Give Liberty a Chance!

God has given to men all that is necessary for them to accomplish their destinies…

And now that the legislators and do-gooders have so futilely inflicted so many systems upon society, may they finally end where they should have begun: May they reject all systems, and try liberty; for liberty is an acknowledgement of faith in God and His works.

- Frederic Bastiat, The Law, 1850

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Good Constitutions

The separation of powers is a fundamental doctrine within a representative republic. Without it, the three branches of government act independently without restraint creating chaos in an otherwise ordered society in a perpetual race to concentrate power in one branch. The self-imposed process of “checks and balances” crafted at our Nation’s founding and promulgated throughout the constitutions of the States has endured for over 225 years.

One issue that took its turn at center stage at the Constitutional Convention of 1787 was taxes, or more specifically who had the power to tax. After much debate the power to tax was left to the legislative branch, because that is the branch that is directly accountable to the citizens as Thomas Jefferson later noted, “Excessive taxation… will carry reason & reflection to every man’s door, and particularly in the hour of election.”

It is clear that the judicial branch does not have the power to tax. This was clear to the writers of the Constitution and early Founding Fathers. Alexander Hamilton noted, “The Judiciary… has no influence over either the sword or the purse; no direction of the strength or of the wealth of the society, and can take no active resolution whatever. It may truly be said to have neither force nor will.” The legitimacy of the judiciary’s decisions is limited to the claim that the court is authorized within the law. Any judge that exceeds such claim becomes a lawmaker, a role granted only to the legislative branch.

Even so, we have seen several examples of appointed judges who have forced local communities and state governments to enact certain laws or levy tax increases. Judge-imposed taxes became an issue here in Missouri during the Kansas City school district desegregation case, Missouri v. Jenkins. A federal judge ordered the state and local governments to increase spending for the school district. The judge also forced the local government to raise taxes. The case went all the way to the US Supreme Court where they upheld a federal court’s ability to force state and local governments to raise taxes.

In Arizona, the state could be held in contempt if they don’t find a way to pay to improve instruction of English to non-native speakers, many of whom are the children of illegal immigrants. The judge directed millions of dollars in penalties to go immediately to Arizona classrooms.

Here in Clay County a judge decreed that a vote of the people of Clay County didn’t count resulting in the county commission imposing a property tax increase without a vote of the citizens. States around the country, including Missouri, have been or are being taken to court to force increases in taxes and spending on everything from transportation to education to health care – a cruel contest where we find ourselves suing ourselves.

While we can’t control the actions of federal judges, we can ensure Missouri judges don’t overreach and stake a claim on the power to tax. A proposal for a constitutional amendment that would clearly state that judiciary does not have the power to tax through court order has been introduced in the Missouri General Assembly. Specifically, this proposed amendment prohibits the Missouri Supreme Court or any other court of the state from ordering the state, a county, or any city to increase taxes. The amendment also prohibits any Missouri court from controlling how the state, a county, or any city spends, allocates, or budgets, except as expressly authorized by legislation or approved by Missouri voters.

We can be proud of our republic with its three distinct branches. We have had exemplary leadership in all three branches throughout the course of our history – we have also seen lapses in judgment from all three branches, yet our state and federal constitutions remain intact a testament to American Experiment in self-government.

Friday, January 25, 2008

The Announcement

The most significant news from Jefferson City this week is unquestionably the announcement of Governor Matt Blunt stating that he will not be seeking a second term. This announcement eclipsed all other happenings at our state capitol and commanded major headlines all across the state. It stunned political insiders and the public alike.

As one could imagine everyone is asking why and few are accepting the Governor’s stated reason that he had achieved what he set out to do and has lost that sense of mission for the office. Regardless of one’s political leanings, agreement can be made that a governor must have a sense of mission. The Governor also stated his desires to spend more time with his wife, Melanie, and son, Branch.

Upon reflection, Inaugural Day in January 2005 was damp and cold sparking the then new Governor Blunt to keep his remarks short. Under the watchful gaze of Thomas Jefferson below the majestic columns on the south steps of the state Capitol before a large crowd he declared:

Over the next four years, we will be bold. We will be willing to experiment. We
will not fear failure. We will bear setbacks with resolve and press forward with
determined innovation. We will attack problems with the deliberation that
accompanies this great responsibility and with the energy necessary to build a
better Missouri.

Those words could not have been any more true.

Since that time, Missouri has made incredible improvements with the creation of thousands of new jobs, better roads, an improved education funding model, increased state revenues, three years of budget surpluses, and claims the sixth lowest cost of living in the entire nation. Despite the hue and cry of left this progress has been made with no new taxes, something the critics said was impossible. Apparently, Governor Blunt and the General Assembly achieved the impossible.

In comparison to other states, Missouri’s success is highlighted even more. Illinois is facing a multi-billion dollar budget deficit (again) and their legislature is fighting over a proposed massive tax increase. California is suffering a $14 billion budget deficit (by comparison our total state budget is $21 billion). In contrast, our state revenues continue to be positive and our government has delivered on promises to fund health care, schools, and roads without raising taxes.

The critics have often attacked the Governor and the General Assembly for the path taken to right this ship of state, but leadership and reform require tough decisions and do not at times come without a difference of opinion. We would do well to remember Thomas Jefferson’s words that, “Every difference of opinion is not a difference in principle.”

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The State of the State

This past week Governor Matt Blunt delivered the annual State of the State address to a joint session of the Missouri General Assembly. He noted that, “Only four years ago, bad public policy was causing our state to lose jobs at an alarming – and unacceptable rate. Business-as-usual in the state capital was hurting Missouri families." He went on to say that the state of the State is strong.

Missouri has made a lot of progress these past few years going from a billion dollar deficit to what is now a $500 million surplus. We went from losing 34,000 jobs to gaining over 90,000 jobs. Spending was out of control resulting in cuts to every state program. We went from 87% of our roads being in less than good condition to now having 74% of our roads in good condition with still more to come.

In the 2007 school year our fourth and eighth graders posted significant gains on national math tests and Missouri was one of only six states with fourth graders who scored higher on all five sections of the national math exam. Not only did a record 74% of Missouri seniors take the ACT, they beat the national average. Rising to the prospect of more students attending college, we saw an increase from 16,400 need-based scholarships being offered to assisting over 36,000 students from the Access Missouri Scholarship initiative.

Yes, Missouri has turned a corner.

The Governor rightly noted that, “Missourians demanded change: to put Missouri families, Missouri values and Missouri taxpayers first." Much has been accomplished without raising state taxes.

Yet, challenges remain and there is more work to do. The Governor made the following statement, “Now is not the time to go back to the old ways of bigger government, higher taxes, more lawsuits, and too much regulation”, – a statement that I wholeheartedly agree.

The budget recommended by the Governor stands at $23.095 billion dollars, an increase of $1.4 billion, or 6.2%, over our current budget. This increase will primarily go towards education and health care.

Elementary and secondary schools would receive an increase of $121 million, more than 4% over last year. Missouri colleges and universities would receive an additional $54.2 million, an increase of more than 6%, and Missouri families have been protected from unreasonable tuition hikes by capping tuition increases. MO HealthNet, formerly known as Medicaid, will still consume 30% of Missouri’s resources.

It should be noted that the consensus revenue estimate, meaning the estimated amount of new tax collections for the next budget year, has been pegged at 3.4%.

This is our opportunity to take a hard look at how the state spends public dollars to reduce uncompensated care, a hidden tax for each of us with private insurance, build upon last year’s foundation of an ownership model for health care providing for portability and tax equity, to assist individuals with health conditions that preclude them from private insurance, and look to the future recognizing that each of us has a fundamental right in property to the our health data leading to greater consumer choice and access that will ultimately lead to greater competition and quality of health care services.

This is our opportunity to protect the safety of Missourians, to defend our hard-earned tax dollars, to protect our jobs, and, lest Washington D.C. forget, to enforce the rule of law by taking steps with purpose to curb illegal immigration. The Governor outlined recommendations to ban “sanctuary cities”, forbid local governments from hampering law enforcement efforts to enforce immigration law, making it a crime to transport illegal aliens for exploitive purposes, and require state agencies to verify the legal status of applicants before enrolling them on state programs to name just a few.

There is no shortage of issues confronting the people of Missouri. The question we must ask ourselves each year is: Will the General Assembly hold tightly to the virtue of Liberty as a foundational element in each solution or will the General Assembly – under Republican control – adopt a “big government republicanism” approach?

This is still the Show-Me State, not the nanny state. I say give Liberty a chance.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

The House Will Come to Order

Each new year brings new opportunities and 2008 will be no exception.

Over the last three years we have gone from a billion dollar budget shortfall to a $600 million surplus. There have been over 90,000 new jobs created since January 2005. Our funding for elementary and secondary education has increased by $452 million through a new equitable school funding formula and in that same time higher education funding has increased $74 million with $45 million in scholarships assisting more than 37,000 students attend college.

We have taken our major roads from the 47th worst in the Nation to the 9th best in the Nation. These improvements, made possible with voter approval of Amendment 3, have given Missouri drivers the Smooth Roads Initiative and the Safe and Sound bridge program. This commitment to road and bridge improvements has reduced highway fatalities by 161 in 2006 from 2005.

In addition, 300,000 Missouri seniors have had their tax burden lessened by the Senior Tax Justice Act passed just last year. Missourians also saw a new tax deduction for health insurance premiums and improved access to the Missouri Health Insurance Pool for those with chronic conditions.

Progress indeed, but challenges remain. Over the same time period of the advances noted above, and many others too numerous to account for here, illegal immigration has captured the attention of state legislatures across the country, including Missouri. Property taxes have continued to burden families throughout the state with suburban counties and seniors feeling it the most and health care continues to be on the minds of Missourians.

Each of these issues will be debated in the General Assembly this session. Each of these issues will have their proponents and opponents. Each of these issues impacts the lives each of us. I look forward to the debate and working through “the noise” to bring about meaningful change for Missouri.

It is clear that our efforts are making a difference and bringing real change to our state government. We have a budget that lives within our means and is truly balanced. We are now reaping the rewards of disciplined determination and fiscal restraint while keeping our promise of no new taxes.

Now with the new year underway we must continue to build upon the successes of yesterday to seize the opportunities of tomorrow.