Free Markets, Free People


The “higher education bubble”–ready to burst?

More and more it is becoming clear that a college education isn’t all it was cracked up to be in terms of guaranteeing a better lifestyle.  So is it worth the money and the debt?  Some are wondering:

The Project On Student Debt estimates that the average college senior in 2009 graduated with $24,000 in outstanding loans. Last August, student loans surpassed credit cards as the nation’s largest single largest source of debt, edging ever closer to $1 trillion. Yet for all the moralizing about American consumer debt by both parties, no one dares call higher education a bad investment. The nearly axiomatic good of a university degree in American society has allowed a higher education bubble to expand to the point of bursting.

Since 1978, the price of tuition at US colleges has increased over 900 percent, 600 points above inflation. To put that in number in perspective, housing prices, the bubble that nearly burst the US economy,  then the global one, increased only fifty points above the Consumer Price Index during those years. But while college applicants’ faith in the value of higher education has only increased, employers’ has declined. According to Richard Rothstein at The Economic Policy Institute, wages for college-educated workers outside of the inflated finance industry have stagnated or diminished. Unemployment has hit recent graduates especially hard, nearly doubling in the post-2007 recession. The result is that the most indebted generation in history is without the dependable jobs it needs to escape debt.

I was struck by the 900% increase since 1978.  I’ve certainly not seen anything in particular from our college grads – as opposed to those who graduated in 1978 – that would make what they received as a degree worth 900% more than it was in ‘78, have you?  And certainly nothing worth 600% above the inflation rate.

Frankly, the institutions of higher education have been scamming Americans for quite some time.  And this is just my opinion, but many of the colleges and universities in this country are a bit like some college sports teams – they don’t care if you graduate, they just want you to play well for them for 3 or 4 years.  Change “play” to “pay” and you describe many of the schools I’m talking about.  They really don’t give a rip about graduation rates.

And of course, when you have institutions get into marginal study areas like “gender studies”, etc., then it’s no longer about education so much as it is  indoctrination.  Or at least that’s been my experience and the experience of many I know.  And things like this only reinforce that belief.  As for the tolerance for different ideas?  Eh, not so much.  Occurrences like this aren’t as uncommon as one might think.

The question more and more are asking then is whether higher education worth the bucks?  There are plenty of studies that continue to show that college students earn more than their counterparts with a high school education – at least in gross pay.  But in net pay, is it enough to justify the expense?  Maybe not:


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Derek Thompson explains:

Here’s the problem. The college premium isn’t consistent across all industries. Some salaries have flat-lined, while other jobs have simply disappeared thanks to off-shoring and automated technology. Meanwhile, over the same time that the wage premium has doubled, the cost of a four-year college education has more than doubled. Student loan debt is near $900 billion, more than credit card debt in this county.

College education is an effective elevator to bring workers to higher-skilled, higher-paying levels in the labor force. The question is whether the ride is efficient. Today the elevator is so prohibitively expensive that students and workers are uncertain whether the floor they’ll be dropped off justifies the cost of the ride.

That wage premium makes it questionable as to whether or not the cost of the education is worth the investment and debt.  And it is likely to get worse, not better.   So are we in an education bubble?  And if so,  when the bubble finally bursts, will a college education again justify the expense relative to the net pay they can expect to earn over and above those without such education?

Maybe in China.  Because with the highest corporate tax in the world and politicians trying to find a way to raise taxes for everyone, the jobs they do find here aren’t going to be paying that well.

Yup, the more you look around, the bigger and bigger you realize the mess is.  And it isn’t going to get much better anytime soon.



Nanny goes to the school cafeteria

I get so tired of these stories, but they have to be pointed out because they indicate a disturbing trend.  In this case, it’s just another in a long line of examples of bureaucrats unilaterally deciding to remove choice for everyone based on their arbitrary assessment of what is “good for you”.

The example this time is about some of the Chicago Public Schools, and in particular the Little Village Academy on Chicago’s West Side, have decided not to allow packed lunches from home.  This line in the story just drove me up the wall:

Principal Elsa Carmona said her intention is to protect students from their own unhealthful food choices.

It is like parents don’t even exist in her world.  It is like they should have no say in what their children eat if it doesn’t jibe with Ms. Carmona’s idea of what that should be.  Mona Charen calls it “coercive humanitarianism”.  I think that’s way too kind.  I call it bureaucratic authoritarianism and typical of petty bureaucrats who have the power to impose their will on others with little or no accountability requirements.

Perhaps the biggest point to made about this is parents are again marginalized with these sorts of decisions.  They’re forced to do what the bureaucrat decides they should do.  And it costs those parents who do take their child’s nutrition seriously and who do pack nutritious lunches the option (the freedom) to do so.

Of course, one supposes that part of the reason for imposing this unilateral ban on lunches from home is so the kids will “eat well”, yes?

At Little Village, most students must take the meals served in the cafeteria or go hungry or both. During a recent visit to the school, dozens of students took the lunch but threw most of it in the garbage uneaten. Though CPS has improved the nutritional quality of its meals this year, it also has seen a drop-off in meal participation among students, many of whom say the food tastes bad.

But as with most things, if you really drill down and “follow the money”, some of the bureaucratic insistence becomes a little clearer:

Any school that bans homemade lunches also puts more money in the pockets of the district’s food provider, Chartwells-Thompson. The federal government pays the district for each free or reduced-price lunch taken, and the caterer receives a set fee from the district per lunch.

And they really don’t care if the food goes in the child’s stomach or the trashcan.

Which brings us to this line in the story:

Such discussions over school lunches and healthy eating echo a larger national debate about the role government should play in individual food choices.

Frankly, I see no reason for debate – none of the government’s business.  I don’t need a super-nanny deciding what I can or can’t eat and I darn sure don’t want the government deciding what my children or grandchildren eat.

But … and you knew there was one … when government “pays” for health care, government will feel entitled and empowered to decide such things for individuals because bad decisions may affect your health and that would cost the government more than if you were forced to eat like it decides you should.

Yes there are national implications to this sort of bureaucratic nonsense, and somewhere out there in the bureaucratic/political incubator is a man or woman who will self-justify attempting to impose such a fundamental infringement on your freedom to choose for your own good.  And unfortunately many others will blithely go along.



Michelle Obama “We can’t just leave it up to the parents”

That’s a quote from Michelle Obama during the signing of the Healthy, Hunger-free Kids Act.  It is also a quote out of context.   So let’s be fair – here’s the entire quote:

“But when our kids spend so much of their time each day in school, and when many children get up to half their daily calories from school meals, it’s clear that we as a nation have a responsibility to meet as well,” Mrs. Obama said. “We can’t just leave it up to the parents.  I think that parents have a right to expect that their efforts at home won’t be undone each day in the school cafeteria or in the vending machine in the hallway.  I think that our parents have a right to expect that their kids will be served fresh, healthy food that meets high nutritional standards.”

Unlike it is being characterized in some places, she’s essentially claiming it is the job of government to aid parents in ensuring that children are properly fed at school.

Hate to be a party pooper, but in reality it isn’t the job of any government our founders envisioned.   It is a job that government has assumed because a) it put itself in charge of schools and b) it decided it had to feed children while they are at school.

In fact, as benign as you may consider that, it is just another indication of the creeping reach of government.  Michelle Obama is using the force of law to do what she and the legislators who approved this bill have decided constitutes “good nutrition” regardless of what parents think.  The fact that it may actually be “good nutrition” and a benefit doesn’t change the fact that parents wishes or desires aren’t a part of this at all. 

In fact, what most parents think they have a “right” to is deciding what their children will or won’t do, eat, participate in or undergo.  Somehow government constantly wedges its way into this “right” and attempts to usurp a lot of those decisions.  And it is when it finally establishes that position of power that it begins banning things like bake sales in schools and the like.

I know that most are going to view this law as a “good thing”.   But looking at the following, you tell me what say parents are going to have concerning this program:

The law increases spending on school nutrition programs by $4.5 billion over ten years and encompasses a range of provisions, including offering qualified children breakfast, lunch and dinner at school, as well as meals during the summer. It also includes a pilot program for “organic foods.”

No one wants hungry or malnourished children.  But for the most part, given the other food programs that are available to single mothers and low income families, I would guess the problem is vastly overstated.  This is feel good legislation that lets the do-gooders pat themselves on the back and adds yet another layer of government intrusiveness.  It also assumes more and more responsibility for the children of others while requiring less from the parents.  In essence, and as we all know, there is going to be a certain segment of the population that abrogates their responsibility to feed their children – when they’re perfectly capable of doing it — to take advantage of such a program when in fact they could (and should) shoulder the responsibility themselves (not to mention the bonding benefits of the “family dinner”).  And it thus becomes just another dependency welfare program at that point.

People who agree with this sort of interventionist government program are going to claim the usual – $4.5 billion is but a drop in the budgetary bucket and it is “for the children”. 

Of course it takes many drops to fill a bucket, and no one said creeping tyranny wouldn’t come cloaked is seemingly benign programs.  Personal responsibility, of course, is not one of the virtues this sort of a program encourages.  And that is a virtue that government should be stressing instead of further inserting itself in our lives.



Nanny to nix bake sales?

In the seemingly never ending cavalcade of laws at the federal level that more and more deeply intrude on our private lives, it now may become illegal to hold school fundraising bakes sales, according to an AP article, depending on their frequency.

A child nutrition bill on its way to President Barack Obama — and championed by the first lady — gives the government power to limit school bake sales and other fundraisers that health advocates say sometimes replace wholesome meals in the lunchroom.

At the moment, the key seems to be the “frequency” with which the bake sales are held and the ostensible “reason” for this limiting of their frequency is … childhood obesity.  Yes, friends, we’re at war once again, and, as usual when the government commits to one of its social wars, the first casualty is your liberty:

The legislation, part of first lady Michelle Obama’s campaign to stem childhood obesity, provides more meals at school for needy kids, including dinner, and directs the Agriculture Department to write guidelines to make those meals healthier. The legislation would apply to all foods sold in schools during regular class hours, including in the cafeteria line, vending machines and at fundraisers.

It wouldn’t apply to after-hours events or concession stands at sports events.

Well it won’t apply to “after-hours events or concession stands at sports events” yet.  And yes, I mean that.  Implicit in this law is the belief that you cannot manage your family’s nutritional health.  And it is up to the government to manage it for you.  To do so they must treat you and your family like a 4 year old and tell you when enough of something is enough.  If you don’t believe me, read this:

Margo Wootan of the Center for Science in the Public Interest says the bill is aimed at curbing daily or weekly bake sales or pizza fundraisers that become a regular part of kids’ lunchtime routines. She says selling junk food can easily be substituted with nonfood fundraisers.

"These fundraisers are happening all the time," Wootan said. "It’s a pizza sale one day, doughnuts the next… It’s endless. This is really about supporting parental choice. Most parents don’t want their kids to use their lunch money to buy junk food. They expect they’ll use their lunch money to buy a balanced school meal."

“Most parents don’t”? Really? Says who, Ms. Wootan?  Stats?  Polls?  Any conceivable “scientific” way of supporting that assertion?  If kids eat pizza twice a week for fundraising purposes, what business is it of yours?  If parents have a problem with that, they need to solve it, not you or that pseudo scientific busy body organization of yours.

And, of course, since Wootan and the busy bodies can’t make what they deem necessary happen, they lobby government to do it.  And government naturally complies.  

Of course government claims their intent is not to outright ban bake sales – a promise I simply don’t believe:

Public health groups pushed for the language on fundraisers, which encourages the secretary of Agriculture to allow them only if they are infrequent. The language is broad enough that a president’s administration could even ban bake sales, but Secretary Tom Vilsack signaled in a letter to House Education and Labor Committee Chairman George Miller, D-Calif., this week that he does not intend to do that. The USDA has a year to write rules that decide how frequent is infrequent.

So there you go – the road to totalitarianism is paved with banal or seemingly trivial paving stones such as this.  They don’t intend to “ban” bake sales – but the law gives them the authority to do so.  They will decide, at least in the interim, how many bake sales a year they’ll allow you to have.  How benevolent.

"This could be a real train wreck for school districts," Lucy Gettman of the National School Boards Association said Friday, a day after the House cleared the bill. "The federal government should not be in the business of regulating this kind of activity at the local level."

Precisely.  But … when you decided it was a good idea to give the federal government control of our schools, you ceded local authority whether you like it or not.  If the USDA decides to ban bake sales and the Department of Education directs the schools to comply, you’re SOL, lady.’

How does that feel?  And isn’t this one of the things that was supposedly part of the message sent on Nov. 2nd – get government out of our lives and off our backs?

Finally, it’s not at all difficult to apply this very same template of creeping totalitarianism to health care anymore, is it?  They’ve taken control of it on a federal level like never before.  Is there anyone who doesn’t believe rules regulating how we take care of ourselves (or else) aren’t in the offing?  If not, then review the emphasis that the government wants to supposedly put on “preventive care” vs. reactive care.  If you don’t understand, it’s time to wake up and smell the coffee.   ObamaCare is the prelude to intrusion at a level you’ve never imagined.  It too will empower the federal government to reach down into your life as never before.  It will make banning bake sales seem trivial by comparison.

Nanny will take care of you – whether you need it or not, whether you want it or not and whether you like it or not.



Charts of the day – do we really need more teachers?

Apparently the president’s job initiative centers around hiring 10,000 more union teachers.

The reason given is we need to beef up our math and science achievement.  And, as usual, the way to do that is to throw either more money or more teachers at the job.

What everyone ignores, however, is we’ve been doing both for years with no change.  What’s the definition of insanity again?




So for an approximate 10% rise in enrollment, we’ve added 10 more public school employees for every student.  And we’ve also seen the spending go through the proverbial roof as a result.  The normal, everyday, tax paying citizen would most likely expect spectacular results if he or she invested the amount they were taxed in something of their choice.  Instead, they end up screwed again:



Looking at those two charts, does anyone think the problem is related only to the money spent or the number of teachers?

Japan spends about 5% of its GDP on education, pays its teachers the equivalent of $25,000 US, has average class sizes of 33 and graduates 93% of its students from their equivalent of high school.  South Korea actually spends more of its GDP than does the US (7.35%), pays its teachers a little over $27,000 US, has huge average class sizes (almost 36) and has a graduation rate of 91.23%.  The US’s stats are 7.38% GDP, average teacher’s salary of almost $36,000, average class size of 19 and a graduation rate at a dismal 77.53%.

To most that would signal that something is wrong other than the number of teachers or what we’re spending.  Somehow, however, that message seems never to get through to our political leaders who continually work under the premise that more money and more bodies is bound, at some point, to make it all better.

That thinking, In this case, given the word pictures the two charts paint, it is obviously wrong.  When and how we can get that message across to both sides of the political spectrum remains to be seen.  But if the left wants to invoke the “for the children” canard in an attempt to shame the right into capitulating for the usual remedies, maybe they can put these two charts in their pockets and make one up of the comparative spending and graduation rates and change not only the discussion, but the solution.  My guess the new solution would take less people and less money.  Wouldn’t the taxpayers love that?



Speaking truth to power – NJ version

If anyone doubts that teacher’s unions are the power within the education establishment, they simply haven’t been paying attention. And if that same person is satisfied with the results of that education establishment over the years, they’re simply asleep at the switch.

In at least one state, a governor – Chris Christie of NJ – is attempting open warfare with his state’s teacher’s union in an effort to actually improve education, and you can imagine the result. That hasn’t stopped him from doing something the liberals always like to claim as their prevue – speaking truth to power:

“Parents and children who are being failed by a public school system whose costs are exorbitant and whose results are insulting deserve a choice. We don’t have to look far around the country to know that vouchers and experiments in school choice are working, that they’re producing results.

In D.C., those in that program are now reading 19 months ahead of their peers outside of the program. This isn’t a coincidence, we know it’s not a coincidence. We know that there’s over five-million children trapped in over ten-thousand failing public schools around America.

And I use the word ‘trapped’ and I use it directly. They are trapped by an educational bureaucracy, they are trapped by a selfish, self-interested, greedy school union that cares more about putting money in their own pocket, and the pockets of members, than they care about educating our most vulnerable and needy children.”

The rhetoric is interesting to me. Using the style of most union attacks Christie cites “greedy”, “selfish” and “self-interested” school unions as the problem. He’s using “for the children” against the liberal establishment to move his agenda – one which will actually provide children in NJ with a choice. Imagine that. And since it advances liberty, it puts me squarely in his camp applauding his effort.

What he is doing is what government should be doing – freeing the citizenry to decide for themselves and forcing marginal or poor schools to heed their customer base or “go out of business”. The message is “the free ride is over” as it is certainly not a free ride for taxpayers.

Christie points out that in Newark, NJ, taxpayers pay $24,000 per pupil per year. So in a class of 20 you have almost a half a million dollars spent. I’d like to say “invested” but its hard to do with a system Christie characterized as an “absolutely disgraceful public education system.”

So cheers to Christie. I continue to follow his battles in NJ with interest and, yes, hope. If he can be successful in triming back government and making it more effective while saving taxpayers money and breaking the power of government unions, he’ll be someone many politicans should, and I hope would, emulate. He is indeed one of the few governors using his state as a “laboratory of freedom”. I wish him good luck.



Scotland’s effort at top down healthy meals

Apparently the Scots, much like our government, have decided that Scottish children just don’t eat healthy enough meals.  So they’ve decided they’ll take the matter in hand via government and introduce their version of healthy eating in school.  After all it is “for the children” and who wouldn’t be for that?  Apparently the children:

NEW rules introduced to make school meals healthier have resulted in tens of thousands of Scottish pupils consuming a worse diet, it has been claimed.

The company which provides school meals in Glasgow revealed yesterday that 30,000 fewer children are eating school lunches since healthier meals were introduced.

Uptake of school meals in Glasgow has fallen from 61% to 2006 to 38%, with some schools as low as 24 per cent. Across Scotland, the number of secondary school pupils taking school meals fell to 39.2 per cent in 2009 – the lowest level for a decade.

Fergus Chambers, managing director of Cordia, which provides school meals in Glasgow, urged the Scottish Government to carry out a “root and branch” review of the regulations which limit salt, fat and sugar content.

He said: “The original objective of the legislation was to improve uptake and improve health.

“But I believe the most recent rules, which allow no flexibility to those providing school meals, have fallen victim to the law of unintended consequences.

The unintended consequence isn’t just that they don’t eat the school meal.  It is that they leave school during the lunch period and go to the nearest fast food franchise.

The answer to that?  Well certainly not improving the food.  Instead some schools have “experimented” with banning kids from leaving the grounds at lunchtime.  But consider changing the draconian rules that have them fleeing?  Of course not:

“Fat, salt and sugar levels are now set so low as to be almost non-existent. We can no longer sell diet drinks, flavoured water or even fruit juice of any reasonable portion size. Confectionery, including most home baking, is banned – yet pupils can walk out and buy anything they want.

Damn those students.  How dare they attempt to exercise their freedom to eat what they want.  Oh wait, here’s a solution – John Dickie, head of the Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland, said:

“It is clear that if local authorities and ministers are serious about boosting the take-up of healthy school lunches, then providing them free to all pupils is by far the most effective action they can take.”

Well there you go – just give it to them “free” and they’ll eat what they’ve already demonstrated they won’t eat .  What would we do without the advocates and experts.

Growing kids need a certain level of fat, salt and even sugar.  They’re not going to eat what they don’t like, no matter how “healthy” it is purported to be.  That’s something any parent can tell you.  When the state takes over those responsibilities and attempts to impose it’s ideas about healthy eating, these are the sorts of results you can expect.  The law of unintended consequences, as Fergus Chambers notes, couldn’t be more evident than in this case.

Coming to a “war on childhood obesity” near you soon.



Dope of the day – politically correct edition

I sometimes wonder what the thought process some people use, if any, when they make decisions like this:

On any other day at Live Oak High School in Morgan Hill, Daniel Galli and his four friends would not even be noticed for wearing T-shirts with the American flag. But Cinco de Mayo is not any typical day especially on a campus with a large Mexican American student population.

Galli says he and his friends were sitting at a table during brunch break when the vice principal asked two of the boys to remove American flag bandannas that they wearing on their heads and for the others to turn their American flag T-shirts inside out. When they refused, the boys were ordered to go to the principal’s office.

“They said we could wear it on any other day,” Daniel Galli said, “but today is sensitive to Mexican-Americans because it’s supposed to be their holiday so we were not allowed to wear it today.”

The boys said the administrators called their T-shirts “incendiary” that would lead to fights on campus.

I wonder – would Mexican-Americans wearing a Mexican flag to school on the 4th of July be considered “incendiary?” Oh, wait, we’ll never know. The 4th of July is a national holiday and school is out in the United States.

Cinco de Mayo – a “holiday” developed by bar owners as an excuse to sell more Mexican beer. It’s historic significance? It is the date the Mexican army beat the French army at the battle of Puebla in 1862. In Mexico it’s pretty much only celebrated in Puebla.  It’s kind of like us celebrating the battle of New Orleans when we thumped the Brits.  The only thing that might conceivably be considered “bad taste” would be wearing a French flag – and they lost.

I have no idea if this Vice Principal knows this, but he completely blew this out of proportion regardless. Had he simply ignored it, the day probably would have passed without incident. More infuriating, at least to me, is he (or she) decided the celebration of a bogus foreign “holiday” in the United States took precedence over displaying or showing the flag of the United States  – which he considered “incendiary”. I wonder if the school had decided not to fly it on the school’s US flag that day for the same reason?

The good news? The district left the Vice Principle out on that limb all by himself, exactly where he belongs. In their press release they said:

The district does not concur with the Live Oak High School administration’s interpretation of either board or district policy related to these actions.

Good on ya, “district”.



Immigration and the welfare state

Immigration seems to be the topic du jour at QandO today, and I take a slightly different tack than Dale and Bruce.

Let’s run through the main problems associated with illegal immigrants: state welfare costs, crime (or is it?), lack of assimilation (particularly if they’re allowed to vote), and suppressing wages for poor natives.

I think we can mitigate a lot of these problems with solutions far more realistic (in the short-to-medium term) than mass deportation, amnesty or ridding ourselves of the welfare state.

First, let’s recognize that the security threat becomes more complicated when you place wishful restrictions on immigration.  When there’s a flood of mostly non-threatening people crossing the border outside of any official process, it’s a lot harder to pick out the few really malicious ones.  And it’s really hard/expensive to stop that flood along such a long border.

We should be striving to funnel as many of them through official processes as possible, so we know who’s here, we know their backgrounds and we can separate the villains from those who just want to observe a basic civic peace and take advantage of opportunities in a freer country.  That means offering carrots and sticks to both prospective immigrants as well as those who are already here, and I’ll get to those incentives below.

Second, minimize how much the welfare state serves and controls non-citizens.

  • Uncompensated care makes up only 2.2% of medical costs in this country, and a good chunk of that doesn’t come from illegals, so the fact that many illegals wait until they need to use the emergency room, while irritating to some, isn’t a political hill to die on.  As long as it’s mostly limited to taking care of communicable diseases and real emergencies, which can be enacted into law, it’s tolerable.
  • Education is a much bigger problem.  I recall reading that there are 1.6 million illegal immigrants under age 18 in the States, and being from Southern California, where the largest budget item by far is education, I know that they (and natural born citizens born to noncitizens) represent a big cost.  Here we can do a bit of political jiu-jitsu: target guest worker families with a school voucher program.
    • They’re already in public schools, so it’s a win if they instead form the basis for a larger private school market.  The larger the market, the more the market can work its magic.
    • It can come with strings attached, like a requirement that any school accepting vouchers be able to show an improvement in English language skills at least as good as nearby public schools.
    • It’s not like Democrats have a good argument against it: it’s nearly the opposite of cream-skimming.  And when guests get this, naturally other groups are going to want it too.
  • Transfer payments (Social Security, unemployment, welfare, etc.), obviously, should be off the table for non-citizens.  I have no problem with people who want to take risks in a freer market; a host country owes them nothing more than securing their rights.

The idea here is to weed out those who aren’t seeking opportunity so much as handouts.  Those seeking opportunity are naturally more eager to assimilate.

Third, take the prospect of adding tons of dependent immigrants to the voter rolls off the table.  Instead, we can get most of what we want by creating a liberal guest worker program that virtually all prospective immigrants and current illegal residents can join simply by identifying themselves to authorities, as long as it’s clear that they’re going to generally be paying their own way, so that people with a dependent mindset are weeded out by attrition.

So what are the carrots and sticks here?  Without doing anything that would turn stomachs (and thus make reform politically impossible), we can get rid of the bad apples while not incurring the large costs associated with trying to throw 12 million people out of the country.

  1. A program allowing people to easily enter the country without being harassed should increase suspicion of anyone who’s still trying to immigrate the hard way — and that would increase public support for border security.
  2. Deport illegals who fail to register under the guest program and then commit serious crimes — violent crimes or big property crimes like auto theft.  Those who commit petty crimes and can’t prove their status can either apply for guest status and take their punishment here or accept deportation.
    • No sweeps or “asking for papers” for those who are just here peacefully.  Only those charged with another crime can be asked to prove their status within a reasonable time frame.
    • Come to an agreement to build cheaper-run prisons in Mexico to hold illegals during their sentences — no sense in keeping them in expensive American prisons if we’re planning on deporting them anyway.
  3. Illegals can’t access the school voucher program, but guest worker families can.
    • Perhaps also allow vouchers for English-language and Civics education for adults.

I’m open to any other ideas, but that seems like a good foundation, accepting (in the neolibertarian fashion) that the welfare state won’t disappear tomorrow, but offering a positive agenda that tends to increase liberty.

A tale of two states

I’ve been mentioning what’s going on in the state of New Jersey as a positive example of what is necessary to reign in government and government spending.  Hard decisions have been made there and, in an epic battle with public service unions (specifically the teacher’s union) Governor Chris Christie seems to be prevailing.

Not so in Illinois where, amazingly, the public service unions held a big rally yesterday and chanted “raise my taxes”.

Any guess why?

Thousands of protesters bused down by labor unions and social service advocates rallied at the Capitol today in an attempt to pressure state lawmakers into raising the income tax to avoid more budget cuts.  A spokesman for Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White estimated the rally crowd at 15,000, with more than 12,000 marching around the building. That would appear to make it the largest Capitol protest since the Equal Rights Amendment crowds a quarter-century ago. Bus after bus pulled up on streets surrounding the Capitol complex and dumped sign-waving protesters clad in purple, green, red and blue shirts that represented a show of strength from a variety of public employee unions and dozens of groups that formed what they named the “Responsible Budget Coalition.”

“Responsible Budget Coalition” my foot.  “I want my job, benefits and perks unchanged coalition” is more like it.

Their goal, of course, is to pressure Illinois lawmakers into raising income taxes to continue spending at the level that is leading Illinois into bankruptcy.

Illinois has a $13 billion dollar budget deficit.  $2 billion in cuts to education have been proposed.   But Democratic Governor Pat Quinn would rather raise income taxes thantake on his base (public service unions such as the teacher’s union) by make those hard and tough choices necessary to reign in the deficit.  And, one assumes, because Illinois educators have done such a great job in the past (ranking 32nd out of 50 in 2005-06 and dropping 3 more to 35th isn 2006-2007).

So Quinn has come up with a budget plan that rests on “5 pillars” : 

Creating Jobs, Cutting Costs, Strategic Borrowing, Continued Federal Assistance and Increased State Revenues.

Quinn claims he can create 439,000 jobs in the next 6 years by using $6 billion.  The same “shovel ready” game plan that’s worked so well on a national level is now the panacea for Illinois unemployment.  He also is going to give small businesses a $2,500 tax credit for employees they hire.  Yeah, that’ll cover the cost of new hire, won’t it?  In fact, his entire jobs creation plan is a recreation of the Obama plan which has done zip to spur job creation.

But now we get to the fun part – Cutting costs (well, not really).

Cutting Costs

State Employees and Operations – The Governor’s plan includes more than $203 million in savings through employee furlough days, renegotiated employee contracts, employee health insurance savings and additional travel restrictions. The state will also change the way it does business, including reviewing, reducing or re-bidding all contracts over $1 million; historic procurement reform; and consolidating state office spaces.

Pension Stabilization – The state’s current public pension system costs are growing significantly, adding to the mounting deficit. Without bold reform, the system will fall apart, forever disrupting thousands of lives. Stabilizing the system so that existing employees and retirees will keep their current benefits, while new hires become part of a streamlined pension system will save approximately $300 million in the first year.

Health and Human Services – Services such as home care for older adults, child care and community mental health services will be reduced by $276 million. Scaling back prescription drug assistance and group health coverage for state retirees, combined with a managed care pilot program for seniors and adults with disabilities who are enrolled in Medicaid will save the state $325 million.

Performance Metrics – The state will implement rigorous performance metrics that will improve accountability and performance, and will make sure programs run more efficiently. A new Web-based system will be designed for collecting and reporting performance updates.

Education – Education will see approximately $1.3 billion cut from general state aid, special education, student transportation, grants and universities.

Now – this is a state with a $13 billion dollar deficit – correct? Count up the “savings” and cuts proposed here. Approximately $2.2 billion dollars. $2.2 billion in “savings”.  [As an aside – note the cuts in health care.]

So what about the rest of the deficit number? Well, of course, the answer is “strategic borrowing”. Oh, and an increase in the state’s income tax by 33%.

The excuse?

Well the state “owes” vendors, providers, colleges and universities $5 billion dollars, and it is high time the taxpayers paid these bills. Additionally, the Governor, knowing very well that Democrats have now become the party of public service employees (and that necessarily means preserving their jobs, salaries, benefits and perks) contends it is the duty of the Illinois tax payer to cough it up for education:

Governor Quinn challenged lawmakers to pass a 1 percent income tax surcharge to support education. The surcharge will help restore educational funding, while also enabling the state to get caught up on the millions of dollars owed to public schools, community colleges and universities.   “We can’t afford to deny reality or delay action any longer. We don’t have time for any more partisan battles, parliamentary maneuvers or political expediency,” said Governor Quinn. “As we tackle this budget, let’s remember: We are fighting for our children, our communities, and the future of our state.”

What he’s actually fighting for is the continued support of the public service unions.

And thus the well timed astro-turf “populist” uprising among the beneficiaries of misspent Illinois tax dollars.

A tale of two states.  One facing up to the fiscal reality of the day, and the other in the middle of trying to deny reality and maintain the status quo.  Certainly everyone understands that at some point, some tax increases may have to be considered.  But is it too much to ask the state to show some good faith and cut the bloated and costly state apparatus that is unable at this point to run in anything but a deficit?  A $13 billion deficit is no small potatoes for a state budget.  Proposing $2.2 billion in cuts and then wanting to put off $1.3 billion of those with a tax increase doesn’t demonstrate any seriousness at all about cutting the size and cost of state government.

While the bussed in protesters may have been many, according to the report, the Illinois taxpayers are many more.  Time to lay down the law to your lawmakers.  Cut spending.  Take a tip from New Jersey.  Make the hard choices and do the tough job of cutting the size and cost of government.  Otherwise, if the public tantrum the public service unions throw is allowed to work,, you can expect to be on the hook from now on ensuring those jobs, salaries, benefits and perks are forever maintained, while you watch the cost of government continue to spiral out of control.