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Why The Surplus Should Go Back To Iowans – Now

Why The Surplus Should Go Back To Iowans – Now

Iowa Politics Money Chess TaxesThe Des Moines Register’s editorial this morning provided a concise (for Democrats) explanation about why Iowans should not get their $800 million over-payment returned to them.   It’s to be expected that now that there is extra revenue coming in, we see the Left drooling over the opportunity to spend our money.

It’s a wonder we managed to survive the past few years with so little money to spend.

But seriously, we did just fine.  And that should be the point now.  We’ve managed to do a great job of assessing where the government is spending money it doesn’t need to be spending, and cut some of it back (there’s more to cut, but we’ll leave that for another time). But even though we have one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country and a surplus in the Treasury, doesn’t mean it’s okay for the state government to keep the extra money from Iowans from last year.

We don’t operate our state from savings, we operate it from revenue.  Well, except for when we borrow, but let’s not quibble over that today.

The Register puts a number of items up for spending that are long-term expenses… they aren’t a leaky roof, as they try to relate it, but they are the lawn, the car upkeep, the utility bills.  They may even be things we should do and pay for, but if we are going to expand our expenses (which should be questioned regardless), the money for those things should come from current revenue, not savings.  Otherwise, we are making the same mistake we’ve made time and again in the past by paying for ongoing expenses with one-time resources.  It’s a foolish mistake.  It’s like taking your year-end bonus and paying the light bill and getting an oil change.  If your budget doesn’t allow you to pay for those things from your existing income, you are not in good financial shape to begin with.

If the I-JOBS program of Culver’s last 2 years in office had waited until this money was available, I could accept the idea of spending it on that kind of a project.  But alas, we were far too impatient and had to instead saddle our next generation with keeping the gambling enterprises alive in order to pay for this program.

And the Register can’t help but show how they have bought into the ridiculous notion that government jobs bring value.  The only kind of jobs that bring value to the economy are those that contribute to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP)… that is, jobs that actually generate income by creating products or services that people want to buy.  Government jobs don’t do that, and instead are a drain on GDP.

We don’t really have a pressing one-time financial need in Iowa, aside perhaps for some infrastructure such as bridges and roads, that the state government needs to attend to, although I’m sure some think otherwise.  There may be plenty of recurring expense needs that need attention (either to add or drop), but using this surplus to cover the lack of revenue for these items is foolish.

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I take a bit of exception to the idea that HF1 provide the people’s money back to them as a tax credit for 2013 taxes.  I realize that the printing and mailing of checks is an expense, but the money needs to get to Iowans now, not a year from now.  We’ve done it before, we can do it again.  Mail out the checks.

Obviously, lawmakers want to keep the interest on that money, eh?



Harry ReidWith the long overdue federal budget negotiations continuing to, well — continue — the vitriol spewing out of every crevasse of Washington is stunning in both its scope and in the absolute levels of personal animus that is on display. Even more stunning than the differences of opinion are the even more spectacular distortions of both the facts and the pertinent arguments attached to elements of the debate. It is one thing to have a contrary set of opinions. It is yet another to deploy a confrontation strategy of “justifiable-deception” (what used to be called “lies”) into that debate. The proposed defunding of Planned Parenthood that was announced last week (for their use in providing abortions) brought out vast quantities of this type of pernicious and despicable political deception.

The emotionally driven hate-speech coming from the self-described and sole protectors of women (the liberal legion in Washington), came so fast and furious that one might have been concerned that someone might have gotten hurt in their stampede to the cameras and microphones. It was a scene reminiscent of the chaos of a rock concert or a soccer game where all of the adolescent fans have designs on the front row.

Of the entire list of distortions associated with the defunding of Planned Parenthood, the one most hideous is the characterization that conservatives are both anti-women, and anti-women’s rights.  These liberal “megaphones” should be ashamed of themselves for stooping to this level of civility and discourse. Actually, it is not discourse (and it is obviously not civil); it is just the spewage of unfiltered sewage. Here are some examples:

  1. Reid (D-NV) said Republicans had placed a “bull’s eye on women in America,” preventing them from getting “health services they need.”
  2. Representative Diana DeGette (D-CO) said: “The real reason that the right-wing extremists in Congress orchestrated this outrageous government shutdown is to try and defund Planned Parenthood as part of their ideological assault on women’s health care.”
  3. Representative Barbara Lee (D-CA) explained that “This is a war on women. They’re trying to inject their politics and their religion into local family planning.” California liberals are a special lot, are they not? The level of hypocrisy captured in these two brief sentences is revolting to all people of intelligent thought. But we move on.

As the “viability of the fetus” argument has now been effectively discredited, both morally and technologically, the abortionist’s last redoubt is the rights-of-women argument. The absurdity of this version of the pro-abortion argument is that the issue has never been simply and singularly about the rights of women. Everyone, on all sides of this issue, is committed to the rights of women. The fact that the extremist (to use their word) liberals seem to deny that the issue is much broader than women’s rights is the reason their comments are so entirely and patently offensive. This is a much more expansive human rights issue.

The battle lines around the abortion issue are not found on the political map in an area marked “the rights of women.” The debate is rather a long-standing and well-defined issue that pits the interests and rights of women against the interests and rights of unborn children. We all wish this did not have to be so. But to say that one party in the debate favors the rights of women, and the other does not, is at least disingenuous and likely much worse. It is reflective of a lack of character that manifests itself in a willingness to sacrifice base levels of honesty and core human decency in pursuit of their already dubious goals.

The difference between those of us who support the lives of the unborn and the Reid’s, DeGette’s and Lee’s of the world has nothing whatsoever with differences of opinion opposite the rights of women. It has everything to do with the rights of children. For liberals to state the contrary, or to state only one element of the argument, is morally and intellectually reprehensible. For those who choose to support abortion as a simple function of the rights of women there exists a deep moral responsibility to pursue the issue on its merits…whatever those merits might be. Spewing unrepentant lies as a means of support for their argument is, very unfortunately, on the same moral plane as the abortionist’s morally asymmetrical argument itself.

We need look no further than this to see why Americans are so completely disgusted with the whole political process. Without honesty there can be no trust. Without trust, there is no opportunity for the democratic form of governance to continue.

Process check: If you read this and see it as polemic in favor of the rights of children, please read it again. It is an argument in support of honest political discourse. This article could have been written with the federal budget, health care, educational funding, judicial activism or food safety labeling as the backdrop.


American Gladiators: On the eve of battle, Paul Ryan arms the Right

With the release of his long term budget plan “The Path to Prosperity” there is no doubt that Wisconsin Republican Paul Ryan is not only the talk of the town in Washington, but also the talk of cable news, YouTube, the blogosphere, my house, the White House, and probably even the Keebler Elf’s tree house (though I can’t quite get a read on how they lean politically). The fact that he has dominated the discussion across the Country for the last few days can’t be argued. I would take it a step further though. I would argue that Paul Ryan is the most significant Republican in America and will remain so through 2012, and that includes the eventual Republican Presidential nominee.

Exhibit #1 in making this case starts with the obvious; he has replaced talk with an actual plan. The American people know what instinct tells all humans, when you are facing a problem you need a plan solve it. While literally no one deemed the release of the Obama administrations budget last month a problem solving strategy, compared to mere words in the ether from Republicans the contrast required to reveal the extent of its weakness was nonexistent. Without contrast your position is without strength. Fundamentally this is the advantage the Ryan plan has now given Republicans.

To grasp the undeniable importance of contrast you need not look any further than the mind-boggling results of a Pew Research Center poll taken a month ago (March 8-14, 2011-m.o.e. +/- 3). The question was asked, “Who has the better approach to the budget deficit: Barack Obama, the Republicans in Congress, or is there not much difference at all?” To this 20% said “Obama”, 21% said “Republicans in Congress”, while a hard to fathom 52% responded “not much difference at all”. This is the ugly face of no leadership, and a complete repudiation of a Republican posture that, until a few days ago, spent months launching rhetoric into the discussion and not answers into the heart of the problem.

It is not so much that the Republican approach garnered only 21% approval, but after two years on an issue that upwards of 75% agree is a significant problem to have 52% not know that your approach is discernible from the Presidents is near criminal. Without leadership you have no solutions, without solutions from either side you have no distinction between the sides, thus leaving no advantage. To be exact, you get left with 52% who find you and your opponent interchangeable…not to mention a lot of work to do. The fact that, while others sat idle, his leadership has yielded a plan bold and realistic enough to supply the contrast needed to do this work is the first piece of evidence to support my claim that Paul Ryan sits atop the Republican mountain.

The work of moving polls like the one above will be focused on one, or I should say 33, targets. As shown by the current debate on this year’s spending, without a majority in the Senate a long term debt solution simply cannot be had. While you surely need the White House, holding the pen at the very end of the process does you no good. Make no mistake, the rubber meets the road for this entire clash in 33 Senate seat elections, and who will vicariously play a role in all? You guessed it… here is how.

It is not a reach to declare that the issue dwarfing all others in these 33 races will be spending and the deficit, nor is it so to assume that all Republicans Senatorial candidates will be running either directly on the Ryan budget plan, or on one closely derived from it. This means that on what will be the central issue of the election cycle, Paul Ryan has single-handedly created the agenda that Republicans nationwide will take to the voters. If the dynamics of this sound familiar it is because in many ways Ryan and his “The Plan for Prosperity” mirror Newt Gingrich and “The Contract with America”. In both cases one person, and more accurately, one document will be the unified cause of the Party. As this scenario unfolds Ryan will be this cause’s primary spokesman, and his performance in articulating and selling the plan will have a gigantic impact on all 33 Senate races. This task could not be in better hands. His unique ability as a spokesman leads to the final and least obvious point in proving that Paul Ryan’s star has fully risen.

You need not follow his career long to see that he is a different animal than most on the Hill. His grasp of fiscal issues and their individual numbers is stunning, and comes from an unusual childhood that saw him reading budgets in his early teens. Watching him in an interview setting leave talking points and party line generalizations behind in favor of using specific numbers to make his points is beyond both impressive and refreshing. The combination of this ability, his youth, and his willingness to apply his knowledge to doggedly pursue solutions in a world where most politicians settle for far less, could influence the next breed of leaders. If you think this is a stretch you must have forgotten how Bill Gates once made, of all things, it suddenly cool to be a “computer geek”. If this unlikelihood is possible it’s hard to argue that the same thing being done for “policy wonk” is outside the realm.

When considering all the evidence, the limb that one stands on in making the proclamation that he is the most significant Republican in the Country starts looking more like a sturdy branch. He is the creator of, the point man on, and the Party’s best spokesman for, the agenda of the central issue in the upcoming election cycle. While floundering for the previous two years Republicans succeeded only in proving that defending a philosophy is no substitute for fighting for a plan. His “Path to Prosperity” has armed the Republican Party with the ability to contrast themselves from their opponent. In fact, as it has played out, ultimate victory on this issue for Conservatives is defined by a President signing into law a form of the Ryan plan, case closed.

The next move now belongs to the Democrats, whose offering of a counter proposal later this week will be the inevitable showdowns final precursor. The coming weeks will be fascinating as the release of their plan will finally leave us with both combatants fully armored, with the walls sliding closed behind them, and each in plain view of the other. At long last both political parties will have their gladiators inside the coliseum…may the best idea win.

2009 Iowa General Assembly Preview

2009 Iowa General Assembly Preview

Monday January 12 will be the opening session of the 2009 General Assembly.  This year’s session timetable is here.  As was the case the pass two years, both the House and the Senate have Democratic majorities.

We urge you, as the session progresses, to take the time to communicate with your elected representatives.  Go to this link, and find your representative’s name, click on it, and you’ll get phone numbers, email addresses, information about committee assignments and links to bill sponsorships.  I will be in contact with Peter Cownie and Pat Ward, the House and Senate members who represent me here in West Des Moines.

I exchanged emails with Peter last week.  This is his freshman years in the Statehouse, and he managed to get assigned to Appropriations, Economic Growth, Educatio nand Labor committees, and on Appropriations, he is the ranking member of the Economic Development subcommittee.  He told me that this year is pretty much all about the Budget.

Which leads me to Friday Night’s Iowa Press on IPTV.  Senator Mike Gronstal (D-Senate Majority Leader from Council Bluffs) and Representative Pat Murphy (D-Speaker of the House from Dubuque) were grilled by Dean Borg (the host), David Yepsen from the Des Moines Register, and Mike Glover from the Associated Press.

The message from Gronstal and Murphy was the same one that Peter heard… it’s about the budget.  We’ve already seen Governor Culver make two swipes at state spending to try and get the budget aligned with expected revenues.  Gronstal started responding to the budget question from Glover by saying that committees will be working hard on cutting expenses, and then proceeded to hit the first shortsighted decision which is the canceling of plans for a new state office building.  Gronstal said: “we need a new state office building, Wallace needs to be replaced but not today.”  On the one hand, if we don’t have the money, we don’t have the money… but on the other hand the cost of the new building, which “we need” will jump up every year we wait.  On the third hand, we could reduce the size of government and eliminate the need for the Wallace Building altogether, but that’s not likely to happen.  This is one project that needs more careful review in my opinion.

As they discussed ideas such as leasing the Lottery (an idea that’s been floated around lately) and allowing open positions in government to stay vacant, it became clear that Gronstal wasn’t quite prepared to express a confident opinion about anything yet… he said he wasn’t going to reject any idea until looking at the details.  Glover asked about what has been at the heart of the Lottery question for decades, which is the possibility that leasing it to private interests could quickly lead to expanded gambling in Iowa (as if any more expansion is going to really matter any longer), which Gronstal rejected out of hand.  Yepsen went on the offensive, asking about campaign contributions from gambling interests, and Gronstal didn’t like it:

Yepsen: The gambling industry makes campaign contributions to state legislators. How much does that have to do with this decision? If the gambling industry wants to buy the lottery from you and you’re getting thousands of dollars in campaign donations doesn’t it get sold?

Gronstal: No, David, I don’t think that’s true at all. Look, I think it’s an interesting idea, it’s one worth considering. If we go through that process we very well may decide, no, it doesn’t make sense. But why reject the idea of considering it? I think that’s fairly silly to reject even considering an idea. I’m actually really surprised at your critical questions. The legislature has often advocated considering privatization.

Yepsen: We always ask critical questions, Senator.

Gronstal: But the idea of privatization shouldn’t be rejected out of hand.

Yepson then took the opportunity to jump to a question that should be bugging all of us: AFSCME, the state workers union, is asking for a 5% pay raise for workers next year, and another 5% the year after that.  While people in the private sector are losing their jobs, not getting raises even close to 5%, and the key question of how every state worker makes 30% more than the average citizen.  Gronstal made one smart-mouthed response about CEOs (that was just inappropriate), and then said he wouldn’t comment on it because of the fact that the state is actively engaged in negotiations, and it’s the Governor’s job, not the General Assembly.  Yepsen kept the heat up, Murphy tried defending the salaries by talking about what some of the state workers do (covering maybe 5% of those workers… don’t get me wrong, I want police and fire protection paid well, but we’re talking about a lot of overpaid workers).

Bottom line on the union is that we won’t get any serious discussion about this from Democratic leaders because they’ll lick the union bosses’ shoes just to ensure they continue to have votes in 2010.  And we’ll be left holding the check.

There was a good conversation about the use of the state’s Rainy Day Fund and the general Cash Reserve.  It was good to hear that the leaders would consider usnig the RDF if necessary to ensure Iowans that are struggling from the weather and economic disasters of 2008 are helped appropriately… I agree that the Cash Reserve should be left alone as that is needed to ensure that we don’t need to borrow money if revenue shortfalls start to impact cash flows.

Also good conversation around the numerous proposals for local option sales taxes and the possibility of introducing flexibility for local governments to collect fees to offset property taxes.  Gronstal actually said something I can strongly agree with: property taxes are too high.  The trouble is, some fees are just another property tax, so I’m not exactly keen on that.  Local option sales taxes are fine, and all the state is doing is allowing the local governments to decide to impose them… the state doesn’t pay or benefit from that EXCEPT that the pressure on the state to help out is reduced.

They also discussed the proposal to raise the gas tax by a nickel to help create jobs and improve the existing transportation infrastructure.  I’m a bit torn… I like the fact that it helps keep people employed, but I hope we don’t end up wasting money on unnecessary projects.

They also hit on teacher pay, and corrections facility needs.  The most revealing statement of the evening came next, however.  Yepsen asked if Gay Marriage would be debated this year.  Both politicians flatly said “No.”, with Murphy adding that they were going to “let the courts make that decision”.  It shouldn’t amaze me that these guys are clearly incapable of true leadership, but I suppose when you know you lack both a credible position and will lose power if you do the right thing, having the Iowa Supreme Court there to bail you out is certainly a reasonable option.

Gronstal ended by saying this year is about the Budget and Disaster Recovery.  I wonder whether we’ll ever recover from the 2009 session?

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