Friday, March 28, 2008

Transportation: Fighting over the spoils

Posted by Craig Westover | 9:54 AM |  

So the vandals have sacked Rome, and now they are fighting over the spoils. Ripped from the Pioneer Press headlines, 'Fight erupts over new sales taxes for transit. At issue: whether money should be used to bail out Met Council.' Wow. Even I thought the transit kids would play nice together a little longer than this.

A couple of weeks ago, I cited comments by Rep. Bernie Lieder, a DFLer from Crookston and architect of the transportation bill the Legislature passed over Gov. Tim Pawlenty's veto. Lieder said, in effect, that county board members had concerns about the Metropolitan Council's power and influence.

To address those concerns, the transportation bill created a joint powers board through which the seven metro-area counties would influence new spending on transit. And should the Met Council and this new layer of government disagree on transit spending, I predicted, one or the other would be back at the Legislature looking for new money.

And here we are. A combination of Pawlenty's proposed budget cuts and a sagging economy have created a $47.5 million hole in the Met Council's transit budget, which substantially exceeds the $30.8 million bailout funding earmarked in the transportation bill for Met Council projects. Whatcha gonna do?

Pawlenty's proposed $30 million reduction in state General Fund support of regional transit operations makes the Met Council's self-inflicted problem worse, but the response of transit supporters to the shortfall once again highlights their unsustainable economic model of massive public transit expansion.

Conrad deFiebre on the Web site of the progressive think tank Minnesota 2020 rants about the governor's budget cuts to transportation and notes the Met Council bailout money "was needed because of a big hole in transit budgets left by declining revenues from the motor vehicle sales tax, which in a slowing economy has consistently fallen short of projections based on auto sales."

A sagging economy may have hastened the process, but isn't the goal of progressive transit policy to get people out of their cars? If that policy is successful, won't it lead to people buying fewer new cars regardless of the economy? Shouldn't someone have accounted for falling tax revenue? Or do we expect people to buy cars and just not drive them for sake of the "common good"?

Of course, the dirty little secret is that no one really expects light rail to actually fulfill its promises, especially those supporting it. DeFiebre laments on: "So now the talk is of fare increases and service cuts, the familiar fallback that hits hardest those least able to pay. Metro Transit riders are already paying some of the nation's highest fares, financing 30 percent of bus operations and a remarkable 38 percent of the cost of running the Hiawatha light rail line."

Are those LRT riders from Bloomington going to work in downtown really those "least able to pay?" Those people cramming the train on Vikings game days or projected to flock to the new Twins Stadium, $200 tickets ($65 along the outfield baselines) in hand? What is "remarkable" is that anyone could term a 62 percent operating deficit acceptable, much less a "success" — an operating deficit that under the new scheme, according to Lieder, will no longer come out of general funds; counties had better look to property taxes.

As quoted by deFiebre, Dave Van Hattum of Transit for Livable Communities carries transit support duplicity to another level. "More people than ever depend on the bus system to get around," he said. "In a struggling economy, bus service should be the last thing we cut since it directly impacts many people's abilities to reach their jobs."

OK. Then why, independent of the governor's budget proposal, are we planning to cut bus service on University Avenue? We are because it was necessary to cook the books in favor of light rail to obtain federal funding for the Central Corridor project. So what if people have to walk farther to catch a train, which will run less frequently than the current bus service. How does that not affect people's ability to reach their jobs?"

Of course it does, but current transit planning is not being done for the benefit of the public. The transportation policy being railroaded through the Legislature is about convenience for the well-connected and a legacy for the legislative elite for which everyone else pays. It's cool. The current dust-up among the Met Council, the Legislature and the counties is just more of the $6.6 billion entertainment value of the "historic" transportation bill, which is the best most of us can hope for.

This commentary originally appeared in the St. Paul Pioneer Press on Friday, March 23, 2008.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Tacking into the Wind: Another argument for choice in education

Posted by Craig Westover | 10:49 AM |  

The Star Tribune is reporting today that Forest Lake Area High School Students abruptly canceled the appearance of the National Heroes Tour, featuring decorated veteran from the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Steve Massey, the school principal, said the decision to cancel was prompted by concerns that the event was becoming political rather than educational and therefore was not suitable for a public school.

He said the school had received several phone calls from parents and others, some of whom indicated that they may stage a protest if the event took place.

"The event was structured to be an academic classroom discussion around military service. We thought we'd provide an opportunity for kids to learn about service in the context of our history classes," Massey said. "As the day progressed, it became clear that this was becoming a political event ... which would be inappropriate in a public setting.

I’m sure much of the furor surrounding this bit of news will focus on the fact that it is a patriotic event being canceled. But there is an underlying problem at work here: Contrary to the notion that public schools are a place for bringing together diversity, public schooling often forces people of disparate backgrounds into political combat, as the Forest Lake decision makes plain.

Think about it: Whether one opposes or supports the war in Iraq, don’t we have to ask ourselves how public education reached the point where political controversy is “inappropriate in a public setting?”

Such value-based clashes are inevitable in government-run schooling because all Americans are required to support the public schools, but only those with the most political power control them. Political conflict is an inescapable public schooling reality – to the detriment of actual academic activities. That observation passes the smell test and is well-documented by the Cato Institute’s Neal McCluskey (“Why We Fight: How Public Schools Cause Social Conflict”).

Tacking into the Wind: To end the fighting caused by state-run schooling, we should transform our “public education system” system from one in which government establishes and controls schools, to one in which individual parents are empowered to select schools that share their moral values and educational goals for their children. Instead of an education funding formula that funnels money to district schools, we ought to have an education funding formula where money follows the student to district schools, charter schools, private schools, religious schools, online schools and home schools.

Of course, the problem is those with the political power to control education -- Education Minnesota, legislators and bureaucrats -- are not willing to consider parental empowerment at expense of their own power. But nonetheless, fighting to empower families with maximum educational choice is a battle worth fighting.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Minnesota Health Care Transformation Task Force: A sow's ear of corporate socialism

Posted by Craig Westover | 11:01 AM |  

Driven by cost reduction, the recommendations of the Governor's Health Care Transformation Task Force, many of which are rapidly moving through the Legislature in health care reform bills, are, as I discussed in Wednesday's column, a fundamentally flawed approach to health care reform.

The Legislature charged the Transformation Task Force with reducing the cost of Minnesota's health care system by 20 percent by the year 2011, while increasing access to health care and improving quality. Should task force recommendations become law, state government and corporate health plans will make decisions about your medical care and set standards by which you conduct your everyday life.

The task force ignored economic factors affecting health care costs (including government policies) and instead focused on the very narrow assumption that the "culprits" creating rising health care costs are physicians who perform too many expensive procedures and the rest of us who live unhealthy lifestyles.

To control our doctors' and our personal behaviors, the Transformation Task Force would:
  • Expand the concept of "public health" so virtually no behavior would be exempt from regulatory oversight.
  • Radically reform health care provider pay by shifting "accountability for the total cost of care" from health plans to providers.
  • Radically overhaul the insurance market by creating a nonprofit health insurance exchange that would de facto control the price and variety of insurance available in Minnesota.

For the layman, the most disturbing sections of the Transformation Task Force report are those that expand the concept of "public health" to include virtually any behavior with an impact on the cost of health care. Sure, Minnesotans would be better off if we were all a little skinnier, exercised a little more, smoked and drank a little less, and never strayed one toke over the line. Good health habits can prevent chronic diseases, and chronic diseases raise the cost of health care.

But do Minnesotans really want to live in a state that requires "the active engagement of employers, schools, communities and the health care system" to enforce healthy behavior? Is the body mass index of your children a matter of public health? Is it the legitimate responsibility of the Department of Education to "ensure that schools are held accountable for making progress on health improvement goals" (A No Child's Behind Left Behind Act)?

Does recommending the Legislature "encourage and/or require employers, schools, communities and health care organizations to adopt age-specific goals" for certain health conditions and diseases portend any consequences we ought to fear? (My emphasis added.)

"If we want to control costs, we need to stop adding more people with preventable chronic disease to the health care system," the task force declares. That idea is common to every resurgence of eugenics from Margaret Sanger to the Third Reich to the forced sterilization of 1,200 "feeble-minded" patients in Minnesota during the 1920s.

For now, the Task Force offers the unhealthy among us the opportunity for re-education and repentance — but what will Minnesota do with those who can't kick their unhealthy habits or the heretics who refuse to turn in their Milky Ways? What will Minnesota do with those who persistently, as Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote upholding a forced sterilization law, "sap the strength of the State"?

Cost reduction also drives the way the Transformation Task Force misconstrues the meaning of common words.

The task force defines words in terms of costs to the health care system, not their meaning to an individual. Thus, it makes perfect sense for the task force to believe a board of experts should determine if new medical technology has enough "value" to be included in the system.

An example of this attitude is the reaction of Sen. Linda Berglin to a proposed private cancer radiation treatment center in Woodbury. Berglin served on the Transformation Task Force and is chief sponsor of the Senate health care bill. Berglin and other legislators supported a moratorium on radiation therapy centers to limit duplication of costly facilities and protect hospitals from competition for lucrative outpatient cancer services.

How can that be — when the Transformation Task Force report promotes "competition" and "patient-centeredness"?

"Competition" logically means individual health care providers competing for individual patients on quality and price based on the individual's conception of value — much like Lasik surgery works today. Independent Lasik surgeons have had to innovate, improve their procedures, upgrade their technology and lower their prices to attract patients. Lasik surgeons operate outside the managed care payment system.

In the task force world, "competition" is "managed." Under the task force payment reform plan, health care providers must bid as low as possible for a contract to serve a population of patients offered by a managed care organization. Think of it like putting out a bid to provide computer maintenance: The task force approach is health care on an industrial model where we carbon-based units are maintained and repaired according to the manual. Unfortunately, we are not all the same make and model.

In the task force health care system, a provider's profit depends on how "efficiently" it provides medical treatment. The provider can be "efficient" by developing innovative treatment methods or by rationing the treatment it provides. Which method the provider chooses has great consequences for the patient, but from the task force's perspective of keeping costs down, either approach would yield "high value health care."

And, lest the Transformation Task Force leave any minor detail of your life untouched, it would require every Minnesotan to have a minimum amount of health insurance, dictate to health plans whom they must cover for what at what price, and create a health insurance exchange that effectively would eliminate the role of private insurance brokers.

Wednesday's and today's columns have scratched the surface of the Transformation Task Force recommendations. They haven't touched the report's bureaucratic proposals, data privacy issues, the true costs of implementation or the biases of the organizations that guided the task force's process. Those are not minor issues, but as noted Wednesday, the devil is not in the details of the Transformation Task Force report — he is sitting in plain sight.

While claiming to be "market-driven" and "patient-centered," "competitive" and "focused on outcomes" and structured around "quality," "price transparency" and "value," the Transformation Task Force report is none of these. From the sow's ear of corporate socialism, one cannot stitch a silk purse "market-driven," "patient-centered" health care system.

The Health Care Transformation Task Force is not a starting point for reform; it is a dead end.

This commentary originally appeared in the St. Paul Pioneer Press on Thursday March 20, 2008.

Part One of this two-part series appeared in the St. Paul Pioneer Press on Wednesday, March 19, 2008.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Minnesota Health Care Transformation Task Force: The devil's not in the details, but sitting in plain sight

Posted by Craig Westover | 6:46 AM |  

Among the pressing issues facing the Minnesota Legislature this session are some very real problems with the health care system:

  • Health insurance premiums are rising, and many employers are reducing or dropping health care coverage.
  • Individuals without employer coverage are finding it difficult to obtain health insurance.
  • Increased costs and reduced reimbursements from health plans, especially those administered through Medicare and Medicaid, are squeezing physicians.
  • Large medical groups are swallowing up independent physicians and clinics.
  • Consumers are finding fewer coverage and care options, and what is available is costly.

The polite line that might follow that list is that "reasonable people can disagree on how the state should address health care issues, but it is obvious something must be done." The Governor's Health Care Transformation Task Force is the centerpiece among several public-private committees that met between legislative sessions to "do something" about health care.

Observers of the Transformation Task Force portray it as a "love fest." Even critics praise the group's efforts. I have friends on the task force, and there are folks on it I respect. But I cannot in good conscience join the chorus of "Kumbaya." There is too much at stake.

My disagreement with the Transformation Task Force recommendations is not simply my preference for free-market solutions over government-run programs, nor even that I question the potential efficacy of task force recommendations (many of which are embedded in bills being rushed through the legislative process). My objection is more basic.

The devil is not in the details of the report, he's sitting in plain sight: The task force recommendations are a giant leap toward classical corporate socialism, a "friendly fascism," but fascism nonetheless.

Some things need to be called what they are. "Fascism" is a perfectly good word when used not as an insult but as an academic description. The task force recommendations are an integration of government and private corporations that destroys the distinction and endangers individual liberty and the quality of health care. It is the task force recommendations, not the task force members, to which the "fascist" label can be justly applied.

If the task force members are to be faulted, it is for letting their good intentions blind them to the unhealthy consequences of what they propose. Their report is the result of good people succumbing to the conceit that they, or any central committee, have the knowledge and authority to manage the health care system and make life-and-death health care decisions for others.

"Successful transformation of Minnesota's health care system will require active participation and engagement from consumers, employers, health care providers, health plans and government," declares the Task Force Report. The obligations the Task Force envisions for the first four groups require fundamental behavior change; government's obligation is to "enact the necessary changes to law to implement the transformation plan." In other words, supply the muscle, the force, the coercion.

The Task Force explicitly states that its report must be taken in its totality to be effective. Implied in that attitude are certain core beliefs:

  • The state should have a vision defined by a central committee to which every Minnesotan is mobilized and committed.
  • The state is ultimately responsible for the healthy behavior of its citizens; if "encouragement" and "influence" are inadequate, "mandate" and "requirement" are necessary.
  • The individual must live for the good of the collective.
  • The state, not individual demand, should determine how much health care is needed, and the state should control the size of the health care system.
  • There is no segment of society the state cannot command into action.

Cost, quality and access to health care present problems, to be sure, but the greatest danger to Minnesota is the progressive assumption that the health of society outweighs any individual's interest in his or her behavior. That the Transformation Task Force or any group with a modicum of respect for freedom could publish a document so blatantly enslaving individual choice to the "common good" and have it be so well praised for its "good intentions" would be astonishing if it were not so frightening.

My intent here is not to discredit the 70-plus page report by killing trees; it is to point out a forest of recommendations fundamentally opposed to proven free-market principles and toxic to a robust health care system.

The Health Care Transformation Task Force was charged by the Legislature with proposing a plan to reduce Minnesota's health care expenditures 20 percent by January 2011 while increasing access to health care and improving quality. Cost reduction is the driving force of the Task Force recommendations. The Task Force report is a blueprint for the most nefarious kind of health care rationing.

Let's be clear — cost, quality and access to health care necessitate trade-offs. That is true in the managed care system we have today, in the totalitarian managed care system proposed by the Transformation Task Force, and in the purest of free-market systems.

Health care is a limited economic resource that will be rationed. The question is, "Will you manage your consumption of health care, or will someone else manage it for you?"

In a managed care system, health care is rationed for you; someone controls the supply of health care irrespective of demand; the pie is fixed and everybody more or less receives an equal share of the fixed amount. In a free-market system, you ration your own health care by making choices; choice, your slice of the pie, is always growing, albeit with some people having more choices than you and others fewer.

In a free-market system, health care is rationed by the relationship between price and the demand for service at that price, not by a central committee fixing supply and price.

The contrast of these two systems is stark. It is the difference between a managed health care system in which patients queue up for a 38-week wait for a hip replacement and an expanding market of competing Lasik surgery centers offering steadily declining prices and higher levels of quality to greater numbers of people.

The necessity to reduce costs steered the Transformation Task Force away from broad examination of macroeconomic factors like supply and demand. Instead, the task force pursued "culprit economics" — leaping to the narrow assumption that the culprits creating rising costs are physicians who provide "uneven health care below the levels we should expect for the money we are spending" and the rest of us for driving up health care costs with our "unhealthy behaviors."

Thus, changing behavior — the way doctors practice medicine and the way people live their lives — becomes the one best path to reducing health care costs, as if the laws of supply and demand could be eliminated.

It is said only two things in life are certain — death and taxes. If the Transformation Task Force recommendations are implemented, Minnesota government will have way too much control of both.

Thursday: The task force and public health.

This commentary originally appeared in the St. Paul Pioneer Press on Wednesday, March 19.

Part Two of this two-part series appeared in the St. Paul Pioneer Press on Thursday March 20, 2008.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Rejecting party and principle alike

Posted by Craig Westover | 11:17 AM |  

The "Override Six" have been alternately flogged and fawned over as "traitors" to the GOP and "courageous" legislators who put "principle over party." As you'll recall, the six — Reps. Neil Peterson, Jim Abler, Kathy Tingelstad, Bud Heidgerken, Ron Erhardt and Rod Hamilton — voted with Democrats to override Gov. Tim Pawlenty's veto of a $6.6 billion tax increase included in the transportation bill.

Fiscally conservative Republicans took up torches and pitchforks and denied party endorsement to Abler, Erhardt and Peterson; GOP endorsement doesn't seem likely for Tingelstad, Heidgerken and Hamilton. Meanwhile, Democrats, business groups that reversed their previous opposition to tax increases, and pro-transit groups have been filling the breach with bipartisan praise and pledges of support for the beleaguered six.

Even Senate pit bull Steve Murphy, DFL-Redwing, has been licking the faces of the wayward Republicans. In a letter to the Star Tribune, Murphy went so far as to say he personally will support each of the six for re-election in their primaries and in the general election. Say what you will, Murphy knows a win-win situation when he sniffs it.

We may never really know why each of the Override Six voted as he or she did, but to paraphrase George Bernard Shaw, "they are men and woman of great common sense with their fingers on the pulse of their constituents — meaning thereby men and woman without principle or moral courage."

In many ways, voting for the transportation bill was common sense: Consensus and a Legislative Auditor's report hold that Minnesota has neglected maintenance of its infrastructure. People are frustrated. Leaders of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce were under pressure from influential members to make something happen. Transit supporters were pressuring for a pot of money like the highway kids have. Transit lobby support and campaign support from chamber members can fill a lot of GOP endorsement potholes.

Certainly Peterson and Hamilton had their fingers on the pulse of their constituencies; each received earmark projects in the transportation bill outside the legitimate funding process. For any of the six, new roads make nice backdrops for campaign photos.

I am a strong believer in voting principle over party. But one joins a political party because of common principles. When one opposes his party, it had better be because the party has wandered away from those principles, not because common sense and popular opinion make it expedient for the legislator to waver.

The GOP stuck to its principles on the transportation bill. It offered an alternative transportation proposal (albeit half-heartedly) that spent as much as the Democrats' bill but identified funding through means other than increasing taxes. The GOP proposal recognized state resources are state resources and state highways ought to compete with other capital projects in the general obligation bonding bill. It was a bill that one would expect from the Republican Party.

One might have voted against the GOP bill as bad policy, but bad policy from Republicans doesn't justify voting for worse policy from the Democrats. Desire to "do something" is not a principle, nor does it justify voting for a proposition one has consistently opposed. It takes moral courage to hold out for the right thing in the face of public pressure; capitulation and surrender, however popular, are not particularly admirable.

Overriding the governor's veto of the transportation bill was much like the passage of the Twins stadium bill (a case where Republicans did wander away from their principles and too few party members opposed the governor and special interests). The transportation bill was a siege on the taxpayer, not a cavalry charge. It was a victory in a war of attrition.

No waterboarding went on, but Democrats strapped the GOP to a chair under bright lights and slapped them about the head with the Orwellian proposition that 2 + 2 = 5, and that raising taxes in a recession is good economic policy if it is for a good cause. Peterson, Abler, Tingelstad, Heidgerken, Erhardt and Hamilton cracked. They denied their professed allegiance to Republican principles. We ought to give our praise to those GOPers who honored both principle and party.


Transit Subsidies

In response to my Pioneer Press column bringing to light comments by transportation bill architect Rep. Bernie Lieder, Steve Dornfeld of the Metropolitan Council noted that little of the $6.6 billion transportation bill goes to transit operating subsidies; that spin is true. But I wrote that the metro area sales tax, which was sold as a way to build new transit and reduce congestion, is first being used to pay operating costs for transit we already have. Dornfeld says the $30.8 million subsidy is a one-time appropriation, but he doesn't discount the need for future light-rail subsides.

Per Dornfeld, future transit subsidies cannot come out of the metro area sales tax for transit (unless they subsidize new transit). Per Lieder, operating subsidies won't come out of state general funds, and they should come from county property taxes. I don't recall higher property taxes and subsidized transit operating costs being part of the DFL sell on the transportation bill.

Craig Westover is a contributing columnist to the Pioneer Press Opinion page and a senior policy fellow at the Minnesota Free Market Institute.

This commentary originally appeared in the St. Paul Pioneer Press, Friday March 14.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Essence of the Race Issue

Posted by Craig Westover | 5:26 PM |  

We can't talk about it.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Channeling Karl Rove

Posted by Craig Westover | 9:07 AM |  

In case your neural implants were down and you didn't get Karl Rove's talking points last month, in the February Issue of Townhall Magazine Rove responds to a question from Mary Katherine Ham about the 3 things a Republican nominee must do to beat Hillary. The question may already be dated, but Rove's answer is not. It applies not just to a potential Republican presidential candidate, but also to every conservative. Here's what Rove said.

"First, our candidate must introduce himself again … he must create a narrative that explains his life and commitments … our candidate must not be afraid to say something controversial. The American people want their president to be authentic.

"Second, our candidate must also tackle issues families care about and Republicans too often shy away from … concerns like health care, he cost of college and social mobility will be important. The Republican nominee needs to be confident in talking about these concerns and credible in laying out how he will address them.

"Third, our candidate must go after people who aren't traditional Republicans – aggressively campaign for the votes of minorities … emphasize how his message can provide hope and access to the American Dream for all."

That's not a bad outline for all conservative voices to follow. I'd say the left has done a great job of casting conservatives as the party of "no" – no abortion, no gay marriage, no immigration, no new taxes – except the right has given the left so much help cartooning conservatism that it has hardly been a challenge.

Instead of using blog space to always roil against some obvious idiocy on the left, perhaps its time we reintroduced the notion of philosophical conservatism – the commitment to limited government and individual freedom.

Perhaps it's time to test controversy on our friends rather than our enemies by standing up for conservative principles even when the outcome might fly in the face of the outcome we personally desire.

Perhaps it’s time to stop harping only on issues of concern to fiscal conservatives and realize that there is a whole country out there with more pressing daily concerns that Republicans must be able to address to be relevant – address with principled conservative (free market) approaches, not liberal lite capitulations.

Perhaps it’s time Republicans actually went out and talked to minority groups on their turf. Maybe even looked at minority groups as something other than a voting block but as people with the same desires and hopes that we have for ourselves and our families. We need to get away from the idea that conservatism is something that protects us from them and start preaching conservatism for what it is – liberation for all people enabling all people to participate in the economy of the country.

Perhaps it’s time to stop crying in the wilderness for a conservative messiah and take up the cross ourselves.

Monday, March 10, 2008

The Play's the Thing

Posted by Craig Westover | 12:15 PM |  

If you liked "The Moffitt" you may like "The Play's the Thing," the "Community Voices" piece in today's MinnPost.

The Play's the Thing

Scene – A local bar where patrons are staging a "play" to exploit a loophole in the state smoking ban. An author of the ban Sen. Kathy Sheran peers through the window.

Sheran: Fair is foul, and foul is fair:
Hover through the fog and filthy air.
These peasants dare to mock the law
That would deny their choice to draw
Into their lungs what ere they choose
While they imbibe in devil's booze.
To end their joy is our pursuit;
A prince, a clown, a doc ought do it.

Enter Smoking ban supporters Sen. Ron Latz, a real prince, and St. Paul Councilman Dave Thune, a real clown.

Thune: Is this a cigarette I see before me,
The butt toward my hand? Come, let me clutch thee.
I gave thee up, and yet I crave thee still.
Thy law, fair Prince, thou promised me
Would keep me from temptation;
For I be too weak to mind my own mind.
And so, although they mind, we must the minds
Of peasants mind for them.

Latz: Fie. Indeed, Clown, thou dus't well play the fool,
And fools can be most useful
In pursuit of stallin' liberty.

Thune: Pray, sir, do not pun-ish thy clown with harsh irony.
For 'tis this play on words with which we must be harsh.
We must raze this bar: To make it thus
We must in law punish thusly, and raise the bar.
Our hole is looped. Our law is breached.

Latz: Once more unto the breach dear Clown, once more
We nick away at liberty and wall them up with laws!
In theory, there's nothing so becomes a man
As happiness and liberty;
But when freedom lays siege to common good,
Then imitate the action of a king.

Thune: Here, Prince. Well spoken thus.
But there are some t'would make a fuss
Were we open in sincerity
To strike against their liberty.
A harder sell will make them buy
We need another, more strong ally.

Enter smoking ban supporter Dr. Brian Rank, a bleeder of men.

Rank: Have data. Will travel.
Reads the card of this man.
A solider of science in a savage land.
A Rank opinion I have always at hand.
A bleeder of men, until all is bland.

Fie! I understandth not
Of what oozes from the bleeder's lips
Like from the nose, snot.

Latz: 'Tis science, Clown!
One need not know. One need but accept.
Is that not so, good sir?

Rank: Indeed:
Science is not that which is true;
Science is what I give to you.
For as the doltish clown doth say –
If snot from nose doth make its way,
Follow it not that from what knows this doc
Should follow science, not a crock?

Secondhand smoke the peasants toke
Is no laughing matter; it is no joke.
In mere seconds it will kill you dead
And therefore is something all should dread.

Thune: But I who lit the weed and put it to my lips
Am still around -- the butt of jokes and quips.
I have not been put beneath the ground.
Pray, why am I still around?

Latz: Do not trouble thy mind, Clown.
Did not you say that science finds no home in thee?
Who can there be to question this bleeder's pedigree?

Enter former candidate for governor and former bar owner Sue Jeffers. She is followed by Mark Benjamin, a lawyer who originated the idea of smoking performances.

Jeffers (to Rank): Of a strange nature is the science you follow:
The quality of your science is quite strain'd.
It droppeth as spittle from your lips
Upon this place beneath: It is twice cursed.
It curseth he that knows and he that seeks the truth.
'Tis most damned in the mightiest: it serves
Both clown and prince – one the fool;
One with power and might to fool.
And therein lies the threat to liberty:
Truth enslaved to a stately vision
Is an attribute of the Devil himself;
And heavenly visions doth then show like Hell
When politics enslaves science.

Benjamin (to bar patrons in general): Light up, McDuff!

Latz raises his hand and a mob of state inspectors enters the bar and begins inspecting with a vengeance.

Thune (to Jeffers): Regs and laws will make my bones,
Your words will never hurt me.
Clearly, Sue, it's French fry grease
That lubricates your tongue.

Latz: Call the police.

Enter a platoon of soldiers who hustle away Jeffers, Benjamin, the bar patrons and the bar owner.

Thune: If this piece has you offended
Think but this and all is mended:
That you have but slumbered here
While this column did appear.
And while you sleep, the Prince and me,
Will put the cuffs on liberty.

The bar goes dark.

Star Tribune: One road, 22 lines helped override a veto

Posted by Craig Westover | 11:32 AM |  

Excellent piece by Mike Kaszuba in the Star Tribune on the behind the scene dealings that went into securing Republican Rod Hamilton’s vote for the Transportation Bill. It also makes note of Democrat-Farmer-Labor Rep. Bernie Lieder’s sanding off the truth when it comes to “earmarks.”
I definitely don't like earmarks, that's correct," Lieder said. "This is kind of a general, if you want to call it, I suppose, a general earmark." But because Hwy. 60 was never specifically named in the legislation, Lieder said, it was not technically an earmark.
Earmarks are not the only ways the DFL is sanding off the truth on the Transportation Bill.

Friday, March 07, 2008

COLUMN: Drama, promises and DFL duplicity

Posted by Craig Westover | 9:12 AM |  

There are promises, and there are political promises, which, lacking the maintenance of sincerity, crumble faster than a rural road in a Minnesota winter. Seems the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party is busy sanding off the truth around the promises it made in exchange for support of the $6.6 billion tax increase, nee "transportation bill," railroaded over Gov. Tim Pawlenty's veto.

In an interview with the nonpartisan Civic Caucus, Rep. Bernie Lieder, chief architect of the legislation, made a number of hedging-your-bets statements indicative of someone who may have overpromised and risks under-delivering. The promise the new metro area sales tax would help build transit and relieve traffic congestion? Apparently not the attractive package we thought. That promise of property tax relief? Well, that might have been a little padded, as well.

In public, the DFL is praising business groups that supported the tax increase. It might be wise, however, for those "courageous" defectors to take their kudos as faint praise and their DFL assurances with a grain of salt. Defection is often publically praised but seldom is it privately respected.

As one DFL Iron Ranger noted to a GOP colleague, "Labor would never (expletive) us the way the chamber (expletived) you" — a reference to the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce support for a gas tax increase. Of course, his comment doesn't mean the DFL is not ready to (expletive) business groups that supported the bill.

According to the Pioneer Press, the Minnesota Trucking Association supported the transportation bill after "being assured the measure wouldn't usher in toll roads." Depends on what your definition of the words "ushered in" is. As Lieder parsed it to the Civic Caucus, the prohibition on toll roads in the legislation applies only to existing freeway lanes, not to new lanes in the future. That door to toll lanes is still open. The powerful Lieder personally favors toll roads and would favor that the new Stillwater Bridge be a toll road.

And the promise that a metro sales tax would provide funding for new transit projects? Well, that isn't exactly how it's going to work, either.

In the Civic Caucus interview, Lieder said the first call for sales tax revenue would likely be for transit operating subsidies. In other words, the metro sales tax will simply go to camouflage the problem we LRT critics have harped on all along: Light-rail operation is so heavily subsidized it is economically unsustainable — eventually taxpayers must bend over and pick up the tab — it's up the ante time.

Oh, yeah — that property tax relief? If new sales tax money falls short of meeting required subsidies for transit? Lieder warned that counties should look to property taxes to make up any additional transit operating shortfalls and not come to the state.

By the way, an unusual county-led joint powers board will decide where the new metro sales tax money is spent. Counties, Lieder said, have concerns about the power and influence of the Metropolitan Council (ya think?). And should the Met Council and this new layer of government disagree on transit spending? Well, one or the other (or both) will likely be back at the Legislature looking for more new money.

That brings us to earmarks. Everyone deplores earmarks. Just not enough to resist circumventing statute to draft funding that comes "dangerously close" to earmarks. Some project criteria in the legislation are so detailed, they essentially designate specific projects. Included in that category are earmarks for the Lafayette and Hastings bridges and also substantial monies for the districts of Republicans Rod Hamilton and Neil Peterson, who defected to support the tax increase and the override.

But, Lieder explained to the Civic Caucus, with more money for road and bridge work, there is no longer a need for legislators to earmark transportation projects for their districts. If you believe that, well, I have a bridge I'd like to sell you — except the DFL already did that, didn't it?
Call it "the largest tax increase in modern Minnesota history" as the GOP does or cloak it as a "Transportation Bill" as the DFL does, the legislation passed over the governor's veto is but a packet of promises that will be breached as soon as it's politically expedient. Six-plus billion dollars is a lot to spend for entertainment value, but were it not for the soap-opera duplicity of the daytime drama at the Capitol, we'd get very little else from this "historic" legislation.

Craig Westover is a contributing columnist to the Pioneer Press Opinion page and a senior policy fellow at the Minnesota Free Market Institute (

"Drama, promises and DFL duplicity" originally appeared in the St. Paul Pioneer Press, Friday, March 7, 2008