Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Snooki Tax Credit

Considering the brouhaha over tax credits extended to "The Jersey Shore", it seems that many of the arguments miss the larger point: the conclusive evidence that left wing tax policies destroy an economy.

Of course, many on the left know this: many of the so-called "job creation" bills, state and national, provide some sort of tax preference designed to favor a particular industry or activity. It’s amusing, then, to see prominent leftists passionately decry "tax cuts for millionaires" while, at the very same time, proposing ... tax cuts for millionaires. But, then again, consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds, no?

Film production companies demonstrate, in real time, the destructive nature of leftist economics and the hypocrisy of those who support them.

Film projects are, by their very nature, highly mobile. If one wishes to film in a court house, one can do so as easily in Newark as in Somerville; as easily in MA or PA as in NJ. And, as Paul Mulshine pointed out, the benefits to local economies of those projects can be substantial. Seaside Heights businesses benefitted from the rooms rented, the meals eaten, and the money spent by the production crew of the Jersey Shore, never mind the increase in tourist revenue.

Put simply, tax cuts work.

Like every other business, film production is all about the bottom line. While one’s production crew needs to be fed and housed, other costs vary. As herein applicable, taxes.

NJ’s business tax rates are among the most absurd in the nation, having been doubled under the McGreevey administration, and supplemented under the Codey/Corzine regime, all in the name of "fairness" and making business pay its "fair share". A film company, deciding where to shoot, must choose between NJ’s idiotically high taxes, and more reasonable rate elsewhere, which may be zero. No points for guessing how those decisions usually come out.

The Legislature – last I looked, controlled by precisely the same Dems who never tire of demanding that "rich" folks pay ever more – responded to the threat from film industry millionaires to take their business elsewhere by granting tax credits. Enter – alas – Snooki.

So, consider the Dems’ position: while screaming that Christie refuses to tax ALL millionaires, they fight to provide tax relief for SOME millionaires, because this latter group, being easily mobile, will react immediately to the Dems’ idiotic economic policies by vamoosing.

But the same concerns which motivate the producer of a televisions series to seek less graspy jurisdictions apply equally to other businesses as well. Just not so quickly and not so publicly.

Dem economic policy is all about the short term, defined as next November. If we slap a huge tax on company A, with a factory here in NJ, it will, almost certainly, produce more revenue. Today. Which enables the Dems to hand out goodies – paid for with other people’s money – to their loyal constituencies. Today. Just in time for the election.

But when the time comes to decide whether to replace or expand that factory, the business undertakes precisely the same cost-benefit analysis that film production companies do. And as NJ is among the greediest jurisdictions in the nation, that calculus works against us. Not today; probably not tomorrow. But, over time, the inevitable consequence of envy-based, redistributionist policies is economic catastrophe.

Sure, it’s easy to demagogue the issue; Assembly leftists specialize in it. "Christie and the Republicans are permitting those evil folks who succeeded to actually KEEP some of the money they earned! How dare they?!?" But even the slightest rational thought – granted, that’s rare on the left – leads inexorably to the conclusion that if the "rich" guys who make movies will make those movies in low tax jurisdictions, the "rich" guys who make cars, drugs, etc., will do precisely the same thing. You can produce as many studies from Obama-donating Princeton professors, contending that taxes don’t matter, as you wish; the evidence from the film industry could not be any clearer. High taxes drive away business, to the great impoverishment of the polity.

We made a reciprocal mistake with public employees: politicians, seeking short term electoral gain, promised present employees unaffordable future benefits, which exploded long after the pols who dug us into this hole had moved on. Similarly, short sighted tax policy – enacted by envycrats with an eye on the next election and who count upon an economically illiterate electorate – gradually undercuts the economy. The film industry simply demonstrates, on an accelerated time scale, the effect of leftist economic policy. Simply put, if you tax them, they will leave.

The health of the economy – state or national – depends upon welcoming investment, attracting businesses, and encouraging them to stay, not by playing favorites and granting special, "targeted" tax benefits to favored or high visibility businesses, and certainly not by reviling them for their failure to pay their "fair share".

Instead of this credit for that company, an abatement here, or an "enterprise zone" there, NJ’s policy should be simple: eliminate business taxes entirely, pare back regulations (e.g. repealing the Highlands law), and turn the entire state into an enterprise zone. Prosperity results when liberty obtains and everyone will have the opportunity to participate therein, and to go as far as their talent and effort will take them.

Friday, September 16, 2011

MacInnes Misses the Mark

NJSEEDS styles itself as an entity which "prepares academically talented, financially limited youth for success at competitive secondary schools." Its boasts an elite roster of "partner schools"; if a single one of those schools is a public school, it escapes notice.

So, who administers and supports this attack on public education, which "creams off" the best and the brightest and packs them off to elite private schools?

Well, consider the Board of Trustees, which includes: Larry Wieseneck (Hillary Clinton for President, $2,300; Bill Bradley for President, $500; Wesley Clark for President, $1,000); Joel Benenson ($28,000 in reportable federal contributions, every nickel to Democrats); David Jeffery ($2,000, Howard Dean for America); and, most notable for present purposes, Blair MacInnes, NJ State Senate candidate (D-25), and wife of Sen. Gordon MacInnes (D-25).

I mention a few of the Board Members’ political contributions not to condemn them – quite the contrary; this is an exemplary program which should set an example – but simply to establish that these are not conservatives, launching an attack on public education, but liberals. They have provided a substantial program of school choice

Query: should not their efforts be directed at improving the public schools from which they draw their beneficiaries? Should they be lambasted for undercutting public education and depriving the public schools of needed resources? (Donations to NJSEEDS are, presumably, tax deductible)

Comes now my erstwhile State Senator and legislative colleague, Gordon MacInnes, holding forth on Governor Christie’s educational "reform" efforts. While praising – albeit backhandedly – some charter schools, such as Kipp, and some efforts in Newark, he also contends that NJ’s astonishing spending on public schools "pays off", as our kids do well on NEAP.

(NEAP, incidentally, includes private school students in the matrix, thereby inflating NJ’s ranking. Besides, why is it proper to employ NEAP when assessing student performance in this context, but not when assessing teacher performance? NJ’s SAT scores are decidedly "eh"; subtract private school scores and they become "eh, minus". A subject for another day.)

Celebrating the public schools in Mountain Lakes, Summit, etc., as the Senator does, takes little effort, but the kids there would succeed in almost any environment, and they receive essentially no state aid. Yes, these locales offer great schools; if we adopted the reforms that the Governor (and "right wingers") suggest – such as universal, equal vouchers for every kid – these schools would change ... how? If every kid in the state got an equal voucher, public schools in Mountain Lakes would be able to provide exactly the same service, but property taxes could be cut by half or more. This is bad ... why?

Returning to Charters, the Senator notes the success of several Newark charters and congratulates them on running a longer school day, week, and year than their purely public (remember, charter schools ARE public schools) counterparts. He omits any suggestion that they pay their teachers or superintendents more, which, presumably, he would mention were it true.

So, if longer school days, weeks, and years makes for better results, what’s stopping the Newark public schools from emulating that example? TOMORROW. Surely, the adults who run them, who care only about the children, would offer no objections, right? Would not ESL students benefit from substantially more time in an English only environment? Would not those from impoverished homes and problematic family situations be better off in school? Presumably, the teachers and administrators at the governmentally run schools are no less talented and no less dedicated than their charter-employed colleagues; what precludes Newark from adopting this seemingly obvious reform? If it works for Kipp and Adubato, why not at every school? The Senator doesn’t say.

At base, Senator MacInnes conclusion – "excellent public schools are critical to the state’s economic future" – is simply wrong. Excellent SCHOOLS, yes, – indeed, more accurately, excellent education – but it simply doesn’t matter what entity owns the buildings and employs the teachers.

Which brings us back to NJSEEDS.

If "creaming" bright students out of their local public schools works for these kids, why not for substantially more students? Why not for everyone? Can one argue that MacInnes, as a supporter of NJSEEDS, is undercutting public schools, by depriving them of their best and brightest kids?

Or, alternatively, does the obvious benefit that the students obtain outweigh the consequences for their counterparts "left behind" and the impact on the public fisc?

In at least 85% of all municipalities, the long-suffering property tax payers would massively benefit from equal vouchers; self evidently, neither the local schools nor the students would suffer. Quite the contrary; it would be a boon. Students in urban areas would benefit substantially from the same opportunity NJSEEDS offers to a small number of them: the ability to escape their local, failing schools and secure an education which better meets their needs. The only folks who would "suffer" are those who work for massively expensive, deeply problematic urban schools. And if, as the Senator contends, demographics essentially preclude educational success (or, at least, excuses urban schools for their persistent failure), why are we spending the money on an enterprise which cannot succeed?

I do not share the Senator’s perspective, that demography is destiny. With greater freedom, educational opportunities for urban students – whether of limited English proficiency or very limited means – would massively expand. It’s hard to imagine such a system performing any worse than that which presently exists, and it would do so at markedly lower costs. Reforms which would so obviously benefit taxpayers and students – and which use a program the Senator himself supports as a template – should not be defeated by a sad, ideological devotion to an outmoded, one-size-fits-all 19th century model which has outlived its usefulness and no longer serves the interests of the students for which it was designed, or those of the taxpayers.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Bigotry in Blue

Perhaps the signature characteristic of modern leftism rests on its fundamental inability to distinguish between that which one ought to do as a matter of moral imperative and that which one must do as a matter of legal command. Hence, leftists employ such absurd usage as: “ask people to pay more in taxes.” Um, no. Government does not ask people to pay more in taxes; it shows up at your door with guns and demands.

Of late, Bluejersey has gotten its panties in a bunch about Governor Christie’s refusal to discuss where his kids go to school. It’s no particular secret: they attend(ed) Assumption in Morristown and Delbarton. Catholic schools, in other words. As it happens, my own kids attended Assumption for a while and I attended Delbarton. So it’s amusing to hear the folks at Bluejersey characterize – or disparage – the education provided there as “elite” with one fellow – who apparently hasn’t done the research – wondering (in a manner so as to evince more than a little doubt) if the Christie boys will get a grounding in Catholic social doctrine at such an “elite” school like Delbarton.

Another columnist derides a Delbarton (and presumably any Catholic) education as “myopic”, in part due to the absence of a Lesbian/Gay club. (One might inquire why one’s sexuality ought to be the subject of public discussion at all, let alone a matter properly involving a high school club, but that would be terribly old fashioned and politically incorrect. One might further note that a recent class president at Delbarton – in keeping with the times which, alas, apparently require that the personal, at least as respects one’s homosexuality, must be trumpeted from every rampart – “came out” before a convocation of the student body, apparently to raucous applause.) A Delbarton education, the columnist avers, represents an attempt by the Governor “... to inculcate his children in his conservative ideology and to minimize their exposure to broader points of view.” He then proceeds to compare a Delbarton education with that offered by Peronists in Argentina.

I know nothing more about these columnists than what they wrote, but their ignorance of – or deliberate misrepresentation of – Delbarton in particular and Catholic education in general is astonishing and seems undergirded by more than a hint of ugly hatred.

Anyone who believes that Delbarton – or Assumption – aims to create good little conservatives has never met Fr. Giles -- Delbarton's soul and noone’s idea of an ideological Republican. Delbarton has been inculcating Catholic values – including the "preferential option for the poor" – since long before those words appeared in a pastoral letter in 1986; I remember school-sponsored trips to Appalachia in the early 1970's, bringing truckloads of donated clothing, food, furniture, etc., which continued and increased long after I graduated.

Indeed, consider the following from the Delbarton guide on “Campus Ministry”:
"Students, blessed with many gifts, learn that “more will be expected of a man to whom more has been entrusted” (The Rule of St. Benedict 2:30, Luke 12:48), and are provided with a wide range of opportunities to “give back.” Any student can find a place to serve and a cause that captures his heart – from helping the hungry and homeless, to tutoring children, to providing food, clothes, and Christmas gifts to the poor, to working with the mentally and physically handicapped, to promoting respect for human life through pro-life work. And there is a project that can match even the most rigorous of student schedules – from ones that occur every week, to a few times a month, to only once or a couple of times a year. (Click here for the current Community Service Brochure for a list of our offerings.) Although there is no “formal” community service requirement at Delbarton, all students are expected to participate, and in a given year approximately 95% of our students do so.”
In short, a Delbarton student is told that, consistent with Catholic doctrine, he is “expected” to “give back”, but that no one will issue marching orders. (Perhaps, the voluntary nature of one’s moral obligation is precisely what set the leftists off; can’t permit people to actually have the freedom to decide for themselves how much to “help”, as they might not voluntarily do enough. So we need government to “ask”.)

I rather wonder, what percentage of students at the local public school “give back”? My children attend(ed) Morristown High where they received precisely the sort of “... exposure to a broader experience of diverse students and ideas” than that assertedly available at Delbarton. (MHS even offers a Lesbian and Gay Club); I absolutely guarantee that a minuscule proportion of that “diverse” student body “gives back”, no where near 95%. The school most certainly doesn’t “expect” it and one can only imagine the ACLU's reaction if it did.  My children were "expected" to volunteer -- in conjunction with receiving Confirmation; those pesky Catholics again, with their "expectations".

“Christie's choice” of a Catholic education for his children, Bluejersey harumphs, “is myopic, and relevant to public discussion. It suggests his general intolerance for other views, and his undeterred insistence on promoting ‘his way or the highway.’” Oh?  Query precisely which side in the debate demands a lockstep-conformity, one-size-fits-all, "my way or the highway" educational system (presumably with every school offering its own Lesbian and Gay club)?

While the left has a long (and dishonorable) history of anti-Catholicism – indeed, much of the left’s passionate opposition to school choice finds its genesis in animus against Catholics – rarely is it displayed so blatantly. Catholics are “intolerant” of opposing views, their schools devoted to “... inculcating ... children in ... conservative ideology and ... minimiz(ing) their exposure to broader points of view...”

Really?  This isn’t the Delbarton I know. Indeed, it’s not Catholic education as I know it. Having experienced both Catholic and public education, both personally and as a parent, in my experience, a student is much more likely to face “indoctrination” at the hands of a public school teacher (my children encountered several with open and profound animus toward Republicans, but that must be aberrational among members of the NJEA, right?) than at the local Catholic school.

The only "myopia" evident in this story is that displayed by the Bluejersey authors, who can't see beyond their own bigotry.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Comments to AFP

Thank you, Steve, for this opportunity to offer a few BRIEF comments on the unfolding catastrophe produced by the unrestrained growth of government.

At the beginning of this century, under the leadership – such as it was – of that noted conservative Republican, William Jefferson Clinton, federal spending consumed less than 20% of our hard earned resources. A decade later, a bipartisan cabal of spending mavens jacked that up to 25%. Think about that. Fully 1/4 of everything Americans produce gets sucked into the federal maw. And that doesn’t include the 15% or so which funds local and state government.

Clinton’s record looks good in retrospect because he benefitted from the pro-growth policies adopted by Ronald Reagan and by the spending restraint – the best efforts of his wife notwithstanding – imposed upon him by Newt Gingrich and a Republican Congress which, back then, felt obliged, for purely partisan purposes, to actually act like conservatives. And the country prospered mightily.

Unfortunately, we are in the midst of a bipartisan spending blizzard. It is the measure of Obama/Pelosi, et al., that, as horribly irresponsible as George Bush and the Republican Congress were, they’re exponentially worse.

The reason for this can be found in Obama’s own words. In 2008, when Senator Kennedy got sick, then-Senator Obama substituted for him, giving the commencement address at Wesleyan. In that speech, he said, “our individual salvation depends upon our collective salvation”.

That pithy sentence summarizes precisely why we’re facing such a disaster. One major party has adopted a theory of America which is profoundly unamerican. That sentence gets it precisely backwards. Our collective salvation depends upon our individual salvation. Or, more accurately, the way to ensure collective prosperity is to maximize individual freedom.  We are not individually free because we're collectively strong, we're collectively strong because we're individually free.

Americans have always believed in certain basic truths, and there’s a certain irony in the fact that the President of France understands them better than the President of the United States. President Sarkozy, speaking before the American Congress, said:
“Here, both the humblest and most illustrious citizens alike know that nothing is owed to them and that everything has to be earned. That's what constitutes the moral value of America.”
Our government is too big because far too many of our fellows feel that they are entitled to a large share of their neighbors’ money.

This is less a war for America’s wallet as it is a battle for America’s soul. Do we truly believe in individual freedom and individual responsibility? Or, on the contrary, to we believe that government exists to steal a large percentage of the produce of the productive and hand it to those who have not earned it?

As George Bernard Shaw said, “A government with the policy to rob Peter to pay Paul can be assured of the support of Paul.” And, thus, the question: are we to be a nation of self-reliant, freedom loving Peters, or a nation of greedy Pauls, living off the sweat of others?

That’s what this is about, ladies and gentlemen. Are Americans to be individually free, to earn what we can, and keep what we earn, with everyone expected to pull his own weight? Or a socialist paradise, in which everyone wallows equally in envy-driven poverty?

We are well along the path toward economic collapse. We see it in creeping inflation, driven by the obscene Obama deficits, debasing our currency; in the perpetual high unemployment which inevitably attends socialist governments; with the growing sense of entitlement displayed by too many Pauls amongst us. We stand at the precipice. If we don’t get control of spending now, and stop the inexorable growth of government, the nation Abraham Lincoln called the last best hope for mankind will fail. Instead of being a shining example to the rest of the world of the power of freedom, we will be abject proof that even a nation as allegedly proud of its freedom as are we can be undermined and destroyed by envy and greed: by people demanding -- claiming entitlement -- to things we have not earned.

This is not about money, it’s about freedom. If we don’t slay the spending dragon now, there will be no free tomorrows for our children. I, for one, don’t want to be a part of the generation that squandered American freedom and that bequeathed a bankrupt nation to its children. Freedom is worth fighting for. I sincerely hope the American people agree.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Redistricting, 101

Our two-month-long redistricting saga wound down to a wholly predictable conclusion: a registered Democrat college professor handed the Democrats a victory.

One can only assume that if the Democrats submitted the map that the tiebreaker eventually supported, it will ensure that Democrats remain immune from their failure to secure the electoral support of the majority of voters casting ballots in legislative elections.

Some history. In 1966, confronted with the “one-man-one-vote” mandate from the SCOTUS, New Jersey responded by scrapping its old, county-based system of legislative representation, settling on the 40 district Legislature presently extant. Apparently concerned about partisan gerrymanders of legislative districts – which, of course, DO present a problem, as they enable today’s majority to entrench itself against the desires of future electorates – the Framers settled on the Commission system: each party would appoint five delegates, and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court would appoint a tiebreaker.

Alas, this elegant theory has not worked out well in practice. Instead of districts drawn by folks (at least theoretically, if often marginally) answerable to the people, we have created a monster, in which one man, answerable to no one, wielding essentially absolute power, and bound by no popularly enacted standards, can impose his whim upon the electorate.

Various theorists and political scientists have their own individual standards which apply to drawing legislative districts. The problem presented by giving one man essentially unbridled power is that his quirky standards shape the political landscape for (at least) a decade. In 1991, the tiebreaker chose an assertedly Republican map, but only Jim Florio's mistaken confusion of his electoral victory for a mandate for hard left policies – including the most massive tax increase in history – produced hefty Republican majorities.  The Dems won seats in every election from 1993 to 1999.

The tie breaker in 2001, perhaps mindful of the consequences of drawing fair districts, corrected that error, creating districts in which one Democratic Assembly Representative routinely secures election with a paltry 20,000 votes, while one of her Republican counterparts receives in excess of 50,000. GOP legislative candidates, collectively, routinely outpoll the Democrats, but the map nonetheless ensures wholly disproportionate Democratic majorities. During Chris Christie’s defeat of Jon Corzine, Republicans picked up precisely one Assembly seat. Not a single Democratic incumbent lost.

Now, although persuasive, none of this demonstrates that the map is wholly unfair. Residents in heavily Democratic districts, often, take their civic responsibility to vote less seriously than do Republicans. Were there a realistic possibility that the local Democratic candidate might actually lose, the local population might actually be motivated to vote. We do not operate under a parliamentary system, and no one can predict what the results of an election held thereunder might be. Alternative histories, or counterfactual hypotheticals, make for interesting discussions, but do not much inform the debate.

Rather, the question is whether a naked partisan gerrymander, such as that imposed on the people of New Jersey in 2001 – the results of which were used as the baseline for this year’s map – smells any better for having been imposed by an allegedly “neutral” third party. Had standard political practices employed in other states applied here, the map would be very different, as the partisan Democratic legislative majorities would have faced the check of a likely gubernatorial veto.

Instead, the Democrats procured essentially what they wanted, because the opinions of the tiebreaker, and not the standards the people themselves might have adopted, produced the map. And there is nothing whatsoever that the people can do about it.

Take just one standard considered by the tiebreaker: “continuity of representation”. For those not familiar with academic speak, that translates as “incumbent protection”. Such was (allegedly) one of the key concerns of the tiebreaker this year. (It actually works out to "Democratic incumbent protection"; many a Republican finds herself in difficulty, as you'd expect with a nakedly partisan map.)

Why? While 120 people care passionately about “incumbent protection”, 9 million folks don’t give a rat’s patoot. Why should the careers of 120 legislators make a tinker’s damn worth of difference? Believe it or not, the state would survive – and, perhaps, prosper – if a significant number of incumbents were obliged to find another line of work.

(Note: the process also demonstrates the foolishness of the federal Voting Rights Act. Thereunder, special attention must be paid to ensure that folks with the right last names or the right skin pigmentation secure a proportionate share of legislative seats. This group-think mentality is profoundly anti-American and profoundly offensive, as it implies (a) the people will vote along group lines, and (b) that only someone who shares the electorate’s ethnicity can provide adequate representation. Both of those concepts are poisonous, and should be forthwith consigned to the ash heap of history.)

Whatever one thinks of the merits of the tiebreaker’s factors, one thing is clear: the people NEVER endorsed those factors. Instead of the people, or their representatives, making the determination, one unelected man, answerable to no one, wields the power to impose his essentially unrestrained whim by diktat. Such is simply not the hallmark of a representative system; in a republic, the people make the rules.

This is not to argue that the standards the GOP committee proposed ought to govern (although they were more responsive to actual votes). Instead, the people ought to set the standards by which districts are drawn, essentially removing all discretion from folks who – however well intentioned (or disinterested) they might believe themselves to be – might be sore tempted to shape the state in accordance with their own political predilections.

The only truly fair way to reapportion is to preclude as many opportunities for political hanky panky as humanly possible. So, create a simple metric: equality of population and compactness. Essentially, start in Montague and keep adding towns until one reaches the magic number, then move on, coming as close to a square as circumstances permit. Only a map in which population numbers are better, and districts more compact, would suffice as a challenge.

Of course, there will still be room for partisanship: do we add this (Republican) Town or this (Democratic) Borough in order to reach parity? But, at least, incumbent protection and “partisan fairness” (whatever that means) would be off the table.

Searching for perfection is a fool’s errand. But having now endured two straight reapportionment cycles in which rank partisanship masquerades as impartiality, it seems appropriate to reconsider the system, and move to one which empowers the people rather than college professors.