Constitution Still Matters to Some

Federal judge notes that the US Constitution requires that Congress appropriate funds (exercise the power of the purse). Judge further notes that the payments to insurers under the Affordable Care Act were not authorized by such a congressional appropriation. The Executive branch response is par for the current course:

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said the administration remained confident it will prevail in the end.

“This suit represents the first time in our nation’s history that Congress has been permitted to sue the executive branch over a disagreement about how to interpret a statute,” he told reporters. “It’s unfortunate that Republicans have resorted to a taxpayer-funded lawsuit to re-fight a political fight that they keep losing.”

Such concern for the funds of the taxpayers, Mr. Earnest. Where is the concern over the astronomical cost of the (not so) Affordable Care Act on those same taxpayers?

South Dakota FY 2017 Budget Exam: Part 3

Ahh. Back after the Christmas and New Year’s break. In this final (for now) reflection on the Governor’s proposed budget, I would like to look at some of the budget internals.

  • $561.5 million (37.6%) for Health, Human, and Social Services;
  • $451.7 million (30.3%) for Aid to Schools;
  • $206.6 million (13.9%) for Higher Education;
  • $100.1 million (6.7%) for Corrections;
  • $69.1 million, (4.6%) for the Legislature, Unified Judicial System, Public Utilities Commission, and Elected Officials;
  • $19.6 million (1.3%) for Agriculture; Environment and Natural Resources; and Game, Fish and Parks
  • $83.9 million (5.6%) for the remainder of State Government

Those are some remarkable numbers. Just over 3/8ths of the total is going to support social welfare and related programs. More than 2/5ths is for education; with the balance going to support things which one might claim should actually be the responsibility of the state government.

We could consolidate the above categories further into the following:

  • Social Welfare (37.6%)
  • Education (44.2%)
  • Other (18.2%)

If you could have asked yourself (before reading this post) to rank these categories from largest to smallest, what would you have answered?

South Dakota FY 2017 Budget Exam: Part 2

Last time, in Part 1, we looked at the big number for each year and the changes to that number from FY 2005 through the proposed FY 2017 budget. This time, I would like to consider the three main breakouts of that big number: the general fund, federal funding, and other funding.

General Fund

The general fund has been as high of 34.06% of the total budget in FY 2008 and as low as 28.29% in FY 2012. Its average from FY 2005 through FY 2017 is 31.71%. FY 2017 is 30.85%, or slightly below average.

Federal Funds

Of the three categories, federal funding has fluctuated the most. Over the period in question it has ranged from 38.73% in FY 2016 to 47.51% in FY 2011. Its average from FY 2005 through FY 2017 is 42.64%. FY 2017 is 42.09%, or slightly below average.

Other Funds

This category has been as low as 23.92% in FY 2011 and as high as 28.22% in FY 2016. Its average for FY 2005 through FY 2017 is 25.65%. For FY 2017 it is 27.06, a good bit above average.

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So, what can we tell from this? Not too much, other than the fact that federal funding is the single largest component of the budget, though the legislature spends the bulk of its time debating the contents of the general fund portion of the budget. This is true because federal funding comes with federal strings which determine how the money can be allocated and spent. As a result, there is usually little to be gained from talking about how to spend the federal funds.

There is, however, the continuing question of whether the state should be accepting such funds seeing that the federal government is providing funds to South Dakota which are created via a magical process that turns nothing into something–until that does not work anymore.

One could make argument that some of these federal funds are disbursed to the state for legitimate purposes, such as defense. Nonetheless, the underlying issue of debts and deficits remains.

South Dakota prides itself on having had a balanced budget for the entire existence of the state. It seems wrong for the state to continue to celebrate balancing its budget while taking full advantage of an increasingly lopsided imbalance of the Federal budget.

South Dakota FY 2017 Budget Exam: Part 1

I realize that its a Saturday, which means that most of us are doing different things than during the rest of the week. Despite that, I wanted to crunch a few numbers with reference to Governor Daugaard’s proposed budget for next fiscal year. For purposes of these discussions, I’m going to compare previous actual budgets with the Governor’s proposal for 2017. Historically, the difference in raw numbers between the proposed and adopted budget is quite small, so it does not signify for the big comparisons we need to do.

Let’s start with some history:

  • FY 2005: $2,907,686,333
  • FY 2006: $3,055,919,196
  • FY 2007: $3,186,869,182
  • FY 2008: $3,340,084,390
  • FY 2009: $3,548,708,486
  • FY 2010: $3,919,562,591
  • FY 2011: $4,064,074,188
  • FY 2012: $3,959,175,442
  • FY 2013: $4,006,460,307
  • FY 2014: $4,090,632,223
  • FY 2015: $4,259,323,695
  • FY 2016: $4,326,703,120

And look at a possible future:

  • FY 2017: $4,827,070,205

Next year’s proposed budget would appear to be a raw spending increase of 66% since FY 2005. In the same period of time, the state’s population has increased from 783,033 to 853,175 (as of 2014, the last year for which I could find firm numbers). Let’s be generous and say that the state’s population will go up to 875,000 by the time the new budget would begin.

As a per capita cost, then, we would have the following:

  • FY 2005: $3,713
  • FY 2017: $5,517

Doing the same math we did for the budget numbers above, that would work out to having spending indexed to population increase by 49% since FY 2005.

And yes, we still need to look at inflation. If we average inflation over the years from 2005 through 2017 (realizing that inflation years and fiscal years don’t quite match up, and the future hasn’t happened yet) we would get 2.44%. To arrive at that, I put the unknown current/future years at a 3% rate of inflation since that is the usual placeholder, at least in modern times.

If we adjust for a 2.44% annual inflation rate, the FY 2005 budget of $2,907,686,333 would increase to $3,883,134,136 for FY 2017. This works out to a 34% increase due to inflation.

If we go back to our per capita valuation from above we could change that list to the following:

  • FY 2005: $3,713
  • FY 2017: $5,517
  • FY 2017: $4,975 (if spending had kept pace with inflation and population only)

We find then that the per capita cost of the South Dakota budget has increased by 15% more than can be explained by population increases and inflation load since FY 2005.

Czech out those Finns!

I know, I know. But it’s been at least a 4 hours since my last pun. In truth, this isn’t at all funny. It would seem that the EU is all in favor of making it hard for criminals to get firearms, though the firearms used in the recent terror attacks in France were not acquired legally, to the best of my knowledge. Nonetheless, the EU unwilling to let facts get in the way of passing more laws:

Europe is trying to make it harder for weapons to end up in the hands of terrorists. Hence, the European Commission’s November 18 call for a stronger coordinated European approach to control the use of weapons and fight against the trafficking of firearms.

The Commission proposes amending the EU Firearms Directive to make it more difficult to acquire firearms in the Member States. The EU Firearms Directive defines the rules under which private persons can acquire and possess weapons, as well as the transfer of firearms to another EU country.

Remember, the Second Amendment to the US Constitution came about because of a precursor to the EU Firearms Directive (aka King George).

However two countries, Finland and the Czech Republic, oppose the stricter measures, arguing that their unique national policy would be detrimentally affected as a result.

“We support the directive, but we have a national defence-related concern that should be resolved over the course of the process,” said Finland’s Interior Minister Petteri Orpo after the November 20 meeting in Brussels.

Finland and the Czech Republic have both submitted their reservations about the proposed amendments to the EU. The Czech Republic has a long history of permissive gun control, permitting citizens to carry a concealed weapon for self-defense.

Sweden has also said it would have difficulty accepting a decision that would limit the kinds of firearms people can use for hunting, a concern Finland also shares.

Finland is known for Sako, maker of Sako and Tikka firearms. The Czech Republic is known for CZ. I don’t currently own any Sako made weapons, but I do have a CZ or so. In light of this, I believe it would be good to invest in some Finnish hardware.

Despite what these two countries may do, the truth is that such a move is likely to cause some EU residents to feel safer, but it will do nothing to actually make anyone safer. Stopping the transplantation of the goodly portion of the Middle East population to the EU would actually increase safety, but doing that would require far more work by the EU leadership–work which it is currently unable to countenance.

If it Feels Good, Don’t Do It

If it isn’t permitted under the law.

Our president is doing what he wants to about immigration because it feels good–or more likely because the adulation of the masses is a remarkable boost to his ego. I get it. It’s nice to be liked. It’s wonderful to be loved. And it’s mind-blowingly awesome to be worshiped.

But being worshiped is not a sign that one is a god, or demi-god, or even on the side of the angels. In fact, dictators (of the non-benevolent stripe) since the dawn of time have regularly been worshiped by those who either love them or fear them, or both. Oh, and dictators are not really picky about the source emotions of the worshipers. They just need to feed.

Which is why the government of these United States was not set up as a dictatorship, why Washington turned down a legitimate offer to become the King instead of a president, why it would be in our best interest to stop the insanity which has come with generations of politicians following each other to the great feeding trough in the District of Columbia.

But, I’m getting off the track a bit. Back to the President (with a word from P&R):

Those who try to defend this tyrannical usurpation should have a care. What if the next president decides to use “prosecutorial discretion” to alter the tax rates via executive order? What if the next president decides to use executive orders on the flimsy basis of such discretion to open ANWR and other national parks, refuges, and public lands to energy development? There is, theoretically, no limit to presidential actions in defiance of congress, voters, and the democratic process if this something done by our would-be dictator and erstwhile president is not challenged. If you would give this sort of power to an Obama, you must be prepared to see a Nixon wield it, too.

Truth. The real reason we restrict the power the presidency by checking it, by moderating it, through the power of the House and Senate, and yes, even the Supreme Court (and the other courts) is that our form of government is built upon the give and take of a representative republic.

If the President believes that going it alone, in contravention to the laws which established this republic, is what he must do, then he has crossed the Rubicon. All that remains is to see if the citizens of the republic, including the legislators, are so enamored of Caesar and all that he promises that they will throw off that which is left of the republic and proclaim him savior.

Home-school Stupidity

Nutjob murderer was homeschooled, so home-schoolers need to be screened for nutjobbery because if we don’t more such horrible things will happen:

But the commission, which is preparing its final report to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, said tighter scrutiny of home-schoolers may be needed to prevent an incident such as the December 2012 slaughter of 20 first-graders and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown. The murders were carried out by Adam Lanza, a disturbed 20-year-old who had been home-schooled by his mother, Nancy Lanza, whom he also shot to death on the morning of his murder spree.

Right. So the murderer was home-schooled (for 6 months IIRC) out of roughly 13 years of schooling. Doesn’t that work out to something like 4%? And, was he not also home-schooled because of his behavioral issues at the other school? That is, calling him home-schooled is rather like calling someone who spent 6 months in the hospital with a terrible infection “hospital-schooled.”

One could be hugely cynical and see this as an attempt to make home-schoolers out as the scapegoats–because it’s often easy to single out a relatively small sub-group of the population and point at them and say “See, they’re weird. We should do something about that.” But, again, that would require incredible amounts of cynicism.

Bottom line? Rejecting the commissions insanity with reference to home-schoolers is about freedom. Not freedom from all risk, for that can only be found in the grave, but freedom to live, to enjoy liberty, and to pursue happiness without the meddling of those who know far better than us what we ought to do, to say, and most importantly, how we are to raise and educate our own children. Because, you know, it takes a village.

Socially Insecure? Yes, We Are.

Does one pay the piper anymore? It seems as though someone’s been forgetting to:

Social Security paid out nearly $71 billion more to retirees and other beneficiaries than it collected in tax revenue in 2013. This is the fourth straight year the retirement and disability programs are running cash-flow deficits, as highlighted in today’s trustee report.

Deficits are only growing worse. The trustees project $80 billion in deficits in 2014, which will more than double before the end of the decade. At $110 billion in average annual deficits throughout the next decade, the combined programs are facing more than a trillion dollars in deficits just over the next 10 years.

Social Security’s reported long-term (through the end of 2088) unfunded obligation of $10.6 trillion is further exacerbated by the $2.8 trillion in IOUs in the old-age security (OAS) and disability insurance (DI) trust funds.

Simply put, the Social Security Accounts Receivable was $71,000,000,000.00 less than the SS Accounts Payable for last year. And that’s without even looking at the other years data.

So, what ought to be done? In most businesses (assuming they weren’t already bankrupt from such a differential) people would either need to increase revenues or cut costs, or both.

Increasing revenues to SS would have the nearly immediate benefit of constricting the economy further than it already is. Cutting costs involves telling people who have been paying into the system for years that their investments haven’t really amounted to anything.

As one of the people who will be losing his SS investment, I’m in favor of the second approach, despite the fact that it will be painful. Of course, it’s not as though I’m really losing anything.

For the most part, ignoring problems does not cause them to go away. Though, if we ignore problems for long enough, we end up going away and the problems are inherited by our children. Sounds kind of selfish, doesn’t it?

 

Divorce Is the Answer. But What’s the Question?

An employer determined that several of its employees were doing work at a level beyond what was anticipated. As a result, the employer decided to reward those employees with raises. Sounds good, doesn’t it? Well, not to everyone:

The raises would lift the pay of several junior employees above that of more senior union members. Instead of celebrating its members’ recognition, Local 23 filed a grievance.

The arbitrator sided with the union and ordered the pay increases rescinded. Courts upheld the ruling on appeal.

Local 23 got what it wanted — a uniform contract treating everyone the same.

Treating everyone the same, and yet treating a goodly number of the employees inequitably. Why? Because if the employees figure out that the employer is the actual setter and payer of salaries, then the value of the union is largely dissipated. Only if the union can hold on to its position of patronage for the workers (and that’s exactly what it is) will it be able to continue to be funded by those same workers.

As long as there are humans on both sides of employee and employer relationships, there will be problems. After all, the one side (employer) wants to get as much as possible for as little as possible, while the other side (employee) desires to get as much as possible for as little as possible. And yes, I realize that I’m painting with a very broad brush here. However, adding in a union which desires to get as much as possible out of both the employer and the employee does little to help, and much to hurt.

It is time for the labor unions of the 19th and 20th centuries to give way to the realities of the 21st. I may be a conservative, but that doesn’t mean I keep every old thing around just because it’s been around for a really long time.

Light Rail Still in Darkness

The question is asked: “Have U.S. Light Rail Systems Been Worth the Investment?

My short answer? No. The article takes a bit longer but misses the answer by a few miles of track. Instead, we are left with the feeling that if we were to just do a bit more, we could make this work. The ultimate paragraph is as follows:

But spending on new lines is not enough. Increases in transit use are only possible when the low costs of driving and parking are addressed, and when government and private partners work together to develop more densely near transit stations. None of the cities that built new light rail lines in the 1980s understood this reality sufficiently. Each region also built free highways during the period (I-990 in Buffalo, I-205 in Portland, US 50 in Sacramento, CA 54 in San Diego, and CA 237 in San Jose), and each continued to sprawl (including Portland, despite its urban growth boundary). These conflicting policies had as much to do with light rail’s mediocre outcomes as the trains themselves — if not more.

I’d like to close with three observations regarding the paragraph:

  1. “Addressing” the low cost of driving and parking means making those activities cost-prohibitive. Because what we need more than anything is to punish individuals going here and there whenever they wish to.
  2. Government and private partners work together about as well as an ox and an ass. And no, I’m not telling you which is which.
  3. Conflicting policies are what kept the cities in question from drying up and blowing away. Close down the freeways and see just how long folks will last without all goods brought in via truck.