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Government Reform

A few thoughts about "stimulus"
Posted By: Ross Kaminsky - 06/21/10

The other day on CNBC, I saw Larry Kudlow discussing the Democrats’ desire for a second “jobs bill” – what they’re calling “stimulus” now that “stimulus” is known to be ineffective union-boosting pork.

I sent Mr. Kudlow a few thoughts on the subject (and he was kind enough to respond that I was “dead right.")

Here are those thoughts:

One thing I think is worth mentioning is how all of the jobs which are suggested to be saved by a proposed second “stimulus"/jobs measure, like teachers, cops, firemen, etc., are government employees…not just that, but state government employees.

Thus, this so-called stimulus is really just plugging holes in state budgets. Beyond its questionable legality, this has a bunch of other problems:

  1. Since some states have worse budget problems than others, the effect of the legislation will be to transfer money from taxpayers in some states to taxpayers in other states, like from Indiana to California, from Maine to New York, etc.

  2. The moral hazard problem is huge, removing pressure from states and municipalities to tighten their belts, feeling like they’re being seen as something like “too big to fail".

  3. Creating/saving government jobs adds to the long-term burden of the cost of government on the private sector in addition to increasing the power of public sector unions, one of the most destructive forces in the nation.
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Dear FCC: How About a Fourth Way?
Posted By: Andrew Moylan - 06/15/10

This coming Thursday marks the next step in the raging debate regarding the ambitious effort of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to regulate the Internet. On June 17th, the FCC will conduct an open meeting in which they will discuss their plans for so-called "reclassification" of broadband Internet in order to impose net neutrality regulations, an issue that has been the cause of much dispute in the past several months.

The root of this disagreement lies in the Comcast Corp vs. FCC U.S. Court of Appeals ruling this past April. It's a long story (surprise!), but Comcast had been exposed as slowing down traffic on some torrent sites in order to prevent their network from being overloaded and the FCC attempted to crack down on them legally. The Supreme Court ruled, however, that the FCC lacked the authority to dictate how the Comcast Corporation could manage its network. But even without that legal action, Comcast had announced that it would stop the practice after hearing an outpouring of opposition from their paying customers. The FCC was soundly rebuked for its regulatory overreach, and Comcast agreed to stop slowing traffic so as to avoid angering any more of their customers. End of story, right? Not exactly.

The Federal Communication Commission decided to retaliate against this Appeals Court ruling by redefining their terms. The FCC is likely to begin proceedings on Thursday in their plan to "reclassify" broadband Internet from its current status as an "information service" to a "telecommunications service" regulated under Title II of the Communications Act. For those of you who aren't regulation nerds (and really, who is?), that basically means that the Internet would change from being regulated under the lighter regime that has allowed its exponential growth in recent years to a regime intended to regulate monopoly telephone providers back before World War II. Because, you know, the Internet is totally what Congress had in mind when drafting Title II in 1934. That seemingly minor regulatory change could generate any number of extremely onerous new restrictions, like having the government dictate prices.

Though the FCC hopes to present this reclassification in light of warm, fuzzy terms like "consumer protection," the real question here is this: who should have the ability to manage the multi-billion dollar networks that comprise the heart of the Internet, bureaucrats in the FCC or the businesses that built, own, and maintain them?

On Thursday, this issue will be discussed in light of three specific points:

  • The legitimacy and legality of the Commission's previous decision to call broadband Internet an "information service."
  • The consequences of reclassifying broadband Internet as a "telecommunications service."
  •  Whether or not to adopt the Orwellian "third way," in which FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski would basically cross his heart and totally promise that this regulation would be minimal and not expand in size and scope like every other government effort ever.

The solution to this issue lies not in a cagey reclassification of terms, but rather a free market approach. Call it a "fourth way," if you're feeling Genachowski-esque. Recently a group of broadband and high-tech companies -- the Broadband Internet Technical Advisory Group -- voluntarily collaborated in order to facilitate discussion on how to create their own solution to network management and technical Internet issues. Much-deserved kudos to the member companies for cooperating to try to face the real issues of network management head on, as many of them have been at each other's throats for years in the marketplace and on net neutrality, for cooperating to try to face the real issues of network management head on. This is the solution we should be advocating because the last thing the Internet needs is an army of bureaucrats deciding how it should be managed.

After all, do you think we should trust the regulation of the Internet to the geniuses behind the unintentional comedy that is the FCC KidsZone? I mean, the site has information about cutting edge technology like PAGERS and ANSWERING MACHINES!

So how can you get involved? The best thing to do right now is to call your Member of Congress! It seems like a cliché, but it works and it's necessary. Since the FCC seems determined to do whatever the heck it wants, rules be damned, Congress needs to assert its authority to tell Genachowski to simmer down. Call your representatives and tell them you oppose net neutrality and reclassification in order to regulate the Internet!


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Are local governments in Maine illegally campaigning for more taxes and spending?
Posted By:  - 06/02/10

It appears as though the line prohibiting government entities from engaging in political campaigns has been crossed in Maine. Now, the Maine Heritage Policy Center (MHPC) is doing something about it. Today, MHPC's David Crocker announced that his group filed a lawsuit alleging that the Maine Municipal Association (MMA) engaged in illegal campaign activities by contributing millions, including campaigns against initiatives that would have limited spending and lower taxes for Mainers. You can read about it here.  This is what Crocker had to say:

"The Maine Municipal Association has directly and publicly engaged in electioneering by taking sides and contributing public dollars to influence the outcome of initiative campaigns," Crocker said.  "There is a clear line that may not be crossed.  MMA has crossed that line repeatedly."

According to the release: "Under a 1989 statute, the Maine Legislature confirmed MMAs status as an "instrumentality" of local government.  The same statute also requires all MMA assets be held by the State Treasurer upon MMA's dissolution for municipalities in Maine.  Further, MMA claims exemption from federal income tax as a government entity, and receives an exemption as a government entity from Maine sales tax."

"Based on more than 60 years of national case law (including a 1991 opinion by the Maine Superior Court) and a 2004 opinion by then-Attorney General Steven Rowe, a government entity is prohibited from interfering, taking sides, participating and contributing to political campaigns.  MMA has unequivocally ignored this legal advice."

"Between 2000 and 2009, MMA provided substantial financial, staff and other resources to four PACs supporting or opposing five citizen initiatives.  Their interference included: coordination with other interest groups in organizing and/or managing PACs; staff support for PACs and political campaigns, including MMA personnel holding leadership roles with PACs; and cash and in-kind contributions totaling nearly $2 million."

"The complaint also shows that MMA's electioneering exceeds its articles of incorporation.  According to those articles, MMA's purpose is 'to serve as an association for the promotion of good municipal government; to be a non-political and non-partisan organization dedicated to the purpose of promoting good municipal government by the exchange of ideas and information through the united effort and cooperation of its members,'."

This lawsuit could have significant precedential weight in the many states where tax and spending issues are on the ballot, and public sector unions hold significant sway budget policies. We here at NTU are going to be watching this case closely. As a group that has been involved in a number of initiative campaigns and seen a lot of dirty tricks employed, we are always hope for the success of efforts to keep things fair. Governments and their allies need to learn that they cannot use taxpayer dollars to finance efforts to continue their reckless spending and tax policies.

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The Forgotten Debt
Posted By:  - 05/20/10

Sandwiched between our financial meltdown, Obama's presidential election, and the crisis in Greece, another, equally important story has flown under the radar.  With the rise of the 24-hour news cycle, modern news coverage should ensure that events of national importance receive the coverage that they deserve. 

When we look at the coverage of government debt, not only the media, but also the government fails to reveal the whole story.  We are bombarded with a litany of stories about the federal budget deficit and the national debt, but the attention given to the debt issue is not the problem. The point is not the media's failure to mention the topic of federal debt, but rather it's the substance of the coverage that is lacking – specifically the way the amount of debt is calculated.  It's a far larger problem than a mere matter of incorrect addition.  You can find the problem with every garbage pick-up man, mayor, city official, and governor across our nation.  How is this possible?  It stems from the debt carried by state and local governments, and it just might be the straw that breaks the camel's back.

State and local debt is not calculated as part of the national debt.  This egregious error demonstrates that the media and the government do not offer the American public an accurate depiction of the severity of the country's debt obligations.  The federal system of government is, by definition, a combination of national and state governments. So then, by extension, government/national (take your pick of words) debt should be viewed as a compilation of federal and state debt

This technicality might not be as big of an issue if the difference between the two numbers was inconsequential.  However, that is not the case.  So, exactly how big is the difference? Approximately $2.3 trillion.  That's right, state and local governments across the country have amassed $2.3 trillion in debt.  Add that figure to the nearly $13 trillion the national government owes, and we are talking about a staggering $15.3 trillion in combined government debt. 

Recently, Paul Krugman wrote an op-ed in The New York Times arguing that the United States' financial situation is not comparable to Greece's.  On this point, he is correct.  The United States is not Greece; instead, we are toast – blackened, burnt toast – and with the current trends of increased government spending, the oven is just beginning to heat up.  At least Greece is small enough to bail out; here in the United States, we don't have that option.  If we go up in flames, there will be no one left to put out the fire.  

Burnt toast aside, our government's debt level is unsustainable and extremely alarming. Regretfully, with an additional $2.3 trillion added in, a far more formidable debt faces our nation. That's why we need concerned citizens to tell Washington (and Sacramento, Tallahassee, Phoenix, and Baton Rouge) to stop writing checks that we can't cash.  

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New Series at Government Bytes: And WE'RE Astroturf? Part I
Posted By: Andrew Moylan - 05/10/10

You've no doubt heard liberal Members of Congress and other interest groups calling the Tea Party movement "astroturf," a play on the term grassroots.  Like our good friend Nancy, for example...

Or the liberal pro-net neutrality group Free Press, which has an entire section on its site devoted to "outing" so-called Astroturf operations.  This page includes a handy-dandy widget with a graphic of large corporations pulling the strings of Congress.

They claim that the whole movement is the invention of a bunch of Beltway insiders backed by piles of corporate cash.  For them, it simply does not compute that ordinary Americans could be fed up with trillions of dollars in debt, tax hikes, and runaway spending.  It MUST be the orchestrations of rich puppet-masters in DC, right?  Instead of spending hours debunking those claims, I'll point to a post I made on our old blog after the massive 9/12 March on Washington that NTU helped to organize.  Several hundred thousand people from all across the country do a better job of dismissing these silly claims than I could here.  Instead, the "And WE'RE astroturf?!" series will focus on liberal activists employing exactly the kind of shady strategies that they accuse us of using.

So, that group I mentioned, Free Press?  The ones that have a page on their site to expose "Astroturfing?"  Last week, they were outed as being the true authors behind a letter supposedly written by Congressman Jay Inslee (D-WA).  The letter is being passed around to various Congressional offices to solicit support for FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski's radical effort to thumb his nose at the limits of his regulatory authority.  But the properties of the electronic file show that the real author of the letter was not Mr. Inslee or a member of his staff, but none other than Free Press Policy Director Ben Scott!

I've worked in government affairs for the National Taxpayers Union for nearly five years now.  Never in my life have I ghost-written a letter for a Member of Congress, nor have I offered to or been asked to do so.  It's just not a part of the discussions we have with Congressional offices.

So, Free Press, what say you?  Are you pulling Jay Inslee's strings?  What other seemingly spontaneous pro-net neutrality efforts have you coordinated?  How many other letters or bills have you written behind closed doors without getting caught?

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Congressional Transparency Caucus
Posted By:  - 05/04/10

Last week, I had the pleasure of attending the official launch of the Congressional Transparency Caucus. Led by Representatives Darrell Issa (R-CA) and Mike Quigley (D-IL), the Caucus will serve as a resource for Members of Congress on bipartisan open government initiatives. Their goal is to promote legislation that not only encourages, but requires federal information to be made freely accessible and easily searchable to the American public.

Additionally, our friends at the Sunlight Foundation have created an Advisory Committee to support the mission of the Caucus. They will provide education, information and advice to Members on transparency issues. Check out their new website here.

Unfortunately, a great deal of government spending goes without oversight once the money is out the Treasury's door. We commend Representatives Issa and Quigley for championing this effort and look forward to working with them as they strive for increased transparency and accountability in our federal government.

Call your Representative and ask them to join today!

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Profiles in Taxpayer Advocacy: Philadelphia Tea Party Patriots
Posted By:  - 04/27/10

With Tax Day and the rallies over, many observers wonder what will become of the Tea Party movement. Some say that the Tea Party is just another fad that will pass with time. Others suggest that the Tea Party is a movement with the ability to reshape the political landscape. At least one Tea Party group I know, the Philadelphia Tea Party Patriots, does not look like it will become a fad.

The Philadelphia Tea Party Patriots are hosting an event on Thursday, April 29, 2010 at Arcadia University in Glenside, PA to discuss, "How the Tea Party Movement is More than Just Rallies." You can find all of the details for the event and the Philadelphia Tea Party Patriots here.  The panel of speakers has some nationally recognized names, so it should be worthwhile. If you live in the Glenside area and you are interested in learning about the Tea Party movement, I think you should check it out.

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How Much Trust Do You Have in Government?
Posted By:  - 04/22/10

How much trust do you have in government?  If you're like many Americans, it seems that your trust is plummeting as captured in graphic below, courtesy of the Wall Street Journal

What could government do to regain your trust?

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