Nothing particularly political about the video; my daughter and I just found it damn funny.
Archives for September 2009
A No on I-1033 campaign staffer recently related to me a conversation he had with a local reporter, who repeatedly challenged him as to what was wrong with population-plus-inflation as a limit on government growth? “He was playing devil’s advocate,” the staffer explained.
Hmm. Maybe. Or maybe not.
This is a really complex issue, further complicated by the fact that population-plus-inflation does indeed sound like a reasonable and intuitive metric for maintaining government services at current levels, as it reduces spending to a simple per capita formula, that is easily adjusted for population and inflation: if we spend x amount of dollars per person in 2009, simply multiply x by the 2010 population, adjust for inflation, and voila… a new budget that reflects a constant level of per capita spending.
Rinse. Wash. Repeat.
In fact, this formula is so obvious and so intuitive, that rather than playing devil’s advocate, I think it a safe bet that the reporter in question was genuinely confused as to why population-plus-inflation, as implemented in I-1033, would steadily and inevitably erode government spending and reduce the level of services provided over time. So as a service to my friends in the media, I thought I’d attempt to explain the issue with a handful of bullet points.
I-1033 uses the wrong inflation index.
One of the core problems with the population-plus-inflation formula is the thorny question of how we measure inflation. I-1033 uses a broad measure, the Implicit Price Deflator (IPD) for the gross domestic product, an index that both ignores regional variations in the inflation rate, and more importantly, dramatic differences between different economic sectors.
As I’ve previously explained the cost of delivering government services rises significantly faster than the general rate of inflation, largely because the kind of highly-trained, labor-intensive services governments tend to provide (doctors, police officers, teachers, etc.) do not benefit from the same sort of productivity gains that technological advances have bestowed on economic sectors such as manufacturing. The more accurate index would be the IPD for State and Local Government Services, which when applied to recent state budgets shows a precipitous decline in spending when contrasted with the Consumer Price Index.
Quite simply, providing a constant level of services per capita requires a constant level of purchasing power. I-1033 doesn’t provide that, and will inevitably result in steadily declining per capita revenues, properly adjusted for inflation.
Different populations require different services…
… And of course, different services carry different costs. For example, an aging population has higher health care costs, while a baby boom would increase the cost of providing public education. The population-plus-inflation formula simply cannot account for the associated costs (or savings) of demographic shifts, as it treats all individuals exactly the same. Likewise, the formula cannot account for changing behavioral patterns within demographically stable populations… for example the unexpected rise in public school enrollment during the current recession, as families sought to cut private tuition costs.
Consider this ironic Catch-22: if our current K-12 education reforms succeed in raising both graduation rates and the rate of college attendance, it would inevitably increase demand for slots in our heavily subsidized state college and university system. Quite simply, a well educated student becomes even more expensive to educate, a reality that I-1033 and its strict per capita cap, doesn’t anticipate. Lacking the ability to raise per capita spending to accommodate the increased demand its own policies helped to create, the state would be forced to either deny these students a higher education, or shift money from elsewhere… perhaps even K-12 budgets.
Growth in personal income is the measure that best tracks growth in demand for public services.
As explained in the Gates Commission report, and numerous other scholarly works on the subject, the economic number that most closely tracks growth in demand for government services is growth in total personal income, that is, total economic growth. This is because (and perhaps counter to popular misconceptions) the majority of state and local government services are commodities, and we tend to increase our per capita consumption of commodities as our income grows. Roads, sewers, schools, courts, public safety, libraries, parks, public health… these and other government services are all things we consume more of the wealthier our society gets, and thus personal income, not population-plus-inflation, is the best measure for tracking growth in demand for these services. It also is the best means of accounting for regional differences in the inflation rate, as wealthier states tend to have higher costs of living.
This is why comparative studies of government revenue, spending and debt always focus on government spending, revenue and debt as a percentage of the GDP. Government spending as a percentage of personal income not only broadly measures the ability of government to meet the demand for public services, it also measures the ability of the economy to afford the government services provided. In this context, population-plus-inflation is virtually meaningless.
Yeah, sure, nobody in our state media has written at greater length or greater depth on tax structure and revenue issues than I have over the past few years, but still, I’m just some foul-mouthed blogger, so why should you believe me?
Well, don’t. Just look to Colorado where the experiment with TABOR has proven to be a complete and total fucking disaster. Population-plus-inflation simply does not provide government the revenue necessary to maintain a constant level of services. It didn’t in Colorado, and it won’t here. That’s a fact.
Population-plus-inflation also doesn’t provide government the flexibility necessary to respond to the changing wants and needs of its citizenry, but that’s a topic for another post.
Congratulations to Jenny Durkan on her US Senate confirmation as the new US Attorney for Western Washington. Now that she’s the law, I guess I better keep my nose clean.
If Mike McGinn wins his race for Seattle mayor, he will no doubt credit much of his success to his firm stance against the Big Bore tunnel, and the latest Survey USA poll shows McGinn may be picking up momentum. But if he ends up losing the race to T-Mobile exec Joe Mallahan, I think it may be fair to argue that that is exactly the issue that did McGinn in.
It’s no secret that since the primary Mallahan has enjoyed broad, if somewhat tepid endorsements from business, labor and other organizations firmly grounded in the mainstream of the Seattle establishment, as well as many of Mayor Greg Nickels’ former supporters. If there was a Democratic political machine in Seattle (and there most definitely isn’t), the sound you’d be hearing right now would be its rusty old gears grinding into place behind Mallahan.
Why? Well, although the political insiders I’ve talked to all lament Mallahan’s lackluster and uninspiring campaign, and openly question whether he’s really prepared to be an effective mayor, they all point to the tunnel as the single issue driving them into the Mallahan camp. Oh, they don’t all love the tunnel, and most are quick to criticize its financing, but the establishment consensus is “enough is enough” on our near decade-long thumb-sucking over replacing the Alaska Way Viaduct. As much as they fear Mallahan may prove an ineffective mayor, they equally fear that McGinn may prove quite competent, if only in his promise to block the tunnel project.
Of course it’s not as simple as that. Many business types argue that the tunnel is in fact the best and least disruptive choice for both maintaining mobility through the downtown and redeveloping the waterfront, while some of the labor-types view the tunnel purely in terms of jobs, jobs, jobs. But if McGinn wanted to make the tunnel the number one issue in this race, he’s certainly succeeded… at least with the bulk of Mallahan supporters.
Despite his lack of political experience (or even, you know, voting), Mallahan has now clearly been cast as the establishment candidate, while McGinn is making the most of his role as the populist outsider. And while being a populist isn’t a bad thing to be in a Seattle election, I wonder if McGinn may have overestimated the breadth and depth of popular opposition to the tunnel, while underestimating the obstacle establishment money and endorsements could prove to his mayoral ambitions?
Please join us tonight for some politics under the influence at the Seattle chapter of Drinking Liberally. The festivities take place at the Montlake Ale House, 2307 24th Avenue E. beginning at 8:00 pm.
There will be some celebration of today’s 83% near-victory. The public death panel option is just around the corner….
Not in Seattle? The Drinking Liberally web site has dates and times for 337 other chapters of Drinking Liberally for you to shoot for.
According to new census figures, 730,000 Washingtonians lived in poverty in 2008, 11.3 percent of the population. And those are 2008 numbers; no doubt the poverty rate will rise along with the unemployment rate in 2009.
Of course, the poverty rate is much higher in rural counties — you know, Republican country — which I guess should be alarming to those on the right who insist that poverty comes from laziness and making bad moral choices.
I was actually kinda with Ted Van Dyk on this one… up until the final few paragraphs:
Beck’s goofy brand of conservatism is harmful to serious public dialogue, but no more so than the various ideological rantings associated with the master of the schtick, Rush Limbaugh, or of their counterparts on the left-hand side.
Typical, wishy-washy, centrist, equivalency bullshit. I mean what counterparts on the left? How many lefty TV/radio personalities have the same sort of audience reach as Beck, let alone Limbaugh, and are there any of consequence who are even remotely as vile? Honestly, even here in liberal Seattle, we now have four conservative talk stations — KVI, KTTH, KKOL and KIRO-FM (and yes, given their lineup, I think it’s fair to characterize KIRO as conservative now) — compared to just KPTK on the progressive side of the spectrum. And of course, since the loss of my show, not a single local liberal talker. Not one.
Their popularity and huge audiences reflect the cynicism of the broadcast groups which sponsor them and the general dumbing down and growing irresponsiblity of media in the United States. A recent Pew survey, as others in recent years by many reputable organizations, underscored the degree to which Americans increasingly distrust and even discount entirely the “news” they see in all media — from daily newspapers to network news broadcasts to cable-news shows to local-level print and electronic media. The same surveys show citizens increasingly turning for information (and thus forming their views) on the basis of what they see and hear from biased sources and from online blogs which often purvey information which is outrightly false.
You mean purveying outrightly false information, like when you repeatedly lie about the cost of light rail, and its margin at the polls? Are you putting Crosscut in that category of “biased sources”…? I’m just wondering.
Those writing for media — for even as moderate and responsible a venue as Crosscut — will attest to the large number of comments and communications received in response to their pieces from readers proceeding from anger, bias, or ignorance. Crosscut’s readership makes it less susceptible to such response than does that of many other sources. A reading of comments made in response to Seattle Times or online P-I stories, for instance, shows a high percentage falling into the angry/biased/ignorant category.
Oh, I see, you’re not putting Crosscut into the same category, because it is a special, magical place where anger, bias and ignorance are as rare and fleeting as your grounding in the facts surrounding transportation issues.
Beck is only a symptom of a far larger general problem in American society. Voters and citizens exposed to half-baked commentary and politically slanted “news” will increasingly be less able to make reasonable, informed decisions about the big issues facing them.
See, I think the issue for Ted here is, “informed” by whom? Van Dyk doesn’t seem to draw a distinction between the vile, racist, hate-mongering of a Glenn Beck and the occasionally hyperbolic, but largely civil rants of a Keith Olbermann. What really seems to bother Van Dyk is that they’re the one’s informing the public, rather than a wise old sage like, you know, himself.
Far be it from me to defend the likes of Beck, by lumping him in with bloggers, citizen journalists and the denizens of comment threads far and wide, Van Dyk displays an obvious disdain for the very same public he claims he’s trying to inform. And you wonder why folks choose to get their news and commentary elsewhere…?
Unfettered by the need to win votes from voters, interim King County Executive Kurt Triplett is making the tough budget cutting choices, choices that are unlikely to win him many friends outside of the local politicians who are currently using him as a human shield. Yet the toughest choice of all — what to do about the county’s chronic long term revenue deficit — well that, nobody’s allowed to even talk about, especially not during an election season.
Slashing budgets is hard, but not impossible, because unlike most tax increases, budget cuts don’t require the prior approval of voters, and there’s no automatic mechanism for vetoing them via ballot referendum. Sure, plenty of voters will be plenty pissed off by shuttering parks, eliminating animal control and raising Metro fares countywide, but there’s nothing any of us can do about any of it… at least not directly, and certainly not directly against Triplett. So with nearly three quarters of the county’s general fund dedicated to criminal justice, so-called “non-essential” services must necessarily bear the brunt of this year’s cuts.
And next year…?
The cuts would come on top of several years of cost-cutting. For 2009, the county executive had to close a $93 million general-fund deficit, and between 2002 and 2005 $137 million in deficits had to be bridged.
Without new sources of revenue, Triplett forecast general-fund deficits of $54.2 million in 2011 and $88.2 million in 2012.
“There’s nothing left to spare,” he said. “Counties have to be funded differently.”
Yeah, well, Triplett can say that, because he’s not running for office. But as for the rest of the county’s political and media elite…? Shhhhh… voters might hear you.
So if we’re not going to fix a revenue system that has been intentionally monkey-wrenched to prevent county revenues from growing as fast as even population-plus-inflation, let alone growth in demand for public services, what’s the solution?
Republican executive candidate Susan Hutchison is running on the tried and true “waste, fraud and abuse” platform, claiming she can save popular services simply by wringing greater efficiencies from bloated government bureaucracy, mostly at the expense of the evil unions. Whether she really believes this or not, I don’t know, because like most other issues, she’s not sayin’. But the point is it can’t be done, at least not to the extent necessary to keep county services anywhere near their current level.
It’s not that there aren’t inefficiencies in county government, and it’s not like our bureaucracies don’t need to be scrutinized, squeezed and reformed from time to time; that’s the nature of bureaucracies, both public and private sector. It’s just that, as I’ve pointed out before, expecting to address long term structural deficits via productivity gains is a losing and illusory proposition:
But researchers long have recognized that the services provided in the public sector, such as education, health care, and law enforcement, tend to rise in cost faster than many other goods and services in the economy in general. This analysis was first put forward by economist William Baumol, who pointed out that technology and productivity gains may make goods cheaper to produce, but the services that government provides are different. Baumol said public services typically rely heavily on well-trained professionals — teachers, police officers, doctors and nurses, and so on — and technology gains do not make these services cheaper to provide. It may take far fewer workers to build an automobile than it did 30 years ago, but it still takes one teacher to lead a classroom of children.
The problem facing county governments statewide is simple: they have been forced to rely on a tax structure that over the long run guarantees that revenue will grow at a slower pace than the economy as whole, at the same time that the cost of providing government services is virtually assured to rise faster than the cost of most other goods and services in the economy. No doubt there are some productivity gains to be had, and we should attempt to squeeze them out where they make sense, especially in these trying economic times. But relying on productivity to address our long term deficit is wishful thinking.
Since we can’t actually outsource parks, animal control, Metro buses and other services to China, that leaves budget writers with only two real options: cut services and or raise revenues, neither of which is particularly popular, but only one of which appears to be even possible given the revenue constraints placed on the counties by the Legislature, and of course, our friend Tim Eyman. Timmy and the rest of the anti-government crowd don’t really mind watching local governments slowly drowned in a bath tub… indeed, that’s their goal. But the majority of voters — you know, those of us who actually use and rely on these services (and admit it) — we’re going to be sorely disappointed if the budget debate continues to focus on spending priorities to the exclusion of tax reform.
County government simply isn’t sustainable, anywhere in the state, and no amount of focus on budget priorities is going to fix this over the long term. At some point, voters are going to have to accept that the level of revenue they are providing simply isn’t sufficient to support the level of services they’ve come to want and expect. But we’ll never have that painful conversation until our elected officials are willing to start it.
A little while ago on my tee-vee, a cable reporter (and does it matter which one?) insisted that unnamed Senate staffers don’t think there will be a public option when a bill makes it to a floor vote, and the reporter left the definite Village impression that this is the reasonable and moderate thing to think. Real Dakota demands it!
Switching to Food Network now. Mmm, I should make a health care table scape out of baloney, in the shape of an unnamed Senate staffer who should STFU. Oh yeah, only libruls get yelled at about being team players. I forget.
Still waiting to find out more about how you too can pay shitty insurance companies for shitty insurance that goes to shit just when you need it most, or pay a fine. It’s like a grill and a cooler, it’s fines and insurance, it’s Finesurance.
As seen on tee-vee.
Here are some things that I’ve been too busy working on my fantasy football website to write about:
– Marc Emery is now in a Canadian jail awaiting extradition to the United States. Ian Mulgrew in the Vancouver Sun writes about how this is a monumental travesty that shows how Canada (like Mexico) lacks the courage to stand up to America’s policy makers when it comes to the drug war.
– While Marc Emery is expected to spend five years behind bars for selling marijuana seeds to Americans, the more extraordinary tragedy is that Dick Cheney is still a free man.
– The King County Deputy who was caught on a holding cell camera beating a 15-year-old girl was fired by Sheriff Sue Rahr.
– Rhode Island is preparing to set up its first state-sanctioned medical marijuana dispensary, hoping to learn from what has worked – and what hasn’t – in the two other states that allow them (California and New Mexico). Hopefully, Washington will be the fourth state to allow them. The Obama Administration’s hands-off approach is something that should allow for states to set up systems that have stronger regulations than what California has, where the Bush Administration’s no-tolerance approach discouraged transparency and led to a lot of shady characters getting involved.
I preferred to spend time with my daughter this weekend than covering the Glenn Beck rally, and really, why bother when I knew the coverage would be in the capable hands of Dave Neiwert from Crooks and Liars.
Dave showed up, camera in hand, asking folks if they agreed with Beck that President Obama hates white people. The answers are both illuminating and amusing, especially the rambling response from GOP Senate wannabe Sean Salazar. Hey, good luck challenging Sen. Patty Murray by pandering to the Beck crowd.
Anyway, if President Obama really does hate white people he would have surely hated Beck’s crowds, because as Neiwert points out, they were almost entirely white. Huh. I guess demographics don’t bode too well for the far-right base of the Republican Party.
I got another one of those angry emails the other day berating my secular lifestyle, and accusing me of promoting an “anti-American/anti-Christian” agenda. “Our legal system is based on Christian law,” my pen pal wrote, and yet “people like you” (liberals…? Democrats…? Jews…?) “won’t even allow the Ten Commandments to be displayed in public schools.”
Which got me thinking… if the framers of our Constitution really did intend this to be a Christian nation, they sure didn’t read their Bible, else why would they place our First Amendment in direct contradiction to Commandments one through four?
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Commandments One through Four
1. Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
2. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image…
3. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.
4. Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.
Clearly, the Establishment Clause alone explicitly contradicts the first four Commandments (while our precious freedoms of speech and of the press doubly disown the Third Commandment, God dammit). If the God of Exodus is, as written, “a jealous God,” then the Establishment Clause must really piss Him off.
In fact, of the full Ten Commandments, only three, the prohibitions against stealing, murdering and bearing false witness, are currently enshrined in U.S. law in any legally enforceable manner… and, well, they’re kinda obvious as far as moral dictums go, not to mention as basic ground rules for operating a functional society. As for the Tenth Commandment, “Thou shalt not covet,” it is somewhat ironic to note that its widely practiced violation has become an indispensable component of our dynamic, consumption-driven market economy.
Whether the framers of the Constitution self-identified as Christians or Deists is beside the point, for they were no doubt well educated in Biblical verse, and thus well understood, in a nation largely settled by religious refugees of many different faiths and denominations, both the practical and symbolic impact of the Establishment Clause. Had they intended this to be a Christian nation, they would have enshrined the Ten Commandments in the Constitution, rather than enshrining a Bill of Rights whose first of ten Amendments clearly and intentionally undermines any legal claim supporting the core defining value of the Judeo-Christian tradition.
In America, we have the fundamental right to worship any god or gods in any manner we choose — to bow before idols, to curse the Lord, to forget the Sabbath — even to publicly deny the existence of divinity entirely. So to accuse me of being “anti-American” is to get it backwards; it is those who would make this a Christian nation who are anti-American, for to impose their law as our law, and to legally enforce their Commandments on us, would require tearing up our Constitution, and repealing our most fundamentally American right… a right that gives lie to both the claims and ambitions of our nation’s small but noisy Christianist minority.
I agree 100-percent with retired Judge William W. Baker and and former US Attorney John McKay (a Republican) that Washington state should move away from directly electing judges, to a commission/retention election system:
Under a commission system, a commission of citizens and lawyers considers all applicants for a vacant court position and recommends three or more candidates to the governor. The governor must appoint one of the recommended candidates. Once appointed, the judge must periodically stand for a retention election without any opponent, in which the only question is whether to retain the judge for another term.
This is the only way to free our judiciary from the corrupting influence of big money — be it from corporations, the BIAW, trial lawyers or organized labor— and 60-percent of our judges already take office via a gubernatorial appointment alone. The commission system is a sensible, reasonable, pragmatic approach that already works well in many other states. But I don’t really expect to ever see such reform come before voters here in Washington, because quite frankly, I don’t think our legislature or our governor have the balls to lead on this issue.
No doubt, regardless of how responsible such reforms may be, opponents will brand supporters as elitist and anti-democratic, and no elected official wants to be branded by that. So once again, for the simple want of effective leadership, Washington will continue to just do what it does because that’s the way we’ve always done it.