Tag: Arizona

A Neocon’s ‘Catastrophe’

Mexican President Felipe Calderon comes to the United States and registers his objection to the recently enacted law in Arizona during a press conference and in a few sentences in an address to Congress.

Bill Bennett calls Calderon’s actions a “catastrophe.”

Neoconservatives like Bennett do not see the drug war and the Iraq war policies as catastrophes.

Enough said.

The Ninth Circuit as a Denial of Service Attack on American Justice

The Supreme Court is expected to decide tomorrow whether to summarily overturn a Ninth Circuit Court ruling, hear an appeal of that ruling, or let the Ninth Circuit’s decision stand. The case involves Arizona’s k-12 scholarship tax credit program that helps families afford private schooling, which the Ninth Circuit found last year to violate the First Amendment.

Before the Ninth Circuit handed down its decision, I predicted that it would rule against the tax credit program, and that it would eventually be overturned by the Supreme Court. The first part of that prediction came to pass, and I still expect the second part to as well. For the reasons why SCOTUS will overturn the Ninth Circuit, see Cato’s brief in the case

Ilya Shapiro (with whom I co-wrote that brief) draws attention today to a great column by George Will in which Will likens the Ninth Circuit to a “stimulus package” for the Supreme Court. It’s a funny analogy, but it’s too benign. It’s more accurate to see the Ninth Circuit as a Denial of Service Attack on American justice. A D.O.S. is a computer attack that prevents Internet surfers from accessing a particular website/server by flooding it with spurious requests. By failing to take Supreme Court precedents seriously, as the Ninth Circuit routinely does, it creates a torrent of ridiculous rulings that demand the Supreme Court’s attention, thereby preventing the nation’s highest court from taking other important cases.

If there is a way for SCOTUS to reprimand the Ninth Circuit for spuriously consuming the nation’s most important legal resources, it would be in the interest of justice for it to do so.

Misguided Fears of Crime Fuel Arizona Immigration Law

Arizona’s harsh new law against illegal immigration is being justified in part as a measure to combat crime. The murder of an Arizona rancher in March, allegedly by somebody in the country without documentation, galvanized support for the bill.

The death of the rancher was a tragedy, and drug-related violence along the border is a real problem, but it is a smear to blame low-skilled immigrant workers from Latin America for creating a crime problem in Arizona.

The crime rate in Arizona in 2008 was the lowest it has been in four decades. In the past decade, as the number of illegal immigrants in the state grew rapidly, the violent crime rate dropped by 23 percent, the property crime rate by 28 percent. (You can check out the DoJ figures here.)

Census data show that immigrants are actually less likely to commit crimes than their native-born counterparts, as I unpacked a few months ago in an article for Commentary magazine titled, “Higher Immigration, Lower Crime.”

“Papers, Please” in Arizona

The Arizona legislature recently sent Senate Bill 1070 to the governor.

According to this summary from the Arizona legislature, the bill would require Arizona officials and agencies to determine the immigration status of any person with whom they have “lawful contact” where reasonable suspicion exists regarding the immigration status of the person. Any person arrested in Arizona would also have to have their immigration status established and verified with the federal government before they were released.

The documents that can be used to prove legal immigration status under the bill include a valid Arizona driver license, a valid Arizona nonoperating identification license, a valid tribal enrollment card or other tribal identification, or a valid federal-, state- or local-government-issued identification, if the issuing entity requires proof of legal presence before issuance.

If the governor signs the bill, what creates “reasonable suspicion” about immigration status is a question that will have lawyers busy for years.

I’m interested in how well practiced Arizonans and Arizona government officials will become at checking the papers of people in their state. I have little to worry about, of course, because I’m not an illegal immigrant.

UCSB history professor Harold Marcuse maintains a fascinating web page about Martin Niemöller’s famous quotation. There are many versions of it in its long history, and there may yet be more.

Taxpayer Choice + Parental Choice = Education Reform That’s Constitutional

Arizona grants income tax credits for contributions made to school tuition organizations (“STO”).  These STOs must these donations for scholarships that allow students to attend private schools.  This statutory scheme broadens the educational opportunities for thousands of students by enabling them to attend schools they would otherwise lack the means to attend. 

The Ninth Circuit held that the tax credit program violated the Establishment Clause because many of the STOs – as it happens, a decreasing majority – provide scholarships for students to attend parochial schools.  Counsel for the defendants, including the Institute for Justice, asked the Supreme Court to review the case – and indeed to summarily reverse the Ninth Circuit, based in part on a 2002 case (Zelman v. Simmons-Harris) rejecting a similar challenge to a school voucher program.  Cato filed a brief, joined by the Foundation for Educational Choice and the American Federation for Children, supporting this request. 

Our brief argues that the funds received by STOs are the product of individual taxpayers’ “genuine and independent choice” – the touchstone by which the Court judges the religious neutrality of statutes allowing for taxpayer money to fund religious education.  Moreover, the tax credit scheme is indistinguishable from similar charitable tax deduction programs that the Court has previously held to pass constitutional muster.  While the Ninth Circuit reasoned that Arizona parents feel pressured to send their kids to parochial schools due to limited scholarships available for secular schools, it failed to consider that the share of STO money available to secular schools was nearly twice as large as the share of families choosing to send their children to secular schools. 

Far from being an impediment to parental freedom, the autonomy Arizona grants to taxpayers and STOs is ultimately essential to it.  More generally, should the lower court’s opinion be allowed to stand, the progress made to broaden the educational opportunities of students across the country will be stifled. 

The name of the case is Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization v. Winn.  The Court will likely decide before it breaks for the summer whether to take it up – and, indeed, whether to summarily reverse the Ninth Circuit.

K-12 Education Tax Credits Save Millions

The latest fiscal impact review of Arizona’s scholarship tax credit programs estimates that they saved between $44 million and $186 million last year.  The programs offer individuals and businesses dollar-for-dollar tax credits if they make donations to non-profit K-12 scholarship-granting organizations. Those organizations, in turn, provide private school tuition assistance.

This is much higher than the savings estimate offered by the Arizona Republic last month, as the AZ Republic story linked above is quick to point out. I deal with the reasons for the discrepancy below, but first, here’s the crucial fact that the Republic has missed yet again: if the tax credit programs were significantly expanded, such as by raising the donation caps, the state would undeniably save many hundreds of millions of dollars annually. In fact, if the share of AZ schoolchildren participating in the program rose to just 40 percent, taxpayers would save billions of dollars a year – even if the size of the individual scholarships had to triple to achieve that result.

The Republic’s failure to report that inescapable and rather important fact does it no credit.

Now, on to the reason for the discrepancy in savings numbers. The body of the story hints at it: the Republic’s estimate assumed that private school enrollment would have been flat or increasing without the tax credit program, while the latest estimate does not.

As I pointed out at the time, the Republic’s assumption is demonstrably mistaken. Official AZ statistics show that enrollment in private schools peaked before the tax credit program had gotten under way, and had begun to decline as a result of rapid growth in the (tuition-free) charter school sector. So the Republic’s savings estimate was almost certainly too low.

As the author of the latest study admits, his assumptions about the true number of students who have migrated to private schools as a result of the program are speculative, but at least they are reasonable and not obviously erroneous, as the Republic’s were. In any event, the savings from a much larger migration to the private sector are not in doubt.

Arizona Republic Corrects its Tax Credit Savings Estimate in Response to Cato Input

Last Wednesday, the Arizona Republic published a fiscal impact assessment of the state’s education tax credit programs for k-12 private school choice. While the story itself was a good faith effort, there were errors in both its data and assumptions. I wrote an op-ed intended for the Republic correcting those errors and e-mailed a copy to the story’s author, Ron Hansen, the same day his story was published.

While the paper’s editorial page expressed no interest in printing my submission, the Republic published a correction today based on the accurate spending and savings figures I provided. In a phone call, Hansen indicated that the correction was precipitated by my e-mail, though he opted not to mention that in his story, saying that he didn’t think the source of the correction was important.

On the one hand, Hansen and the Republic are to be commended for publishing a correction, and it should be noted that the bad data were provided to them by Arizona Director of School Finance, Yousef Awwad. On the other hand, their correction is incomplete – acknowledging only the bad data and not the mistaken assumption explained in my op-ed.

So while the Republic has now raised its savings estimate from their originally reported $3 million to a corrected $8.3 million, they have yet to explain that this figure could actually understate the total savings.

Still, their response is better than I expected.  Most newspapers, in my experience, do absolutely nothing when factual and reasoning errors in their education stories are brought to their attention, and in fact go on to repeat those same errors in subsequent stories.

And they wonder why two thirds of the public now doubt their credibility….