Wednesday, April 27, 2005

"Co-pays" hide the true cost of government

Omnibus bills are difficult for the average citizen to follow. An omnibus bill is a large collection of related bills that are considered and voted upon as one bill. Even after they have passed, to figure out which part of the omnibus bill your legislator favored, and which ones he or she opposed, you pretty much have to get them on the phone and ask. Unfortunately, not enough people bother to do this.

The Senate education finance omnibus bill currently percolating at the Legislature, for example, contains a few provisions that you should know about. DFL Senators have removed local school districts' excess levy authority from the bill. So even lacking "adequate" funding from the state (if "adequate" can even be defined), local school districts would be powerless to go to their own voters for more money.

Second, in spite of a larger increase to K-12 education than in Governor Tim Pawlenty's budget, the Senate bill still does not say how it would pay for such largesse. Back in February, Sen. Steve Kelley (DFL-Hopkins) told the Star Tribune, "I know how we're going to fund this is critically important. I think tax increases need to be in the mix."

The DFL likes to finance K-12 education, and everything else, by raising taxes -- someone else's taxes. Republicans, at least the fiscal conservatives, don't like to raise anyone's taxes, but if more money is truly needed for good reasons, they prefer to have those who would benefit be responsible for the cost. It's much easier for you to schedule an appointment with your city council member or school board member down the street than it is for you to lobby the entire Legislature in Saint Paul, most of whom don't need your vote (believe me, I've done both). It's called "local control."

My company offers a health savings account (HSA) with a high-deductible health plan. I fund my HSA with pre-tax or tax-deductible dollars. I pay for my medical expenses out of this fund at full fare, up to a deductible amount. Then the insurance pays 80% and I pay 20%. I own the money in the HSA forever, even if I were to leave the company. Local control!

The first few times I had to shell out the full costs (instead of a $10 or $15 co-payment) for a lab, office visit, or prescription medicine, I was in sticker shock. But it forced me to question whether each charge was necessary, or whether there was a more cost-effective alternative. For instance, now I take over-the-counter loratadine instead of a prescription hay fever medicine. I have more incentive to stay healthy, and the health care community and drug companies will have an added incentive to keep their costs in check.

As a state, we would all benefit by getting rid of most "co-pays" and being forced to deal with the real costs of government services.

Monday, April 25, 2005

A blog is born

Lower taxes, less government.

It's a refrain you may hear on other conservative blogs, but this blog is going to espouse what I and a group of my associates call "pragmatic conservativism." It's a flavor of conservatism that, yes, favors lower taxes, less government, and less government regulation ("liberty"), but also attempts to solve problems like unemployment, special education, rising health care costs, and others that have typically been the baliwick of liberal Democrats.

I have found that while a purely ideological stance may have worked at the party convention, it isn't enough at the Legislature. For one thing, the opposition party is always in your face with, what else, an opposing viewpoint. Second, the Legislature's job is to solve problems, not only advance an agenda. And it's not enough to be right, you also have to win.

Eventually, this blog will evolve into a group blog, or feature guest contributors from time to time. I hope to attract readers and contributors from across the state of Minnesota and perhaps some of the surrounding states. But the blog will emphasize Minnesota policies, politics, and legislation, statewide and local. You'll read a variety of viewpoints from respected leaders and citizens that don't get published in the Star Tribune. Not everyone has a blog or wants a blog, but many have views that deserve to be heard nonetheless. This blog is for them (and for you).

Along the way I hope to connect like-minded Minnesota citizens to extend the conversation into the real, face-to-face realm, from the precincts to the Capitol.

So here we go...