lack health insurance?
Government can reach them. But according to today’s Republican dogma, it must not.
Rick Perry, Mitt Romney, Bachmann, Paul and the others onstage in Tampa all had the same prescription for the economy: Cut spending, cut taxes and let the wealth that results trickle down to the less fortunate.
They betrayed no empathy for, or even curiosity about, the Americans who depend on the spending that would be cut. They had no kind words — in fact, no words at all — for teachers, firefighters and police officers who will lose their jobs unless cash-strapped state and local government receive federal aid. Public servants, the GOP candidates imply, don’t hold “real” jobs. I wonder: Do Republicans even consider them “real” people?
Government is more than a machine for collecting and spending money, more than an instrument of war, a book of laws or a shield to guarantee and protect individual rights. Government is also an expression of our collective values and aspirations. There’s a reason the Constitution begins “We the people . . .” rather than “We the unconnected individuals who couldn’t care less about one another . . . .”
I believe the Republican candidates’ pinched, crabby view of government’s nature and role is immoral. I believe the fact that poverty has risen sharply over the past decade — as shown by new census data — while the richest Americans have seen their incomes soar is unacceptable. I believe that writing off whole classes of citizens — the long-term unemployed whose skills are becoming out of date, thousands of former offenders who have paid their debt to society, millions of low-income youth ill-served by inadequate schools — is unconscionable.
Perry, who is leading in the polls, wants to make the federal government “inconsequential.” He thinks Social Security is a “Ponzi scheme” and a “monstrous lie.” He doesn’t much like Medicare, either.
But there was a fascinating moment in the debate when Perry defended Texas legislation that allows children of illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition at state universities. “We were clearly sending a message to young people, regardless of what the sound of their last name is, that we believe in you,” Perry said.
The other candidates bashed him with anti-immigrant rhetoric until the evening’s only glimmer of moral responsibility was snuffed out.
By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, September 15, 2011
In the eyes of the American public, Wichita-based Koch Industries is coming to stand more for right-wing string-pulling than for its blockbuster oil and gas business. For years, David and Charles Koch spent millions mostly behind the scenes to advance anti-environmental and anti-labor policies and to attack Democratic candidates for office. In the last two years, however, their expenditures have routinely made news. In the wake of the high-profile standoff in Wisconsin– where Gov Scott Walker was caught explaining to a prank caller impersonating David Koch his plans to break public employee unions– Koch Industries has dedicated time and money to mitigate fallout from the politics of the men in charge. The company’s website includes an op-ed and a video defending Koch politics. Today comes news that the company has been buying up anti-Koch web addresses as part of its new brand-management strategy.
Researchers at the progressive group One Wisconsin Now found that, on August 17, the day after the last of the recall elections in the state forced by Democrats aghast at Walker’s politics, Koch Industries bought up “at least three anti-Koch domains: StopKoch.com, StopKochIndustries.com, and AntiKoch.com.”
The domain name “StopKoch.com” for example has now been “parked” by an “online brand protection” firm called Melbourne IT on behalf of an administrator working from 37th Street in Wichita, Koch headquarters, and connected to a @KochInd.com email address.
“After spending over $40,000 to get Gov. Scott Walker elected less than a year ago and $250,000 on Republicans in Wisconsin’s recall effort, the billionaire Koch Brothers are already on the defensive against the ‘Stop Koch, Save Wisconsin’ buzz on the internet,” writes One Wisconsin Now.
One of the groups the Kochs presently bankroll is the activist organization Americans for Prosperity. AFP was a major pro-insurance industry player in the anti-health reform push last year, organizing tea party rallies and funding literature and commercials that made wild claims about the proposed legislation being a totalitarian assault on liberty.
Today, AFP is touring Colorado to rally support for favorable policies for big oil and gas companies. In a release announcing the “Running on Empty Tour,” AFP Foundation President Tim Phillips resurrects the kind of reaching anti-Obama rhetoric that characterized AFP’s contributions to the health care debate, where the president was viewed as a statist dictator seeking to euthanize Americans through “death panels.”
“Obama’s hostility toward domestic production and his desire to use high gas prices to change Americans’ driving behavior are contributing to the escalating cost of fuel,” Phillips is quoted to say in the release.
In fact, the Obama administration has made bold moves to open up drilling in the U.S. and has drawn criticism for doing so. Oil and gas companies own leases on tens of millions of acres onshore and offshore that they have yet to develop. A recent study by the Interior Department reported that half of all onshore federal leases are not currently being utilized by the industry.
At the top of the “newsroom” section of the Koch Industries website, the company runs a quote by Charles Koch that, to an increasing number of people, may serve mostly to bring to mind the sketchy political strategery funded by the brothers over the years.
“A positive reputation is built by behaving consistently with sound principles, creating real value, achieving compliance excellence and living up to commitments.”
By: John Tomasic, The Washington Independent, August 24, 2011