Thursday, August 23, 2007

Conservatives flex their muscle

Tom Scheck at Minnesota Public Radio's Polinaut, and more than a few Democrats I presume, are befuddled at Gov. Tim Pawlenty's signals over the weekend that a gas tax increase may not be such a sure thing after all. In an e-mail to supporters, the governor's political director, Michael Krueger said, "the Governor has made it clear to legislative leaders that he would like to see this gas tax increase as only temporary and offset by an income tax cut."

"So what changed," asks Scheck, "between Pawlenty's statement on August 7th ("The gas tax has never been popular but we have needs that have to be addressed") and today? Did he get too far from his base? Is he poll watching?"

That got me wondering about 100.3 KTLK-FM personality Jason Lewis's August 10 (note the timing) e-mail blast to his Tax Cut Coalition. Perhaps we caught a glimpse of what can happen when conservatives come together to flex their political muscle:
Dear TCC Member:

Just when you thought it was safe to go back to work again...

The aftermath of the I35W bridge collapse seems to only compound a very sad event. The idea that some politicians would use such a tragedy to advance their own agenda is more than unseemly. Unfortunately, raising taxes--and not re-prioritizing state spending--is gaining traction and too few in the political arena are opposing such a transparent notion.

The upcoming special session is now turning into a feeding frenzy with almost every conceivable spending proposal item on the agenda--that is, unless we stop it. A state biennial budget that has had two back-to-back increases of 12.4% and 9.6% respectively doesn't have a spending problem. A $34.5 billion general fund, which has doubled since 1995 and gone up 30% just since 2002 isn't short of taxpayer generosity. What happened to that surplus?

If we are truly committed to roads and bridges then our elected leaders need to revisit our state highway funding formula which short changes the most congested areas; they need to rethink diverting state and federal dollars to billion dollar light rail projects; and members of Congress need to stop the earmarks in transportation bills that have little to do with building and maintaining roads. Period.

Please tell your state Representative and Senator as well as the Governor that you will not support an increase in the gas tax (or any other tax) unless it is completely offset with a reduction in the state's income tax burden for those paying the way. [Emphasis mine. —M.A.] This would have the effect of spending less on non-essential items and devoting more resources to the real infrastructure the politicians say they care about.

It isn't a tax cut (they can't say we're not willing to compromise) but it is the only alternative acceptable to Minnesotans who make the economy go. (And a few letters to the editor might not be a bad idea either.)

Thank you in advance for your support.

Jason Lewis
Host, 4 - 7pm
FM Newstalk 100.3 KTLK

P.S. Don't forget to get your Tax Cut Coalition T-Shirt at the KTLK booth during the Minnesota State Fair.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Bigger subsidy: roads or mass transit?

To hear the Strib tell it, only drivers of single-passenger cars benefit from roads (Editorial: "Bipartisanship helps get transport funds," Saturday, August 18, 2007):
Our fundamental transportation problem, as a nation and as a metropolitan region, is that drivers don't pay anything close to the full cost of driving. Thirty-three percent of road and bridge costs in Minnesota, for example, are borne by general property taxpayers, not by the buyers of gasoline, license tabs or other car-related expenses. Indeed, if all the externalities associated with excessive driving were calculated -- from emergency rooms to air pollution, not to mention more contentious factors, like foreign wars -- the sum would be staggering and would compel us to reconsider our daily travel habits.

They forgot to include "manmade climate change" and lack of universal health care insurance to this list. So much for the "gatekeepers" at the Strib.

The Strib seems to suggest that general property taxpayers don't benefit from good roads, so they are subsidizing those evil automobile drivers. Even if we accept this canard as truth, intellectual honesty would demand that we acknowledge those heavily-taxed general property taxpayers who also drive a car certainly benefit from good roads and bridges. Further, anyone who receives postal mail, who buys anything at a retail store, who eats food at a restaurant or purchased at a farmer's market, takes delivery of an online purchase, receives home delivery of the Star Tribune, checks out a book from the Minneapolis Central Library, rides a Metro Transit bus or school bus, or takes a taxi all benefit from good roads and bridges.

Conversely, none of these groups benefit from light rail trains. Would the Legislature please grant an exemption to these oppressively-taxed groups from propping up economically unsustainable light rail trains, which benefit only a small percentage of the population to the detriment of the roads and bridges that we all depend on?

Teenage Republicans to hear about communism

Sen. Rudy BoschwitzThis Friday, August 24th at 6:00 pm, the Teenage Republicans of Minnesota (TAR) will hold a state meeting at the Edina Community Center to talk about the pitfalls of communism.

Ananh Saenvilay spent most of his life under a communist government in Laos. He witnessed first hand how communist governments strip away the rights and freedoms we Americans take for granted. To protect our freedoms, Mr. Saenvilay has become active in the Lao American Republicans, and in 2007 served as one of the LAR delegates to our GOP State central.

Senator Rudy Boschwitz will speak about his service with President Ronald Reagan. He will talk about how President Reagan had a clear goal of stopping the rapid spread of communism and restoring worldwide freedom through democracy and individual rights. Few Presidents have made an impact on this world as President Reagan did. Senator Boschwitz had a front row seat during Reagan's tenure.

The new Minnesota State party deputy chair, Dorothy Fleming will talk about the status of the state party and how they need us TARs more than ever.

Tommy Tjornholm, a TAR from Minnetonka, Minn., will tell us what he learned while representing Minnesota TARs at the National Teenage Republican Leadership Conference in Washington, D.C.

GOP elected officials have also been invited. Expected to attend are Rep. Neil Peterson (R-Bloomington), Rep. Tom Emmer (R-Delano), and Senator David Hann (R-Eden Prairie). Many BPOU leaders are also expected to attend.

For further information and RSVP: Alex Friedman, A.Friedman1 at gmail dot com. The event is free and open to the public.

Friday, August 17, 2007

That giant sucking sound

"Politics is not the art of the possible. It consists of choosing between the disastrous and the unpalatable." —John Kenneth Galbraith

With Governor Pawlenty opening the door to light rail on the I-35W bridge replacement, and a gas tax increase to pay for it, the affair is already teetering between the disastrous and the unpalatable.

To paraphrase Ross Perot, that giant sucking sound you hear is more money being vacuumed from your wallet. From the Taxpayers League of Minnesota:
As [Taxpayers League of Minnesota president] Phil Krinkie said on MPR on Wednesday, what will fastracking Northstar [commuter rail between Saint Cloud and Minneapolis] — which is projected to handle 5000 trips a day — do to relieve congestion on a bridge that carried upwards of 200,000 vehicles a day? And, with subsidies for Northstar projected to run anywhere from $5-$7 per rider (on the low end) to $15-$18 per rider (on the high end), where will future transportation spending be focused? Not where we need it, that’s for sure.

If you really want to talk about transit subsidies here’s another number for you to throw at your neighbor the next time he opines as to where our priorities should be: per Minnesota state statute, Metro Transit must achieve of farebox recovery rate of between 33-34%. So every dollar a bus or train rider puts in the till, $2 is coming out of your pocket. Pretty slick how that works, huh?

Are any of our elected officials planning on standing up for the automobile commuter, freight carriers, and taxpayers against these runaway trains?

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Mark Buesgens: not so fast!!

Kudos to Minnesota Rep. Mark Buesgens (R-Jordan) for his commentary in the Strib, "Let's be wary of raising taxes during a period of high emotion," in which he cautions against a hastily-called special session of the Legislature to pass a hastily-crafted gas tax bill to pay for replacing the collapsed 35W bridge:
A special session would not be a magic wand that would suddenly cure all the woes of our neglected infrastructure. Raising the gas tax in September would not bring in huge amounts of revenue before the Legislature is set to reconvene in February. Of course, immediate cash is necessary, and the governor has emergency powers to allocate the necessary revenue from any of the numerous reserve funds that the state has socked away for just such incidents.

The Strib reported that Sen. Ann Rest (DFL-New Hope), Sen. Rod Skoe (DFL-Clearbrook), and U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN 4) are all questioning the "frenzied rush to replace the bridge [McCollum's words]." Of course, no one is questioning the frenzied rush to raise taxes.

Like a good homeowner's insurance policy, the federal government will fund the replacement of the bridge with an equivalent bridge, with up-to-date safety, durability, and traffic standards. The Dems want to add light rail, and need more time to come up with funding, conduct environmental studies, and engineer a new bridge that would support light rail. So they're using fear to put the brakes on getting metro area drivers off the post-collapse detours.

Considering the circumstances, I have no doubt that the new 35W bridge is going to be the safest, longest lasting bridge built since the Interstate system was created. Frenzied rush, indeed.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

"The Ethanol Scam"

For a scathing repudiation of the ethanol scam, check out "The Ethanol Scam: One of America's Biggest Political Boondoggles," by Jeff Goodell, Rolling Stone magazine, Issue 1032.
Ethanol doesn't burn cleaner than gasoline, nor is it cheaper. Our current ethanol production represents only 3.5 percent of our gasoline consumption -- yet it consumes twenty percent of the entire U.S. corn crop, causing the price of corn to double in the last two years and raising the threat of hunger in the Third World...

So why bother? Because the whole point of corn ethanol is not to solve America's energy crisis, but to generate one of the great political boondoggles of our time. Corn is already the most subsidized crop in America, raking in a total of $51 billion in federal handouts between 1995 and 2005 -- twice as much as wheat subsidies and four times as much as soybeans. Ethanol itself is propped up by hefty subsidies, including a fifty-one-cent-per-gallon tax allowance for refiners. And a study by the International Institute for Sustainable Development found that ethanol subsidies amount to as much as $1.38 per gallon -- about half of ethanol's wholesale market price.

The article goes on to describe ethanol's technical shortcomings, political sell-outs to big ag, and even how biofuels could be "done right," if not for the political interests currently pushing corn ethanol. Goodell is no right-wing ideologue: he is not opposed to biofuels per se, and is a believer in man-made global warming.

Even more interesting than the article itself is a letter to the editor from ethanol proponent Bob Dinneen of the Renewable Fuels Association, and author Goodell's response, which includes several web links for further debate.

How refreshing in the light of the current political, government, corporate public relations, and mass media snow job promoting the burning of food for fuel.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Not so fast, Mr. Oberstar

From "Oberstar's gas tax may hit some political potholes," by Kevin Diaz, Star Tribune, August 11, 2007:
Republican Sen. Norm Coleman suggested that the nation's infrastructure is not a question of money, but of making it a priority. "I'm not yet prepared to accept a gas tax increase as the solution," he said.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat, suggested other remedies first. "We should look at closing lucrative loopholes for the big oil companies and rolling back the Bush tax cuts for people making over $336,000 per year before adding another burden on the middle class," she said.

Sen. Klobuchar would penalize productivity, reducing tax revenue by driving the rich harder toward tax shelters, and drive up oil prices by discouraging investment in domestic oil production, but at least she understands that a federal gas tax increase would be burdensome and unnecessary.

(Minnesotans currently pay 20 cents per gallon to the state, and export 18.4 cents per gallon to Washington, D.C. — 38.4 cents per gallon total in state and federal taxes. According to Jason Lewis, oil company profits average around 8 cents per gallon. Is big oil more "lucrative" for the oil companies, or for the government?)

Meanwhile, back in Minnesota, we also need to reexamine our spending priorities. No special session or gas tax increase needed. A gas tax would not raise a large amount of cash immediately, anyway. Emergency funding now on the way from the feds, tapping the state's rainy day funds, and shifting money out of lower priorities, would help meet the urgent need to get the 35W bridge back online as safely and quickly as possible.

Friday, August 10, 2007

SD 33 Republicans: party animals

Lake Minnetonka calls!The Republicans in Senate District 33 (mostly those little areas around the nooks and crannies of Lake Minnetonka), are putting the "party" into "Republican Party" this month and next. Make that party building.

A week from Sunday, on August 19, the district is hosting a flotilla on Lake Minnetonka, BYOB (Bring Your Own Boat) or hitch a ride on one of theirs. SD 33 Republicans Sen. Gen Olson and Reps. Steve Smith and John Berns will be aboard.

On Friday, September 28, SD 33 hosts its first annual casino night fundraiser at the venerable Gold Coast institution, the Lafayette Club. The afternoon will feature a high-roller Texas Hold 'Em tournament, with an evening live auction featuring auctioneer (and governor) Tim Pawlenty.

With such active fundraising and party building social events, no wonder SD 33 is a deep red Republican district (in a tough year for Republicans, Berns kept former Rep. Barb Sykora's seat in the Republican caucus by winning his 2006 election by eleven points).

See the SD 33 web site for details.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

New priorities, not gas tax increase, needed to rebuild bridge

To paraphrase Governor Pawlenty (until recently), Minnesota does not have a revenue problem, Minnesota has a prioritization problem. Here are a few examples of misplaced priorities (yes I know the Twins stadium is a Hennepin County tax, but you-know-who made it possible):

KSTP's recent poll showed that 57 percent of those surveyed oppose an increase to the Minnesota state gas tax, while only 38 percent would support an increase. (See Captain's Quarters for much more.)

In today's press conference, even President Bush opposed a federal gas tax increase, shining a light on how Congress doles out the money: with a combination of pork-barrel projects and no-strings grants to the states (Source: CBS News):
The way it seems to have worked is that each member on that (Transportation) committee gets to set his or her own priorities first," Bush said. "That's not the right way to prioritize the people's money. Before we raise taxes, which could affect economic growth, I would strongly urge the Congress to examine how they set priorities."

Governor Pawlenty, we don't have a revenue problem. Sign an increase to the gas tax, which at least is constitutionally dedicated to roads, only if it is paid for by cutting other programs or an offsetting income tax cut.

Governor Tim Pawlenty: (651) 296-3391

UPDATE: Jason Lewis and the blogosphere are railing, so to speak, against the possibility of a state or federal gas tax increase. So where are the governor and the Republican Party of Minnesota??

The difference between a Republican and a Democrat, Part III

"The Ant and the Grasshopper," by Aesop:

In a field one summer’s day a Grasshopper was hopping about, chirping and singing to its heart’s content. An Ant passed by, bearing along with great toil an ear of corn he was taking to the nest.

"Why not come and chat with me," said the Grasshopper, "instead of toiling and moiling in that way?"

"I am helping to lay up food for the winter," said the Ant, "and recommend you to do the same."

"Why bother about winter?" said the Grasshopper, "we have got plenty of food at present." But the Ant went on its way and continued its toil. When the winter came the Grasshopper had no food, and found itself dying of hunger, while it saw the ants distributing every day corn and grain from the stores they had collected in the summer. Then the Grasshopper knew:


"The Ant and the Grasshopper," Modern Version:

The ant works hard in the withering heat all summer long, building his house and laying up supplies for the winter.

The grasshopper thinks the ant is a fool and laughs and dances and plays the summer away.

Come winter, the shivering grasshopper calls a press conference and demands to know why the ant should be warm and well fed while others are cold and starving.

The mass media show up to provide pictures of the shivering grasshopper next to a video of the ant in his comfortable home with a table filled with food. America is stunned by the sharp contrast. How can this be, that in a country of such wealth,
this poor grasshopper is allowed to suffer so? Kermit the Frog appears on Oprah with the grasshopper, and everybody cries when they sing, "It's Not Easy Being Green."

Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson stage a demonstration in front of the ant's house where the news stations film the group singing, "We Shall Overcome." They then have the group kneel down to pray to God for the grasshopper's sake.

Hillary Clinton exclaim in an interview with Larry King that the ant has gotten rich off the back of the grasshopper, and call for an immediate tax hike on the ant to make him pay his fair share.

Finally, the Congress passes the Economic Equity and Anti-Grasshopper Act retroactive to the beginning of the summer. The ant is fined for failing to hire a proportionate number of green bugs and, having nothing left to pay his retroactive taxes, his home is confiscated by the government.

MORAL OF THE STORY: Be careful how you vote!

Monday, August 06, 2007

First Republican presidential debate

Yesterday, we took a look at some of the contenders for the highest office in the land, as we Americans have used television to do since the Nixon-Kennedy debate.

Overall I was pleased with the Republican field, save for Congressman Ron Paul's (R-Texas) decidedly un-presidential rant against the United States military effort in Iraq. Inexplicably, at this writing Paul is winning — by a landslide — the ABC News web site poll that asks, Who Won the Republican Debate? I suspect script kiddie robots — possibly from (Cue the Oliver Stone ominous conspiracy music.)

I thought that John McCain gave some good responses, but stumbled a bit in places. Rudy Giuliani showed his "9/11 mayor," large-and-in-charge persona. Mitt Romney at first ducked the opening punch from moderator George Stephanopoulos, a statement from Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kansas), but later recovered with more direct answers and a presidential demeanor.

Romney definitely had the sound bite of the week, which was a reference to Democrat presidential candidate Barack Obama's statement that he would be willing to meet with the leaders of rogue governments like Cuba, Venezuela, and Iran without pre-condition, and his subsequent statement in a speech last week in Washington, D.C., that the U.S. must be ready to take military action inside Pakistan to dismantle terrorist networks.

Romney observed, "I mean in one week he went from saying he's going to sit down, you know, for tea, with our enemies, but then he's going to bomb our allies. I mean he's gone from Jane Fonda to Dr. Strangelove in one week.'"

Sir, who are you, and what have you done with Jay Leno's joke writers?

Notably absent from the debate were undeclared candidates Fred Thompson and Newt Gingrich, both of whom would have added significance to the proceedings.

These debates are a golden opportunity for these leading Republicans to articulate the core values of the party: faith, family, free markets, tax reform, a strong military, private enterprise, limited government, along with anything and everything that's good about America. It appears that whichever candidate wins the nomination in Saint Paul next year, these ideals will be well-represented going into the election.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

I-35W bridge collapse shows how emergency preparedness pays

Thank God for the many first responders to the I-35W bridge collapse, who were on scene immediately and through the night last night, from U of M student bystanders and neighbors to public safety, medical, Red Cross, media, and even corporate support from US Internet, Target, Caribou Coffee, and many others. We found out just how extensive emergency preparedness training has been in the Twin Cities since 9/11 by how effective the response was.

The public, not just professionals and government, must be ready to respond to disasters. Hennepin County is offering emergency preparedness training to the public this fall, train-the-trainer training designed to be repeated in community organizations. I'll be attending as an Emergency Preparedness merit badge counselor to my son's Boy Scout troop. For further information, contact Andrea Petersen, Hennepin County Public Health - Emergency Preparedness, phone 612-348-4463.