Tag: utah

2013: Yet Another ‘Year of School Choice’

In 1980, frustrated by the attention given to Paul Ehrlich’s Malthusian doomsaying, economist Julian Simon challenged Ehrlich to a wager. They agreed on a basket of five commodity metals that Simon predicted would fall in price over 10 years (indicating growing supply relative to demand, contrary to the Malthusian worldview) and Ehrlich predicted would rise. In 1990, all five metals had decreased relative to their 1980 prices and Ehrlich cut Simon a check.

In 2011, two education policy analysts made a similar wager. After Jay Mathews of the Washington Post predicted that voters would “continue to resist” private school choice programs, Greg Forster of the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice challenged Matthews to a wager, which Mathews accepted: Forster would win if at least seven new or expanded private school choice programs (i.e., vouchers or scholarship tax credits, but not including charter schools) were signed into law by the end of the year. That July, the Wall Street Journal declared 2011 to be the “Year of School Choice” after 13 states enacted 19 new or expanded private school choice programs, nearly triple the number Forster needed to win the bet.

Undeterred, the following year Mathews proclaimed that school choice programs “have no chance of ever expanding very far,” prompting another challenge from Forster. Mathews did not take the bet, which was fortunate for him because in 2012 10 states enacted 12 new or expanded private school choice programs.

Now, for the third year in a row, Forster’s prediction has proved true, with 10 states enacting 14 new or expanded private school choice programs, including:

Most of these laws are overly limited and several carry unnecessary and even counterproductive regulations like mandatory standardized testing. Nevertheless, they are a step in the right direction, away from a government monopoly and toward a true system of education choice.

Of course, that’s why defenders of the status quo have made 2013 the Year of the Anti-School Choice Lawsuit.

Washington Post: Adding Insult to Obamacare’s Injury

On Sunday, The Washington Post published my letter to the editor:

The excellent July 24 front-page article “Health law’s unintended impact on part-timers” showed how President Obama’s health-care law is cutting part-time workers’ pay by forcing employers to limit these employees’ hours in order to avoid penalties. Yet the reality is even worse.

Obamacare does not authorize those penalties in states that leave the task of establishing a health insurance exchange to the federal government. That means most of the employers the article cited — the commonwealth of Virginia, various Texas employers, the Ohio-based White Castle burger chain, the city of Dearborn, Mich., and Utah’s Granite School District — don’t need to cut part-timers’ hours, because the federal government has no authority to penalize them.

Yet the Obama administration has decreed it will do so anyway, contrary to the clear language of federal law, proving that taxation without representation is not confined to the District.

Two lawsuits have been filed to stop this illegal action — one by the state of Oklahoma, another by employers and individual taxpayers in Kansas, Missouri, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and West Virginia.

Even so, thousands of part-time workers are already losing wages because of a tax Congress did not authorize. As underemployed music professor Kevin Pace told The Post, “This isn’t right on any level.”

Michael F. Cannon, Washington

The writer is director of health policy studies at the Cato Institute.

On Wednesday, July 31, a House oversight subcommittee will be holding a hearing on the IRS’s illegal taxes, borrowing, and spending.

Not Quite Blowing Up the Death Star, but…

For two years the national curriculum blitz has been rolling through states unabated, with “Common Core” standards now fully adopted in all but five states and development of national tests continuing. Of course all of this has been done with heavy federal air support, including making adoption of Common Core crucial for states wanting to access Race to the Top funds, and Washington selecting and funding the national test developers.

Last week, however, national curriculum forces suffered a small but notable setback, with the Utah State Board of Education withdrawing the Beehive State from the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, one of the two consortia developing tests to accompany the Common Core. In terms of its on-the-ground impact, it’s not huge —Utah will still have the Common Core standards—but symbolically it could be big, showing that states can undo decisions they may have made in haste, or in pursuit of federal money or favors. And to be honest, it is more official push back than I expected.

That said, the crucial point will still be when the Elementary and Secondary Education Act—AKA, No Child Left Behind—comes before Congress for reauthorization. That is when it will be decided whether adopting the Common Core will be necessary for states to get huge amounts of annual federal funding, and whether scores on the national tests will determine whether districts, schools, or children get rewarded or punished. If those measures are included—especially the high-stakes testing—then it is game over: we will have an indisputably federal curriculum, and no state will dare resist it. They simply won’t be willing to jeopardize billions of annual dollars.

Until then, national standards opponents can take heart in Utah’s small act of defiance.

What Immigration Reform Would Look Like

Utah’s done it (great editorial in the WSJ):

Passed by the state’s GOP legislature and signed by Republican Governor Gary Herbert in March, Utah’s plan is notable because it’s the first in the country that would allow undocumented immigrants to get a permit and work legally, after paying a fine of up to $2500 and meeting other conditions. The program is part of a larger package that includes increased scrutiny of immigrants who break the law. The compromise allows the state to address the economy’s demand for workers—thus reducing the incentive for illegal immigration—while satisfying voters who don’t want to reward those who arrived illegally.

Of course, states can’t just announce their own guest-worker programs – the federal government has plenary power over immigration – so Utah may need a waiver from the feds.  Which might not be forthcoming, given politically tone-deaf and legally dangerous statements like this:

In a Senate Judiciary hearing on Wednesday, Attorney General Eric Holder said the law, which combines enforcement measures with a guest worker program, needs to be adjusted or face federal lawsuits. Pressed on whether the Administration planned to sue Utah, Mr. Holder said the Department of Justice “will look at the law, and if it is not changed to our satisfaction by 2013, we will take the necessary steps.”

“To our satisfaction?”  What does Holder think an eventual federal immigration solution would look like?  Here’s Cato’s proposal, but anything that gets through Congress will have to expand employment opportunities for both skilled and unskilled immigrants, normalize the status of current illegals, and otherwise refocus resources on criminals and terrorists.

But it’s not just the government that’s up in arms about Utah’s sensible legislation:

Like Arizona, Utah is already fending off lawsuits from the left. On Tuesday, the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Immigration Law Center sued to stop the portion of the law similar to the one in Arizona that enlists state and local police in the effort to identify illegal immigrants. In Utah’s version, anyone who is arrested for a felony or serious misdemeanor has to show proof of citizenship.

Good grief!  State officials do not violate the Supremacy Clause – or engage in unconstitutional racial profiling – when they enforce federal law, which is what Utah’s enforcement measures, like most of Arizona’s, do.  Critics naturally maintain that such enforcement decisions should be left to the feds but that only gets it half right: the federal government, particularly its executive branch, has discretion over how to prioritize enforcement priorities, but those discretionary decisions (which, after all, can change from one administration to another and even within one presidency) cannot preempt state law.  Only federal law can do that.

This not a question of policy; while I generally like Utah’s plan, I’ve written before that Arizona’s (very different) SB 1070 is constitutional but mostly bad policy.  The larger issue is states wanting to do something in the face of federal abdication.  Some of Utah’s laws – the “plan” is actually five separate laws, covering the spectrum of immigration issues from expanding legal immigration (HB469, HB466) to addressing those already here for economic reasons (HB116) to addressing serious criminals (HB116, HB497) – may well end up losing in court, but they at least get national attention and to try to push federal action (SJR12).

As Rep. John Dougall, Vice Chair for Appropriations (#2 on the state budget), has explained to me, a major goal Utah had was to shift the dialogue from “enforcement only” to something more comprehensive, especially expanding legal immigration.  A more controversial purpose was to plant the federalism flag, arguing that states share some of the jurisdiction over immigration.  For example, Dougall wrote in an email to me that I quote with his permission, “HB469 rests on the belief that citizens should have the right to freely associate with anyone in the world, who don’t pose a public safety threat to others, and those citizens should be able to sponsor those immigrants in UT. A belief that the state should defend a citizen’s right to freely associate from an overly expansive federal government.”

I’m not fully convinced that some of this isn’t preempted – by federal law, not by what attorneys general or secretaries of homeland security say or do – but the goal is laudable and the classical liberal first principles are unassailable.  The Utah model could work for other states looking to split the Gordian knot between the extremists on both sides whose “debate” generates into ”amnesty” versus “racism.”  Texas Republicans have introduced similar legislation and other states’ lawmakers are also apparently interested.

That’s all to the good: even if you can’t enjoy the “greatest snow on earth” during the summer, anyone interested in innovative immigration reform should book a flight to Salt Lake City.

Another Judicial Takings Case Headed to the Court

The Montana Supreme Court overturned more than 100 years of state property law concerning navigable waters by effectively converting the title in hundreds of miles of riverbeds to the State. The majority of that court ruled that the entirety of the Missouri, Clark Fork, and Madison rivers were navigable at the time of Montana’s statehood, producing a broad holding that eradicates property rights to the rivers and riverbanks that Montanans had enjoyed for over a century.

Before this case, the hydroelectric energy company PPL Montana and thousands of other private parties exercised their property rights over these non-navigable stretches that the state never claimed.  Today, Cato joined a brief filed by the Montana Farm Bureau Federation supporting the PPL Montana’s request that the U.S. Supreme Court review the Montana high court’s ruling for possible Takings Clause violations under the Fifth Amendment.

We argue two main points.  First, that the Court should adhere to its standard for navigability rights set out in Utah v. U.S. in 1933. Unlike the approach taken by the Montana Supreme Court’s majority — that entire rivers were navigable simply because certain reaches of the river were navigable — the U.S. Supreme Court in Utah used an approach of meticulously analyzing the rivers at issue section-by-section. Second, this arbitrary ruling against rights long protected by Montana law amounts to a “judicial taking,” as explained last term Stop the Beach Renourishment v. Florida Dept. of Environmental Protection (in which Cato also filed a brief). There, a plurality of the Court held that there is no “textual justification” for limiting takings claims deriving from executive or legislative action, thereby extending it to a judicial action of the same nature (and two other members of the Court found potential relief in the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause). Here, the Montana court did exactly that, violating due process rights that the Montana legislature could not and further violating the procedural due process rights of the thousands harmed by the decision in not affording them notice or a hearing.

The U.S. Supreme Court should thus review the case to reinforce its Utah precedent and ensure that arbitrary judicial takings of this sort cannot continue.  The name of the case is PPL Montana, LLC v. Montana.  The Court will decide later this fall whether to take it up.

REAL ID Continues Its Long, Slow Failure

REAL ID continues its long, slow failure. The federal government’s national ID plans continue to bash against the shoals of state and popular opposition.

Late last month, the governor of Utah signed H.B. 234 into law. The bill prohibits the Utah driver license division from implementing REAL ID. That brings to 25 the number of states rejecting the national ID law, according to the Tenth Amendment Center.

And the State of Nevada, one of the few states that had been working to get in front of REAL ID, is reconsidering. With wait times at Las Vegas DMVs reaching two to four hours, the legislature may soon allow a temporary REAL ID implementation measure signed last year to lapse—this according to the Ely (NV) News.

Congress has attempted to circumvent the growing state opposition to REAL ID with the now-stalled PASS ID legislation. It basically would rename REAL ID so as to nullify the many state resolutions and laws barring implementation of the national ID law because they refer to the May 2005 “REAL ID” law specifically. But PASS ID is the same national ID, it has all the privacy issues of REAL ID, and its costs would be as great or greater than REAL ID.

That doesn’t mean national ID supporters in Congress won’t try to sneak the REAL ID revival bill into law sometime later this year, of course …

Utah Legislators Call for Fiscal Federalism

Tea partiers take note: at the forefront of any effort to reduce the size of the federal government should be the devolvement of federal programs to the states. Achieving this may seem like mission impossible given the states’ addiction to federal money. However, there are signs that the idea of returning the relationship between the federal government and the states to that which the Founders prescribed is starting to gain some currency.

On Friday, the president of the Utah Senate and the speaker of the Utah House of Representatives penned an op-ed in the Washington Post calling for the federal government to begin the devolution process. The authors want the states to have the right to opt out of federal programs and allow the states to keep the taxes their residents send to Washington to fund them. The states would then be free to fund and manage the programs as they see fit.

The authors call their idea a “modest experiment,” and indeed, it is hardly radical. The 10th amendment to the Constitution is clear:

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

From the op-ed:

Let’s select a few programs – say, education, transportation and Medicaid – that are managed mostly by Utah’s government, but with significant federal dollars and a plethora of onerous federal interventions and regulations.

Let Utah take over these programs entirely. But let us keep in our state the portion of federal taxes Utah residents pay for these programs. The amount would not be difficult to determine. Rather than send this money through the federal bureaucracy, we would retain it and would take full responsibility for education, transportation and Medicaid – minus all federal oversight and regulation.

Such a notion terrifies proponents of big government because state budgets are generally constrained by balanced budget requirements, debt inhibitions, and the inability to print money. States are also more limited in how much they can abuse taxpayers for the simple reason that citizens can move to a friendlier environment. Indeed, one of the beautiful aspects of returning to fiscal federalism is that it would strengthen this competition that $600+ billion in annual federal subsidies has somewhat neutered.

See this essay for more on fiscal federalism and this Cato Policy Analysis on the problems with federal subsidies to state and local governments.

Update: A C@L reader pointed me to this resolution introduced by Michigan state representative Paul Opsommer, which calls on the federal government to allow the states to opt out of federal highway programs funded by the federal gas tax. The states would be free to fund their own roads with their own gas tax revenues instead of sending money to Washington where its then redistributed back to the states according to Congress’s politicized wishes. As the resolution notes, the federal government uses the leverage it has over transportation spending to force the states to enact policies that they don’t want.