Sunday, March 20, 2016

The Red State Model


Republican venture capital billionaire Bruce Rouner invested $26 million out of his own pocket and raised far more than that from 9 other right-wing oligarchs like sociopathic billionaire and Rahm Emanuel ally Ken Griffin, to buy the Illinois governorship in 2014. Democratic ineptitude and corruption-- with a little nudge from Rahm Emanuel-- helped Rauner, another close ally of Emanuel's, defeat Democratic reformer Pat Quinn. Within a month of taking over, Rauner had moved to defund unions and taken over $4 billion in state funding out of higher education, Medicaid, state employee pensions, public transit, and local government support, while starting work on cutbacks to end funding for infrastructure projects and programs that address GOP bugaboos like domestic violence, public transit service, Child Care Assistance, homeless youth, autism and immigrant integration.

Soon after, Rauner announced he wanted to put an emergency manager in charge of the Chicago Public Schools, a tactic commonly applied in neighboring Michigan by another multimillionaire Republican Governor, Rick Snyder. Unlike Snyder, however, Rauner has a Democratic legislature to contend with. The Illinois House has 71 Democrats and 47 Republicans and the Illinois Senate has 39 Democrats and 20 Republicans. It's served as a partial check on Rauner. In Michigan the story is very different. Although the state voted for Obama both times-- 57-41% in 2008 and 54-45% in 2012-- and reelected Democrat Debbie Stabenow 59-38% in 2012 and elected Democrat Gary Peters 55-41% in 2014, Republicans have effortlessly outmaneuvered corrupt and inept Democrats in gerrymandering up the state so that the legislature consists of a Republican-controlled House (61 GOPers to 45 Dems) and a Republican-controlled Senate (27 Republicans to 11 Democrats). In 2010 when Michigan Republicans elected "one tough nerd" governor, over a pathetically weak Democrat, the stage was set for Republican one-party rule in a pretty Democratic-leaning state.

Like Rauner, if Michigan's Rick Snyder stands for one thing, it is running government like a business. Modeling himself on Koch/ALEC-owned Scott Walker next door, Snyder immediately went after unions and immediately started appointing emergency managers to override democratically-elected local governments-- entirely in black areas. Although Republicans in the House did all they could this week the help Snyder and Michigan Republicans shirk responsibility for the catastrophe in Flint, as early as January, the New York Times was already connecting the dots between Snyder's overthrow of democracy and what ensued in his state.

Public outrage over the tainted water in Flint and the decrepit schools in Detroit has led many people to question whether the state has overreached in imposing too many emergency managers in largely black jurisdictions.

In the cases of both Flint and the Detroit Public Schools, governance was under the jurisdiction of the governor, rather than local officials closer to the ground.

In Flint, emergency managers not only oversaw the city-- effectively seizing legal authority from the mayor and City Council-- but also pressed to switch the source of the financially troubled city’s water supply to save money.

In Detroit, the schools are on the brink of insolvency after a series of emergency managers dating to 2009 repeatedly failed to grapple with its financial troubles, while also falling short on maintaining school buildings and addressing academic deficiencies. The current emergency manager for the schools, Darnell Earley, previously served in that role in Flint.

Residents of majority-black cities have long cried foul over the practice. They argue that it disenfranchises voters and violates a deeply felt ethos of American democracy that allows for local representation. They also say emergency management gives influence to what is now a mostly white, Republican leadership in Lansing, the state capital. And they worry that in their decisions, emergency managers are more concerned with fiscal discipline than public health.

“Tell me what race dominates in those communities that get emergency managers?” said Hubert Yopp, the mayor of Highland Park, Mich., which is 93 percent black and in past years has had an emergency manager. “People have a very real reason to question what that’s about. It would be one thing if the emergency managers worked with the local governments to make things better. But it’s about having dictator power in the city. The locals have no say.”

...In 2011, when Mr. Snyder took office, he and the Legislature agreed to grant more sweeping powers to emergency managers, but opponents succeeded in repealing the law in a statewide referendum a year later. Mr. Snyder and lawmakers promptly passed another law, which allowed more options for cities and schools in fiscal distress-- including emergency managers.

“They’ve chosen this policy, and this is the outcome,” said Jim Ananich, a Democratic state senator whose district includes Flint. “We have poisonous water flowing through people’s faucets. In the Detroit Public Schools, they have overcrowded classrooms and rats. Unfortunately, the emergency managers in these communities have been failing.”

Mr. Ananich said the law allowing emergency managers should be “reviewed and repealed quickly.”

“It’s been a failed project,” he said. “There’s absolutely no accountability with the government. They are trying to circumvent local democracy and say, ‘This one individual knows best.’”

...Marcus Muhammad, the new mayor of Benton Harbor, Mich., whose population is 89 percent black and which had been under emergency management, said the managers had been a “horrific experiment” that left the city defending itself against lawsuits filed over actions they had taken.

“I have said that a different strategy and a different law should be put in place to help distressed cities,” he added. “Not to poison democracies, poison water, poison communities.”

There is no other outcome possible from conservative governance than what we've seen in Michigan. The nature of conservatism is authoritarian, anti-democratic, anti-human and above, corrupt. Friday, writing for New York, Eric Levitz castigated the GOP for what their ideological social experiments have done to Louisiana and Kansas, a topic we have discussed regularly here at DWT, most recently after a GOP debate in which Li'l Marco, not yet aware that he was a well-coiffed walking corpse, claimed, with a straight face, that "conservatism is about ideas." Rubio, another third-rate puffed up Republican hustler incapable of critical thinking, was wrong; conservatism is about looting. Levitz is calling for accountability, specifically in Kansas and Louisiana, and wonders why the presidential debates never veered towards questions about how doctrinaire and crackpot conservative governance has driven the two states towards bankruptcy. He suggests that voters "demand that Donald Trump, John Kasich, and Ted Cruz explain why their tax policies won’t fail America in the same way they’ve failed the people of Kansas."
In 2010, the tea-party wave put Sam Brownback into the Sunflower State’s governor’s mansion and Republican majorities in both houses of its legislature. Together, they implemented the conservative movement’s blueprint for Utopia: They passed massive tax breaks for the wealthy and repealed all income taxes on more than 100,000 businesses. They tightened welfare requirements, privatized the delivery of Medicaid, cut $200 million from the education budget, eliminated four state agencies and 2,000 government employees. In 2012, Brownback helped replace the few remaining moderate Republicans in the legislature with conservative true believers. The following January, after signing the largest tax cut in Kansas history, Brownback told the Wall Street Journal, “My focus is to create a red-state model that allows the Republican ticket to say, 'See, we've got a different way, and it works.'"

As you’ve probably guessed, that model collapsed. Like the budget plans of every Republican presidential candidate, Brownback’s “real live experiment” proceeded from the hypothesis that tax cuts for the wealthy are such a boon to economic growth, they actually end up paying for themselves (so long as you kick the undeserving poor out of their welfare hammocks). The Koch-backed Kansas Policy Institute predicted that Brownback’s 2013 tax plan would generate $323 million in new revenue. During its first full year in operation, the plan produced a $688 million loss. Meanwhile, Kansas’s job growth actually trailed that of its neighboring states. With that nearly $700 million deficit, the state had bought itself a 1.1 percent increase in jobs, just below Missouri’s 1.5 percent and Colorado’s 3.3.

Those numbers have hardly improved in the intervening years. In 2015, job growth in Kansas was a mere 0.1 percent, even as the nation’s economy grew 1.9 percent. Brownback pledged to bring 100,000 new jobs to the state in his second term; as of January, he has brought 700. What’s more, personal income growth slowed dramatically since the tax cuts went into effect. Between 2010 and 2012, Kansas saw income growth of 6.1 percent, good for 12th in the nation; from 2013 to 2015, that rate was 3.6 percent, good for 41st.

Meanwhile, revenue shortfalls have devastated the state’s public sector along with its most vulnerable citizens. Since Brownback’s inauguration, 1,414 Kansans with disabilities have been thrown off  Medicaid. In 2015, six school districts in the state were forced to end their years early for lack of funding. Cuts to health and human services are expected to cause 65 preventable deaths this year in Sedgwick County alone. In February, tax receipts came in $53 million below estimates; Brownback immediately cut $17 million from the state’s university system. This data is not lost on the people of Kansas-- as of November, Brownback’s approval rating was 26 percent, the lowest of any governor in the United States.

Louisiana has replicated these results. When Bobby Jindal moved into the governor’s mansion in 2008, he inherited a $1 billion surplus. When he moved out last year, Louisiana faced a $1.6 billion projected deficit. Part of that budgetary collapse can be put on the past year's plummeting oil prices. The rest should be placed on Jindal passing the largest tax cut in the state's history and then refusing to reverse course when the state's biggest industry started tanking. Jindal's giveaway to the wealthiest citizens in the country's second-poorest state cost Louisiana roughly $800 million every year. To make up that gap, Jindal slashed social services, raided the state’s rainy-day funds, and papered over the rest with reckless borrowing. Today, the state is scrambling to resolve a $940 million budget gap for this fiscal year, with a $2 billion shortfall projected for 2017 ...Louisiana can no longer afford to provide public defenders for all its criminal defendants. Its Department of Children and Family Services may soon be unable to investigate every reported instance of child abuse. Education funding is down 44 percent since Jindal took office. The state’s hospitals are likely to see at least $64 million in funding cuts this year.

What has happened to these states should be a national story; because we are one election away from it being our national story. Ted Cruz claims his tax plan will cost less than $1 trillion in lost revenue over the next ten years. Leaving aside the low bar the Texas senator sets for himself-- my giveaway to the one percent will cost a bit less than the Iraq War!-- Cruz only stays beneath $1 trillion when you employ the kind of “dynamic scoring” that has consistently underestimated the costs of tax cuts in Kansas. Under a conventional analysis, the bill runs well over $3 trillion, with 44 percent of that lost money accruing to the one percent. John Kasich’s tax plan includes cutting the top marginal rate by more than ten percent along with a similar cut to the rates on capital gains and business taxes. Even considering Kasich’s appetite for Social Security cuts, his plan must rely on the same supply-side voodoo that Kansas has so thoroughly discredited. As for the most likely GOP nominee, even with dynamic scoring, his tax cuts would cost $10 trillion over the next ten years, with 40 percent of that gargantuan sum filling the pockets of Trump’s economic peers.

If any of these men are elected president, they will almost certainly take office with a House and Senate eager to scale up the “red-state model.” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said of Brownback’s Kansas, “This is exactly the sort of thing we (Republicans) want to do here, in Washington, but can’t, at least for now.” Speaker of the House Paul Ryan’s celebrated budgets all depend on the same magical growth that has somehow escaped the Sunflower State.
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At 8:08 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Quote: " ... as early as January, the New York Times was already connecting the dots between Snyder's overthrow of democracy and what ensued in his state."

I'd suggest, instead, for "the paper of record," it is more like: "finally, in January the New York Times had no choice but to pull its figurative head out of its figurative nether region into which, on a bit too many issues, the Times voluntarily (and firmly) wedges its said figurative head."

John Puma


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