Those of us who believe that free-market principles can inspire policies that serve the public interest, reduce taxes, enhance citizen freedom and make government leaner and more efficient are often falsely labeled as corporate shills, fronts for big business and worse. That’s why it would be so amusing, if it weren’t so tragic, to read about the City of Glendale’s assault on our colleagues at the free-market Goldwater Institute in Arizona.
As a concerned parent of children in Seattle public schools, I see first hand the caring and professional way classroom teachers work to educate all their students. As a public policy researcher, what I see is a lack of resources and support in the classroom, compared to the District’s half-billion dollar annual budget. Seattle spends almost $13,000 a year per student, one of the highest levels in the country, yet only 59 cents of every education dollar reaches the classroom, and during layoffs union executives require the youngest and brightest teachers to be fired first.
In a recent columnSeattle Times business columnist Jon Talton criticizes Amazon for “seeking the most favorable tax environment to boost profits,” accusing the Seattle-based online retailer of “gaming the tax system” He says Washington companies like Amazon and Boeing have a social obligation to pay higher taxes to help pay for public services like infrastructure, education, parks and other public amenities. As I read the column two thoughts occurred to me.
King County Executive Dow Constantine’s Communications Director Frank Abe says it is misleading for me to praise Constantine’s ingenuity and determination in finding a way to buy the gravel mine on Maury Island while at the same time saying he is stumped when it comes to finding a way to fund core public safety programs. Abe’s mistake is saying I said Constantine should use the funding he so skillfu
County Executive Dow Constantine and the other Democrats governing King County want to impose a tax increase on people during a recession, imposing greater financial hardship on families to make it easier for them to balance their budget.If people don’t agree to pay higher taxes, they say they will cut back on public safety by forcing reductions on the Sheriff and the County Prosecutor’s office.
County officials are quoted today in The Seattle Times saying that, “most noncritical spending has already been trimmed.”
That’s not true.The County Executive has done little or nothing to control rising labor costs. To cite just one department, wages for bus drivers have grown at twice the rate of inflation – rising 70% in just ten years.Today some drivers make more than $100,000 a year; 243 drivers make more than $75,000 a year.
On top of that, the Executive makes taxpayers pay for 100% of employee health benefits, while in the private sector employers normally pay 75% to 85% of benefit costs:
In 2009 County officials made the deficit worse by promising to pay the cost of all health benefits “without the burden of premium share,” that is, employees make zero contribution toward the cost of their health benefits:
The County provides great benefits.Employees receive 12 paid holidays, 12 paid sick days, free bus passes, free life insurance, increased dental coverage, and a cut, from $10 to $7, in the co-pay required for filling prescriptions.The County has no problem filling open positions, indicating it pays well above market rates in salary and benefits.Executive Constantine and council Democrats want to use existing revenues to provide above-market wages and gold-plated benefits, while threatening people with cuts in public safety unless we agree to a tax increase.
Afterward, Mr. Harris wrote that I had seasoned the
discussion with my “anti-tax, government-solutions-to-poverty-always-fail,
there is no society, there are only individuals, and we should fear them”
message.The problem is his description
doesn’t remotely reflect what I said.Let’s
look at what I actually said.
Paul Guppy:“To the
extent that the homelessness is being reduced…that is good news.From a taxpayer point of view, the point of
view of the public, the community that wants this to be solved, to the extent fewer
people are living on the street, that’s progress in the right direction.” (in
the video at 15:40).
Tim Harris then said I’m the problem. Tim Harris: “As long as this guy [pointing to me] is basically O.K. with the
structure to funding the ten-year plan, we’ve got a big problem,” referring to
Seattle’s End Homelessness in Ten Years program.(at 19:31).
Here’s what I said in response.
Paul Guppy:“You cast
me as endorsing a public program, which I did not do.Instead, what I’m doing is holding a public
program accountable for what it promises. So if a public program is taking tax money and saying to the public, ‘We
are going to end homelessness in ten years,’ then I think it is reasonable for
people to say, ‘What is the real result from that’. I didn’t choose this approach, but since our
leaders have taken us down this path, I think the people of Seattle should
expect a real result from it.”
Paul Guppy:“A lot of
homelessness is based on behavior, so without addressing the mental illnesses,
the substance abuse, the dependencies people have, simply providing them with
homes is not going to be enough…there are social services that go along with
the housing units, so it all has to be done together.” (at 19:55).
I don’t see how celebrating the progress of a government
program that is reducing homelessness can be seen by Mr. Harris as my having a
And I don’t see how providing support services to address the
causes of homelessness can be seen by him as a “there is no society, there are
only individuals and we should fear them” message.
How could Tim Harris get it so wrong?The reason is simple.Radical advocates like him simply don’t
listen to others.He would rather cling to
his comfortable, narrow-minded stereotypes than take the risk of actually listening
to someone with an alternative viewpoint.
The ghost tax bill is moving in Olympia. Yesterday the Senate Ways and Means held a public hearing on SB 6853. The bill has no text. First, it took Committee members 21 seconds to cancel their rule that bills must be available to the public for at least five days. Later the Committee received a staff briefing on the bill - that took 35 seconds. Then the only witness, Amber Carter of the Association of Washington Business, spoke for 65 seconds, speculating about what the bill might contain in the future. She asked that her organization be included in any discussions if and when lawmakers decide to provide the bill with text. Later the Committee passed the bill - that took 22 seconds. !
; The Committee's actions on SB 6853 are shown in a related blog post by Jason Mercier, WPC's government reform director. Still unknown is what effect this tax legislation might have on Washington's economy or the jobs, families and lives of people across the state.
A strange thing happened in Olympia today. This morning a bill was introduced in the Senate, SB 6853, which has no text. The full bill is reproduced below. The bill is scheduled for a public hearing in the Ways and Means Committee this afternoon. Committee members may decide to pass it today and send it to the full Senate, going against the rule that legislation be made public for at least five days before being acted on.
This bill may make major changes in the tax code, and could result in a significant increase in the tax burden state lawmakers place on citizens, so it would be nice to know what the bill actually says. As independent policy analysts, it is hard for Washington Policy Center, or anyone else, to make a fair assessment of a major bill when the public has no idea what it says, or how it may affect our lives.
In a stunning YouTube video, Henry Waxman, Chairman of the
House Energy and Commerce Committee, explains how under ObamaCare the
government would have the power to “suspend” the enrollment of any American in
any health care plan, that is, kick you off your plan.With the help of an aide, he begins reading
from the 2,074-page bill;
“The remedies described in the paragraph with respect to a
qualified health benefit plan, they [federal officials] can levy civil money
penalties, or can suspend the enrollment of individuals under such a plan after
the date the commissioner notifies the entity of the determination under
paragraph 1 that the plan does not qualify.”
If federal officials determine your health plan does not qualify, you will be disenrolled. In government-speak “remedies” means punishment, and
“suspend” means cancel.Watch it here.
Responding to the concern that setting up a government-run public option insurance plan would inject politics into American health care, public option backers are saying, “Right.And that’s a good thing.”
Today the Washington Post reports, “Economists in this [pro-public option] camp say a public option would not underprice insurers so as to drive them out of business; political pressures from medical providers would restrain Congress just as it is restrained today from limiting Medicare rates too much.”
The article add, “And the [public] option’s pricing powers would be limited by political pressures against driving too hard a bargain on providers.”
This is a novel argument, that bringing “political pressures” into a private market makes that market more efficient.I’d sure like to know the names of the economists in the public option camp who say lobbying Congress is a form of healthy market competition.Ample real-world experience shows the opposite.Massive government intervention distorts markets, reduces the benefits of competition, and leads to waste, inefficiency and cronyism, not lower prices and better service.
We already have an example from the world of health care.Every year Congress experiences a political firestorm as it tries to save Medicare from bankruptcy by cutting reimbursement rates to doctors.The American Medical Association, not surprisingly, vigorously objects and lobbies hard to preserve or increase payments to doctors.A deal is reached and the controversy is re-scheduled for the following year.Whether this management technique is saving Medicare or sinking it faster is an open question, but I doubt most Americans want their own health plan run this way.
The current lack of competition in health care comes from politicians, not insurers.Health insurance is perhaps the most highly regulated economic activity in the country, with price controls, limits on products, extensive reporting rules, a ban on interstate sales, high barriers to entry, unequal tax treatment, and a host of minutely detailed federal and state regulations.Congress and state legislatures might first try removing the anti-competitive laws that they created, and force insurance companies to compete more against themselves, before Congress sets up an insurance company of its own.
ObamaCare supporters are right about one thing.A public option would reduce the cost of private insurance premiums.It would reduce them to zero, as private insurers go out of business trying to compete against a federal plan that can print it own money.
If paying out public money to encourage drivers to trade their servicable older car for a brand new one is such a great idea, perhaps Congress should mail checks to people willing to bulldoze their current home and build a new, energy-efficient one. Who knows, Maybe the Cash for Clunkers program will be followed by a multi-billion dollar Shekels for Shacks program.