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

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Drug Testing and Welfare

This week, the Missouri House passed legislation which prevents drug-users from receiving welfare benefits. The legislation calls for the Department of Social Services (DSS) to establish a drug-testing program for work-eligible applicants and recipients of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. This is a cash-aid program and currently has NO restrictions for those who may use illegal substances. If passed and signed by the Governor, Missouri would become one of eleven states that practices drug testing provisions for welfare applicants – it’s about time.

The legislation says that to be tested, there must be "reasonable suspicion" to believe a person is using illegal drugs. After an administrative hearing, applicants or recipients who test positive will be declared ineligible for benefits for one year.

This legislation is long over-due. Most employees, including the military and federal employees, are required to take a mandatory drug test. Why shouldn’t welfare recipients who receive support from OUR hard earned tax dollars be held to the same standard?

The bill also directs the department to develop, implement, and enforce a policy requiring the immediate termination of an employee who fails to report any suspected illegal use of a controlled substance or fraud of the TANF Program by any applicant or recipient of TANF benefits.

In addition, the bill also subjects elected officials to a drug test prior to taking office and once every two years after that while they remain in office.

This legislation will help encourage people using drugs to stop and get help. It is a necessary intervention. If people want to receive welfare benefits, they have to be drug-free. The Senate needs to pass this bill and the Governor should sign it. This legislation will begin to help and enable our citizens to live a clean and productive lives rather than harming themselves and those around them.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Building Castles in the Sky

Last week Governor Jay Nixon delivered the annual State of the State address to the Missouri General Assembly, the Missouri Supreme Court, Missouri Cabinet heads, and to the people of our great state.

This annual address has become the vehicle for a governor to outline his vision for Missouri and present the executive branch’s budget recommendations for the next fiscal year. It is also the event that adds definition to the agenda boundaries of each body in the legislature and the governor’s office for the current session of the General Assembly.

This year’s State of the State address did none of that. In fact, Governor Nixon dodged revealing the actual state of the state and it is now painfully obvious why after he has revealed his proposed budget to the General Assembly.

As I mentioned in a previous column, the Governor, House, and Senate budget leaders have agreed upon the revised consensus revenue estimate for the remainder of this fiscal year which ends on June 30, 2010 predicting that revenues will be 6.4% less than expected at $6.97 billion in general revenue. The fiscal year 2010 budget was passed based upon an overly optimistic revenue estimate of $7.76 billion.

They also agreed upon the consensus revenue estimate for the next budget year which begins on July 1, 2010 suggesting a growth in state general revenue collections of 3.5% resulting in $7.223 billion of general revenue.

It was revealed this week that January revenues are 22.36% less than they were in January of last year with year to date revenue collections now falling to a negative 12.55% down from 10.5% last month year to date. As a result, Governor Nixon announced another round of withholds from the current budget of $74 million.

Unlike Congress, we must have a balanced budget. The state of Missouri can’t print money to satisfy unrestrained and politically motivated spending habits – even in an election year. To have a balanced budget, the General Assembly and the governor’s office must build a state budget at or, preferably, below that target.

Governor Nixon’s budget proposal would spend $8.317 billion of general revenue, a number that exceeds the agreed upon CRE by $1.09 billion, or 15% - this is not a balanced budget proposal. The governor would pay for these excessive increases with federal “stimulus” money, which I contend is federal “dependence” money, which Missouri is expected to receive which is about $900 million dollars plus a phantom $300 million that might come from the federal government even though the legislation has not been passed by Congress yet.

After years of fiscal discipline, a budget is now being proposed that relies on significant one-time monies that may or may not materialize. Our budget difficulties earlier this decade stemmed from uncontrolled spending that relied on one-time monies. This can’t be done, but politicians are often afraid of making the difficult decisions that require discipline, because they fear unpopularity, especially in an election year like this one.

The disciplined decisions of the past few years have put Missouri in better financial position to weather this economic downturn than most states. Missouri remains one of only seven states that still have a triple-A bond ratings from the three major bond rating agencies.

The proposed budget suggests that $900 million of one-time monies be used to pay for ongoing operating costs of government and its programs. This money will not be available next year. 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 and greater threats to the pocketbooks of Missourians.

Data released this week claim that unemployment may drop to 9.8% this year, down from the current 10% unemployment rate. The data also suggests that with 5% growth in GDP throughout the year, unemployment would only drop to 9%.

How out of touch with our existing economic situation can we be to accept a budget that requires a 15% more general revenue knowing that we are currently experiencing 9.6% unemployment in Missouri? It just won’t happen – even the 3.5% CRE is too high and is setting us up for even bigger budget problems next year and years after.

This is a time for restraint, a time to prioritize, and a time to drive efficiencies into the state bureaucracy. It is a time to shed the hindrances that hold back innovation and invention, a time to empower Missourians to build dreams, not sustain them where they are.

People are outraged with the unparalleled and unabated spending spree in Washington, DC that denies the economic realities that we live in. Missouri cannot, and must not, follow in those footsteps.

This is a time when doing what is right is far more important than doing what is popular and hiding our actual state of the state. We can’t spend time building castles in the sky and hoping for a miracle. Lest we forget, hope is not a plan.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Health Care and Obligations of Citizenship

As the national debate on health care continues in Washington, DC, several states across the Nation are taking steps to protect themselves and their citizens in their state constitutions. Missouri is one of those states. This week a public hearing was held on House Joint Resolutions 48, 50, and 57 which are essential in securing the rights of patients to make their own health care choices.

Even before the events in Washington, DC, the question of patient rights has been bubbling to the surface as an issue important to those interested in keeping the relationship between patient and doctor in tact.

The essence of the proposed constitutional amendment is this, “To preserve the freedom of citizens of this state to provide for their health care, no law or rule shall compel, directly or indirectly or through penalties or fines, any person, employer, or health care provider to participate in any health care system.”

The proposed amendment ensures that:

· Each Missouri citizen has the right to pay for health care services with their own money,

· Health care providers may accept direct payment for services rendered by Missouri citizens,

· The purchase and sale of health insurance shall not be prohibited by law or rule, and;

· No person will be required to pay fines or penalties if they choose to purchase their own health care and accept payment for providing health care services.

In other words, an individual cannot be forced to participate in a health care system without their consent and that individuals have the freedom to participate.

Think about it, there are two general obligations for citizenship in America: paying taxes and the draft. Proposals in Congress today would add a third obligation of forcing each American to purchase health insurance. Never before has the federal government used the force of the federal government to compel every citizen to purchase a product or service.

We can have the debate about whether it is responsible for someone to go without health insurance, but that is a completely different conversation than saying that every citizen must, by the force of law, purchase health insurance or enroll in a government program thereby binding them to the will of faceless bureaucrats.

Some argue that such an amendment to a state constitution is unconstitutional. They argue that the supremacy clause of the US Constitution trumps state actions. It is time that we consider another constitutional principle, that of federalism. As a constitutional principle, it is important not only to the appropriate division of powers between the federal government and the states, but also the ever important pursuit of individual liberty and limited government.

Traditionally, states have been considered laboratories of democracy and innovation. The states were able, even expected, to develop policies reflecting the widely varying local conditions of our great land, and that is especially important in health care. Today, the federal government is asserting, if not amassing, it’s authority over the American life in regards to health care, 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.

We should allow the people of Missouri to vote on this proposed amendment, allow us to voice our belief in liberty, allow us to direct the future of our state, allow us to direct the future of health care, allow us to retain the freedom that we already enjoy. If a constitutional challenge arises, then let’s have that discussion, but let us not be intimidated into silence and inaction with threat of litigation.

Federalism is all about keeping government within the reach of the people, about keeping government in its place. Health care is personal, it is about us, each of us, and we deserve our rightful place in making health care decisions. The Health Care Freedom Act which I have sponsored keeps government in its place. As Alexander Hamilton proclaimed before the New York ratifying convention, “Here, sir, the people govern.”