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, February 26, 2009

Don't Worry, Your Kids Will Pay for It

Last weekend governors from across the Nation met in Washington, DC to learn about the federal dependency package recently lashed onto the backs of taxpayers present and future. As the details of this anti-federalism approach to the woes of our Nation become known, the strings attached are beginning to lift the skirt on the real intentions of Congress.

It is already well known that the vast majority, two-thirds, of the $787 billion is not intended to stimulate the economy, but to help make people more comfortable in their misery. Shame on Congress for feeding crumbs to a hungry man to satisfy the immediate pangs in his stomach, while doing nothing to unburden his load that holds back his ability to innovate, to invent, and to empower him to build a dream. The path that returns us to prosperity begins with these tenants in mind. This is big government at its worst.

States should not, and can not, view this “windfall” of “free” money as the medicine that heals their budget woes. Have we forgotten to ask, whose fault is it when a state spends more than it takes in?

The strings attached to the federal dependency package appear to be strong and many. These strings will require states to change their own state laws to receive some of the federal funds, which is a dangerous endeavor. Congress has made it clear that they want more control over the states and that they know what is better for you and me, instead of your state legislature.

The monies available from the federal government for health care, welfare, and education, to name a few, are only available for two years. What will a state have to do to replace that money when those two years expires? The answer is raise taxes or go hat in hand back to Washington and beg for more.

The cycle of dependency will either begin or end here.

An example of how Washington intends to extend its reach further into our affairs is the unemployment insurance portion of the package. Missouri is expected to qualify for $133 million to prop up our unemployment insurance program, a program that is facing significant fiscal hardships, but only if we change our state laws to significantly expand the program.

The first $88.8 million is only available to Missouri if we agree to cover unemployed people who are seeking part-time jobs, instead of full-time work; to cover people who voluntarily leave their job for family reasons, including the illness or disability of a family member, domestic violence, or to accompany a spouse who has taken a job elsewhere; to extend benefits for an additional 26 weeks, after their regular jobless benefits expire, to people who are in job training programs; and to add $15 a week to the benefits of unemployed people with dependents, such as parents with children at home.

An additional $44 million would become available if we change our unemployment insurance laws to change the time period in which a worker’s wages are analyzed to determine unemployment benefits.

Under our current unemployment insurance law only employees fired without cause are eligible for jobless benefits. The proposed revisions will take away the power of the state to decide its own future.

If the state went along with this, it is estimated that Missouri would have to spend somewhere between $28.1 million to $93.7 million of it’s own money to get the $133 million from the federal government. Where is that money going to come from? How will the state make up for the $133 million in later years? Again, either raise taxes or go hat in hand back to Washington while costing Missouri jobs.

This is an example of how the federal government is willing to bribe states to expand welfare systems making more and more people dependent on government thereby consolidating more and more power in Washington, inhibiting our ability as a state to chart our own future, and further erode our Liberty.

The Republican House and Senate remain cautious and skeptical about the federal dependency package and will continue to do our due diligence.

By contrast, Governor Nixon through all caution to the wind last Sunday on C-SPAN when responding to the Republican concerns stating, “Missourian’s paid their taxes and if there’s a debt, Missouri’s kids and grandkids will pay that debt off. We are here to take the money…” I have always contended that federal monies to an elected official is like crack cocaine – its fairly easy to get and becomes habit forming instantaneously.

As I have stated before, we will not balance our state budget on monies that may or may not come in the mail - we refuse to rely on a federal welfare check to meet the needs of our state. It may be considered good politics by some, but it is lousy fiscal policy. We can’t allow the federal “stimulus” to lead us down the path to ever more federal dependency. This is a time for restraint, a time to prioritize, and a time to drive efficiencies into the state bureaucracy.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Committees at Work

This time of year in the Missouri House one finds most of the work being accomplished in committees. It during this time that bills are heard by a small group legislators who review the bill in detail, discuss it’s merits, make amendments, and hear testimony from the public. The hearing process is the time when the public has the opportunity to be on record “for” or “against” any bill before the House or Senate. Hearing schedules can be grueling with most legislators sitting on three to five committees that meet at least once a week for hours at a time.

Once a bill has been vetted in committee and voted “DO PASS” it may advance to the House calendar for debate before the entire body. At this time, few bills sit on the House calendar. That number will increase significantly over the next two to three weeks, when the time demands will shift from committee work to floor debate.

This past week the House Committee on Homeland Security passed a concurrent resolution that aims to protect Missourians from the dangers associated with the closing of Guantonamo Bay as ordered by President Obama. The destination of these suspected terrorists is still in question. This resolution would oppose the use of Missouri’s airports, highways, railways, and waterways for the transportation of these terror suspects. It also would express opposition to the sheltering of these terror suspects in our state as they are being transported to detention centers. Additionally, the resolution opposes granting these prisoners asylum in Missouri. The Missouri House is committed to keeping terror suspects out of our state.

Once again this session, the House passed the Teacher Protection Act, to change the laws regarding school employee liability, safety practices, and reporting acts of violence. It gives teachers the ability to maintain order as long as they follow established school policy. Most importantly, the bill allows school employees to focus on teaching without worrying about litigation.

In addition, the bill makes aware to all teachers and administrators of acts of violence throughout the school. Suspended students would not be allowed on school property without specific permission and would be prohibited from attending off campus, school sponsored activities. It requires a notice of reportable offenses to be attached to an offending student's record and transcript.

The Teacher Protect Act exempts unqualified employees who refuse to administer medication or medical services from disciplinary action and exempts qualified employees from any civil liability for administering medication or medical services. Teachers should be able to take the necessary steps to protect their student’s health.

All of these provisions are aimed at ensuring a safe learning environment for Missouri students.

Also, this week the Real ID and Personal Privacy Committee passed the concurrent resolution that claims sovereignty for the states under the Tenth Amendment of the United States Constitution for all powers not otherwise enumerated and granted to the federal government under the Constitution.

In other news, Congress passed and President Obama signed into law the controversial federal dependency package. This $787 billion dollar package is the largest amount of tax dollars ever spent at one time by Washington. It is unfortunate that we have elected leadership in Washington that has decided to play on America’s financial insecurity to create evermore dependence on the federal government.

From what little that has been communicated to the state, a quick look at, as Senator Chuck Schumer described, the “porky” bill shows us that out of the $787 billion dollar package, $509 billion of our money will be used to expand and grow federal and state welfare programs, create temporary government project jobs that will not receive the same funding in future years, and gives tax cuts to people who don’t pay income taxes, in other words, it redistributes wealth.

Now that the bill has passed, Governor Nixon and the Missouri General Assembly have significant decisions to make. Missouri is expected to receive about $4.3 billion from this package. Our total state budget is about $22 billion, so this federal give-away is equivalent to increasing our spending by nearly 20%. Washington’s ways cannot be Missouri’s ways. The Missouri House is committed to using one-time dollars for one-time expenditures. We refuse to put ourselves in a position to spend money today that we will likely not have in the future.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Enumerated vs. Reserved Powers

Federalism isn’t something that we here much about these days. That’s too bad, because it is federalism that allows us to govern ourselves at the state level while retaining the protections of a federal government. It ensures that “We the People” have the greatest latitude in determining our own destinies by retaining our state sovereignty while constitutionally sharing power with our federal government in Washington, DC.

The relationship between state governments and the federal government has been evolving since the adoption of the Constitution of the United States. Unfortunately, this evolution has resulted in less Liberty and more centralized government.

The Constitution sets out in Article I, Section 8 a list of enumerated powers that include such powers as the right to levy taxes, declare war, regulate interstate and foreign commerce, coin money which they are doing a lot of these days, and borrow money on the credit of the United States which they are also doing a lot of these days to name a few.

Those powers not delegated to the federal government are reserved to the people or the states. It is here that states like ours have the ability to govern ourselves in such a fashion that suits our specifics needs. It is also here where conflict occurs.

The Necessary and Proper Clause in Article I, Section 8 gives the federal government an implied power to pass any law “necessary and proper” for the execution of the enumerated powers. While on the surface this appears to restrict Congress from meddling in the affairs of the states, it has been used to usurp the authority of the states time and time again.

Recent usurpations have included everything from the No Child Left Behind Act to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. They manifest themselves as unfunded mandates from the federal government to the state and local governments, especially in welfare, education, and environmental programs.

Other violations occur when state and local governments look to the largesse of the federal coffers to subsidize local initiatives and programs. These federal dollars always come with strings attached which entangle state and federal officials in a Gordian knot of unfunded mandates and unjustifiable subsidies leaving taxpayers with more debt and less Liberty – in other words, beware of the federal dependency package being fast tracked through Congress.

The Missouri House is considering a resolution to be sent to the President and Congress reminding them that Missouri has read the Constitution and affirms our 10th Amendment rights. We wish to serve as Notice and Demand to the federal government, as our agent, to cease and desist, effective immediately, mandates that are beyond the scope of the constitutionally delegated powers and that all compulsory federal legislation which directs states to comply under threat of civil or criminal penalties or sanctions or requires states to pass legislation or lose federal funding be prohibited or repealed.

In other words, unshackle us.

In a similar move the Missouri House passed a resolution which strongly opposes any enactment of the federal Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA). FOCA undermines the right and responsibility of the states and the people to debate, vote on, and determine abortion policy. The protection of women's health through state regulation on abortion is a state interest that should not be abolished by Congress. If this legislation was passed by Congress and signed into law it would overthrow numerous commonsense protective laws properly enacted by Missouri including the ban on partial birth abortions.

Our Founding Fathers understood that state governments possess inherent advantages in the governance of our home concerns whether they are education, health care, transportation, business regulation within our state’s borders, agriculture, corrections, and even the management of our fish and wildlife.

Traditionally, states have been considered laboratories of democracy. The states were able, even expected, to develop policies reflecting the widely varying local conditions of our great land. Today, the federal government is asserting, if not amassing, it’s authority over the full range American life, imposing a "one size fits all" policy. Now is the time to reassert the proper constitutional role of federalism so that future power grabs become more difficult and less likely.

The federal government must be reminded, in Alexander Hamilton’s words that, “Here, sir, the people govern.”

Friday, February 6, 2009

Family Recovery Plan - Plank 1 - Jobs

When Governor Nixon delivered his first State of the State address one topic of concern was job loss. With 219,000 Missourians out of work, this number represents the highest unemployment figure in 25 years. He said, “We believe in the value of a hard day’s work. But too many Missourians are unemployed – or fear they may soon become unemployed.” This is a concern shared by all members of the General Assembly regardless of party affiliation.

The first plank of the Family Recovery Plan is about job creation and retention, but as I have stated before government doesn’t create jobs, people do. In recent years, Missouri has benefited from an innovative program called the Quality Jobs Act, a program that is measurable and accountable, and it focuses incentives on family supporting jobs.

This past week the House passed legislation intending to expand this proven, successful program responsible for thousands of new jobs and billions of dollars of new investments in Missouri.

The nation’s economic downturn has stymied the healthy job growth Missouri enjoyed just a few years ago. Since its creation in 2005, the program provided incentives for more than 22,000 jobs in more than 65 municipalities. It has also helped our state retain nearly 2,500 jobs. As the name implies, the jobs that have been created and retained are quality jobs that pay above-average wages and provide health insurance. According to the Missouri Department of Economic Development, the average wage of the jobs created by the program is in excess of $53,000 annually and the average annual wage of those retained is nearly $74,000. In total, Quality Jobs projects contributed more than $2.5 billion in new investment in our state in the first three years.

The results produced by the program have been impressive. The legislature increased tax credit caps in 2007 and again in 2008 to allow more projects to be approved and demand has continued to exceed supply. The bill approved this week removes the tax credit caps in order to approve projects all across the state. The Quality Jobs Program has proven to be the most powerful economic development and job creation tool in Missouri.

An additional piece of this legislation also targets small businesses and entrepreneurs. Our small businesses create two-thirds to three-quarters of all new jobs and in economic downturns we generally see a spike in new business starts. This legislation creates the Small Business and Entrepreneurial Growth Act which provides incentives for the smallest of Missouri’s small businesses to expand and grow. These incentives will assist small businesses that grow beyond the four person size and assist them to take on new employees.

The Family Recovery Plan is intended assist Missouri not only in these difficult times, but in good times as well. The House has now sent the first piece of the Family Recovery Plan to the Senate. I look forward to getting the tax relief, health care, and energy bills passed by the House in the weeks to come.