Last week, Senate leaders called for a formal investigation into the multi-billion-dollar Columbia River Crossing (CRC) project. In a two-page letter to Governor Inslee, the Senate Majority Coalition Caucus highlighted the need for an immediate investigation of the CRC, following the results of an independent audit. This letter echoes a Washington Policy Center letter from December 4 to then-State Auditor Brian Sonntag. The text of the letter follows:
On February 13th, a bipartisan transportation bill, HB 1877, was introduced by Representatives Hargrove, Freeman, Hurst, Blake, Kristiansen, Rodne and O’Ban. HB 1877 would make regional transit boards, such as the Sound Transit Board, elected positions. Back in October the Washington Policy Center published the results of a State Audit on the current Sound Transit Board and the supposed ‘watchdog’ group, the Citizens Oversight Panel (COP).
Seattle is often the incubator for bad business policy. Last year the city became one of the few in the nation to mandate paid sick leave for all workers. Now the City Council is considering an ordinance that would make Seattle one of the few to limit employers’ ability to access public records and conduct background checks on potential employees.
Congressman Jim McDermott's recent op-ed in The Seattle Times, Corporate spending and U.S. elections: counteracting the super PACs, gets almost everything wrong about Super PACs, the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United v. FEC, and spending in elections. What he proposes in response would seriously undermine the First Amendment.
For centuries American citizens have reaped the benefits of their right to free speech and freedom of the press to express political opinions. However, lawmakers in Olympia are considering legislation that could endanger our protections guaranteed by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. Senate Bill 5912 proposes a taxpayer funded program for State Supreme Court candidates who obtain at least five hundred grassroots contributions. Participating candidates who qualify would receive sufficient public funds to run a competitive campaign.
The intended Bill did not pass after a floor vote in the State Senate on February 16th due to a procedural challenge. Republican Senator Don Benton of Vancouver halted proceedings with a point of order, arguing that the $3 surcharge on court fees was actually a “tax” not a “fee” – therefore, the bill would need a 2/3 vote to pass rather than a majority. There were 27 confirmed “yes” votes of the 49 members in the senate. Thus, the bill was set aside as Benton closed his argument by affirming, “This bill would use fees citizens are required to pay to support judicial campaigns for the Washington State Supreme Court. I challenged the new surcharge because it is not connected to the purpose for which the fees were designed – to cover filing costs. Therefore, the surcharge qualified as a new tax under I-960.”
Does this now mean publicly funded judicial campaigns are out of the question in Washington? The issue is still in limbo – ideas often times are revived after the cutoff and amended to other bills. Campaign contributions and issue advocacy are forms of political speech and spending limitations violate First Amendment protections. This idea could infringe upon the political expression of Washingtonians and inhibit the democratic process in our State.
-Teresa Totorica Research Assistant, Washington Policy Center
In 1983 the state legislature set the tort judgment interest rate (the amount of interest paid by the defendant while awaiting appeal) at 12% or 4 percentage points above the T-bill rate, whichever was greater. The reason it was set so high is that in 1983 the 26-week T-bill rate averaged 8.75%; today the rate is only 0.18%. Even though the interest rate is remarkably lower, a bill in Olympia (SB 6764) would set the tort judgment interest rate for private defendants back at the 1983 level while leaving the rate for public entities at the current lower level of 2 percentage points over the T-bill rate.
The proposed changes would increase the tort judgment interest rate for private defendants by nearly 10 percentage points. By more than quadrupling the tort judgment interest rate this new proposal would create a significant barrier to an appeal, which is a basic right in the civil justice system. Under SB 6764 government entities would enjoy a lower interest rate while private-sector entities must pay a rate that is at least double. Setting a different interest rate for public and private entities would create an unlevel playing field.
-Wesley Furste Research Assistant, Washington Policy Center
"The problem with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people's money." -Margaret Thatcher
This is a helpful phrase to keep in mind when thinking about the pending health care reform proposals being considered in Congress. John Mackey, CEO and founder of Whole Foods Market, had a nice article in The Wall Street Journal on the reality of the financial conundrum we find ourselves in as a country as we consider a serious overhaul of our health care system. He offers up eight things we can do to improve health care in the U.S. without adding to the deficit in this August 11th article.
1. Remove the legal obstacles that slow the creation of high-deductible health insurance plans and health savings accounts (HSAs)
2. Equalize the tax laws so that employer-provided health insurance and individually owned health insurance have the same tax benefits
3. Repeal all state laws which prevent insurance companies from competing across state lines
4. Repeal government mandates regarding what insurance companies must cover
5. Enact tort reform to end the ruinous lawsuits that force doctors to pay insurance costs of hundreds of thousands of dollars per year
6. Make costs transparent so that consumers understand what health-care treatments cost
7. Enact Medicare reform
8. Revise tax forms to make it easier for individuals to make a voluntary, tax deductible donation to help the millions of people who have no insurance and aren't covered by Medicare, Medicaid or the State Children's Health Insurance Program
Since rising health care costs are the number one issue in the health care reform debate, it is essential that any reform addresses this problem. The Heritage Foundation published an interesting study that found administrative costs to be higher, not lower as frequently cited by proponents of a public plan, than private insurance.
"On a per-person basis Medicare's administrative costs are actually higher
than those of private insurance--this despite the fact that private
insurance companies do incur several categories of costs that do not
apply to Medicare."
As I listened to President Obama describe the prospect of a government run health care plan at his press conference Tuesday, I thought that his proposal sounded reasonable enough. After all, the public plan would offer among other things, "a better range of choices, make the health care market more competitive, and keep the insurance companies honest." This all seems well and good, but one important detail the president failed to mention is how the inherent structure of the public plan would create an environment that would destroy competition. The public plan would not have to compete with anyone, because it is impossible for private insurers to compete with the United States Government.
Scott E. Harrington, a professor of health care management and insurance and risk management at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, wrote on this exact problem and the possible ramifications in thisarticle from The Wall Street Journal on June 15th.
As Mr. Harrington notes, a government run health insurance plan would soon be nothing more than a single-payer system.
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Thank you for your interest in this blog, Washington Policy Center, and our work to improve lives through market solutions. As a non-profit organization we rely on the support of individuals like you to produce our high-quality analysis of the important policy issues impacting out state.
And not only do we strive for quality and innovative ideas, we continually work to uphold and promote a few very basic principles that make our state a better place to live, work and raise a family. Transparent and accountable government, empowered people, and personal responsibility – as Jeb Bush recently summarized at our Annual Dinner – “These are the things that have historically defined the prosperity in our country and these are the core values of Washington Policy Center."
Throughout the year Washington Policy Center has vigorously promoted these principles in our state.
We promoted a reasonable tax cut plan in light of the state’s $2 billion surplus and opened the Center for Government Reform. Our goal is to keep your money in your pocket rather than sending it to Olympia.
Our analysis of the Puget Sound Region’s Proposition 1, credited with educating the public and the media, exposed the plan’s tremendous costs and its failure to reduce traffic congestion. The measure failed by a surprising margin.
We are responding to the global warming debate with common sense science and responsible, market-driven solutions in the face of the crisis mentality that would spend huge amounts of your tax dollars and do significant damage to the economy for tiny gains.
12 of our policy recommendations were signed into law by the governor just this year.
We appreciate your interest in our work and hope you enjoy our posts.I hope you will join us as we move forward in 2008.
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Your tax-deductible contribution of $50, $100, $500 or more will support our activities as we continue to promote these important principles for the 2008 Legislative Session. As a supporter you will also receive all of our publications and invitations to events.
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The nuts and bolts of Government will always be a source of conflict. Our energy is focused on discussing the value of each specific tax and bill. This is how it should be. Let's take a minute, however, to step back and consider some broader views on how government should function.
I would identify two generally accepted views on how government should function. The first I call the “Benevolent Dictator” view. In the Benevolent Dictator school of thought, the ideal government collects communal resources and disperses them to qualified projects. According to this philosophy, taxes and fees are simply the cost of living within a community; there is no choice about the matter so you better learn to deal with it.
The obvious problem with this philosophy is that it fosters inefficient spending and poor service. Guaranteed revenue that is not connected to efficiency eliminates the motive for agencies or organizations to provide better service.
The second view on how government should function, I call the “Business of Government” philosophy. According to this school of thought, the ideal government functions like a business, where the governor and government are the equivalent of CEO and board, and the taxpayer is the proverbial shareholder. The board has a goal and an obligation to maximize profit and keep costs low. As successful management in an actual business comes in the form of profit in dividends, the equivalent in the “Business of Government” model is a partial return of principle (tax paid) in the form of tax rebates or tax cuts.
With this set of ideals in action, government officials seek out ways to increase efficiency and, ideally, people get the most bang for their buck. But this set of ideals has its imperfections as well. If the goal of managers is to increase efficiency, one of the easiest ways to do that is to cut programs and cut spending. Operating under these ideals, there is a higher risk that useful services will be cut and that resources will not go to those who need them most.
I propose a third option: government as a Non-Profit Corporation. The goal of a Non-Profit Corporation is to address a certain social good. People donate voluntarily to non-profits with no expectation of receiving services from that organization. Because these resources are limited, Non-Profits excel in doing more for less. Because the donations are voluntary, Non-Profits become very good at informing their donors of the good work they are doing.
Ideals are important. They help guide our choices and actions. They allow people to work together towards a common goal. Non-Profit Government is an ideal that guides towards effective social programs and doing more for less. What do you think?