Legislative process

Nov 282007

The Kalamazoo Gazette thinks it’s just fine for the county to hire a lobbyist to get money out of the feds. No, really. It editorialized in favor of it in Tuesday’s paper. You can read the full thing here.

In a perfect world, lobbying would not be necessary. After all, we have two U.S. senators and several U.S. representatives who are elected to represent the interests of our state and region.

Commissioner David Maturen cast the lone dissenting vote. “I think we already have a lobbyist in Washington, D.C.,” Maturen said. “It’s called our congressman.”

In the ideal world, the congressman would go to jail if he tried lobbying administrative agencies on behalf of constituents. Such lobbying is not how things get done on the basis of merit. It’s how they get done on the basis of influence peddling.

But is it any better to have a paid lobbyist do it? Perhaps. But it’s still institutionalized corruption.

That’s true. But U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, a St. Joseph Republican whose district includes Kalamazoo County, can do only so much with a limited staff. Government, especially at the federal level, has become enormously complex.

Yes, the federal government has become enormously complex because it has its fingers in things that are not its proper business. If it didn’t have its greedy claws on all of those things, it could leave them to state and local entities, and we wouldn’t need these corrupt lobbyists to try to get things on our behalf.

And while lobbyists are perceived by many citizens as representing special-interest groups, many of these people have expertise that allows them to perform useful services. They assist and inform lawmakers by calling attention to the needs of communities large and small. They also serve as a pipeline for communicating local needs to the maze of federal government departments and bureaus.

That’s a damning indictment of the involvement of the feds in local issues. Of course they don’t know about local needs. That’s why the federal government should deal with national issues, not local ones.

Another advantage of a joint effort to obtain a regional lobbyist is the furthering of intergovernmental cooperation, which has been improving but still has a long way to go.

No doubt. So instead of the various governmental agencies being jealous of each others’ prerogatives, as they should be, we’re going to have institutionalized collusion. No wonder some people think it’s government vs the people.

We agree with Collard’s succinct remark regarding support for a lobbyist. “All too often,” he pointed out, “(federal) dollars are left on the table in Washington, and we certainly want our fair share.”

Federal dollars are being left on the table? I doubt it. I thought the government was running deficits. If money is being left on the table, why not use it to pay down the debt? But I don’t think that’s the case. I suspect that the Gazette didn’t do any fact-checking on this one.

And as county board member John Taylor pointed out, “…this is a great bang for our buck. You can’t get a lobbyist for $15,000.”

With many parties kicking in, the total investment in a lobbyist is not a major expense, especially considering that the effort could return millions of federal dollars here. We believe it’s worth a try.

If it’s a matter of getting our fair share of federal dollars, the way to do that is have the dollars stay in the states and communities in the first place. If, on the other hand, we’re trying to redress some imbalances, then it’s to be expected that some localities are not going to get “their fair share.”  And it isn’t honest for the counties that can afford it to use their influence to beat out those who can’t afford lobbyists.

Nov 202007

One of my hobby-horse reforms of the legislative process is to bring sunshine onto a practice that The Main Adversary describes in an entry titled, “Three weeks and a cloud of taxes.” He writes:

For the second weekend in a row the House of Delegates held key votes in the dark of night after most of the press had left and most us had gone to bed. Delegates were voting on versions of bills handed to them minutes before the vote, with no idea of what they were voting on.

I say it ought to be that any legislation that isn’t published in public view before a vote is held is null and void. In fact, not only should there be sufficient time for the public to view legislation before the public legislature votes on it, but any legislators ought to be required to stand up and read the entire text of a bill aloud before being allowed to vote in favor. Doing it via a youtube video would be fine.

Now you might say this is impractical, that in a complex society like ours we need complex legislation. But I say that one reason our society is more complex than it needs to be is because of legislation that makes it complex — for example, legislation that nobody reads before voting on it.

You might object, saying that simple, easy-to-read legislation would mean more power would be given to administrative bureaucrats to flesh it out. I say, yes, that is a danger, but I also have a reform in mind to deal with that one: Any member of a legislature who lobbies an administrative agency other than in a public hearing should go straight to jail. If a legislator stands up and brags that he is somehow responsible for an administrative agency spending money on one of his constituents’ favored programs, that should be sufficient evidence to convict.

Once you close off the avenues of legislators violating the separations of powers by meddling in administrative matters, then legislators will be jealously careful of the powers they grant to administrative bureaucracies.

There, that’s not just one, but two of my hobby-horse reforms.

Oct 272007

Like me, The Main Adversary has been greatly influenced by George Will’s arguments against the line-item veto.

But having thought it over a little more, there is at least one point I’d argue with.

But were a president empowered to cancel provisions of legislation, what he would be doing would be indistinguishable from legislating. He would be making, rather than executing, laws, and the separation of powers would be violated.

I don’t think this is true.

When a court strikes down legislation, that is not considered the same as legislating. We make a distinction between initiating a piece of legislation and saying no to it.

When a state supreme court told a state legislature that it had six months to write a law to enable gay marriage, THAT was legislating. That was a usurpation of the law-making power. But when it overturns a law banning gay marriage, whether we agree with it or not, that is not a usurpation of the legislature’s job. Rather, it is a check on the legislative power.

When a state supreme court tells a legislature that it must raise taxes to provide funds for schools, that, too, is legislating. When a state supreme court overturns a law providing funds for private schools, that could well be within its powers to act as a check on the law-making power.

By George Will’s logic, we could have no checks and balances, because any time the courts or the executive say no, that would be indistinguishable from legislating.

I don’t see how the fact that it’s one provision of a law vs a whole law that’s being vetoed would change things on those grounds. It is true that the line-item veto has been declared to be unconstitutional — but it can hardly be on the grounds that it’s indistinguishable from legislating. There is a very clear distinction between the two.

Oct 222007

Reading this article by George Will is the first time I’ve ever seen good arguments against a presidential line-item veto.  I am not completely convinced, but I am convinced that his are serious objections.   The best way to evaluate his concerns would be to take a look at places where governors have had that power, to see if the effect has been as he describes.  So where does one start with that?

Sep 022007

Quote from Peggy Noonan in the WSJ: “You’d better be pretty good going in, because it’s not going to make you better.”

She’s talking about politicians going into politics.

I’ve often said that politicians are generally less corrupt than their constituents. What often provokes me to say that is seeing what people ask their congresspersons to do for them — things that a congressperson would have no business doing in a good government.

Peggy Noonan is referring to something a little different — the way politicians both left and right need to change to deal with the Iraq war.

A time for grace

America needs unity in dealing with Iraq. That means the president must lead.

Friday, August 31, 2007 12:01 a.m. EDT

What will be needed this autumn is a new bipartisan forbearance, a kind of patriotic grace. This is a great deal to hope for. The president should ask for it, and show it.

Normally I’m against bipartisanship, but in this case I think Ms Noonan is right.

Aug 202007

Bike path near Homer, Michigan

Is it true that bike paths like the one in this photo are responsible for bridges falling into the Mississippi River?

I encountered this one on a July 2005 bike ride to Homer, Michigan. I’ve been there since, and still haven’t seen any good reason for that particular bike path to exist. The money would have been better spent on the road alongside, which would have made conditions better for both cars and bicycles.

A Wall Street Journal editorial, “Of Bridges and Taxes,” tells how tax money for highways in Minnesota was spent on many things other than what taxpayers probably thought they were buying. One of these was bike paths.

I’m all for things we can do to encourage greater use of bicycles for transportation, but bike paths are not usually the way to do it. Sometimes bike paths do accomplish that purpose, but often the money spent on bike paths is a sop to interest groups, and NOT a way of fostering alternative means of transportation. Those paths are usually for recreation, not transportation. They don’t usually take me where I want to go. For that I need roads, often the same roads that cars use.

As for the falling bridges, the WSJ article contains this sentence of the day: “Minnesotans already pay twice as much in taxes per capita than residents in New Hampshire and Texas–states that haven’t had a major bridge collapse.”

Aug 042007

The Wall Street Journal explains how Congressional earmarks endanger our nation’s highway bridges: Bridges to Somewhere

The cause of Wednesday’s bridge collapse in Minneapolis isn’t yet known, but that hasn’t stopped the tragedy from reigniting the debate over the condition of U.S. “infrastructure,” which has to be the ugliest word in the English language. It’s even uglier when Congress and the building lobby use it as an excuse to spend more without rethinking their own contributions to the problem.

I predict that reform will be strongly resisted.

We also need a new version of the nursery rhyme. More specifically, we need a two-syllable replacement for London. I’m trying to think of a prominent earmarker…

_________ Bridge is falling down,

Falling down, Falling down,

_________ Bridge is falling down,

My fair lady.

Jul 042007

Paul Greenberg writes:

I’m all for the wonderful mosaic of cultures in this country – social, religious, linguistic, culinary and every other kind in this country of countries. Each contributes something to the way we all see things, think about things. We learn from each other. But here there is room for only one, indivisible, unhyphenated civic culture. A civic and civil culture that gives us a common tongue to argue in, and common ground to stand on.

Note that having English as the one official language of this country, the language used for government work, would be quite compatible with our being more of a multi-lingual society. It would be quite compatible with kids learning more languages in school, and perhaps ought to be accompanied by such if it were ever to be made official policy. It’s no threat to our having a multitude of cultures and languages — unless all aspects of our cultures and private lives become government business. If that’s the case, then government is too big.

This was in Paul Greenberg’s recent article on immigration reform : Me, Ma, and Ben Franklin. So was Greenberg for the recent immigration bill or against it? He explains in the introductory paragraph to the article in which the above quote appeared.

I didn’t much like the immigration bill that just stalled in the U.S. Senate. In fact, I disliked it. Intensely. And I was for it. You can imagine how the folks who were against it felt about the bill.

Jun 162007

Charles Krauthammer has a very sensible article on how to do immigration reform (and in the process, call the bluff of the extremists on both sides of the issue):

He states the problem thusly:

Comprehensive immigration reform is in jeopardy because it is a complex compromise with too many moving parts and too many competing interests. Employers want a guest worker program; unions want to kill it. Reformers want to introduce a point system that preferentially admits skilled and educated immigrants; immigrant groups naturally want to keep the existing family preference system. Liberals want legalization now; conservatives insist on enforcement “triggers” first.

There is only one provision that has unanimous support: stronger border enforcement.  Why not start by passing what everyone says they want?

And his conclusion:

Comprehensive immigration reform has simply too many contentious provisions to command a majority of Congress or the country. We all agree on enforcement, don’t we? So let’s do it. Make it simple. And do it now. Once our borders come visibly under control, everything else will become doable. Including amnesty.

The article: The Jeopardy of Reform