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5.7.07

ACLU anti-religion agenda on parade again in LA case

You can be sure of three things in life – death, taxes, and the American Civil Liberties Union will go out of its way to manufacture offense and use this tactic to try to rewrite the Constitution the way it thinks it should read. Thus, we get the ACLU suing various St. Tammany Parish governments over a display of a religious icon in Slidell City Court.

The ACLU sued after the Court refused to remove the display, an eastern Orthodox rendition of Jesus holding up what appears to be the New Testament with the inscription, “To Know Peace, Obey These Laws.” It only took them about a decade to decide there was something wrong with the display and already seem to be on the defensive when their spokesman asserted, “We did not file this lawsuit because the ACLU is anti-religion” (yeah, right).

Fortunately, the indispensable Alliance Defense Fund is on the job with one of Louisiana’s underappreciated gems Mike Johnson defending pro bono, so taxpayers won’t spend a penny on this nonsense. How it will turn out is anybody’s guess.

No doubt this is the kind of case likely to head eventually to the U.S. Supreme Court which is only slightly more conservative in the past couple of years even with a couple of recent Pres. George W. Bush appointees sitting on it. Further, not much in the way of religious expression has been ruled upon by the Court recently, the most recent being the asinine “Bong Hits 4 Jesus” prank which the Court tailored narrowly along the lines of free speech that meant their ruling against that speech basically did not touch the question of religious expression.

Hopefully the Court will see through the ACLU’s blather that the icon conveys the impression that only Christians will receive justice (the figure is not even identified as Christ, and surely the ACLU knows that secular law is not the same as that from the Bible and law enforcement and judges are sworn to uphold the former). But it may be a couple of years or more before a final decision somewhere in the federal judiciary is rendered.

4.7.07

Independence Day, 2007

This column publishes every Sunday through Thursday after noon (sometimes even before; maybe even after sundown on busy days) U.S. Central Time except whenever a significant national holiday falls on the Monday through Friday associated with the otherwise-usual publication on the previous day (unless it is Independence Day or Christmas when it is the day on which the holiday is observed by the U.S. government). In my opinion, there are six of these: New Year's Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Veterans' Day, Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas.

With Wednesday, Jul. 4 being Independence Day, I invite you to explore the link above.

3.7.07

Govt immobilism not bad, but not likely next year in LA

One review of the recently completed regular session of the Louisiana Legislature ponders the part increased partisan behavior in the chambers played, and will play in the future, in legislating. The author muses that the “all-or-nothing approach portends a new era of hard-core divisiveness along party lines that Republicans seem to want, perhaps anticipating a GOP takeover of at least the House of Representatives and, very likely, the Governor's Mansion. But what happens to [likely top job winner] Gov. [Bobby] Jindal when the Democrats, who next year will likely hold a lot more House seats than the GOP currently holds, decide to respond in kind?”

This statement ignores a couple of important considerations. First, it doesn’t seem to acknowledge that there were very valid and important reasons why House Republicans did what they could, which turned out not to be much, to slow down the ill-advised budget-making going on by state Democrats. Little was done in reversing the state government’s decades-old disastrous affair with populism and liberalism and one has to give the GOP credit for standing up at least and registering significant, if ineffective, opposition. To sit idly by and watch an accident that can be prevented is a disservice to your constituents and the state, and even a shirking of moral duty, and if it takes a partisan, conflictual approach to prevent it, this is to be applauded.

Unfortunately, many commentators and, worse, politicians in this state don’t have a genuine understanding of the theory behind the republican, tri-partite system of significant separation of powers that is the model for the federal and state governments in the U.S. It is designed to be largely immobilized when lack of consensus exists, under the notion that possessing sufficient majorities to get things done shows that a majority of interests feels it has protected it members enough from government power against their interests. Roughly speaking (and only roughly because we know this is not always true), if enough people think it’s the right thing to do, it probably is, and thus in our system of government it gets done.

Further, these unfortunates then lament the times when government isn’t “doing” things, failing to understand that failure to make policy in certain areas is a sign of the polity’s health, that the lack of necessary consensus around a policy area is a warning sign that something risky that could injure a significant portion of the polity may occur. So if the Legislature grinds to a halt with a Republican House, Democrat Senate, and GOP governor, fine, because the path its been going on has not been a salutary one in any event and doing nothing is better than continuing on it.

But, and secondly, it’s not likely to come to this. Consider that, as weak of a governor as Kathleen Blanco was, she still managed considerable success with her generally overall harmful budget priorities by using the powers formal and informal of her office. Now envision Jindal in her position, swept, as all indicators seem to point, into office with a massive mandate, pulling with him a GOP House majority and a couple of pickups in the Senate, and imagine what he will be able to do.

While a putative GOP majority in the House will be slender, and the Senate still firmly in Democrat hands, do not forget that the governor’s major power hits far closer to home to the populist liberals that will almost exclusively comprise Democrats than it does the reformer conservatives that will make up the vast majority of Republicans: the ability to control spending. While Republicans are not averse to throwing some money around, their fundamentally different ideological view that government is to redistribute the people’s resources only in the last resort gives a governor reduced leverage of threat to use vetoes to control their behavior.

However, the entire worldview of Democrats rests on government getting as much of the people’s resources as possible and then redistributing it to their favorite groups and causes. This gives the governor’s decisions on spending much more prominence in their political worlds. And it’s a safe bet that Jindal will not hesitate at all in the use of this power to make enough Democrat opponents knuckle under, at least in his first session.

By its nature, government has the potential to do far more harm than good so a stalemated government is not at all undesirable. Yet given current political trends this is unlikely to occur next year in any event in Louisiana.

2.7.07

Blanco likely to emphasize politics in veto choices

Is there really much doubt that Democrat Gov. Kathleen Blanco will veto few, if any, tax break bills passed by the Louisiana Legislature that go into effect before or after Dec. 31, 2007? Because for her it is all about a “legacy” first, her party’s fortunes second, and the state’s fiscal health last.

In the waning days, even hours, of the just-concluded regular session, a number of bills were passed grating tax breaks that would take effect only after Blanco was out of office. Why don’t they take effect for 2007, if they are so laudable? Because Blanco decreed that she would wield a veto pen to prevent more being taken than $150 million in tax cuts, out of a budgetary surplus of $3.5 billion in a budget that ended up spending about $32 billion. She later averred that she would accept about $180 million and the best estimate that exists for the actual amount applied for this year is $189 million.

But including all tax cuts puts the amount closer to $500 million. If she vetoes none, this implies she expects state revenues to grow by $300 million or so above and beyond inflationary increases at current service levels. It may or may not happen. While tax cuts to a certain point generally eventually provide more government revenue, targeted tax cuts such as these are less effective and it does take time for the economy, spurred by the cuts, to grow. This is why Blanco needed not to spend so much of the surplus on recurring items of dubious need.

Without a great deal of certainty that such revenue increases will materialize (and at this point the best guess is that they are not likely to do so), the prudent thing for Blanco to do would be to disallow them in order to prevent a future fiscal crisis hampering the state’s next governor and legislators. However, she has three incentives to disregard that course of action.

First, to be charitable, Blanco has had a dismal record as governor. She faltered badly in handling the 2005 hurricane disasters and their aftermath, and more generally has done little to improve Louisiana’s quality of life. Going out with a bunch of tax cutting to her credit will raise people’s opinion of her and might cause historians to look more kindly on her reign of error.

Second, the overwhelming favorite to succeed her is Republican Rep. Bobby Jindal and it is at least an even-money proposition that the state House of Representatives will get captured by the GOP. Making a state government mainly led for the first time ever after Reconstruction by Republicans deal with any fiscal crisis that would occur – ironically caused by the party that previously monopolized power, the Democrats – would damage politically the GOP in the state, something about which Blanco will not shed many tears.

Third, and most obvious, Blanco believes in some of the items given her political liberalism. Chief among these is a measure making the state give money to tax filers of lower incomes who don’t even owe any state income taxes.

Blanco’s inability to accept she is at the root of many policy failures in the state, her past partisan posturing as well as her insistence that others, not her, are to blame for problems during her governorship that will cause an inordinate focusing on a “legacy,” are disturbing indicators that her veto decisions at least in part will be made on these kinds of political considerations, and not primarily on the basis of what is good for the state’s fiscal picture after she has left office.