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Posts Tagged ‘State Government’

I’ve had several reasons to mock California in the past couple of years (see here, here, here, and here).

But I never thought state politicians would be crazy enough to impose harsh regulations on babysitting.

Filling out a time card for your babysitter sounds absurd, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg in a new law moving through the California state legislature. Here’s how a critic described some of the key provisions in a column for a local newspaper.

How will parents react when they find out they will be expected to provide workers’ compensation benefits, rest and meal breaks and paid vacation time for…babysitters? Dinner and a movie night may soon become much more complicated. Assembly Bill 889 (authored by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, will require these protections for all “domestic employees,” including nannies, housekeepers and caregivers. The bill has already passed the Assembly and is quickly moving through the Senate with blanket support from the Democrat members that control both houses of the Legislature.

Parents might even need to hire two babysitters if they intend to be out of the house for more than a couple of hours, though I actually hope the author is wrong in this description of the legislation (surely they’re not this crazy!).

…household “employers” (aka “parents”) who hire a babysitter on a Friday night will be legally obligated to…provide a substitute caregiver every two hours to cover rest and meal breaks, in addition to workers’ compensation coverage, overtime pay, and a meticulously calculated timecard/paycheck. Failure to abide by any of these provisions may result in a legal cause of action against the employer including cumulative penalties, attorneys’ fees, legal costs and expenses associated with hiring expert witnesses.

I have no problem, however, believing that California politicians are creating a system designed to facilitate costly and absurd lawsuits. I’m sure the trial lawyers are getting a good return on their campaign contributions.

The only good news is that we can safely assume that there will be rampant non-compliance from parents and baby sitters. The bad news is that this legislation almost surely will have a deleterious impact on more permanent forms of care-giving, such as nannies and housekeepers. That will be especially unfortunate for lower-income people who tend to benefit from these types of jobs.

..the unreasonable costs and risks contained in this bill will discourage folks from hiring housekeepers, nannies and babysitters and increase the use of institutionalized care rather than allowing children, the sick or elderly to be cared for in their homes.

When the Golden State falls apart and goes bankrupt, this legislation (assuming it is approved) will be a good example of the failure of left-wing statism.

P.S. Since we are picking on California, here are a couple of posts that use humor to make fun of the folks on the left coast (here and here).

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The Beacon Hill Institute in Massachusetts has just released a very good – but very depressing study. The research finds that costs have jumped under Romneycare, but that’s not surprising. After all, politicians always underestimate the cost of new entitlements.

The important revelation in this new research is the degree to which the system has been propped up by the federal government (i.e., taxpayers in the rest of the nation).

That’s probably good news for Bay State politicians, who get to shift a fiscal burden to people outside the state, And it’s probably good news for Mitt Romney, because it somewhat disguises the magnitude of the disaster he imposed on the taxpayers of his state.

But it doesn’t bode well for the United States. Who will be available to bail out Obamacare? The Chinese? Martians? The Federal Reserve creating money out of thin air?

While you ponder those questions, here are some key excerpts from the study.

In this study, the Beacon Hill Institute at Suffolk University (BHI) attempts to fill the gap by calculating the effect of health care reform on state and federal governments and the private health insurance markets, including employee contributions to their private insurance plans. We find that, under health care reform:

• State health care expenditures have risen by $414 million over the period;

• Private health insurance costs have risen by $4.311 billion over the period;

• The federal government has spent an additional $2.418 billion on Medicaid for Massachusetts.

• Over this period, Medicare expenditures increased by $1.426 billion;

• For a total cumulative cost of $8.569 billion over the period; and

• The state has been able to shift the majority of the costs to the federal government.

The federal government continues to absorb a significant cost of health care reform through enhanced Medicaid payments and the Medicare program. …We estimate the effects of health care reform by comparing the actual value of each variable with the value it would have had, based on recent trends, had health care reform not been implemented.

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Or is it another example of the “wussification of America?” I don’t know how to classify this story, other than it is a sad commentary on what is happening to America. Bureaucrats in Maryland, who obviously have too much time on their hands, are issuing rules governing sunscreen on summer camps.

Have we really reached the point where we need to regulate approval for sunscreen use? And have we terrified ourselves to the point where we assume camp counselors are potential pedophiles (or, are we stupid enough to think rules like this would stop a real pedophile?). In any event, this story would have been perfect for my post comparing bureaucratic stupidity in the US vs bureaucratic stupidity in the UK.

Here’s an excerpt from the Washington Post.

Maryland health officials were making revisions late Friday night to a new policy that would have severely restricted who could apply sunscreen to children attending summer camps. The new policy, which was issued last month, ordered summer camp operators to steer away from assisting kids with applying sunscreen and to get parents’ permission before letting any child use sunscreen at camp. …The guidelines said, “Camp staff should limit touching the camper as much as possible. Under no circumstances should campers assist each other in the application of sunscreen.” The policy also prohibited camps from supplying sunscreen to campers. …Health officials had argued that their motivation was strictly about safety. “Our intention is certainly not to discourage the use of sunblock,” Mitchell said. “It’s really to walk a fine line between protecting kids’ skin and making sure they feel personally safe.” Mitchell said he did not know of any cases of inappropriate touching by counselors that might have led to the new regulations. At camps across Maryland, parents are receiving permission forms asking whether their child may use sunscreen while at camp. At the Barrie Day Camp in Silver Spring, for example, parents who allow their child to use sunscreen must also check off on whether the sunblock may be applied with or without assistance from staff members. “The camp is just doing what the state ordered them to do,” said Paul Basken, a father of two children who attend Barrie camp. “But this can’t be serious. I mean, if I didn’t feel safe about the camp, I just wouldn’t send my kids there.” …The rules are “absurd,” said Maral Skelsey, a dermatologist in Chevy Chase. “This is the biggest known carcinogen that children are exposed to. We should be asking camp counselors to take an active role in promoting skin protection.”

Our Founding Fathers must be looking down at us, shaking their heads and wondering “where did we go wrong?”

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Forget the victory over the union bosses in Wisconsin. Yes, that was important, but school choice is an ever bigger threat to the left.

Breaking the government education monopoly would reveal the inefficiency and incompetence of government, while simultaneously threatening the power of the National Education Association, which is a major source of money and power for the left.

Even more important, school choice would give poor kids a much better education, thus increasing their ability to achieve the American dream.

Helping poor people lead better lives, though, is not a priority for the left. If people are less dependent on government, they probably are less likely to reflexively support those who want to make government even bigger.

This is why it is good news that the promise of school choice in Pennsylvania (which I wrote about last year) is about to become a reality.

The Wall Street Journal’s excellent editorial page has the key details.

The most promising development is occurring in Pennsylvania, where a state-wide voucher bill supported by new Governor Tom Corbett is moving through the Republican-controlled legislature. Children in the Keystone State’s 144 worst schools—where students scored in the lowest 5% on recent state exams—would be eligible for a voucher. …in 1996, but unions blocked the idea by claiming that lack of spending was the real education problem. Time has proven that wrong again. According to the Commonwealth Foundation, a state think tank, “taxpayer spending on public schools has doubled to $26 billion per year” over the past 15 years. Pennsylvania taxpayers spend more than $13,000 per student, or “$2,000 more than the national average and more than 39 other states.” In some of the worst school districts, per pupil spending approaches $20,000. Yet scores on national tests have been flat for years, with only 40% of Pennsylvania 8th graders at or above proficiency in reading and math. Even state tests, which have lower standards, show that only about half of Pennsylvania 11th graders are proficient in reading and math.

What’s especially encouraging about the developments in Pennsylvania is that some traditionally left-wing folks have realized that it’s time to put the best interests of kids above the interests of the teacher unions. I particularly admire the role of a black state senator.

Mr. Williams, who is black, has taken some heat for his pro-voucher stance from local civil rights groups. “The NAACP nationally is opposed to this and locally is opposed to this, and they call me all sorts of funny names,” he tells us. “But the truth is that a lot of the people in the NAACP don’t acknowledge that they send their own kids to private schools. They’ve left. They’ve moved away.” Several local labor groups in Philadelphia have also broken with the teachers union and endorsed vouchers. “We believe that children from all economic backgrounds deserve a chance for a bright future,” said John Dougherty of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 98. “School choice programs will give them that chance.”

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Kudos to Governor Walker of Wisconsin. Republicans rarely have the intelligence or the fortitude to win battles that reduce the burden of government, but it appears that he is on the verge of prevailing in his effort to limit special privileges for government workers. Fugitive Democrats from the State Senate apparently are giving up on their plan to block the Governor’s reforms by hiding in Illinois.

I won’t fully believe it until they’re back in their chairs and casting votes, but at the very least Governor Walker is showing why it is important to stand up to greedy special interests. Let’s hope Republicans in Washington can display the same courage in their fight to trim a tiny amount of spending from this year’s spending – even if it means a government shutdown.

Here’s a report on the Wisconsin fight from today’s Wall Street Journal.

Playing a game of political chicken, Democratic senators who fled Wisconsin to stymie restrictions on public-employee unions said Sunday they planned to come back from exile soon, betting that even though their return will allow the bill to pass, the curbs are so unpopular they’ll taint the state’s Republican governor and legislators. …The Wisconsin standoff, which drew thousands of demonstrators to occupy the capitol in Madison for days at a time, has come to highlight efforts in other states to address budget problems in part by limiting the powers and benefits accorded public-sector unions. Sen. Mark Miller said he and his fellow Democrats intend to let the full Senate vote on Gov. Scott Walker’s “budget-repair” bill, which includes the proposed limits on public unions’ collective-bargaining rights. The bill, which had been blocked because the missing Democrats were needed for the Senate to have enough members present to vote on it, is expected to pass the Republican-controlled chamber. He said he thinks recent polls showing voter discontent with Mr. Walker over limits on bargaining rights have been “disastrous” for the governor and Republicans and give Democrats more leverage to seek changes in a broader two-year budget bill Mr. Walker proposed Tuesday. …Mr. Walker’s bill would prohibit bargaining over health care and pensions for about 170,000 public employees in the state and would allow public employees to opt out of paying dues or belonging to a union. The bill also would end the automatic collection of dues by the state, and require that every public-employee union get recertified to represent workers through an annual election. …Mark Jefferson, head of the Wisconsin GOP, said…even after Mr. Walker’s plan is passed, the state’s public workers will still have more collective-bargaining rights than most federal workers, who can bargain over working conditions but not pay and benefits.

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This is one of those a-picture-says-a-thousand-words moments.

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This blog repeatedly has chronicled the huge discrepancy between the gold-plated compensation for government employees and the meager salaries and benefits of people in the productive sector of the economy, including a video conclusively demonstrating that bureaucrats are overpaid.

This message is now resonating all across the nation. Even the New York Times, as shown by the excerpt below, now realizes that taxpayers are sick and tired of paying exorbitant taxes to finance excessive pay for the bureaucracy.

But public awareness is only a small step in the right direction. What really matters is public policy. Will the bureaucracy be downsized? Will salaries be frozen for several years? Will absurd pension plans be replaced by 401(k) systems? And what will happen to unaffordable health plans for government workers?

We’re going to see some interesting battles at the state and local level. One of the many great things about federalism is we get an opportunity to see some governments do the right thing and some do the wrong thing. And as we watch states like California descend into bankruptcy, this teaches everyone about the policies that should be avoided.

But the long-overdue day of reckoning won’t happen if Obama and the other politicians figure out how to bail out reckless state and local governments. That’s already happened once, since funneling federal money to the states was one of main goals of Obama’s failed stimulus.

But sending more money to the states would be akin to providing an alcoholic with a case of booze. If House Republicans have any brains, they will make sure taxpayers in places like Texas don’t pay more to subsidize politicians and special interests in places such as Illinois.

Cross your fingers that they hold firm. In the meantime, let’s enjoy the change in the public mood. Here are a few passages from yesterday’s story in the New York Times.

Across the nation, a rising irritation with public employee unions is palpable, as a wounded economy has blown gaping holes in state, city and town budgets, and revealed that some public pension funds dangle perilously close to bankruptcy. In California, New York, Michigan and New Jersey, states where public unions wield much power and the culture historically tends to be pro-labor, even longtime liberal political leaders have demanded concessions — wage freezes, benefit cuts and tougher work rules. …a growing cadre of political leaders and municipal finance experts argue that much of the edifice of municipal and state finance is jury-rigged and, without new revenue, perhaps unsustainable. Too many political leaders, they argue, acted too irresponsibly, failing to either raise taxes or cut spending. A brutal reckoning awaits, they say. …Fred Siegel, a historian at the conservative-leaning Manhattan Institute, has written of the “New Tammany Hall,” which he describes as the incestuous alliance between public officials and labor. “Public unions have had no natural adversary; they give politicians political support and get good contracts back,” Mr. Siegel said. “It’s uniquely dysfunctional.” …In California, pension costs now crowd out spending for parks, public schools and state universities; in Illinois, spiraling pension costs threaten the state with insolvency. And taxpayer resentment simmers.

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Since I’m involuntarily forced to finance National Public Radio, I guess I should be happy that free-market views occasionally are allowed on air. Click here to listen to a segment where I talk about earmarks, “phonemarks,” and special interest corruption in Washington.

The risky part of a pre-recorded interview is that you never know what the journalist will use. If the person interviewing you is biased, they can use a quote out of context to make you appear stupid, or use an incomplete quote to distort the meaning of your words. That did not happen in this case. The NPR interviewer, at least to my ear, was quite fair.

I wish the segment had been longer, however, so I could have explained why even “honest” earmarks are wrong. Let’s say that Congressman Smith or Senator Jones inserts an earmark, or makes a phonemark, to get funding for a sewer system. It’s quite possible that such a request is completely untainted by corruption (other than the run-of-the-mill practice of trying to buy votes with other people’s money).

But that doesn’t make it right. One of the reasons why federalism is such a good idea is that money is much more likely to be spent wisely is if it is raised at the state and local level and people at those levels decide how it should be allocated.

This doesn’t mean there is no corruption, insider deal-making, or special-interest shenanigans. That’s an inevitable part of government. But federalism at least makes it easier for people to monitor how their money is being spent – and to escape if they think their state or local government is going overboard with bad behavior.

In other words, centralization of government is a bad idea. This is why big government in Washington is worse than big government at the state and local level. And it’s why big government from the European Union in Brussels is worse than big government in Rome, Berlin, or Stockholm.

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Make sure you don’t save an injured deer in Virginia. Not only will the bureaucrats take the animal away from you, but they’ll nail you with three misdemeanor charges just for good measure. I guess the legal approach would have been to let the dogs kill the helpless creature. Here’s part of the WTOP.com report.

A Broadway man who nursed a young deer back to health has lost the animal to Virginia wildlife officials and faces three misdemeanor charges. Doyle Ritchie says he didn’t realize he was breaking the law when he kept the deer in his backyard after it was hit by a car and later attacked by dogs. But recently, the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries took the deer and Ritchie was charged with the misdemeanors, including illegal possession of a wild animal.

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I take second place to nobody in my view that government is horribly incompetent, but I even I’m shocked by this story I saw linked on Drudge. According to a news report out of Indiana, students who take the government’s driver’s ed class are four times more likely to crash than those who don’t take the classes. There almost certainly must be other factors that account for this surprising difference, as suggested in the excerpt below. After all, even I don’t believe bureaucrats can turn people into more dangerous drivers. At the very least, though, this presumably shows that government classes have no positive impact. Maybe the right way to deal with young drivers is to put parents back in charge, backed up by the discipline of auto insurance rates determined by market forces. How’s that for a radical idea?

Indiana lawmakers say they are puzzled by a study that shows teenagers who take driver’s education classes are more likely to crash than those who do not take the classes. The Indiana BMV released the study that it says shows current drivers under 18 who took driver’s ed had nearly four times the crashes than those without the training. Some lawmakers say it might be time for an overhaul. The state’s drivers ed program has not changed in the past 30 years. But the BMV says the numbers might be skewed by the fact that teens with driver’s ed get their permits earlier and have more time on the road.

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I ran across two interesting lists showing how politicians at the state and local level are often just as bad as the ones in Washington, DC. First, Forbes has an article identifying the 10 states with the highest income tax rates. The top rate is a big deterrent to entrepreneurs and investors, but it’s also important to look at the income level where the top tax rate takes effect. Yes, Hawaii, Oregon, and California have terrible tax policy, but Iowa, Maine, and Washington, DC, deserve special scorn for raping the middle class.

Hawaii:                       11% (income over $400,000 (couple), $200,000 (single))
Oregon:                      11% (income over $500,000 (couple), $250,000 (single))
California:                   10.55% (income over $1 million)
Rhode Island:             9.9% (income over $373,650)
Iowa:                          8.98% (income over $64,261)
New Jersey                 8.97% (income over $500,000)
New York:                   8.97% (income over $500,000)
Vermont:                     8.95% (income over $373,650)
Maine:                        8.5% (income over $39,549 (couple), $19,749 (single))
Washington, D.C.:      8.5% (income over $40,000)

Looking at the other major source of revenue for state and local governments, the Tax Foundation identifies the cities with the highest total sales tax rate – a number that often includes three separate levies by state, county, and city governments. Here are the top 10. Or should I say worst 10?

Birmingham AL              10.000%
Montgomery AL             10.000%
Long Beach CA                9.750%
Los Angeles CA               9.750%
Oakland CA                    9.750%
Fremont CA                     9.750%
Chicago IL                     9.750%
Glendale AZ                    9.600%
Seattle WA                     9.500%
San Francisco CA           9.500%

One thing that stands out is that California is on both lists, which helps explain why the state is such a basket case. Seattle deserves a special mention because at least there is no state income tax in Washington.

Last but not least, it’s worth mentioning that there’s no sales tax or income tax in New Hampshire. Live Free or Die!

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My default assumption is that all politicians will do the wrong thing when they have to choose between defending freedom and appeasing special interests. Even the ones that spout good rhetoric often do the wrong thing, particularly after a couple of years in office (sort of like being assimilated by the Borg, for you Star Trek fans). So I did not hold out much hope that Chris Christie would have any positive impact on New Jersey. I’m glad to report that (at least so far) I was wrong. Here’s a excerpt from a National Review article about what he’s accomplished. The excerpt is long, but the details are important. And since I obviously had to summarize, you should read the entire article to more fully appreciate how Christie seems to be the real deal.
…on February 11, Christie addressed a special joint session of the state legislature, replacing the vague promises of the campaign trail with first principles, and elaborating the constraints under which he was determined to govern: “Our constitution requires a balanced budget. Our commitment requires us to begin the next fiscal year with a prudent opening balance. Our conscience and common sense require us to fix the problem in a way that does not raise taxes on the most overtaxed citizens in America. Our love for our children requires that we do not shove today’s problems under the rug only to be discovered again tomorrow. Our sense of decency must require that we stop using tricks that will make next year’s budget problem even worse.” And in an extraordinary move, he then declared a fiscal state of emergency, announcing that by executive order he would impound $2.2 billion in appropriations from a fiscal year that was already seven months gone. That figure represented virtually every dollar the state was not legally obligated to pay out for the remainder of the year. In Bagger’s words, it was “everything that wasn’t nailed down.” “By doing that so quickly and so dramatically, and by executive action, it really set the stage,” Bagger says. “It was just a very clear declaration that there’s a new reality.” There was much wailing and teeth-gnashing about the cuts among Democrats. Sweeney accused Christie of “pick[ing] someone else’s pocket,” and senate majority leader Barbara Buono went so far as to say the executive order had “declare[d] martial law” in New Jersey. This raised the stakes significantly for the FY 2011 budget battle, which was then only beginning. In the year to come, the state would face an $11 billion deficit that made the previous shortfall look like a gratuity. It was a big hole, and Christie needed Democratic votes to close it. But he had no intention of mollycoddling the other side. On March 16, the governor went back before a joint session of the legislature and introduced a $29.3 billion budget that doubled down on his most controversial measures, trimming fat — and muscle, and sinew — from virtually every department and every entitlement in the state. The budget did small things, like reducing overtime hours, shrinking the state’s fleet of official vehicles, replacing paper with digital filing, and consolidating government office space. It cut the pay and pension eligibility for members of a number of state boards and commissions, many of whose duties required them to do little more than attend once-monthly meetings. It saved $216 million by eliminating a number of wasteful programs, and another $50 million by privatizing others. But the budget did big things as well. It shrank the state’s major spending programs — including many that were, the governor admitted, not without merit — by reducing base appropriations and either scaling back or eliminating scheduled funding increases. It converted the state’s property-tax rebate system — long funded by borrowing, at interest, to cut checks to homeowners — with tax credits. It cut $466 million in local aid, against Trenton’s trend of corralling more and more municipal tax dollars for the purposes of redistribution, while pushing a constitutional amendment that would limit towns’ ability to raise property taxes in the future. And like Corzine before him, Christie deferred payments to the state’s pension program to secure $3.1 billion in savings, under the justification that it was imprudent to sink more money into a failing system. But unlike Corzine, Christie pushed through tough pension reforms that rolled back overgenerous payment increases, limited payouts for unused sick leave, and enrolled new workers into 401(k)s. He’d also signed a law requiring public employees to pay at least 1.5 percent of their salaries toward their health benefits, which would save the state and local governments hundreds of millions each year. But what caused the first and most strident wave of opposition to Christie’s agenda was his decision to slash funding for public education, by some $820 million. …A near-pristine version of Christie’s budget passed at 1:13 a.m. on June 29, less than 24 hours before the constitutional deadline. …But as significant as his early victories have been, Christie must now turn to pushing the structural reforms that will institutionalize his vision of leaner, meaner state government. …Even as he was fighting the budget battle, the governor was barnstorming the state to talk up perhaps the most significant of these reforms: his “Cap 2.5” initiative, which would constitutionally limit the ability of municipalities to raise property taxes. The cap is popular among residents, most of whom pay the preponderance of their non-federal tax liability in property taxes. …But Christie’s amendment is at the mercy of the Democratic legislature, whose assent is required for a popular referendum on it. …Christie has vowed not to give up the fight. Other battles loom wherein the governor’s chances for success are highly uncertain. He has promised yet more pension and compensation reforms, moves that could break his tenuous alliance with the reformist elements in the Democratic party and push his openly hostile relationship with labor beyond Thunderdome. …Senator Kean, who hopes to move from minority to majority leader, has confidence that Christie will continue to stick to his guns. “The governor has an internally strong constitution — that’s who Chris is — and he has an externally strong constitution in the constitution of the State of New Jersey,” Kean says. “I think he is absolutely the genuine article. That’s why we won’t ever go back to the status quo, at least not under Chris Christie’s governorship.”

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Chris Christie of New Jersey has done a remarkable job so far, but his biggest battles are still ahead of him. A key fight is whether the state will impose a cap on property taxes. As the Wall Street Journal opines, this reform has worked very well in Massachusetts and is critical to curtailiing the greed of government employee unions in the Garden State.
The Governor wants to cap annual property tax increases at 2.5%, on the model of the successful cap that Massachusetts imposed in 1980. Over the next 27 years, property taxes in the Bay State rose 22% compared to 68% nationwide and 102% in New Jersey. The cap is crucial to preventing local Garden State school districts, which are dominated by teachers unions, from raising taxes and thus defeating whatever spending restraint Mr. Christie can impose on Trenton. The unions know this, which is why they’ve spent some $7 million in TV ads portraying Mr. Christie as the scourge of police, firefighters and children. The Governor’s approval rating has held up well despite the onslaught, which may reflect that voters understand the state’s new fiscal reality. New Jersey’s property taxes and its overall state and local tax burden are the nation’s highest, and the state hasn’t created a single net new private job in a decade. Democrats who run the state legislature have counter-offered with a 2.9% cap, but with so many spending exceptions that it’s more fig leaf than cap. Their bill would allow lawmakers to raise property taxes above the cap to pay for pensions, health care and utility costs and, here’s the kicker, even in order to promote the health, safety or welfare of the municipality. …This showdown is worth watching because Mr. Christie has shown admirable political grit so far, and success in New Jersey would bolster the nerve of other reform governors. One temptation for Mr. Christie would be to settle for too little reform when his political capital is at its highest, which was Arnold Schwarzenegger’s original mistake in California. …Mr. Christie’s best reform opportunity is now, and taxpayers everywhere should hope he succeeds.

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The New York Times has a story about the budget debacle in Illinois, which is a classic case of a state with too much government and too many overpaid bureaucrats. Other than being an example of what not to do, the most interesting aspect of what’s happening in Illinois is trying to guess whether it is in better or worse shape than California. According to the credit default swaps market, Illinois is in slightly worse shape. Both states rank below Iraq and above Romania:
Even by the standards of this deficit-ridden state, Illinois’s comptroller, Daniel W. Hynes, faces an ugly balance sheet. Precisely how ugly becomes clear when he beckons you into his office to examine his daily briefing memo. He picks the papers off his desk and points to a figure in red: $5.01 billion. “This is what the state owes right now to schools, rehabilitation centers, child care, the state university — and it’s getting worse every single day,” he says in his downtown office. …For the last few years, California stood more or less unchallenged as a symbol of the fiscal collapse of states during the recession. Now Illinois has shouldered to the fore, as its dysfunctional political class refuses to pay the state’s bills and refuses to take the painful steps — cuts and tax increases — to close a deficit of at least $12 billion, equal to nearly half the state’s budget. Then there is the spectacularly mismanaged pension system, which is at least 50 percent underfunded and, analysts warn, could push Illinois into insolvency if the economy fails to pick up. …signs of fiscal crackup are easy to see. Legislators left the capital this month without deciding how to pay 26 percent of the state budget. The governor proposes to borrow $3.5 billion to cover a year’s worth of pension payments, a step that would cost about $1 billion in interest. And every major rating agency has downgraded the state; Illinois now pays millions of dollars more to insure its debt than any other state in the nation. “Their pension is the most underfunded in the nation,” said Karen S. Krop, a senior director at Fitch Ratings. “They have not made significant cuts or raised revenues. There’s no state out there like this. They can’t grow their way out of this.”

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One of the good features of the Internet is that it gives people more options. But this is bad news for politicians, who like to control – and tax – what people are doing. But it’s not easy for politicians at the state level to impose high sales taxes on consumers when people have the freedom to buy things sold in other states. Politicians do impose “use taxes,” which supposedly require people to pay taxes on goods purchased in other states, but 99 percent of consumers evade this tax since there’s no feasible way to enforce the levy. In an effort to gain more control (and more money), greedy politicians at the state and local level want Congress to impose a nationwide sales tax cartel. I wrote about why this was a bad idea back in 2001, both because it would undermine tax competition between states and because it would be a gross invasion of privacy. Here’s an excerpt from a report on the latest battle in this fiscal war:
The halcyon days of tax-free Internet shopping will, if Rep. Bill Delahunt gets his way, soon be coming to an abrupt end. Delahunt, a Massachusetts Democrat, introduced a bill on Thursday that would rewrite the ground rules for Internet and mail order sales by eliminating the option for many Americans to shop over the Internet without paying state sales taxes. At the moment, Americans who shop over the Internet from out-of-state vendors usually aren’t required to pay sales taxes. Californians buying books from Amazon.com or cameras from Manhattan’s B&H Photo, for example, won’t be required to cough up the sales taxes that they would if shopping at a local mall. …The National Conference of State Legislatures applauded Delahunt’s legislation, saying he should be commended for allowing states to collect as much as $23 billion in new taxes. …the pro-tax forces have offered a proposal that they hope Congress can be persuaded to adopt. The concept is called the Streamlined Sales Tax Agreement, invented in 2002 by state tax officials hoping to straighten out some of sales tax laws’ most notorious convolutions. Since then, some 24 states have signed on, either wholly or partially, to the agreement, meaning they agree to simplify their tax codes and make them uniform. If enough states participate, proponents believe it will be easier to convince Congress to make sales collection mandatory for out-of-state retailers. …State tax collectors haven’t exactly been idle while waiting for Congress. They’ve been trying to force Amazon to turn over purchase records in North Carolina, attempting to force retailers to become tax-tattlers in California and Tennessee, and putting the squeeze on affiliate programs in Colorado.

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This new video from Reason.tv is a sobering look at how excessive pensions for state and local government bureaucrats are creating a fiscal nightmare for governments across the nation.

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