Tag Archives: Progressives

Kansas needs to focus on growth when wrapping up session

Oil painting "Tragic Prelude" (1938-40) by John Steuart Curry (1897-1946)As the Kansas Legislature prepares to end its 2013 session, budgetary and taxation issues remain to be resolved. It’s important that the legislature resolve these issues in a way that positions Kansas for economic growth, rather than retaining the policies that have led to stagnation compared to other states.

First, let’s stop talking about the need to “pay for tax cuts.” The only way in which tax cuts have a cost is if you believe that your income belongs first to government, and then to you. While that schema is preferred by Kansas Progressives, it’s contrary to freedom and destructive to jobs and prosperity. Kansas will be better off if Kansans are able to control more of their own spending, rather than having government spend it for them.

Second, we must remember that the projected “holes in the budget” or deficits have two moving parts: Income and spending. Any deficit or surplus is produced equally by both factors. A reduction in income to the government produces a deficit only if government chooses to keep spending.

Third, let’s stop talking about “irresponsible tax cuts” and how cutting taxes is an “experiment.” To proceed as Kansas has — that would be irresponsible, as we know that Kansas has been underperforming relative to other states. No experimentation is needed. We know that Kansas has not done well.

Fourth, we need to make sure that everyone is starting from the same set of facts. Here’s one example: While critics of the new Kansas tax policy focus on the elimination of state income taxes on certain forms of business organization, marginal tax rates were lowered for everyone. Additionally, the standard deduction was increased for everyone, meaning that zero tax is paid on a larger share of everyone’s income.

But one tax was raised. Kansas had a program that rebated sales tax paid on food. This was limited to those with modest incomes or over a certain age. It is generally recognized that the sales tax is a regressive tax, meaning that those with low incomes pay a larger share of their income in tax. Reducing this perceived inequity was the goal of the credit program.

In recognition of this, Kansas should eliminate the sales tax on food, especially if we keep the current high sales tax rate. This eliminates the clunky tax credit program and lets everyone save on food taxes every day, not just at tax filing time.

Critics also say that taxes were raised on some low income families. This argument is based on some tax credit programs that were eliminated, such as the tax credit for child and dependent care expenses, and another tax credit for child day care expenses. It’s important to remember that these programs were implemented as a tax credits, and they are properly categorized as welfare spending accomplished through the tax system. If we want to keep this welfare spending, let’s do it some other way. Spending through the tax system complicates the understanding of government finances.

What Kansas should do

Here’s what the Kansas Legislature needs to do: Keep the current sales tax rate, eliminate sales tax on food, and reduce individual income and corporate income tax rates. Reduce the income tax rates by an amount that would be revenue-neutral, so that state spending does not grow. This moves us towards more of a “Fair Tax” model, which many economists agree is better than taxing income. Elimination of the sales tax on food removes much of the regressivity of the sales tax.

To the extent that the legislature believes it needs other funds, take it from transportation funding. We’ve spent a lot on roads and highways in recent years. It’s enough for now.

Another important thing the legislature needs to do is get serious about reducing government spending. Kansas lost an important chance to save money — although a relatively small amount — when school choice programs failed to pass. These programs, across the country, save state and local governments money. Unfortunately, Kansas legislative leaders did not use this argument.

More ways to save: In 2011 the Kansas Legislature lost three opportunities to save money and improve the operations of state government. Three bills, each with this goal, were passed by the House of Representatives, but each failed to pass through the moderate-controlled Senate, or had its contents stripped and replaced with different legislation.

Each of these bills represented a lost opportunity for state government services to be streamlined, delivered more efficiently, or measured and managed. These goals, while always important, are now essential for the success of Kansas government and the state’s economy.

One bill was called the Kansas Streamlining Government Act, another would have created the Kansas Advisory Council on Privatization and Public-Private Partnerships, and another would have created performance measures for state agencies and report that information to the public. More information on these bills is at Kansas budget solution overlooked.

We have to wonder why these bills — or similar measures — were not introduced and advanced this year when the opposition in the Senate is weaker. These are the types of measures we need to take as a state.

For Gasland 2, there will be no dissent allowed

The maker of FrackNation writes “Our mistake was to believe the Tribeca Film Festival’s claims to want diversity of opinion and people who are passionate about film.”

Natural gas

Documentary filmmakers Phelim McAleer and Ann McElhinney made FrackNation in response to the errors and lies in the anti-fracking film Gasland. Now there is Gasland 2, and McAleer and a group of farmers tried to see the film. It didn’t go well.

In January, as FrackNation was being released, I interviewed McAleer. You can read my report at FrackNation to tell truth about fracking. I asked this question: “So why are progressives and liberals opposed to fracking?” Perhaps tellingly, McAleer replied “Fracking brings economic boom to rural America, and many people view rural America as a backdrop, as something to be used.” The elitists don’t really like farmers, he said. But they will gladly use them to make a political point. The idea that they would become independent from their largess is their concern.

Following is McAleer’s article as it appeared in the New York Post.

This was supposed to be a column about “Gasland 2,” the sequel to the anti-fracking documentary by activist Josh Fox, which premiered Sunday afternoon at the Tribeca Film Festival. Instead, it’s about my exclusion, along with maybe 20 farmers from upstate New York and Pennsylvania, from the screening despite having tickets for a theater with lots of empty seats.

Our mistake was to believe the Tribeca Film Festival’s claims to want diversity of opinion and people who are passionate about film.

As a journalist who made a documentary looking at the factual deficiencies in the first “Gasland,” I put some inconvenient questions to Josh Fox as he was speaking to the media on the red carpet.

The farmers milling around nearby decided to join in with pointed but respectful questions of their own. After all, they know their land better than anyone, and they felt aggrieved that their lives and communities had been misrepresented by the first “Gasland.”

They asked Fox if he now accepted that the water in Dimock, Pa., is clean. He’d claimed that Dimock was one of the most contaminated areas in the United States because of fracking. But state scientists and then the EPA investigated and found the water clean.

The farmers asked Fox if he’d accept the science and apologize for calling their community a wasteland. He didn’t reply.

There was silence also when they asked Fox if he’s going to withdraw his claim that fracking has caused a spike in breast cancer. That’s been debunked by the country’s top cancer experts, but Fox has remained silent, allowing the fears to linger.

Given that Josh Fox had misrepresented their lives so badly in the past, the farmers were interested in what was going to be in “Gasland 2.” Many got up at 4:30 a.m. to travel to New York.

Sherry Hart, a mother of three and the wife of a gas worker, was particularly excited to be there. She lives in Pennsylvania and had never been to New York City, but she felt that it was important to make the journey to see what was being said about her and her life.

But she was not to find out. As the red carpet cleared and the farmers went to take their seats, they and I were informed that we weren’t being allowed in. No amounts of appealing or complaining did any good.

It seems that inconvenient questions aren’t welcome at the Tribeca Film Festival.

It was devastating for the people who’d traveled so far. They were upset and bewildered.

Several hours after the media became interested in the exclusion, the Tribeca Film Festival issued a statement claiming that the screening was at capacity; the problem was simply a lack of seats.

But the farmers, like everyone else these days, have cameras, and they recorded film festival staff giving very different reasons for excluding them from the screening.

One staffer said they were not allowed in “because you’re making trouble.” Another was more honest: “We just don’t feel comfortable letting them into the movie,” she explained.

The festival organizers called the police just in case the farmers didn’t get the message that they weren’t welcome.

Julia Mineeva, a Russian journalist who’s covered the film festival for five years, thought she’d stumbled across a great story and started interviewing the various groups. When she went in to see the movie she was asked to leave, followed, put in handcuffs, arrested and charged with trespassing.

It seems that covering both sides of a story is an arrestable offense at the Tribeca Film Festival.

Festival founder Robert De Niro says he wants a festival that is controversial, but there was nobody more passionate than those farmers who made a round trip of hundreds of miles just to see a movie. But the message Sunday was that their passion was not welcome.

And at the first sign of real controversy from real people, the festival closed its doors and called the cops.

The message is clear: They want “controversy,” but only of the kind they agree with, and it can only come from people who look and sound like them.

The rest of America can just stay on the sidewalk.

Progress in Kansas

Progressives throughout Kansas are up in arms over the prospect that our state might someday have no income tax. They point to moderate, common sense Kansas governance that they claim has built Kansas into a great state.

Here’s one writer:

Who will stand up to this Governor and say that there is a self inflicted and avoidable form of cancer being foisted upon the body politic of Kansas. … This cancer is self defeating, self sustaining, and metastasizing rapidly. Who will try to stop it? Who will find the cure? Who among us will find the courage to stand up to the bully and stop feeding the beast?

Funny. I thought government was the beast that we taxpayers have been feeding. When taxing and spending is reduced, and when people are allowed to keep more of what is rightfully theirs — that’s a reduction reduction in bullying, and puts government on a diet.

In the Winfield Daily Courier, Dave Seaton wrote “Neither the Senate nor the courts are any longer a bulwark against extremism in Topeka. The Senate has become a palace guard for the governor, and the courts are fighting for their independence. We, the people in the middle — moderate Republicans, moderate Democrats and unaffiliated voters — are the only force that remains to turn our state back to a common sense direction.”

We might ask Mr. Seaton what is the record of moderate and common sense Kansas government? Perhaps the most important issue for most Kansans is jobs. In this regard, Kansas — under leadership of moderates and “common sense” governors — has performed poorly. A chart of the number of private sector jobs in Kansas as compared to a few surrounding states over the past eleven years shows Kansas at or near the bottom. (Kansas is the thick black line. Data is indexed so that all states start at the same relative position.)

Kansas private sector job growth compared to other statesKansas private sector job growth compared to other states. Data is indexed, with January 2001 equal to 1. Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Incredibly, not long ago Kansas was reported to be the only state to have a loss in private sector jobs over a year-long period. (Revisions since then have shown a small gain in jobs.) This is the culmination of governance by the coalition of moderate, traditional Kansas Republicans and Democrats.

Here’s a link to an interactive visualization of job growth in the states. You can compare Kansas to any other state or combination of states. Can we be satisfied with the performance of Kansas?

Further evidence of the harm of moderate Republican/Democratic “common sense” governance was revealed last year when the Tax Foundation released a report examining tax costs on business in the states and in selected cities in each state. The news for Kansas is worse than merely bad, as our state couldn’t have performed much worse: Kansas ranks 47th among the states for tax costs for mature business firms, and 48th for new firms. See Kansas reasonable: We’re number 47 (and 48).

Then, there’s our schools. Here’s what House Democratic Leader Paul Davis wrote on his Facebook page: “The state should not be investing $10 million taxpayer dollars into private schools (which basically means public money with no strings attached) while leaving our local public schools severely underfunded.”

I’d like to ask Rep. Davis if he’s really proud of the results of Kansas schools — or if he is aware of the statistics. Many in Kansas say that our schools are much better than Texas schools, and that we don’t want our schools to fall to the level of Texas schools. If we look at National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test scores, we see that when reporting scores for all students, Kansas has higher scores than Texas, except for one tie.

But when we look at subgroups, all the sudden the picture is different: Texas has the best scores in all cases, except for two ties. Similar patterns exist for previous years. See Kansas school test scores, in perspective for tables.

kansas-texas-naep-test-scores-2011

Kansas students, in the aggregate, score better than Texas students, that is true. It is also true that Texas white students score better than Kansas white students, Texas black students score better than Kansas black students, and Texas Hispanic students score better than or tie Kansas Hispanic students. The same pattern holds true for other ethnic subgroups.

Comparing Kansas to the nation: Kansas does better than the national average in all cases. But if we look at the data separated by racial/ethnic subgroups, something different becomes apparent: Kansas lags behind the national average in some of these areas. See Kansas school supporters should look more closely for tables.

By the way, Texas spends less on schools than does Kansas. In 2009, Kansas spent $11,427 per student. Texas spent $11,085, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Considering only spending categorized by NCES to be for instruction purposes, it was Kansas at $6,162 per student and Texas at $5,138.

Texas also has larger class sizes, or more precisely, a higher pupil/teacher ratio. Texas has 14.56 students for each teacher. In Kansas, it’s 13.67. (2009 figures, according to NCES.)

Do these facts matter to Kansas progressives who want to maintain high levels of taxation and government spending? We first must ask if they are even aware of the facts. Sadly, I suspect they don’t want to know.

FrackNation to tell truth about fracking

Documentary filmmakers Phelim McAleer and Ann McElhinney have produced a feature film that will help America understand the truth about fracking.

Fracking — short for hydraulic fracturing — is a method of oil and gas production by injecting pressurized fluid into rock formations. Along with horizontal drilling, this technology has lead to a rise in the production of natural gas, leading to much lower prices for consumers, and to the possibility of U.S. exports.

FrackNation, the film that McAleer and McElhinney made, is set for premier on AXS TV on January 22, 2013 at 9:00 pm eastern.

I spoke to McAleer on the telephone last week. I asked is fracking really a big deal for America? He answered:”The word game changer is much overused, but this really is a game changer. It’s going to make America an energy producer. Natural gas is no longer tied to the price of oil. Anywhere there’s fracking in America, there’s no recession.”

“I’d almost go as far as to say fracking is maybe the reason President Obama was reelected. The reason he won Ohio because there’s a fracking boom going on there. People have money in their pockets. … If you live in a fracking area or near where there is going to be fracking you’re feeling good.”

So why are progressives and liberals opposed to fracking? “Fracking brings economic boom to rural America, and many people view rural America as a backdrop, as something to be used.”

The elitists don’t really like farmers, he said. But they will gladly use them to make a political point. The idea that they would become independent from their largess is their concern. He added that opposition to fracking is anti-fossil fuel, anti-progress, and anti-modernity, but above all it is anti-American.

Those opposed to fracking spread fear of environmental damage such as spilling the chemicals or polluting ground water. Is this fear real? McAleer said fracking has been going on since 1947. How long can you fear something that hasn’t happened, he asked.

On the new Matt Damon movie Promised Land, described by the New York Times as “an earnest attempt, sometimes effective, sometimes clumsy, to dramatize the central arguments about fracking and its impact,” I asked what’s wrong with that movie?

McAleer said “It’s not fair, I suppose, to fact check a work of fiction. Having said that, it is pretending to be in a real world situation. There are lots of allegations, lots of multimillion dollar lawsuits, but no scientific evidence. There’s no scientific evidence about what Matt Damon talks about in promised land. The biggest lie of all is that the fraudulent environmentalists — of which there are many — are somehow in the pay of oil and gas companies to smear environmentalists. That’s just ludicrous. Yes there are fraudulent environmentalists — many of them — but they work for the environmental movement, not for oil and gas.”

I mentioned an incident in an advertisement for the movie that shows a family receiving the results from testing their water. The tests showed that the water was clean and not dirty, like illustrated in a dirty brown milk jug. The reaction of the family was anger. McAleer explained that these people were suing the oil and gas companies. They demanded that the EPA come in and test their water, and the EPA said their water is safe. They watched their multimillion dollar lawsuit flushed down the drain, along with their celebrity status.

Your movie FrackNation that’s coming out in January: What will it tell Americans?

McAleer said the film will show there is absolutely no evidence that fracking has ever contaminated groundwater. But there is plenty of evidence that people have lied, exaggerated, and misrepresented fracking.

I asked about the famous example in the movie Gasland of a family being able to light their drinking water on fire, the implication being that this was possible due to methane gas leaking into their water supply, with fracking being the cause. McAller said that people have been able to like their water on fire for many years before fracking started. Native Americans called certain places “burning springs.” These are naturally occurring events. The director of Gasland knew that, but he told me he left it out because it wasn’t relevant. It’s unethical journalism.

Progressives shaping the future of America. It’s a good thing.

Mother Jones approvingly reports on a secretive meeting of progressive activists.

When conservatives do this, it’s branded as evil. Mother Jones told us so. But it’s a good thing for liberals and progressives to meet, raise funds, and conspire, according to the magazine.

The progressive groups that attended the meeting (mentioned below) support policies (with a few exceptions) that reduce economic freedom and liberty. They’re obviously emboldened by a second Obama term. We’ll have to watch closely to protect ourselves.

A month after President Barack Obama won reelection, top brass from three dozen of the most powerful groups in liberal politics met at the headquarters of the National Education Association (NEA), a few blocks north of the White House. Brought together by the Sierra Club, Greenpeace, Communication Workers of America (CWA), and the NAACP, the meeting was invite-only and off-the-record. Despite all the Democratic wins in November, a sense of outrage filled the room as labor officials, environmentalists, civil rights activists, immigration reformers, and a panoply of other progressive leaders discussed the challenges facing the left and what to do to beat back the deep-pocketed conservative movement.

At the end of the day, many of the attendees closed with a pledge of money and staff resources to build a national, coordinated campaign around three goals: getting big money out of politics, expanding the voting rolls while fighting voter ID laws, and rewriting Senate rules to curb the use of the filibuster to block legislation. The groups in attendance pledged a total of millions of dollars and dozens of organizers to form a united front on these issues — potentially, a coalition of a kind rarely seen in liberal politics, where squabbling is common and a stay-in-your-lane attitude often prevails. “It was so exciting,” says Michael Brune, the Sierra Club’s executive director. “We weren’t just wringing our hands about the Koch brothers. We were saying, ‘I’ll put in this amount of dollars and this many organizers.'”