Doh!!!

Doh!!!

Or at least what one looks like when you have a $200 million plus shortfall and no accounting tricks left to fill the gap.  It’s not a pretty picture:

  • The closure of all the state’s parks.  All of them.  Budgets passed by the Alabama legislature would have closed every Alabama state park had it not been vetoed by Governor Bentley.  Granted, you can only go to the park well once, and it would have a tremendous negative impact on Alabama’s economy.  But apparently legislators would rather do that than consider any tax increase.
  • The elimination of Medicaid.  A budget passed by the Alabama House would have cut Medicaid so severely that it would have meant the elimination of matching federal dollars, which would in turn lead to the end of the program itself.  The Alabama Senate voted this one down.  However, it is interesting that some legislators would rather eliminate healthcare for children, the disabled, the elderly, etc. than consider removing tax abatements for the logging and coal industries.  After all, when has a sick kid ever hired anyone?
  • The closure of all but four driver license offices.  But I’m sure going from 76 offices to 4 will not impact the drive to the office nor the length of lines at the offices in any way.  Probably won’t do anything to discourage people from getting driver licenses. Not at all. (Though considering the state’s voter identification laws, discouraging people from getting driver licenses may be considered a feature, not a bug, by some.)Besides, better that than raising the lowest property taxes in the nation (by far, you could double property taxes and the taxes would still be lowest in the nation).  After all, a tax of $8,400 on $1 million of property seems about right, right?

But the fact of the matter is that you can’t cut $200 million from the budget without hurting people, it’s just a matter of who and how many.  It doesn’t seem like they want to do that.  But they don’t want to raise revenue either (and no, GoFundMe accounts don’t count!)  So it seems that the Alabama government is at an impasse.  They only have until October 1st to solve this puzzle, otherwise presumably the government will shut down entirely.

Mythbusting

Posted: June 7, 2015 in Uncategorized
Wait, no big boom?  We're out!

Wait, no big boom? We’re out!

Welcome to Mythbusting, where I don’t just tell the myths, I put them to the test.  Um…actually….no, I’m pretty much am just going to tell you the myths and then why I think they are wrong.  Hmm, now that I see it in writing, I understand why Discovery picked up Adam and Jamie’s show instead of mine.  Anyway, on today’s show:

  • Myth #1 –  Raising the minimum wage is going to make my Big Mac cost a whole lot more money…like $10 or something!  The first thing to know is that labor costs only make up the fraction of the costs of making a burger (maybe like 25%). Further, not all the labor is at minimum wage, so not everyone is getting an increase and not everyone is getting an increase from the current minimum wage.  So it’s not like if you raise the minimum wage to $15, the cost of the Big Mac would double.  You have different calculations out there, but let’s say maybe the cost of Big Mac’s would go up 70 cents or so.BUT, that’s the COST.  Would the PRICE go up though?  McDonald is in a very competitive market.  And in an effort to maximize profits, they should ALREADY charge as much as they think they can get away with to maximize revenue.   After all, they are not a charity.  That doesn’t have anything to do with labor costs.  So there’s a good possibility that the price of a Big Mac doesn’t go up at all, at least not in direct relation to minimum wage increases.  Busted.
  • Myth #2 – Half the people in this country do not pay taxes at all.  First, anyone who says this is probably being purposely misleading.  What they are not saying is that they are only referring to the FEDERAL INCOME tax.  As we know, there are many, many, more kinds of taxes than that.  Once you throw in things like payroll taxes, state taxes, local taxes, etc, then the reality is that the saying that the only certain things in life are death and taxes is still very truthy.  Making a claim that half the people don’t pay taxes using just federal income taxes is like claiming 99.5% of people don’t pay taxes, using the federal estate tax as your basis.Further, the percent who don’t pay federal income taxes isn’t static.  Factors like the economy and legislation change that percentage.  Even further, it’s not the SAME people not paying federal income tax year after year.  Chances are good that over your lifetime, you are going to pay federal income taxes.  Sorry, no freebies.  Busted.
  • Myth #3 – We could balance the federal budget if we just stopped giving money to other countries.  Oh, and also those filthy hippies at NPR and Sesame Street. The budget deficit for fiscal year 2014 was about $483 billion.  Foreign aid expenditures was roughly $50 billion in total.  Public television and radio? Around $450 million.  In other words, you could cut both these to absolute $0, and you still have a long long way to go before you reach the balance.  So if you want to cut these things because you think the money should stay at home (though I’m betting since we are already in deficit spending, it’s not an either/or situation) or because you hate Big Bird, go ahead.  But not because you just want to balance the budget.  Busted.
  • Myth #4 – People on food stamps are lazy no good fraudsters! –  First, while fraud isn’t non-existent, it is less than one percent.  Also, 80 percent are working within 12 months before or after receiving food stamps.  And the average length of time anyone is on food stamps is 8 to 10 months.  So the reality is, the folks on food stamps are generally working class Americans who utilize a safety net only for as long as they have to.  Busted.

So that’s it for today.  Oh alright, here’s one big boom.

Simple_Solutions

I think often there’s a thought when we see a problem that if we would just do this one simple general thing, the problem would go away.  But are there really ever an easy answer?  For example:

Gambling/Lottery – This is a favorite magic bullet for solving budgetary problems (often in relation to education) that’s actually pretty popular across the political spectrum.  Alabama, which will never ever ever raise taxes ever, is looking at this now as a possible non-tax revenue source.  And it has appeal.  People can play or not play, it’s voluntary.  You can vote for this and still claim you didn’t vote for a tax.  A lot of money does flow through the lotteries.  But, John Oliver did a great job showing the shortcomings of a lottery:

Watch the video, as John Oliver will do better than I.  But the short version is this.  The people who play lotteries?  Low income (higher income folks will invest in something).  As such, state lotteries advertise themselves as a way for the poor to change their lives.  According to one study, the poor spend a whopping 9% of their annual income on lotteries.  It’s a de facto tax on the poor.

Meanwhile, instead of being a supplement to tax income, states often instead use it as an excuse to even further lower taxes and use the lottery money as simply a replacement.  Even though lotteries are often touted for education, in 21 out of 24 states in which that is the case, education funding is either flat or has actually DECREASED since the addition of the lottery.

My personal believe is that if something is necessary, we as society should be compelled to pay for it, not be able to opt out. There are a lot more equitable ways to do that than a lottery, even if the lottery seems like the easy answer.

Charter Schools – Charter schools is most popular in the conservative crowd, though you get an occasional progressive behind these too.  The idea is that private is always better than public, so let’s just give the funding to a private enterprise and they will do so much better educating kids.  Now it’s a heated debate which are better, charter schools or public schools.  But generally speaking, when you look at studies, you find that they perform about the same overall.  As in there are good charter schools and bad charter schools, just like there are good public schools and bad public schools.  I suspect that the while there are common characteristics for what makes for a successful school (adequate resources is a good start), what makes any given school work may be unique.  There’s probably not a one-size-fits-all solution, as every community is different.  But there’s nothing magic about being private that makes it any easier to figure it out.

Whether it’s a flat tax, prayer in schools, poor people are lazy, no big business is evil, guns kill people, no people kill people, blah, blah, blah, the real world is complicated and so is its problems.  The solutions will take hard work to find and a will to do so, that’s just the way it is (in my opinion).

Alabama Budget Insanity

Posted: April 19, 2015 in Uncategorized
And by rights, we mean right...to never have our taxes raise.  Even if it kills us.

And by rights, we mean right…to never have our taxes raise. Even if it kills us.

Alabama is finally having to pay the piper with a projected $700 million shortfall staring us straight in the face.  Looks like the state is out of budget tricks and is now truly faced with either cutting spending (well, cutting spending even more than in the past) or, gasp, raising revenue.  Governor Bentley, much to my surprise, actually has proposed raising some taxes.  Sure, it’s mostly on cigarettes, which is about as close to a tax on the poor as you can get without literally having a tax on the poor, but still, it’s a Republican actually proposing a tax increase.

Of course, Bentley is not eligible to run for governor again at the next election.  But the proposal of new taxes has gone over about as well as you would think with state congressional representatives in a state in which many citizens believe we should never have a tax increase ever again.  A part of me can appreciate how this is karma for Bentley, who while running for office would preach against the evils of taxes and “big government” with the best of them.  Unfortunately ultimately it is all of us who live in this state that will feel the impact of the budget shortfall.

So the funny thing is that since the state can’t raise taxes ever ever, it is tying itself in knots trying to find ways to get revenue, ways that are just self-defeating anyway.  One way many municipalities have been trying to make up for lack of tax revenue is through court and ticket fines.    Now to be sure, I think this is a terrible way to fund government services.  But it may not matter soon, because the state has cut funding to the courts so much, its capacity to even function (and collect those fees) will be significantly curtailed.

Now the latest proposal is to take money from the Alabama Conservation and Natural Resource fund.  The result would be the closure of 15 of Alabama’s state parks.  The insanity of that is that the fund does not receive any money from Alabama’s general fund.  Rather the vast vast majority of the money comes from user fees.  You know, the ones that come from users using the parks.  The very ones that would be closed if the state takes its money.  So really you can only hit this well once (I suppose maybe twice as there would be about 6 parks left).   Meanwhile you are not only killing a source of revenue directly, you are also doing economic damage to the state tourism, which surely would have a further indirect negative impact on state revenues.

But I guess in a state where you can’t raise taxes no matter what, you have no choice but to propose insane measures.   How much more can you cut in a state that already underfunds everything.  Troopers?  50% of what we need.  Dams?  Nah, we just won’t inspect them at all.  Prisons?  Just keep packing them in.  Schools?  Teachers work for love, not money, and we can make the parents buy the supplies.  The poor?  Lazy bums who wouldn’t be in that position if they would love Jesus more.

And parks?   Gee, we like parks.  Really you should consider taking even more money away from education or social services first.  But if it’s taxes or parks?  Yep, take away the parks.  After all, if we really want parks, the invisible of hand of the free market will cause Wal-Mart to buy the parks and run them themselves!

That Oh So Slippery Slope

Posted: March 21, 2015 in Miscellaneous
Tags:
Why are you people just sitting there watching while we suffer the worst of fates, going down the slippery slope??!!

Why are you people just sitting there watching while we suffer the worst of fates, going down the slippery slope??!!

I was watching the “tele” the other day (sort of….it was on and I was half way paying attention) and there was a discussion of a proposed ban of a type of armor-piercing bullet.  The proponent for not banning the ammo (probably a NRA guy), after hemming and hawing for a bit, said that we shouldn’t allow this ban because if we did, who is to say we don’t ban other kinds of ammo….ultimately all ammo I suppose (see, Obama is not going to take your guns away, just your bullets….so clever).  And that got me thinking, with the same logic being used for not allowing same-sex marriage (because then you would have to allow dogs to marry cats and all sorts of terrible things), that man, EVERYTHING is a slippery slope!   I see it so clearly now!

  • We have established speed limits on our highways and streets.  But it’s a slippery slope.  Soon we’ll have speed limits of 20 mph, then 10 mph, then 5 mph.  You won’t be able to get anywhere!   But but but then we raised interstate speeds from 55 to 65 to 70 mph.  Oh no!  Now it’s going the other way!!!!  It’s going to be 100 mph, then 200 mph, then to ludicrous speed!!!!   Every road will be the Talladega Superspeedway!!!!   Speed limits were a terrible idea!
  • Employers can’t discriminate on the basis of race, religion, sex, etc.  Oh what’s next?  Soon you won’t be able to discriminate on the basis of education, experience, and skill set either.  Every job and every promotion will become first come, first serve!  Damn you anti-discrimination laws and the slippery slope!
  • At first only white men were allowed to vote.  But then black men were also allowed to vote.  And then women were allowed to vote too.  You can see where this is going.  It’s only a matter of time before children are allowed to vote.  And then babies!   And then will come the pets.  Then sloths.  Most definitely sloths.  Do we really want sloths electing the next President?  Why oh why did we even allow anyone the right to vote to begin with?
  • We have laws that says you can’t just take property from other people.  Sure, that sounds ok.  But who is to say that next you can’t take property from other people, even if they want to give it to you for exchange of cash?   Oh no, it’s the slope and, yep, it’s slippery!  It would be the collapse of the whole free market system!!!!   Oh no!!!!  How has this not happen yet?  Sure, nobody wants that, but the slope cannot be denied!

It is clear, once you try to establish rules and laws, it’s a slippery slope that can only lead to anarchy.   Better to not establish any rules or laws at all……huh, which is anarchy.  Crap.  This can’t possibly be some logical fallacy.  I’ll have to think on it some more.

Alabama The Beautiful?

Posted: March 8, 2015 in Miscellaneous
Tags:
(Fine Print:  Hearts may be excluded.)

(Fine Print: Hearts may be excluded.)

One of Alabama’s state slogans is “Alabama The Beautiful”.  But lately, whenever I hear the phrase “In Alabama….” in the media, I just cringe because I just know that what is about to follow is not going to be good.  I mean, just look at how Alabama makes the news:

  • In Alabama, the state supreme court ordered the state’s probate judges to stop issuing marriage licenses to gay couples.  This despite a federal judge’s ruling to the contrary, and despite that the U.S. Supreme Court denied the state’s request for a stay on the federal judge’s ruling.  In order to keep discriminating against a class of people, the state court is literally trying to overrule federal courts.   I guess given this state’s history, there are expectations that have to be kept?
  • In Alabama, police beat up an Indian grandfather to the point of leaving him paralyzed.  His crime was apparently going for a walk in the wrong neighborhood.
  • In Alabama, the state has the stingiest Medicaid income cutoff in the nation.  If you’re a non-disabled family of 4 that makes over $3,221 annually, well, you’re out of luck.
  • In Alabama, if you lose an arm in a working accident, it’s worth only $48,000 and some change.  The most you can get for lost wages for ANY injury is $11,440 annually.  And if you lose your arm, payments end after four years.  It matters not what your job and training is.
  • In Alabama, there is not a single dam inspector or any safety program at all (the only state not to have one).  But no worries.  There are only, like, 2200 dams in Alabama.  They won’t fail I’m sure (they do fail) because they are built to the highest standards despite the lack of regulation (they aren’t).  It’s only lives and property at the end of the day…pfft, not important.

I could go on and on.  For a state to proclaim itself to be beautiful, it sure does a lot of ugly things.

Roy Moore - Patron Saint of the no more marriage movement!

Roy Moore – Patron Saint of the no more marriage movement!

So I have read that our illustrious Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in the great state of Alabama has spoken out against the recent federal judge ruling against the ban of gay marriage in this state.  Justice Roy Moore says that if you recognize gay marriage, next thing you know you are going to have to recognize marriage between multiple partners or even incestial marriage.  I must admit, the logic is undeniable.  Let me go on to say (which I know Moore would have said if he had more time) that as we proceed, we would soon after have to officially recognize marriage between cats and dogs; Marge and Homer Simpson; if and buts and candy and nuts (and no Merry Christmas’s for ANYONE!); rainbows and unicorns; and MORE.  That’s not a world I want to live in, do you?

The only problem with Moore’s argument is that he didn’t take it back to the very start.  After all, when we started allowing marriage between one man and one woman, that’s when we started down this oh so slippery slope!   And now look at what’s happened!  Alabama became the 37th state where either gay marriage is either outright recognized by law or where bans on gay marriage have been struck down.  It’s only a matter of time before it’s all 50.  It is time to admit that this social experiment called marriage has failed, and all the warnings about “slippery slope” have come true.  The only way I can see not to fall down the slope (as slick as it is) is to never start down the path.

Besides, even the Bible seems to indicate marriage is a slippery slope.  Luke 16:18 says “Whosoever putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery: and whosoever marrieth her that is put away from her husband committeth adultery“.   One thing I know about marriage is that it’s definitely the one thing that can lead to divorce.  May be best not to even start down that road.  Also 1 Corinthians 7:1-2 says “…It is good for a man not to marry….”.  That’s good enough for me! (I may be cherry-picking…..i.e. what everyone seems to like to do with the Bible.)

OR…alternatively, maybe we could all just chill out about the prospect of gay marriage.  Change can be scary, but one constant is that society is always evolving.  And usually it’s ultimately for the better, even if it takes the benefit of hindsight (or even the passing of generations) to see it (think back to slavery or even the Civil Rights Movement of the 60’s and beyond).  Then maybe think about what harm will actually come to you and others, real actual harm, if gay marriage is allowed.  Also think about what harm will come to you and others if gay marriage is not allowed.  For me personally, I am usually going to land on the side of freedom if I don’t think it’s going to actually harm anyone, particularly if the alternative does seem to harm others.

2/4/2015 Update:  When I published this article, little did I know that apparently some were taking option number one seriously.  A Chilton County judge has decided he is just going to stop performing marriage ceremonies, period.