Posts Tagged conservative

Real Fiscal Conservatism


Fiscal restraint is a key component of conservatism. Some take this to mean spending less is always better and that all spending cuts are good. But, true fiscal conservatism also requires that when we do spend, it is done efficiently and effectively so we get the most benefit from each tax dollar.

In reality, some spending – even by government – is necessary to avoid the need to spend even more money down the road. For example, fixing a leaking roof when the first signs of water appear on the ceiling is far less expensive than waiting until the ceiling collapses before stopping the leak. The same principle applies to government spending. It is less expensive to keep a bridge in good repair thus extending its life than to replace it frequently. In terms of human services, it is better to provide care early rather than to allow conditions to worsen and become more costly both from a humane and a financial perspective.

That is why current proposals to cut state spending on human services are short sighted and destined to create bigger problems in the future. There is no doubt that state government is bloated, spending cuts must and should be made, and that taxpayers cannot afford higher taxes. To that end Governor Corbett is absolutely following the right course by drawing a line in the spending sand.

But with $27 billion to spend priorities must be established. Government must perform its core functions such as providing for public safety, transportation infrastructure and a reasonable social safety net. To do this it is neither necessary nor desirable for state government to become a super charity, but there is widespread agreement that those in need of assistance through no fault of their own should be rendered such help.

For example, several years ago the state’s mental hospitals were closed and treatment programs were largely devolved to the counties. As is typical, state government mandated counties provide such services without establishing a corresponding adequate flow of funds. Counties and nonprofit agencies are already struggling – with limited success – to fill the need. Now they face having to do the job with even fewer resources. Much like the leaky roof or bridge that needs repaired; early intervention is far preferable to allowing medical conditions to worsen. Or, as happens all too frequently, the person commits an act that requires a trip through the criminal justice system followed by expensive incarceration.

Such indiscriminate cutting of the state budget masks an even bigger problem. It allows budget-makers to avoid making the really difficult decisions that deal with the fundamental problems confronting the commonwealth. To carry our roof analogy a step further, it is like slapping a coat of paint on the ceiling to mask the water stain rather than replacing the shingles so the roof stops leaking.

Cutting human service funding may help balance this year’s budget. But it doesn’t address the underlying cost drivers that put us in this mess. Antiquated prevailing wage laws will continue to drive up the cost of building projects. Bloating of the welfare rolls siphons off money that should be spent on the truly needy. A public education system lacking in choice remains archaic, ineffective and expensive. The state’s outdated liquor store monopoly holds captive funding that could be better spent addressing core needs. Our prison system cries out for reform to bring a halt to escalating incarceration costs.

These changes require strong leadership and courageous votes. But rather than address these structural problems, those responsible for crafting our state budget prefer to take the easy way out and cut spending for programs that benefit our aging, mentally challenged, chemically dependent, and otherwise truly needy citizens. Such an approach is not just financially short-sighted, it is morally unjust.

Before this year’s state budget is adopted lawmakers should restore the proposed funding cuts to human services, and begin taking the steps necessary to address the factors that are driving up costs beyond our ability to pay. For all too many years our elected officials have behaved like politicians rather than like legislators. The time for bold leadership, principled votes and a fundamental reordering or our state’s fiscal priorities has arrived. That is a truly conservative approach to governing.

  (Lowman S. Henry is Chairman & CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal. His e-mail address is lhenry@lincolninstitute.org.)

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a comment

Policy Envy


By Lowman S. Henry

Conservative activists from across Penn’s Woods gathered recently for the annual Pennsylvania Leadership Conference. From the podium and through the hallways a common theme emerged. There is a palpable sense of disappointment – and growing anger – over the slow pace of Governor Tom Corbett and the Republican-controlled General Assembly toward enactment of the conservative agenda.

Activists are quick to credit the Governor and his legislative allies for last year’s state budget which held the line on both spending and taxes. Credit is also given for the fact this year’s proposed budget – and likely final budget – will follow suit. But those accomplishments are the only reason why conservative anger has not turned into outright hostility and rebellion.

Fueling disillusionment among the party’s base is the progress being made in other states. Conservatives have watched with envy as Indiana enacted a Right to Work law. Wisconsin – liberal Wisconsin – passed sweeping reforms that threw off the yoke of labor union repression that had bloated that state’s budget for decades. From Chris Christie’s war against the education establishment in New Jersey to policy victories in Virginia, Florida, Ohio and other states conservatives nationwide are enacting their agenda.

Here in Pennsylvania the conservative agenda is dead in the water. During the early months of the Corbett Administration we were told the budget came first, that other issues would be addressed after the budget was passed. The budget was passed nine months ago and the record of accomplishment since then is, well, dismal.

School choice was to be the crown jewel in this session’s legislative crown. But even a watered down version of school choice failed to pass the General Assembly. Ditto privatization of the state’s liquor stores. Efforts to protect the unborn via the Women’s Right to Know Act floundered and was pulled from the legislative agenda. Right to Work is mentioned in hushed tones and even a modest update to the state’s Prevailing Wage law remains bottled up in a House committee.

Pointing to policy victories in other states, conservatives are demanding to know why, with a Republican in the Governor’s Office and historic Republican majorities in the General Assembly more progress is not being made. Matthew Brouillette, President of the Commonwealth Foundation, has the answer. He correctly points out that the Republican/Democrat model does not apply in Pennsylvania. Rather the legislature is divided between the union party and the taxpayer party.

And the union party is winning. Last summer a number of contracts with state labor unions were up for renewal. Rather than take a stand to bring labor costs under control, the Corbett Administration simply caved into union demands. It bought labor peace, but that tranquility will come at a considerable price to taxpayers. In the state Senate, leadership has opposed liquor store privatization and other conservative initiatives. Simply put, the upper chamber has become a conservative policy graveyard. In the House, labor leaders recently lauded House Labor Committee Chairman Ron Miller (R-York) as “our man in Harrisburg.” Is it any wonder legislation aimed at curbing the excesses of organized labor is stuck in his committee?

Simply put while Republicans are the governing majority in Harrisburg conservatives and taxpayers remain in the minority. That is why the upcoming primary election is so important. It is no longer good enough to simply return Republicans to office because the alternative is worse. Primary elections are held for a reason. Primaries are where the battle for the heart and soul of the party is fought. Incumbent Republicans who take money from labor unions are part of the problem, not part of the solution.

With Pennsylvania’s primary election now just weeks away voters should take the time to find out whether their elected representative stands with the unions or with the taxpayers. If only a few incumbents lose because they sided with the special interests rather than the public interest, then the culture of state government will begin to change. And change must come soon. Because if it does not, that simmering conservative anger will boil over when the spotlight returns to state government in 2014.

(Lowman S. Henry is Chairman & CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal. His e-mail address is lhenry@lincolninstitute.org.)

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a comment

Practical Conservatism: Toomey Bridges the Partisan Divide


By Lowman S. Henry

U.S. Senator Pat Toomey has been in office for less than a year, but in that short period of time he has emerged as something rare in present day Washington, D.C. – a principled officeholder who is willing to work with the other side of the aisle to arrive at solutions to the serious problems which confront our nation.

This is not easy to do, which is why so few members of congress are even trying. Two successive wave elections have sent to the national legislature groups of representatives who are polar opposites both in terms of party affiliation and ideology. This has gridlocked congress both rhetorically and legislatively.

The danger for any senator or congressman is that the slightest movement away from ideological orthodoxy results in immediate condemnation from their party’s base, seemingly making compromise impossible. But, for those willing to peel back the outer layers of the policy onion there are often obscure and archane details that provide opportunity for agreement and progress.

And so it was that Senator Toomey became the only member of the so-called “super committee” on deficit reduction to actually put on the table a new proposal that remained true to principle, but offered significant movement toward compromise. Unfortunately, no statesman emerged on the other side to reciprocate Toomey’s gesture, although apparently the freshman senator’s plan did cause other members to pause to consider.

The genius of Toomey’s plan was that it would have actually cut tax rates for a majority of taxpayers, while generating additional revenue through the closing of certain loopholes. As a former president of the Club for Growth, Toomey had a “Nixon goes to China” moment in that he is one of the few members of congress who could propose generating more tax revenue without getting totally ground up by conservatives, while giving Democrats some of the additional tax dollars they crave.

In the end, it wasn’t enough for the Democrats on the “super committee,” and even Toomey could go no further. But, given that Toomey was the only member of the committee to actually appear to be reasonable, thoughtful, and creative, it allowed him to emerge intact from what was otherwise a “super committee” train wreck.

In recent weeks Senator Toomey has further solidified his status as a bridge over the great partisan divide by teaming with Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) to introduce legislation aimed at banning congressional earmarks. The practice of earmarks – allowing members to insert pork barrel spending projects into legislation – has fueled the federal deficit. Ending earmarks is a vital first step toward fiscal restraint by congress, but is often seen as a conservative Republican issue. By joining forces with McCaskill, Toomey has transformed it into a good government issue.

There is no more highly partisan member of the United States Senate than Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY). Schumer is an unashamed liberal who is the driving force behind his party’s electoral machine. But, last week Schumer and Toomey introduced a bipartisan plan to remove barriers standing in the way of private firms seeking to go public. Such a material change in corporate structure has resulted in job growth at 90% of the private firms that have gone public.

In announcing the plan Senator Schumer said: “During difficult economic times, it is critical that we give growing innovators the breathing room they need to access public markets. This is a common sense set of reforms that can bridge the partisan divide and have a real impact on job creation.” An argument can be made that if you can bridge the partisan divide between Chuck Schumer and Pat Toomey you have built a very solid structure. The bill stands an excellent chance of becoming law, and will ultimately have a profound positive effect on job creation.

It has often been said that “the devil is in the details.” But what Pat Toomey has demonstrated in recent weeks is that the solution may also be in the details. Both his proposal to the “super committee” and his bill to allow companies easier access to the capital markets show that the way forward is to address the smaller, more technical issues upon which consensus can be built. Eventually, after taking care of enough of the smaller issues, a path will emerge to resolving the larger ones.

(Lowman S. Henry is Chairman & CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal. His e-mail address is lhenry@lincolninstitute.org.)

, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a comment