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Reducing Ohio’s Renewable-Power Mandate is Progress, Not Regression

Somewhat Reasonable - November 02, 2014, 5:20 PM

Thirty states, including Ohio, have renewable portfolio mandates. These laws require a certain percentage of electricity to be generated from renewable sources, primarily wind and solar power.

Such laws were mostly enacted in the early 2000s. More-recent backlashes over rising electricity prices, lost jobs, and capital flight have led to proposals across the country to repeal or curtail these standards.

Last June, Ohio Gov. John Kasich became the first governor to sign a law reducing his state’s alternative-energy portfolio standard. Ohio’s leadership likely will open the door for more such policies to be proposed and passed in other states.

An executive of the Environmental Defense Fund called the Ohio bill a “step backwards.” Those who believe that renewable sources such as wind and solar energy are new, emerging technologies assert that government help is necessary to jump-start these industries. That isn’t true.

In fact, wind and solar power are old, stagnating technologies that date to the 19th century. They have benefited from lavish subsidies, tax credits, and mandates for many years.

Yet wind power provides only 1.4 percent of all energy consumed in the United States today. Solar energy provides less than one-fourth of 1 percent.

Such is the paradox of government interference in the energy sector: People turn to government to spur innovation, but government is a monopoly, shielded from the market forces that create innovation through competition and consumer choice.

That’s why wind and solar energy, propped up by governments everywhere, have stagnated instead of innovating. By contrast, technologies for hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling suggest what market forces can accomplish when government gets out of the way.

The boom in natural gas and oil extraction, in Ohio and other states, has created hundreds of thousands of jobs and lowered energy prices. It has led to a reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions, as power plants convert from coal-fired generation to cleaner-burning natural gas.

The Economist magazine reports that America’s natural gas boom “seems to be doing as much to reduce pollution as many of the efforts introduced over the years to restrict emissions from vehicles, power stations, and other sources.” Yet many renewable-energy supporters oppose fracking and horizontal drilling, even though lowering greenhouse-gas emissions is the main reason they say we need to force people to buy renewable-generated electricity.

The positive effects of energy breakthroughs are felt everywhere in the economy. But no one — including lawmakers and government officials — can foresee when or where the next energy breakthrough will occur. Conversely, government-created stagnation in energy has negative effects throughout the economy.

A 2011 study by the Beacon Hill Institute at Suffolk University in Boston projected that Ohio’s alternative-energy portfolio standard would cause the state to lose 9,753 jobs by 2025. It predicted Ohio consumers would face $8.6 billion in higher energy prices between 2016 and 2025, including more than $1.4 billion in 2025 alone.

Those figures might be a little lower, now that a modest reduction of the standard has been enacted. But Ohioans should continue to press for outright repeal of the mandate, to avoid these negative consequences altogether. Indeed, Ohio should eliminate all other energy mandates, subsidies, and tax preferences, to increase competition and cut energy prices.

Energy is one of the most crucial inputs of economic growth. The pricing, production, and distribution of energy are embedded in everything people and businesses do and create.

If Ohio lawmakers enact policies that promote competition and lower energy prices, households will benefit directly by having their money freed up for other purposes. They also will benefit from lower prices and more jobs, as money becomes available to businesses to redirect to hiring, investing, and increasing their payrolls.

That is, consumers benefit in both ways. It will take time for these benefits to be fully realized, but they should not be underestimated.

[Originally published at The Toledo Blade]

Categories: On the Blog

Minimum Wage Laws Should Not Be Used as an Election Gimmick

Somewhat Reasonable - November 02, 2014, 11:57 AM

While lawmakers across the country debate proposals to increase state minimum wage rates, proponents have turned their attention toward ballot measures that might kill two birds with one stone: putting voters on the record as supporting minimum wage increases as well as getting out the vote for Democrat candidates.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 34 states introduced minimum wage increases during the 2014 session. Ten states—Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Rhode Island, Vermont, and West Virginia—enacted increases during the 2014 session. Another five states – Alaska, Arkansas, Illinois (a nonbinding ballot question), Nebraska, and South Dakota – are placing propositions on their November ballots asking voters to approve increases in their state’s minimum wage.

Although supporters of minimum wage increases say they protect workers from exploitation by employers and reduce poverty, opponents question both the effectiveness and the true intent of the proposals, calling them election-year gimmicks.

Using the minimum wage as a political football or “get out the vote” tool is a shortsighted move that could damage a state’s economy. A minimum wage hike can increase unemployment and, ironically, poverty, by forcing businesses to make adjustments elsewhere to offset the increased costs of mandatory wage hikes.

Employers may respond to the increased labor costs by letting workers go, reducing hiring, cutting employees’ work hours, diminishing employees’ fringe benefits, raising prices to consumers, and lowering dividends to investors. The unemployment created by these laws has an especially strong effect on young and unskilled workers. Thus minimum wage laws end up hurting the very people they were supposedly intended to help.

Minimum wage laws also tend to increase prices, notes Mark Wilson of the Cato Institute in a 2012 review of more than 20 minimum wage studies looking at price effects: “a 10 percent increase in the U.S. minimum wage raises food prices by up to 4 percent.” Similarly, a 2007 study from the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago found restaurant prices increased in response to minimum wage hikes.

Evidence shows imposing minimum wage increases is not an effective way to address poverty and often has the opposite effect by creating barriers to entry for workers with less skill and education. In a 2010 study, economists at Cornell University and American University found no reduction in poverty in the 28 states that raised their minimum wage between 2003 and 2007. A 2007 study by economists at the University of California-Irvine and the Federal Reserve Board found 85 percent of the studies they considered credible demonstrate minimum wage laws cause job losses for less-skilled employees.

There are alternatives to minimum wage laws that can help low-income families move out of poverty. The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), the nation’s largest poverty reduction program, is a refundable tax credit for lower-income working individuals and families based on income level and number of dependents. The EITC is designed to increase employment, stimulate spending throughout the economy, offset the burden of Social Security taxes, and encourage existing workers to stay employed. It covers a large group of low-income families, and several studies have found it is far more effective than the minimum wage. Twenty-five states and the District of Columbia have state-level earned-income tax credit programs.

Increasing the legal minimum wage is not an effective method of addressing poverty; it harms workers by creating barriers to entry for less-skilled and less-educated people while increasing the cost of products and services. Lawmakers and voters should reject this bad public policy and instead consider creating or expanding state-level earned-income tax credits.

Categories: On the Blog

R Street responds to Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report

Out of the Storm News - November 02, 2014, 9:54 AM

WASHINGTON (Nov. 2, 2014) – Congress should heed today’s warning from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to pursue effective mitigation and adaptation strategies to counter the risks of a warming globe, starting with an immediate end to government subsidies that make the problem worse, the R Street Institute said. 

As part of the 40th session of the United Nations’ IPCC this week in Copenhagen, Denmark, the panel adopted the final “synthesis” report of its Fifth Assessment Report. The first full-scale update to climate projections since 2007, the report reiterates scientific consensus that “human influence on the climate system is clear,” with ramifications for ecosystems and the food supply from rising seas and rising surface temperatures.

Rather than continue the politicized trench warfare that has paralyzed lawmakers, R Street outlines three crucial steps that Congress could take today to better prepare Americans for their climate future.

• Phase Out the National Flood Insurance Program: In 2012, Congress passed perhaps its most important piece of climate change legislation to date with the Biggert-Waters Act, which gradually phased out subsidies to properties in flood-prone areas. Alas, facing backlash over rising insurance costs, those same lawmakers gutted many of those same reforms earlier this year. The threat of more frequent and more damaging floods means there is no time to dither. Congress needs to phase out all flood insurance subsidies for all properties and set the stage to shift this risk entirely to the private sector.

• Expand the Coastal Barrier Resources Act: Signed into law by President Reagan just over 30 years ago, the CBRA withholds federal subsidies to development in a 1.3 million acre coastal zone, mostly along America’s Atlantic and Gulf coastlines and the Great Lakes. But much pre-existing development was grandfathered at the time of the bill’s passage, while other parcels have been carved out of the zone over the years. It’s time to reverse that trend and strengthen the law to ensure taxpayer dollars aren’t used to encourage development in areas most at risk from climate change.

• Enact Carbon Pricing Legislation to Preempt Proposed Onerous EPA Regulations: The EPA has proposed regulations to impose a 30 percent reduction in carbon emissions from electricity generation by 2030. These regulations likely will impose enormous costs for relatively modest emissions reductions. Instead, Congress should embrace the power of the free market by utilizing revenue-neutral carbon pricing as a complete substitute for command-and-control regulation. Carbon pricing would allow states to achieve mandated emissions reductions through a price signal instead of complicated regulation, while utilizing all resulting revenue to eliminate or reduce taxes that are damaging to the economy.

The following R Street Experts are available for comment on the report:

Ian Adams, California Director  - Adams has written about climate change and a carbon taxation program in publications like The Oregonian.

Christian Cámara, Florida Director – Cámara has testified before the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans and Insular Affairs about the Coastal Barrier Resource Act.

R.J. Lehmann, Senior Fellow – Lehmann has written extensively on the National Flood Insurance Program and why it should be privatized, including providing input during drafting of the Biggert-Waters Act in 2012.

Eli Lehrer, President – Lehrer has written on climate change and in favor of a carbon tax in conservative magazines like The Weekly Standard and National Review.

Lori Sanders, Outreach Director – Sanders has written a policy study on expanding the Coastal Barriers Resources Act and comments to the EPA on the proposed greenhouse gas regulations. She also recently took part in a panel discussion on the regulations.

To arrange to speak with any of the R Street climate change experts, please contact Nicole Roeberg at nroeberg@rstreet.org or (202) 997-1186.

Illinois Educators Can Learn From High-Achieving Nations

Blog - Education - November 02, 2014, 3:00 AM

With election season in full swing, one of the most widely used political attacks is for candidates to accuse their opponents of wanting or having already committed “cuts to education” resulting in “teacher layoffs.”

For example, Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner’s “Remember This” TV ad accuses incumbent Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn of cutting school funding by $500 million and causing “teacher layoffs and crowded classrooms.” The Illinois Federation of Teachers, which has unanimously endorsed Quinn, says Rauner is the one who wants to “cut billions out of public education resulting in teacher layoffs [and] larger class sizes.”

Such talking points suggest education spending can only be cut at the expense of teachers, but research from the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice shows cuts can be made without teacher layoffs. From 1992 to 2009, the number of administrative staff in Illinois public schools grew by 36 percent, while the number of students rose by only 14 percent. Had administrative staff growth been restricted to the same rate as students’ growth, Illinois could not only keep all its teachers but it could give every single one a $5,606 annual salary increase.

Administrative bloat is hardly an Illinois-specific phenomenon. Between 1992 and 2008, non-teaching staff in the United States grew 2.7 times faster than the number of students, yet public schools’ reading scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) Long-Term Trend exam fell slightly and mathematics scores remained flat, according to Ben Scafidi, professor of economics at Georgia College & State University.

Today, the United States spends more of its operating budget on non-teaching personnel than any other country in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), except Denmark. For all that money, the U.S. scores near the average among OECD nations in reading and science and below average in mathematics, according to the 2012 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA).

When one Chinese education official was asked how Shanghai students achieved the world’s top ranking, she told CNN they take special measures to recruit high-quality teachers. This included high salaries, but it also included higher standards. Countries such as Brazil, Columbia, and Poland, which dramatically improved their rankings, had each raised their teacher standards, leading to improved teacher quality.

In recent years, 33 U.S. states have taken measures to toughen teacher requirements. Illinois, however, is moving in the opposite direction. Last April, Illinois dropped a basic skills test requirement for admission to a teacher-training program, out of fear it would result in significantly reduced enrollment in education schools, even though the test’s difficulty is mostly regarded to be at the high-school level. Such a decision costs Illinois public school students the high-quality teachers research says are needed to improve student outcomes.

 

Illinois Educators Can Learn From High-Achieving Nations

Somewhat Reasonable - November 02, 2014, 3:00 AM

With election season in full swing, one of the most widely used political attacks is for candidates to accuse their opponents of wanting or having already committed “cuts to education” resulting in “teacher layoffs.”

For example, Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner’s “Remember This” TV ad accuses incumbent Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn of cutting school funding by $500 million and causing “teacher layoffs and crowded classrooms.” The Illinois Federation of Teachers, which has unanimously endorsed Quinn, says Rauner is the one who wants to “cut billions out of public education resulting in teacher layoffs [and] larger class sizes.”

Such talking points suggest education spending can only be cut at the expense of teachers, but research from the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice shows cuts can be made without teacher layoffs. From 1992 to 2009, the number of administrative staff in Illinois public schools grew by 36 percent, while the number of students rose by only 14 percent. Had administrative staff growth been restricted to the same rate as students’ growth, Illinois could not only keep all its teachers but it could give every single one a $5,606 annual salary increase.

Administrative bloat is hardly an Illinois-specific phenomenon. Between 1992 and 2008, non-teaching staff in the United States grew 2.7 times faster than the number of students, yet public schools’ reading scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) Long-Term Trend exam fell slightly and mathematics scores remained flat, according to Ben Scafidi, professor of economics at Georgia College & State University.

Today, the United States spends more of its operating budget on non-teaching personnel than any other country in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), except Denmark. For all that money, the U.S. scores near the average among OECD nations in reading and science and below average in mathematics, according to the 2012 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA).

When one Chinese education official was asked how Shanghai students achieved the world’s top ranking, she told CNN they take special measures to recruit high-quality teachers. This included high salaries, but it also included higher standards. Countries such as Brazil, Columbia, and Poland, which dramatically improved their rankings, had each raised their teacher standards, leading to improved teacher quality.

In recent years, 33 U.S. states have taken measures to toughen teacher requirements. Illinois, however, is moving in the opposite direction. Last April, Illinois dropped a basic skills test requirement for admission to a teacher-training program, out of fear it would result in significantly reduced enrollment in education schools, even though the test’s difficulty is mostly regarded to be at the high-school level. Such a decision costs Illinois public school students the high-quality teachers research says are needed to improve student outcomes.

 

Categories: On the Blog

It’s time for Georgia lawmakers to end the auto dealership monopoly

Out of the Storm News - November 01, 2014, 12:02 PM

From Peach Pundit:

Andrew Moylan of the R Street Institute and Peter Van Doren of the Cato Institute spoke at length about the regulatory issues Tesla and other innovative technologies that have gained popularity face.

Making It Easy to Predict the Next Financial Crisis

Somewhat Reasonable - November 01, 2014, 10:57 AM

It is a cliché, but true, that history repeats itself. This is largely due to the failure of each new generation to learn anything from the past as well as the human tendency toward the bad habits of greed and power-seeking. Only the names and faces change.

That is why the next financial crisis is entirely predictable.

On October 23, The Wall Street Journal had an article, “Relaxed Mortgage-Lending Rules Clear Final Hurdle.”  The financial crisis in 2008 was the direct result of relaxed mortgage-lending rules. Indeed, it was the result of government pressure on banks to make “sub-prime” loans to people who any bank might sensibly conclude could not replay them. Those loans, in turn, were sold to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, two government-sponsored enterprises, who then bundled and sold them as mortgage-backed assets.

As Wikipedia notes, the Federal National Mortgage Association, commonly known as Fannie Mae, was founded in 1938 during the Great Depression to expand the secondary mortgage market by securitizing mortgages by issuing mortgage-backed securities, allowing lenders to reinvest their assets into more lending. In 1970 the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation, whose nickname is Freddie Mac, was created for the same reason. Both are overseen by the Federal Housing Finance Authority. Neither issues mortgages. As noted, they buy them from banks, bundle them as securities, and resell them.

Getting the government involved in the housing market has been a supremely bad idea, much as getting the government involved in education and, as we are learning, involved in the nation’s healthcare insurance sector. There are only a few things the Constitution authorizes the government to do and none of these are mentioned. That has never stopped politicians.

The Wall Street Journal article reported that “Three U.S. agencies signed off on relaxed mortgage-lending rules, helping complete a long-stalled provision of the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial-overhaul law.” Two commissioners of the Securities and Exchange Commission “warned the rules would do little to prevent a return to the kind of lax mortgage underwriting that fueled the financial crisis.”

The Economist also took note, saying “When politicians bashed Wall Street for its reckless mortgage lending in the wake of the subprime crisis, bankers retorted that it was the politicians’ enthusiasm for expanding home ownership, even if it meant small deposits and low credit standards, that had really fomented the disaster.” Suffice to say there is plenty of blame to spread around, but the banks had to play by the rules the government had put in place.

In the wake of the financial crisis “many banks have stopped lending to riskier borrowers” but the new rules simply recreate the conditions that led to it, although “the rules only affect the tiny market for securities issued without federal backing, less than 2% of the $1.58 trillion in mortgage securities issue in 2013…”

The rule changes are being hailed as an example of the how great the “reform” implemented after the financial crisis was in the form of the Financial Stability Oversight Council and Orderly Liquidation Authority, otherwise known as the Dodd-Frank Act.

Suffice to say it is a regulatory nightmare of several thousand pages of rules, often quite vague, that are still being interpreted. That said, its purpose, to prevent predatory mortgage lending, improve the clarity of mortgage paperwork for consumers, and reduce incentives for mortgage brokers to push home buyers into more expensive loans was needed. It also changed the way credit card companies and other consumer lenders had to disclose their terms to consumers.

As The Economist noted, the agreement regarding mortgage-lending rules “would permit banks to securitize and sell mortgages without retaining a 5% stake—leaving them little incentive to maintain high lending standards.” That needs repeating: little incentive to maintain high lending standards, the very reason we had a financial crisis in 2008.

All this is largely due to the progressive notion that everyone, no matter how little they earn, should be able to purchase a home. In reality, those at the low end of the economic ladder should not be encouraged or seduced into taking on such debt. When they do and the economy goes south, leaving them unemployed, they just walk away from the debt.

Why should the rest of us—taxpayers—bail out the mortgage sector as we did in 2008 with huge loans to the banks and insurance companies that had purchased mortgage-based securities? The government had to step in with the complete government takeover of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. We got stuck with the bill.

It also drove up our national debt, leading to the first reduction in the nation’s credit rating in its history.

There is already talk on Capitol Hill that, should Republicans take control of the Senate and retain it in the House, they are likely, as Reuters reported, “to target the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and capital requirements on insurance companies.” To put it another way, the Republicans are the adults in Congress while the Democrats, liberal to the core, will never admit we are being set up for another financial crisis.

Categories: On the Blog

TUNE IN SUNDAY MORNING: Global Warming Skeptic John Coleman on CNN’s Reliable Sources

Somewhat Reasonable - November 01, 2014, 8:20 AM

John Coleman’s spot on “The Kelly File” Monday made some waves.

John Coleman, the founder of The Weather Channel and a long-time friend of The Heartland Institute, wrote an open letter to UCLA’s Hammer Museum last month, demanding it open up a climate change discussion to the “skeptic” point of view. That letter got a lot of attention, and Coleman has been making the rounds of media outlets this week.

On Monday, he was seen by two million viewers on “The Kelly File” with Megyn Kelly on the Fox News Channel. Later that night, Coleman was a guest on “Coast to Coast AM,” which for decades has been the most popular overnight radio program in North America with three million listeners.

So tune in to CNN at 11 a.m. ET on Sunday, Nov. 2 to watch Coleman on “Reliable Sources” talk about the media’s complicity in perpetuating an unscientific panic about man’s influence on the climate. Coleman tells us the conversation (taped on Friday for broadcast Sunday morning) focused on The Weather Channel’s response to Coleman’s Monday appearance on “The Kelly File.”

Coleman says the host “didn’t know what hit him,” and, “I assure you, this is not your average TV interview.”

Don’t miss it! Watch CNN’s “Reliable Sources” on Sunday morning.

You can watch all of Coleman’s presentations at Heartland’s international climate conferences here. Follow Coleman on Twitter, and check out his Facebook page.

Categories: On the Blog

Global Warming Is a Political Ruse in Florida Governor’s Race

Somewhat Reasonable - November 01, 2014, 6:32 AM

Tom Steyer, billionaire climate alarmist

Outside activist groups are spending millions of dollars on political ads claiming Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) is not doing enough to fight global warming. A look at the facts, however, reveals Florida is more than pulling its weight on the global warming issue, and the political ads are actually an attempt to promote a Democratic political candidate rather than an effort to fight global warming.

Liberal billionaire Tom Steyer, who made his fortune funding coal power in third-world nations, is leading the global warming push in Florida, spending $10 million on anti-Scott political ads. The ads take a decidedly negative and sarcastic tone, including claiming Scott’s plan to address global warming is to build an ark for himself and his friends.

Steyer’s sarcastic tone aside, there is essentially nothing a Florida governor can do to change the global temperature. The United States accounts for less than 15 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions, and Florida accounts for only 4 percent of the U.S. total. Accordingly, Florida accounts for significantly less than 1 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions. Florida could eliminate all its carbon dioxide emissions and scientists would never be able to measure the impact on global temperatures.

Even so, global warming activists argue Floridians should shoulder the burden of global warming action in order to demonstrate leadership. Floridians, however, are already demonstrating leadership and paying a high price for it.

Global warming activists say the best method of reducing carbon dioxide emissions is to cut energy use. Florida, however, already is a national leader in this regard, with only seven states using less energy per person.

Global warming activists target coal power, despite the relatively small amount of electricity Floridians use, because coal produces more carbon dioxide than any other widely used electricity source. Florida, however, has already weaned itself off coal. Coal powers 39 percent of the nation’s electricity, but Floridians use less than half as much coal—just 21 percent.

As a result of these factors, only 10 states emit less carbon dioxide per person than Florida. All 10 of the other states accomplish this by utilizing large amounts of emissions-free hydroelectric power or nuclear power. Unfortunately, global warming activists generally oppose both these emission-free power sources. Florida is unique in accomplishing its low-carbon economy while using less nuclear power than the national average and essentially no hydroelectric power.

Any way you cut it, Floridians are already in a national leadership role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and our low-carbon economy comes at a very high price. Floridians pay substantially higher electricity prices than the national average and much higher prices than any of our neighbors.

In 2013, Florida electricity prices were 8 percent higher than in Georgia, 13 percent higher than Mississippi’s, 14 percent higher than Alabama’s, and 29 percent higher than Louisiana’s. These higher energy prices take a bigger bite out of Floridians’ living standards than in other states, and the higher energy prices make it more difficult for Florida businesses to compete with businesses in other states. That means fewer jobs for Floridians.

Despite Florida already taking a costly lead in reducing carbon dioxide emissions, the federal government recently announced new global warming restrictions that will impact Florida more severely than other states. The new EPA restrictions will require a 30 percent national reduction in power plant carbon dioxide emissions, but they will impose different requirements on different states. Floridians will be hit especially hard, being forced to reduce carbon dioxide emissions another 38 percent, rather than the national average of 30 percent. This will further widen the gap between Florida’s high-cost, low-carbon economy and those of the rest of the nation.

Why then are Steyer and other activists pouring so much money into criticizing Scott for not imposing even more severe global warming restrictions? The answer is quite simple—partisan politics. Steyer is targeting only Republicans in the 2014 elections, and he is ignoring Democrats who support allowing higher carbon dioxide emissions in their home states.

Global warming activists can argue endlessly for stricter global warming policies, but they cannot argue with a straight face that Rick Scott and Florida are lagging behind the efforts of other states.

[First published at The Federalist.]

Categories: On the Blog

Florida Teacher Fights Standardized Testing and Wins—For Now

Blog - Education - November 01, 2014, 5:42 AM

The world needs more teachers like Susan Bowles. The kindergarten teacher at the Lawton Chiles Elementary School in Gainesville, Florida risked her job to stand up for what she believes in.

What she believes is that conducting standardized testing three times a year, some of it required to be computerized, is simply not in the best interests of the kindergarten students she teaches. Despite the risk of losing her job after 26 years of teaching, Bowles felt compelled to speak out.

And something amazing happened. Instead of her being fired or reprimanded, the policy was changed. The community rallied around Bowles after she took a stand. Now, K–2 grade students will not be required to take the FAIR tests that Bowles refused to administer.

In the letter Bowles wrote to parents, she explained that even though she would be in breach of contract, she couldn’t in good conscience give the test to her students. The FAIR testing would have meant kindergarten students being tested on a computer using a mouse, Bowles said. Although many of her students are well-versed in using tablets or smart phones, most had not used a desktop computer before. Once an answer is clicked, even if a mistake was made and a student accidentally clicked the wrong place, there is no way to go back to correct it. This means the data that would have been collected would not have been accurate.

“While we were told it takes about 35 minutes to administer, we are finding that in actuality, it is taking between 35-60 minutes per child,” Bowles wrote. “This assessment is given one-on-one. It is recommended that both teacher and child wear headphones during the test. Someone has forgotten there are other five-year-olds in our care.”

The problem is not with the people she works for, Bowles said. “This is not an education problem. This is a government problem,” she wrote.

Bowles was not directly named in the letter to parents from officials changing the testing policy, but the letter does mention the recent attention surrounding the issue.

Bowles was brave in facing down the school administration, state and local officials, and teachers unions who continually protect the status quo and each other. She stood up by herself with no way of knowing what the consequences would be.

Bowles told me she feels lucky to have had the opportunity to speak her mind, because her husband was supportive and her children are grown. After hearing the policy had changed, Bowles said, she “hugged, laughed, cried, and did a happy dance” with other teachers who had been waiting outside her classroom because they had already heard the news.

“I was surprised and pleased that they actually backtracked on the FAIR, suspending it for one year,” said Bowles, noting tension over standardized testing has increased because of Common Core. “Of course, the fear is it will be back next year with a few tweaks.

“This fight should continue—not just regarding the excessive testing that takes away from our children’s learning, but also for the standards that have been adopted that are not developmentally sound, at least for elementary students,” said Bowles. “I can speak for the elementary grades that any developmental psychologist or early childhood educator would tell you that these standards are inappropriate.”

Two bills have been recently introduced to decrease the federal footprint on standardized testing. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has spoken about the possibility of over-testing.

The hope is that these changes aren’t just lip service. Parents, teachers, and legislators will have to continue to fight for students and against the education establishment. The contrasting approaches of the federal government and Susan Bowles regarding how children should be educated suggest we all should support more local control rather than failing federal mandates.

[First published in the Tampa Tribune.]

Florida Teacher Fights Standardized Testing and Wins—For Now

Somewhat Reasonable - November 01, 2014, 5:42 AM

The world needs more teachers like Susan Bowles. The kindergarten teacher at the Lawton Chiles Elementary School in Gainesville, Florida risked her job to stand up for what she believes in.

What she believes is that conducting standardized testing three times a year, some of it required to be computerized, is simply not in the best interests of the kindergarten students she teaches. Despite the risk of losing her job after 26 years of teaching, Bowles felt compelled to speak out.

And something amazing happened. Instead of her being fired or reprimanded, the policy was changed. The community rallied around Bowles after she took a stand. Now, K–2 grade students will not be required to take the FAIR tests that Bowles refused to administer.

In the letter Bowles wrote to parents, she explained that even though she would be in breach of contract, she couldn’t in good conscience give the test to her students. The FAIR testing would have meant kindergarten students being tested on a computer using a mouse, Bowles said. Although many of her students are well-versed in using tablets or smart phones, most had not used a desktop computer before. Once an answer is clicked, even if a mistake was made and a student accidentally clicked the wrong place, there is no way to go back to correct it. This means the data that would have been collected would not have been accurate.

“While we were told it takes about 35 minutes to administer, we are finding that in actuality, it is taking between 35-60 minutes per child,” Bowles wrote. “This assessment is given one-on-one. It is recommended that both teacher and child wear headphones during the test. Someone has forgotten there are other five-year-olds in our care.”

The problem is not with the people she works for, Bowles said. “This is not an education problem. This is a government problem,” she wrote.

Bowles was not directly named in the letter to parents from officials changing the testing policy, but the letter does mention the recent attention surrounding the issue.

Bowles was brave in facing down the school administration, state and local officials, and teachers unions who continually protect the status quo and each other. She stood up by herself with no way of knowing what the consequences would be.

Bowles told me she feels lucky to have had the opportunity to speak her mind, because her husband was supportive and her children are grown. After hearing the policy had changed, Bowles said, she “hugged, laughed, cried, and did a happy dance” with other teachers who had been waiting outside her classroom because they had already heard the news.

“I was surprised and pleased that they actually backtracked on the FAIR, suspending it for one year,” said Bowles, noting tension over standardized testing has increased because of Common Core. “Of course, the fear is it will be back next year with a few tweaks.

“This fight should continue—not just regarding the excessive testing that takes away from our children’s learning, but also for the standards that have been adopted that are not developmentally sound, at least for elementary students,” said Bowles. “I can speak for the elementary grades that any developmental psychologist or early childhood educator would tell you that these standards are inappropriate.”

Two bills have been recently introduced to decrease the federal footprint on standardized testing. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has spoken about the possibility of over-testing.

The hope is that these changes aren’t just lip service. Parents, teachers, and legislators will have to continue to fight for students and against the education establishment. The contrasting approaches of the federal government and Susan Bowles regarding how children should be educated suggest we all should support more local control rather than failing federal mandates.

[First published in the Tampa Tribune.]

Categories: On the Blog

Some States’ Tax Policies Are Frightful, Others Are Treats

Somewhat Reasonable - October 31, 2014, 6:11 PM

Just in time for Halloween, the nonpartisan Tax Foundation has released its annual “State Business Tax Climate Index,” finding some states treat businesses in a rather beastly manner, while others give their local employers the fiscal equivalent of a king-sized candy bar.

The Tax Foundation notes, somewhat predictably, that states in New England and the Mid-Atlantic, such as New Jersey, received only rocks in their trick-or-treat bags. According to the index, the Garden State has one of “the worst structured individual income taxes in the country” and taxes property owners at one of the highest rates in the nation.

Life after death may not be a certainty for the dearly departed in New Jersey, but high inheritance and death taxes levied on their survivors helps ensure the state’s economy remains zombified, barely shuffling along with real gross domestic product growing by a mere 1.1 percent in 2013.

Its neighbor in the economic graveyard, New York, ranked dead-last in economic growth, as the state’s anti-business policies helped make the economy remain as quiet as the grave. In 2013, New York’s economy grew by just 0.7 percent.

New York’s ghastly combination of high individual and corporate income taxes, sales taxes, property taxes, and unemployment insurance taxes teamed up to cement the Empire State’s resting place as the worst state for businesses in the nation.

On the “Other Side,” business-friendly states such as South Dakota and Wyoming grew faster than the Blob. Wyoming, for example, does not tax the incomes of corporations or individual taxpayers, encouraging businesses to move to the Cowboy State. With its arsenal of economically sensible policies, Wyoming’s 7.6 percent increase in gross domestic product last year wasn’t the result of some occult ritual performed at the stroke of midnight, but sound economic policies.

North Carolina deserves a king-sized candy bar for stepping up its business tax game. After living in the crypt of a burdensome fiscal policy as recently as 2013, the Tar Heel State’s economy roared to life, growing by 4.1 percent in 2014. The Tax Foundation study credits a cocktail of economic potions such as cutting the corporate tax rate from 6.9 percent to 6 percent and compressing a byzantine individual tax system into a single bracket with “generous” standard deductions.

The “tax climate” is not the only factor involved in determining a state’s prosperity, but one does not have to hold a séance to figure out people are “crossing over” in increasing droves, from high-tax states to low-tax states. Over the decades, states unfriendly to business—such as those in the Northeast and New England—have lost 40 congressional seats to traditionally business-friendly regions such as the Southeast and Southwest.

This Halloween, state legislators across the nation would do well to overcome their fear of enacting pro-growth policies in their states and prepare themselves to reap the treats of good tax and fiscal policies.

[First published at InsideSources.]

Categories: On the Blog

R Street disappointed in onerous regulations on ridesharing in the City of Houston

Out of the Storm News - October 31, 2014, 4:10 PM

HOUSTON, TEXAS (Oct. 31, 2014) – The R Street Institute expressed deep disappointment in the onerous regulations for transportation network companies set to go in effect in the City of Houston on Tuesday, Nov. 4. The new rules present an unnecessary bureaucracy that will cost taxpayers an estimated $600,000.

Among the many requirements are additional background checks of all drivers and an automotive check to be performed by one specific contracting facility. This is in addition to the background checks and automobile inspections already required by TNCs.

“Regulations, when properly written, set standards and requirements,” said Houston-based R Street Associate Fellow Steven Titch. “Building fire codes stipulate necessary fire suppression and alarm systems, but they don’t tell builders they must use one particular contractor or purchase one specific brand of fire extinguishers. All builders must do is show inspectors they have complied with the code.”

“The City of Houston’s demand that ride-sharing drivers use the state’s systems micromanages the compliance process while placing a substantial economic burden on taxpayers, due to administrative costs. TNCs have shown they can meet the law’s requirements for driver background checks without using the expensive and burdensome mechanisms the city is demanding,” he said.

TNCs currently require drivers nationwide to pass vigorous background and automotive checks, at no cost to taxpayers.

“While we’ve seen many cities recently adopt regulations that are more welcoming to TNC s, the exact opposite is happening in Houston,” said Andrew Moylan, senior fellow and executive director of R Street.  “Cities should encourage more job development, not enact new regulations that will cost the taxpayers money and hinder people trying to enter the workforce on a full-time or part-time basis. It would be unfortunate to see ride-sharing companies cease operations in Houston because of onerous rules that do not make anyone safer than the status quo.”

 

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Out of the Storm News - October 31, 2014, 3:40 PM

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Out of the Storm News - October 31, 2014, 3:39 PM

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Out of the Storm News - October 31, 2014, 3:39 PM

Beware Common Core Proponents Asking for Treats

Blog - Education - October 31, 2014, 12:56 PM

It always seems appropriate that Halloween comes just days before an election. Politicians are masters at dressing themselves up in ways that obscure reality, in particular their positions on tough issues.

With the midterm elections looming, the winner of this year’s All Hallow’s Eve costume contest could be former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who soon may be announcing his candidacy for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.

Among politicians of all stripes, Democrat and Republican alike, there has been no more avid booster of the so-called Common Core State Standards (which actually are national in scope) than Jeb Bush, the patrician son of President Bush I and brother of President Bush II.

Bush hasn’t hesitated from taking potshots at Common Core opponents, variously calling them politically motivated, conspiracy theorists, and even intellectual weaklings who value kids’ self-esteem over serious learning. He has shown no sign of seriously pondering critics’ arguments about the perils of CC’s would-be centralization of power over all education and the serious harm its one-size-fits-all and test-heavy regimen will do to children.

Now, in a five-page, pre-Halloween fundraising letter for his new organization, Excellence in Education National, Bush claims in order for any other policy changes in such areas as regulation and immigration to be effective, “we must first transform our failing education system and have no tolerance for the adult-centered K–12 system that exists today.”

Yet, in the 28 paragraphs about education that follow, Bush mentions Common Core not once. Nowhere can the words “Common Core” or “national standards” be found.

Trick or treat?

Bush says his new advocacy organization, for which he seeks contributions, will “build on the work” of his established nonprofit foundation, the Foundation for Excellence in Education. Yet that foundation has partnered with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and accepted Gates’ largesse in pushing Common Core as the one true prescription for all that ails education.

This seems pretty tricky, and not much of a treat unless you are a member of the elite national standards inner-circle. The blog Truth in American Education even suggested a possible ethical lapse in a big Common Core booster asking for money while not being upfront with donors about where the money would go.

The letter primarily touts achievement gains in Florida public schools as a result of policies Bush pushed. Much of that is attributable to the increases in public and private school choice that Bush did champion effectively as governor. However, the real mind-stumper is how he believes genuine choice can survive if nationalized Common Core standards will be dictating not only K–12 curricula and teaching methods but also criteria for admission to college.

Maybe families could choose among schools with differing dress codes. That would be about it.

Other politicians have also attempted to disguise their devotion to Common Core this Halloween.

In a race for reelection against an ardent foe of the national standards, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) rolled out a startling campaign ad vowing to “disregard Common Core scores for at least five years.” Never mind that he didn’t say he would stop the testing; never mind that any hold on use of scores could be lifted after the election; never mind that (as Politico reported) Cuomo had set up a panel earlier this year to speed Common Core implementation after praising the standards as “a critical part of transforming New York schools.”

Then there is U.S. Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) who singled out just one of numerous Common Core-aligned programs, telling state schools chief John White, “I am very concerned with the extreme difficulty and frustration many students and parents are having with Eureka Math.”

The real problem is not one commercialized version of Common Core math but rather the whole “new math” approach of ditching fundamentals for abstractions. However, by picking on just one speck of the rotten Core, Vitter can hope to obscure the blistering rebukes he has delivered against Gov. Bobby Jindal, a fellow Louisana Republican, for trying to rid the Bayou State of CC entirely. Vitter, you see, has his sights set on succeeding the term-limited Jindal as governor next year.

Cuomo and Vitter have dazzled in their colorful chameleon get-ups, but they will have to settle for runners-up to Jeb Bush this Halloween.

[First published at Human Events.]

Beware Common Core Proponents Asking for Treats

Somewhat Reasonable - October 31, 2014, 12:56 PM

It always seems appropriate that Halloween comes just days before an election. Politicians are masters at dressing themselves up in ways that obscure reality, in particular their positions on tough issues.

With the midterm elections looming, the winner of this year’s All Hallow’s Eve costume contest could be former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who soon may be announcing his candidacy for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.

Among politicians of all stripes, Democrat and Republican alike, there has been no more avid booster of the so-called Common Core State Standards (which actually are national in scope) than Jeb Bush, the patrician son of President Bush I and brother of President Bush II.

Bush hasn’t hesitated from taking potshots at Common Core opponents, variously calling them politically motivated, conspiracy theorists, and even intellectual weaklings who value kids’ self-esteem over serious learning. He has shown no sign of seriously pondering critics’ arguments about the perils of CC’s would-be centralization of power over all education and the serious harm its one-size-fits-all and test-heavy regimen will do to children.

Now, in a five-page, pre-Halloween fundraising letter for his new organization, Excellence in Education National, Bush claims in order for any other policy changes in such areas as regulation and immigration to be effective, “we must first transform our failing education system and have no tolerance for the adult-centered K–12 system that exists today.”

Yet, in the 28 paragraphs about education that follow, Bush mentions Common Core not once. Nowhere can the words “Common Core” or “national standards” be found.

Trick or treat?

Bush says his new advocacy organization, for which he seeks contributions, will “build on the work” of his established nonprofit foundation, the Foundation for Excellence in Education. Yet that foundation has partnered with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and accepted Gates’ largesse in pushing Common Core as the one true prescription for all that ails education.

This seems pretty tricky, and not much of a treat unless you are a member of the elite national standards inner-circle. The blog Truth in American Education even suggested a possible ethical lapse in a big Common Core booster asking for money while not being upfront with donors about where the money would go.

The letter primarily touts achievement gains in Florida public schools as a result of policies Bush pushed. Much of that is attributable to the increases in public and private school choice that Bush did champion effectively as governor. However, the real mind-stumper is how he believes genuine choice can survive if nationalized Common Core standards will be dictating not only K–12 curricula and teaching methods but also criteria for admission to college.

Maybe families could choose among schools with differing dress codes. That would be about it.

Other politicians have also attempted to disguise their devotion to Common Core this Halloween.

In a race for reelection against an ardent foe of the national standards, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) rolled out a startling campaign ad vowing to “disregard Common Core scores for at least five years.” Never mind that he didn’t say he would stop the testing; never mind that any hold on use of scores could be lifted after the election; never mind that (as Politico reported) Cuomo had set up a panel earlier this year to speed Common Core implementation after praising the standards as “a critical part of transforming New York schools.”

Then there is U.S. Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) who singled out just one of numerous Common Core-aligned programs, telling state schools chief John White, “I am very concerned with the extreme difficulty and frustration many students and parents are having with Eureka Math.”

The real problem is not one commercialized version of Common Core math but rather the whole “new math” approach of ditching fundamentals for abstractions. However, by picking on just one speck of the rotten Core, Vitter can hope to obscure the blistering rebukes he has delivered against Gov. Bobby Jindal, a fellow Louisana Republican, for trying to rid the Bayou State of CC entirely. Vitter, you see, has his sights set on succeeding the term-limited Jindal as governor next year.

Cuomo and Vitter have dazzled in their colorful chameleon get-ups, but they will have to settle for runners-up to Jeb Bush this Halloween.

[First published at Human Events.]

Categories: On the Blog

A carbon tax won’t happen without some give from the left

Out of the Storm News - October 31, 2014, 12:03 PM

Despite growing support from some conservative policy wonks, the idea of taxing carbon dioxide emissions, even as an alternative to the sort of heavy-handed greenhouse regulations promulgated by the Obama administration, has failed to garner much enthusiasm on the right.

The idea remains almost untouchable for Republican politicians, and the notion that there’s any chance that could change in the near future has been dismissed as “wishful thinking” by left-wing outlets like Mother Jones.

While this may be a fair assessment of the political facts as they stand, if progressives actually wanted to avert the various catastrophes that environmentalists say are inevitable without serious policy action—changes in growing seasons, collapse of certain fisheries, rising sea levels and possibly increases in certain types of natural disasters—there are ways they could help sell a carbon tax to the right.

Conservatives will never support a carbon tax so long as they fear it will be used to promote more intrusive government, more spending and more control over individuals’ lives. But if the left convincingly made the case that they are willing to give up new revenue, new regulations and new resource development restrictions to make it happen, conservative support for a carbon tax is within the realm of possibility. But progressives will have to make certain policy concessions to get there.

For those on the right who do support a carbon tax—primarily conservative and libertarian-leaning economists like Gregory Mankiw, Kevin Hassett and Irwin Stelzer—a primary attraction is the opportunity to use carbon tax revenues to cut taxes on productive activity, like labor and investment, and instead substitute a price on externalities that hurt the public. Adele Morris of the Brookings Institution has shown how a very modest carbon tax could easily help the United States bring its highest-in-the-world corporate income tax rates down to around the average for wealthy nations without eliminating the research and development tax credit and other widely supported tax breaks. The centrist environmental think tank Resources for the Future has done excellent work on how it might be used to cut payroll taxes.

The precipitating event that forces consideration of such trade-offs was the Supreme Court’s 2007 decision, more or less requiring the Environmental Protection Agency to restrict carbon dioxide emissions under the Clean Air Act. While there are reasons to question the court’s ruling, it will be nearly impossible to overturn. With bureaucrats set to regulate carbon dioxide, a carbon tax begins to look like an attractive alternative to the morass of costly regulations the Obama administration’s EPA intends to impose. The only other commonly discussed alternative—enacting a carbon-trading scheme, such as the cap-and-trade bill that passed the House in 2009—has proved nearly impossible to implement in any democracy. The European Union’s scheme has already collapsed twice, and a major one in California seems to be degenerating into a slush fund.

A carbon tax, properly constructed, could encourage energy producers to find the lowest-cost ways to reduce carbon dioxide emissions while leveling the playing field for energy sources like nuclear, wind, solar and hydro. A first step might be for the EPA to allow states flexibility to pursue their own carbon taxes in lieu of subjecting themselves to new greenhouse gas regulation. Such an approach could prove a hugely attractive political option for Republican office-seekers, who would be able to promise cuts to state income, property or sales taxes, while giving the boot to EPA busybodies. In private discussions, OMB officials have made positive noises about the possibility of allowing this to happen under the current law, and states including Virginia and Washington have discussed the possibility. Rep. John Delaney, D-Md., has introduced a bill that would make state-level carbon taxes an option.

But all of these possibilities would require those on the left to come to the table by giving up their own dreams of recycling carbon tax proceeds into “green jobs” schemes and other boondoggles beloved of progressives. Some environmentalists are on board with the notion of a revenue-neutral carbon tax (although many insist on difficult-to-administer schemes that would provide a “dividend” to taxpayers), but that cohort shrinks significantly when it’s proposed that the tax replace EPA regulations, much less preempt energy-related regulations like fleet fuel-economy standards for automobiles. To have any chance of political success, a carbon tax would have to do exactly these things.

Finally, to bring conservatives around to the idea, a carbon tax should also be coupled with a general easing of restrictions on energy development, particularly natural gas. As research by the Berkeley Earth Group has shown, new natural gas development has done more than any other single factor to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the past decade. Allowing ample gas development over the next 50 or so years could do a lot to mitigate whatever energy price changes might come from a new carbon tax.

While a few environmental groups, most prominently the Environmental Defense Fund, have been willing to make common cause with the gas industry in some cases, they remain a minority. Many progressive groups, ranging from Greenpeace to MoveOn.org, oppose any new gas development and all other conventional energy development as well. This includes almost lockstep opposition by environmental groups to the much-debated Keystone XL pipeline, even though energy economists like MIT’s Chris Knittel have shown pretty convincingly that pipeline expansions would reduce overall carbon dioxide emissions.

With equally few exceptions—largely the progressive iconoclasts at the Breakthrough Institute—environmentalists have shown little enthusiasm for nuclear power, even though it’s one of only two viable forms of baseload power generation that emits no carbon dioxide at all. (The other is hydro, which is largely tapped out in the United States but might be developed for U.S. use in the Canadian north.)

Even with all of these inducements, it’s unlikely the conservative grassroots will embrace a carbon tax. No more than 2 percent of voters—nearly all of them on the left—tell Gallup pollsters the environment is their most important issue. Even environmental voters, furthermore, tend to be far more concerned with water and air quality than climate change.

Conservatives won’t make many sacrifices to get their desired climate policies because few voters—and almost no members of the conservative base—care about the issue. But given the right set of concessions from the political left, a carbon tax proposal could be crafted that would get a fair amount of political support.

Moylan on state franchise dealership laws

Out of the Storm News - October 31, 2014, 11:06 AM

Earlier this week, R Street Executive Director Andrew Moylan joined a Cato Institute-hosted “hangout” to discuss state regulations that restrict how auto-makers can sell their cars, which in many cases bar manufacturer-owned dealerships from competing with independent dealers. The issue has reemerged recently as New Jersey, Iowa, Michigan and other states have cracked down on the direct sales showroom model pioneered by Tesla, which doesn’t use independent dealers at all. Video of the full discussion is available below.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
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