Archive for February, 2011

Wayne Laugesen Schools Tax Hikers In Economic Reality

Posted by on Feb 28 2011 | Government Largess, PPC, Taxes

As the Denver Post reports, Colorado State Senator Rollie Heath is proposing to ask Coloradans to approve a three-year, $1.63 billion income and sales tax increase.

In response, the Colorado Springs Gazette’s reliably pro-free market, pro-liberty editorial page editor Wayne Laugesen patiently schools advocates for higher taxes in some economic reality:

A tax is a price on government services. State government must run like a business, viewing taxpayers as the customers who fund it. Customers pay the state in return for services. In Colorado, where residents vote on taxes, customers are supposed to determine what they will and will not buy. During this time of extraordinary economic challenge, Colorado taxpayers cannot afford all they have enjoyed in the past. They have less money to spend on education, which means they are able to buy less of it from state employees. They can barely afford the current price tag, much less a higher one. It is no more complicated than that. Most Coloradans understand the value of education and would like more of it. So what? Most most would enjoy a Harvard education, if only they could afford one.

Only an increase in the state’s private-sector productivity will result in more capital to invest through government, and the private-sector cannot invest in its own growth by sending more capital to Denver. We cannot tax our way out of recession any more than a restaurant can over-price food to counter dwindling demand.

Read the whole thing here.

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Weekend Wrap: Independence Institute Writers In The News

Posted by on Feb 28 2011 | education, Health Care, Media, PPC

From progressive income taxes to pre-existing conditions and from public sector unions to health care freedom, Independence Institute writers have been a busy bunch as of late. Let’s get to it.

In the Sunday Denver Post perspective page, Independence Institute president Jon Caldara goes toe to toe with Carol Hedges from the Colorado Fiscal Policy Institute over a proposed ballot initiative to implement, among other things, a progressive (read higher) state income tax in Colorado. In his piece, Caldara reminisces a bit about the 1980s and reminds us all why we got rid of the progressive income tax (and our mullets) here in the first place.

Over at Pajamas Media, Independence Institute health care blogger Brian Schwartz explains how to cover Americans with pre-existing medical conditions (and here’s a hint: it’s not through ObamaCare). If that’s not enough Schwartz for you, check out Brian on public sector unions at the Boulder Daily Camera in his capacity as an editorial advisory board member.

Then at the Bismarck Tribune, Independence Institute constitutional scholar Rob Natelson makes the case that a proposed “health care freedom” amendment to the North Dakota constitution is a fine idea that would, among other things, “send a strong message to Congress and the president that North Dakotans value their freedom.”

Last, but seldom least, Independence Institute education policy analyst Ben DeGrow is quoted in this article on public sector unions in Colorado as compared to those in wisconsin.

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Debates on gun control with Adam Winkler and John Donohue

Posted by on Feb 24 2011 | guns

(David Kopel)

Last month, I participated in a discussion about gun control on the Legal Talk Network with Adam Winkler of UCLA. It’s 35 minutes, and available here. As usual, Winkler was well-informed, amicable, and eager to engage in constructive dialogue.

I also participated in a debate on WHYY, Philadelphia, with Stanford’s John Donohue. It’s 49 minutes, and available here.  One thing I should have said, but forgot to, was to correct Prof. Donohue’s misapprehension that Charles Christopher Cox (U.S. Rep. 1989–2005; Chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission 2005-09) now works for the National Rifle Association. Since 2002, the Executive Director of the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action has been Chris W. Cox. The two men are not the same person. Nor should either of them be confused with the remix DJ Chris Cox, or the former Lt. Governor of Maryland Christopher C. Cox.

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Denver Mayor Candidate Writes About “Cutting Red Tape,” Offers No Specifics

Posted by on Feb 24 2011 | denver, Denver Mayor's Race, Economy, PPC

I recently criticized Denver mayoral candidate James Mejia for writing that he wants to “reduce the bureaucracy” in Denver government as part of his “vision for economic development,” without offering any actual examples of existing bureaucracy he thinks needs reducing. I called this “seductive at a superficial level.” Well, it looks like Denver mayoral candidate Chris Romer is also unafraid to engage in seductive, but unsubstantial “pro-business” rhetoric.

Writing at the Huffington Post, Romer points to a “maze of rules and regulations” that recently kept a cupcake truck business sidelined by Denver city bureaucracy. According to candidate Romer:

If we want to put people back to work, our city government needs to work with businesses, not against them. It is critical that we change the attitude at City Hall about attracting business to Denver. We need to expect more of city government — by cutting red tape and streamlining regulations so that we keep businesses here and bring in new ones.

Sounds great, except that “cutting red tape and streamlining regulations” should actually be seen as expecting less from government rather than more. Less bureaucratic stifling of the entrepreneurial spirit means more private sector wealth and job creation. More to the point, claiming to want to cut red tape and streamline regulation (not quite the same thing as less regulation) without citing a single specific existing bit of red tape that should be cut, or a single existing regulation that needs to be streamlined, makes it hard for this Denver voter to take seriously candidate Romer’s stated desire to “change the attitude at City Hall about attracting business to Denver.”

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2011 General Assembly Update

Posted by on Feb 24 2011 | Capitol Crazies, Idiot Box (TV Show), PPC

Tune in to Devil’s Advocate this Friday night as I am joined by Denver Post reporter Lynn Bartels and Colorado News Agency reporter Debi Brazzale for an update on the 2011 Colorado General Assembly from the reporters who cover the state legislature. That’s Friday, February 25th at 8:30 PM on Colorado Public Television 12. Re-broadcast the following Monday at 1:30 PM.

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Amendments Convention: Answering Those Not-So-Tough Questions

Posted by on Feb 22 2011 | Constitutional Amendments, Constitutional History, Constitutional Law, Economic LIberties, federalism, Politics, PPC, U.S. Constitution, U.S. Constitution

Using the Constitution’s system of a “convention to propose amendments” is likely the only way we’ll ever get a balanced budget amendment, a federal single-subject rule, or other reforms Congress won’t pass. Opponents of the process, however, try to convince people that a convention to propose amendments is a “constitutional convention” (which it is not) and that it could “run away” (which it almost certainly can’t).

Recently I traveled to Indianapolis to testify before the Indiana legislature. While there, I learned that opponents of an amendments convention are circulating questions about a convention, apparently designed to “stump” proponents.

Frankly, when I read what are supposed to be tough questions, I laughed out loud. All the questions are answered easily if you know the history and law applicable to such a convention.

The author of the questions obviously didn’t. He introduced them with this statement: “No convention has been held since 1787, and after two hundred years that experience has little relevance.”

The statement is ridiculous. Americans have held hundreds, perhaps thousands, of conventions since 1787. They also have amended the Constitution 27 times, and state legislatures have submitted hundreds of applications for an Article V conventions. This and related experience is a valuable source of precedent. And the legal disputes that arose out of this activity comprise a valuable source of decided case law.

But if what the author meant is that no interstate convention has been held since 1787, then the statement is still ridiculous because the Founding Generation’s copious experience with both interstate and intrastate conventions has tremendous constitutional and practical relevance. This is because the language and powers bestowed by Article V carry meanings and incidental powers fixed by Founding-Era custom and law, particularly the law of agency.

[By the way, that is not the sheet's only inaccuracy---another is the old myth that the 1787 convention was a runaway.]

Anyway, here are the 11 questions the author poses, with answers to each. For further information, see my writings, linked on this website. You can supplement them with the leading book on Article V conventions, Russell Caplan’s Constitutional Brinkmanship (Oxford University Press, 1988). Some of the book’s conclusions and language have been superseded, but it remains a valuable antidote to claimed uncertainty.

1. How is the validity of applications from the states to be determined?
A. Initially by Congress, although congressional decisions are subject to judicial review.

2. How specific must the state legislatures be in asking for amendment?
A. The legislatures may apply either for an unrestricted convention or one devoted to particular subject matter. There is no rule as to specificity, other than that the legislatures may not dictate specific wording to the convention.

3. Must all the applications be in identical language?
A. No. It is enough if they identify the same problem(s) or subject-matter(s). However, prudence suggests that state legislatures coordinate with one another.

4. Within what time period must the required number of applications be received?
A. Since adoption of the 27th amendment, it is clear that there is no time period. Because, however, some are still claiming that applications can go “stale,” prudence suggests that a campaign be completed within a decade or so. (The application campaign for direct election of senators took 14 years.

5. Can Congress refuse to call a convention on demand of two-thirds of the states, and if it does, can it be compelled to act by the courts?
A. No, Congress may not refuse, and the courts can compel it to act.

6. Who are the delegates, and how are they to be chosen?
A. Delegates are representatives of their respective state legislatures, and are chosen as state law directs.

7. Can the convention act by a simple majority vote, or would a two-thirds majority be required, as in Congress, for proposing an amendment?
A. The convention acts by a simple majority of the represented states. The convention may, by a simple majority of the represented states, alter that voting rule.

8. How is a convention to be financed, and where does it meet?
A. A convention for proposing amendments is a conclave of state delegates. It therefore is financed by the states. Congress, in the convention call, specifies the initial meeting place. The convention may alter that meeting place.

9. May the convention propose more than one amendment?
A. Yes—but only if they are all within the agenda of the convention, as prescribed by the applying states.

10. Is there a time limit on the proceedings, or can the convention act as a continuing body?
A. There is no fixed time limit—the convention can meet until it decides whether to propose amendments and which ones to propose. But a convention is, by definition, not a continuing body. It has no authority beyond proposing amendments within the subject matter prescribed in the applications, and once that is performed, it must adjourn. Additionally, states may recall and/or replace their delegates at any time.

11. Can controversies between Congress and the convention over its powers be decided by the courts?
A. Controversies over the scope of the convention’s powers may be decided by the courts. However, the states, not Congress, fix the scope of such powers. The most likely area of controversy between Congress and the convention would be if the convention suggests an amendment that Congress believes is outside the convention’s agenda as fixed in the state applications. If (as is proper) Congress then refused to prescribe a “Mode of Ratification” for the suggested amendment, the courts could resolve the dispute.

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Ben DeGrow On The Budget Battle In Madison

Posted by on Feb 22 2011 | education, PPC

Over at the Education News Colorado website, Independence Institute education policy analyst Ben DeGrow takes up the side of Wisconsin taxpayers and fiscal sanity in a point/counter-point debate about the ongoing and momentous political battle over the future of public-sector union influence in Wisconsin.

Money quote from Ben:

The proposals championed by Governor Scott Walker and the Wisconsin Republicans would not wash away workers’ rights. Rather, they would open the door to fiscal sustainability by providing greater flexibility to elected government officials and restoring some power and accountability to taxpaying citizens. Wisconsin is receiving a large share of attention for good reason: A few states are following suit, and others soon may jump in.

Whole thing here. The counter-point to Ben from a pro-union former teacher here.

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Citizens’ Budget Panel Event

Posted by on Feb 21 2011 | Citizens' Budget, Events, PPC, Taxes

By now you’ve no doubt heard about our Citizens’ Budget project. It’s our take on how to fix Colorado’s billion dollar budget shortfall without raising taxes or fees. And if you’re anything like me, you prefer listening to our great ideas – not reading about them. It’s not so much my dyslexia. It’s more my inability to read. For this reason, we are holding a panel event on Wednesday, March 2nd at the University Club with the key authors of the Citizens’ Budget. That’s right, we’re going to assemble some of the highest IQs in Colorado to discuss what they found when researching for their section of the Citizens’ Budget.

Check out this lineup of Einstenian talent: Penn Pfiffner, Director of the Independence Institute’s Fiscal Policy Center, Barry Poulson, Professor of Economics at the University of Colorado and Senior Fellow at the Independence Institute, Ben DeGrow, Education Policy Center analyst, and Linda Gorman, Director of the Health Care Policy Center at the Independence Institute.

If you want to know how to operate a sustainable state budget year after year, come join us. If you want to find out how to fix our current budget crisis without raising taxes or fees, join us. Or if you just want to rub elbows with some homegrown Colorado geniuses, join us.

Please RSVP through Mary MacFarlane. Call us at 303.279.6536 or email

We look forward to seeing you there!

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Watch Devil’s Advocate On The Petition Process Tonight

Posted by on Feb 18 2011 | Idiot Box (TV Show), Petition Rights, PPC

Tune in to the Independence Institute’s public affairs television show Devil’s Advocate tonight as host Jon Caldara is joined by Elena Nunez from Colorado Common Cause and Danny Katz from Colorado Public Interest Research Group (CoPIRG) for a conversation about SCR-001, the ongoing effort in the legislature to refer a measure to the ballot to make it much more difficult for regular Coloradans to petition their government through the citizens initiative process.

That’s tonight, February 18 at 8:30 PM on Colorado Public Television 12. Re-broadcast the following Monday at 1:30 PM.

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Denver Mayoral Candidate Promises to “Reduce the Bureaucracy.” How About Some Examples?

Posted by on Feb 17 2011 | denver, Denver Mayor's Race, PPC

As the Denver mayor’s race heats up, jobs and the economy are emerging as a major campaign theme. This means that to make an informed decision, Denver voters like myself are going to need to wade through the looming avalanche of “pro-business” and “job creation” rhetoric by candidates to separate empty promises and magical thinking from the rational reality of the mayor’s role in private sector job and wealth creation.

For example, over at the Huffington Post, Denver mayoral candidate James Mejia lays out his “vision for economic development,” writing, among several other things, that:

When I am mayor, Denver will be Open for Business. I will ensure that employers stay and new businesses are brought to Denver. During my administration, I will reduce the bureaucracy that slows the pace of business growth and discourages relocation.

Sounds pretty seductive at a superficial level. But seductive is not the same as substantive. An example is when presidential candidate Barack Obama told us all that, if elected, he was going to “go through the federal budget, line by line, eliminating programs that no longer work and making the ones we do need work better and cost less…” At the time, Mr. Obama had already been in the U.S. Senate for several years, presumably then having a strong enough grasp of the federal budget to have actually cited a few examples of programs in need of elimination. Instead, that superficially seductive line is now an example of an empty campaign promise.

Mr Mejia has already been involved in various bureaucracies in Denver city government stretching back to the Wellington Webb administration (1991-2003), and thus presumably has at least a working grasp of Denver’s “bureaucracy.”

So a couple questions for Mr. Mejia:

1. Could you please amend your “vision for economic development” to actually cite some specific examples of existing bureaucracy within the City and County of Denver that stifles growth and keeps away new business, bureaucracy that you are both willing and able to “reduce” if elected mayor? This would help voters like myself to determine if you are indeed serious about Denver being “open for business” under a Mejia administration.

2. A willingness to “reduce the bureaucracy” certainly seems to also imply a willingness to reduce the number of bureaucrats who work within the bureaucracy (unless you are shooting for less bureaucracy, but the same level of bureaucrats, which frankly would seem to defeat the whole purpose). So along with the examples of bureaucracy you would work to reduce as mayor, could you also give an idea of how many fewer bureaucrats would be around under your administration.

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