California : The “Furloughing”…
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Posted by Howard Rich | Columns
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| Tuesday 30 June 2009 7:25 PM

How many California state employees does it take to screw in a light bulb?

We’ll find out soon enough.

After steadily growing both its budget and bureaucratic payroll for years, California’s fiscal house of cards collapsed last year, opening a $24 billion hole in its upcoming budget.

In an effort to save a nickel – or rather, $1.4 billion worth of nickels – Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger proposed last December that state employees take two days worth of furloughs each month, an idea that was roundly rejected by the state’s government unions. In fact, they sued Schwarzenegger – and after losing their case in court they filed an unfair labor practice claim against him.

Earlier this year, Schwarzenegger relented and trimmed the furlough down to one day a month, although both the governor and Democratic lawmakers are moving to restore the second day in the budget for the upcoming fiscal year. Similar plans have stoked union outrage in other states and municipalities – most notably Chicago –but it’s California where the furlough debate has been most acutely focused.

Aside from the predictable partisan hyperbole and hand-wringing from the bureaucrats, the central question seems to be this: What impact, precisely, do furloughs and other government layoffs have on the services currently being provided to California taxpayers?

Obviously, there are those who claim the budget shortfall will result something akin to the state falling into the Pacific or deteriorating into a third world wasteland, but those doom-and-gloom pronouncements were roundly rejected by California voters last month when they declined to approve billions of dollars worth of tax hikes.

Put another way, could furloughs – and/or layoffs – be a good thing?

Take the California Department of Motor Vehicles, which has seen a dramatic increase in customers taking advantage of its online services in the wake of the recent furloughs.

Rather than be “adversely impacted,” Californians simply went online to conduct their business – which begs the question of whether or not some of those furloughed DMV employees should have jobs in the first place. And what of the state’s park system –which could easily be privatized instead of draining hundreds of millions in tax dollars each year?

Sure California’s parks are lovely, but are they an essential government responsibility?

Sadly, common sense assessments like that don’t seem to factor into the decision-making process in Sacramento.

In fact, a recent analysis of the state’s general fund conducted by the San Jose Mercury News found that government growth in California had exceeded the growth in population plus inflation by a whopping $10.2 billion over the previous five years.

That’s a 35% increase – in just five years.

“I wish it hadn’t grown that much,” Gov. Schwarzenegger’s finance director said last February. “Had we stuck with a very austere budget, we would have been in better shape.”[1]

Sadly, that critical lesson remains lost on California’s leaders as they continue to shield government positions that aren’t needed with money that isn’t there – perpetuating the same failed policies that landed the state in its current mess.

In addition to relying on one-time federal bureaucratic bailout money to plug holes, the state’s 2009-10 spending plan is replete with preposterous accounting gimmicks.

For example, in what amounts to “kiting” on a massive scale, California is forcing its taxpayers to shell out $2.3 billion of future taxes this year simply by raising paycheck withholdings.

State leaders also decided to send out June 30 paychecks a day late, shoving another $1.2 billion onto next fiscal year’s books.

Oh, and let’s not forget those “furloughs.”

California is the world’s eighth-largest economy. Frankly, it’s about time its leaders started running the state more like a business and less like a pyramid scam.

That process starts with ditching these gimmicks and engaging in a long-overdue discussion of the various responsibilities government should – and should not – undertake.

Conyers backs off probe of ACORN
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Posted by Howard Rich | News
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| Friday 26 June 2009 3:41 PM

From the Washington Times

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House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers Jr. has backed off his plan to investigate purported wrongdoing by the liberal activist group ACORN, saying ?powers that be? put the kibosh on the idea.

Mr. Conyers, Michigan Democrat, earlier bucked his party leaders by calling for hearings on accusations the Association of Community Organization for Reform Now (ACORN) has committed crimes ranging from voter fraud to a mob-style “protection” racket.

“The powers that be decided against it,” Mr. Conyers told The Washington Times as he left the House chambers Wednesday.

The chairman declined to elaborate, shrugging off questions about who told him how to run his committee and give the Democrat-allied group a pass.

Conyers spokesman Jonathan Godfrey said late Thursday, several hours after the first request for comment, that the chairman had been referring to himself as “the powers that be.”

Pittsburgh lawyer Heather Heidelbaugh, whose testimony about ACORN at a March 19 hearing on voting issues prompted Mr. Conyers to call for a probe, said she was perplexed by Mr. Conyers’ explanation for his change of heart.

“If the chair of the Judiciary Committee cannot hold a hearing if he wants to, [then] who are the powers that he is beholden to?” she said. “Is it the leadership, is it the White House, is it contributors? Who is ‘the power’?”

The comment spurred similar questions by House Republicans, who asked whether House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was involved in blocking the probe.

“Chairman Conyers has a responsibility to explain who is blocking this investigation, and why. Is it Speaker Pelosi? Others in the Democratic leadership? Who in Congress is covering up ACORN’s corruption?” said Michael Steel, spokesman for House Minority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican.

Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. of Wisconsin, ranking Republican on the Judiciary subcommittee on the Constitution, civil rights and civil liberties, said the chairman should be calling the shots.

}Mr. Conyers, who heard the allegations against ACORN, was sufficiently impressed to realize a future hearing was needed to thoroughly investigate the matter,” he said. “It’s unfortunate that people who didn’t hear the testimony are making the decisions. The Democratic leadership should step up to disclose who instructed Mr. Conyers to drop his plan.”

The office of Mrs. Pelosi, California Democrat, did not respond to questions about Mr. Conyers’ comments.

Capitol Hill had bristled at the prospect of hearings because it threatened to rekindle criticism of the financial ties and close cooperation between President Obama’s campaign and ACORN and its sister organizations Citizens Services Inc. and Project Vote.

The groups came under fire during the campaign after probes into suspected voter fraud in a series of presidential battleground states, including Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, New Mexico and Nevada.

ACORN and its affiliates are currently the target of at least 14 lawsuits related to voter fraud in the 2008 election and a Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act complaint filed by former ACORN members.

The group’s leaders have consistently denied any wrongdoing and previously said they welcomed a congressional probe.

The group did not respond to questions about Mr. Conyers being convinced to drop those plans.

Ms. Heidelbaugh, who spearheaded an unsuccessful lawsuit last year to stop ACORN’s Pennsylvania voter-registration drive, testified in March that the nonprofit group was violating tax, campaign-finance and other laws by, among other things, sharing with the Barack Obama campaign a list of the Democrat’s maxed-out campaign donors so ACORN could use it to solicit them for a get-out-the-vote drive.

ACORN also provided liberal causes with protest-for-hire services and coerced donations from targets of demonstrations through a shakedown it called the “muscle for the money” program, said Ms. Heidelbaugh, a member of the executive board of the Republican National Lawyers Association.

Mr. Conyers, a fierce partisan known for his drive to continue investigating President George W. Bush’s administration, had been an unlikely champion for opponents of ACORN.

Before calling for the probe, he frequently defended ACORN. In October, he condemned an FBI voter-fraud investigation targeting the group, questioning whether it was politically motivated to hamper a voter-registration likely to turn out supporters for Mr. Obama’s candidacy.

But in March, Mr. Conyers dismissed the argument made by fellow Democrats that accusations of voter fraud and other crimes should be explored by prosecutors and decided in court, not by lawmakers in Congress.

“That’s our jurisdiction, the Department of Justice,” Mr. Conyers said in March. “That’s what we handle voter fraud. Unless that’s been taken out of my jurisdiction and I didn’t know it.”

Putting New York Back Together
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Posted by Howard Rich | News
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| Thursday 25 June 2009 7:56 PM

From the New York Times

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by Rudy Giuliani

NEW YORK STATE government is not working. This has been true for some time. But the paralysis and confusion that has overtaken the capital demonstrates the need to confront this dysfunction directly and take decisive steps to solve it once and for all. That’s why I’m calling on Albany to convene a state constitutional convention.

This is not a partisan criticism. There is enough blame for all to share. Recently, though, the situation in our state has gone from bad to worse.

There are more New Yorkers unemployed than at any time in 33 years, and the poverty rate is rising. Our combined state and local tax burden is the highest in the nation after New Jersey. Our business tax climate is rated the second worst in the country. And in the face of the worst recession in a quarter-century, the State Legislature decided to increase spending by 9 percent while increasing taxes and fees by $8 billion. No wonder a recent poll showed that more than 20 percent of New Yorkers are thinking of leaving the state in search of lower taxes and fewer government mandates.

Over the course of New York’s history, our state has held seven constitutional conventions, one as recently as 1967. Calling another convention would be an extraordinary step, but it is a necessary and effective way to overcome the challenges we face. It would be an opportunity for Republicans, Democrats and independents to come together, take a long hard look at our problems and then propose real, lasting solutions.

If the State Legislature were to approve the measure in the next few weeks, New Yorkers could vote on whether to proceed with a constitutional convention this November. A “yes” vote would move the process forward, allowing voters to choose a slate of delegates in November 2010. After the convention took place, the recommendations would be put forward to the people for an up-and-down vote.

The specific measures should be left to the convention itself and then judged by the voters. But to start the debate I offer seven recommendations for reform.

THE BUDGET PROCESS The governor should be empowered to set revenue estimates on his own, as the mayor of New York City does, adjusting future spending against responsible benchmarks rather than unrealistic estimates. The budget should conform to generally accepted accounting principles, and there should also be a formal four-year financial plan allowing for transparency and long-term planning. Finally, if a new budget is not adopted by April 1, the previous year’s budget should be automatically continued.

TERM LIMITS All statewide elected officials and members of the Legislature should be term limited to bring new blood into Albany while stopping the careerism that too often blocks real progress. A citizens’ legislature would be more effective in addressing New Yorkers’ problems with a fresh perspective.

REDISTRICTING New York’s Legislature has been called the most dysfunctional in the nation, yet Albany legislators enjoy a 98 percent re-election rate. They avoid accountability through partisan gerrymandering, which has reduced the number of competitive elections, depriving millions of voters of real choices.

An independent commission, rather than the legislators themselves, should draw up district lines to ensure the system is not rigged to reward incumbent legislators or one party over another.

CAMPAIGN FINANCE Special interests have a disproportionate influence over state politics in large part because of a weak campaign finance system with high contribution limits and lax disclosure requirements. Individuals can give up to $55,900 to gubernatorial candidates and $15,500 for State Senate candidates. Unions and other special interests exploit loopholes that allow millions of dollars worth of phone banks, volunteers and other in-kind contributions. There are no regular audits and minimal fines, and an unlimited amount of money can be transferred to candidates from party committees.

SUPERMAJORITY FOR TAX INCREASES Too often increasing taxes is the first impulse for Albany legislators. Requiring a supermajority for tax increases would provide a powerful check on those who still think we can tax and spend our way out of economic problems. A supermajority would protect already over-burdened citizens and attract businesses, improving our long-term competitiveness.

JUDICIAL PAY The integrity of an independent judiciary depends on being able to attract qualified people who are not beholden to party bosses and power brokers. Instituting an automatic cost-of-living adjustment on an improved base salary would take the politics out of judicial pay raises.

SUCCESSION FOR LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR Over the last 40 years, New York has been without a lieutenant governor three times. The lack of any established process of succession for the state’s second in command creates the potential for chaos. In the interest of simplicity, stability and transparency, clear lines of succession must be established.

Many of these suggestions have enjoyed bipartisan support in the past. What’s been missing is action. Legislators have not been leading. But we citizens can take charge and carry out these fundamental reforms through a constitutional convention. Together we can cure the structural dysfunction of our politics and hand New York to the next generation better and stronger than it was handed to us.

Rudolph W. Giuliani was the mayor of New York from 1994 to 2001.

The Restoration of Dependency
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Posted by Howard Rich | Columns
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| Friday 19 June 2009 3:57 PM

By Howard Rich

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Multi-billion dollar bailouts. A new national energy tax. The return of socialized medicine.

Almost every day we’re seeing another big government offensive taking direct aim at the core ideals on which our nation was founded – and upon which rests our essential strength.

Yet of all the counter-capitalist pillars included in President Barack Obama’s new “Era of Obscenely Big Government,” the deliberate undoing of welfare reform is receiving a surprisingly small amount of ink.

Perhaps that’s because our sympathetic (if not sycophantic) mainstream media doesn’t want to throw a monkey wrench into the tired old “we’ve got to do something” refrain that has already seen $13 trillion spent, lent or pledged on “economic recovery” in the last year alone.

Or perhaps it’s because this “stealth’ dismantling of welfare reform doesn’t fit neatly within the “Post hoc, ergo propter hoc” framework often used to justify so many of Obama’s policies.

After all, you can’t pin an “after Bush, therefore because of Bush” tail on this issue – which has its roots in the administration of President Bill Clinton.

Passed in 1996, the bipartisan “Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act” represented a fundamental shift in the way our nation approached welfare. Rather than incentivizing states to expand their welfare rolls, the new law sent money in block grants which offered incentives for taking people off of welfare – and encouraging them to find jobs.

Not surprisingly, when the federal government stopped rewarding the perpetuation of poverty, it stopped seeing so much of it.

Contrary to the doom and gloom, “death in the streets” pronouncements of government bureaucrats chained to the failed “War on Poverty” approach, the results of welfare reform (in conjunction with a reduction in capital gains taxes and other economy-empowering reforms) were nothing short of phenomenal.

Poverty rates plunged, welfare rolls were cut in half, unemployment fell and the government recorded its first annual surpluses in decades.

At the heart of this free enterprise success story was the fact that personal responsibility, not government dependency, had been incentivized – a fairly self-evident truth that nonetheless had been ignored for decades by Washington politicians.

“The advocates of (the old system) had no inkling that these good-hearted strategies would lead to enduring cycles of poverty and family disintegration that threatened to consume entire generations,” writes Dr. Hunter Baker, a professor at Houston Baptist University. “Wishing for good outcomes resulted in disaster. It was only when a more tough-minded view took hold (the idea that it is reasonable to expect productivity and initiative out of healthy, working age persons) that many managed to escape mere subsistence.”1

Sadly, Obama’s plans represent a nothing short of a complete U-turn back to the days of dependency and subsistence. In fact, one of the little-publicized components of the massive “American Recovery and Reinvestment Act” is the unfortunate “reinvestment” it makes in poverty and dependency.

The “bounty system” of paying cash-strapped states to expand their welfare rolls is back, only this time with an even higher incentive – a whopping $4 to $1 cash bonus for every new family that state bureaucrats are able to hook up to the government dole.

“The original goal of helping families move to employment and self-sufficiency and off long-term dependence on government assistance has instead been replaced with the perverse incentive of adding more families to the welfare rolls,” a recent report from the Heritage Foundation states.2

This approach clearly benefits no one – well, except for government bureaucrats and Obama’s friends at ACORN, who rely on the perpetuation of poverty and dependence to keep their various scams up and running.

The sad, unavoidable reality is that the more one examines Obama’s position on welfare, the more obvious it becomes that his goal is not to help people who are poor, but rather to keep them dependent on his government to provide for their every need.

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