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- Acton Institute
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Recent Policy Studies
Foreign Policy/International AffairsBy Robin Harris, The Heritage FoundationSpecial Report, 02/22/2012
It is now clear how the United Kingdom’s bipartisan model of governing has fared. First, little or no progress has been made in tackling either the budget deficit or the British economy’s underlying weaknesses. Second, no credible, coherent, or convincing path toward national recovery has yet been presented. For the United States, with its different constitutional system and electoral cycle, the applicable lessons would seem to be twofold. The first conclusion is encouraging. In the United Kingdom, an electorate not dissimilar from that in the United States has proved to be stoical if not enthusiastic when convinced that unpalatable economic medicine is required. The second conclusion constitutes a possibly timely warning: Failure to devise and present a clear analysis of the country’s ills before achieving power will leave even a well-intentioned and right-thinking government floundering as new, unforeseen challenges threaten to throw it off course.
Natural Resources, Energy, Environment, & ScienceBy Michael Sanera, John Locke FoundationRegional Brief, 02/22/2012
In late 2010, the Wake County Commissioners appointed a 55-member citizens’ task force to revise the county’s Environmental Stewardship Agenda by incorporating “strategies for sustainability and ‘green’ initiatives.” They met monthly for 18 months from January 2010 to June 2011. The task force focused on three areas: water resources conservation and management, solid waste reduction and management, and energy conservation and management. This Regional Brief critiques the process used by the Wake County Sustainability Task Force and its final report. The author was a member of the task force.
EducationBy Dan Lips, Goldwater InstitutePolicy Report, 02/22/2012
One approach to ending multi-generational poverty among Native Americans is for state and federal policymakers to expand educational opportunities for American Indian students via virtual or digital learning technologies. These learning technologies could greatly improve education for Native American students while protecting cultural heritage and tribal autonomy. Policymakers should use strategies to incorporate blended-learning programs into the classroom; provide a specific option for children attending Bureau of Indian Education schools to allow them to enroll in Arizona Online Instruction classes; expand private school choice programs to offer full or partial scholarships to American Indian students to enroll in virtual school courses; and create a Federal Bureau of Indian Education Virtual School.
Budget & TaxationBy Patrick Ishmael, Show-Me InstituteTestimony, 02/22/2012
Since the late 1990s, Missouri’s tax credit system has grown into one of the biggest burdens on the state’s annual budgets, expending billions of dollars over the last decade and setting the stage for significant budgetary crises in the near future. In fiscal year 2013, Missouri expects tax credit redemptions to cost the state as much as the state is spending on its correctional and public safety systems—roughly $700 million. Put in another context, the entirety of 2013’s projected deficit is less than the state’s expected tax credit payout by about $200 million. Suffice to say, this is real money that legislators will have to understand and grapple with, given the squeeze tax credits have put on the fiscal year 2013 budget and will put on state budgets in future years.
Elections, Transparency, & AccountabilityBy The Federalist Society for Law & Public Policy Studies, Federalist SocietyReport, 02/22/2012
This paper outlines the composition of judicial nominating commissions in Missouri Plan and hybrid states.
Budget & TaxationBy Commonwealth Foundation, Commonwealth Foundation for Public Policy AlternativesReport, 02/22/2012
The fiscal year 2011-12 total operating budget of $63.4 billion, which included $27.1 billion in General Fund spending, represented the first year-to-year reduction in state spending in at least 40 years. However, as the economy continues to struggle out of a recession and with increasing costs in public welfare, corrections, pensions, and debt, the fiscal year 2012-13 budget will require even more difficult decisions by the General Assembly and Governor Corbett to put Pennsylvania on a path to prosperity.
Crime, Justice & the LawBy Janice Kephart, Center for Immigration StudiesBackgrounder, 02/22/2012
The REAL ID Act was designed to protect identities and driver’s license and identification cards while eliminating fraud and improving the customer experience. There is substantial compliance sought across the board by all states and territories, even if there remains a wide gap between the strongest of state systems and the weakest. This assessment concludes that states (1) see tremendous value in pursuing REAL ID standards in reducing fraud, increasing efficiencies, improving customer service, and supporting law enforcement; (2) are willing to pay for those improvements with their own budgets outside of federal grant monies; and (3) are often exceeding REAL ID minimum standards in order to achieve more complete credentialing security.
EducationBy Andrew Gillen, Center for College Affordability and ProductivityPolicy Study, 02/22/2012
Over the past quarter century, a debate has raged within higher education policy circles over whether or not federal financial aid dollars contribute to college tuition increases. The theory that federal financial aid subsidies do enable colleges to raise their tuitions, a theory championed by former United States Secretary of Education William J. Bennett, has never been fully vindicated nor fully discredited by the evidence. This study provides additional refinements to the so-called “Bennett Hypothesis” by explaining the conditions under which federal financial aid can and does aid tuition increases and the conditions under which those aid programs (due to more effective targeting and design) provide little to no role in tuition increases.
Health CareBy Chris Stomberg, Arun Sharma, Cascade Policy InstitutePolicy Report, 02/22/2012
Methamphetamine usage in Oregon has declined since the 2006 prescription-only law was put into effect. However, Oregon’s decline in methamphetamine usage is consistent with a very similar decline in other states in the region and also more generally in the United States. There is little to distinguish the trend of methamphetamine usage in Oregon from states that have not adopted prescription-only laws.
Budget & TaxationBy Kevin Mooney, Capital Research CenterLabor Watch, 02/22/2012
California voters may soon get to decide whether to change the state’s public employee pension system. Supporters of a pension reform ballot initiative reject the half-measures favored by Governor Jerry Brown and his organized labor allies. They propose instead to amend the state constitution to reduce the state’s unfunded liabilities and make public employee pensions comparable to those in the private sector. If enacted, the measure will apply to all state and local government employees, including special district employees, school districts and California’s higher education system. A second initiative on the November ballot will prohibit payroll deduction of worker earnings for political purposes. Paycheck protection initiatives have been rejected twice before by California voters. Is the third time the charm?
Natural Resources, Energy, Environment, & ScienceBy Bruce Thornton, Hoover InstitutionDefining Ideas, 02/22/2012
A pleasing and sentimental “nature fakery” is dangerous when it fuels policies that should be based on a rational cost-benefit analysis, and that should put people and their flourishing first. Rather than pleasing myths, we need what environmental writer Gregg Easterbrook calls “ecorealism,” the sober conviction “that logic, not sentiment, is the best tool for safeguarding nature,” and that an “accurate understanding of the actual state of the environment will serve the Earth better than expressions of panic.”
Crime, Justice & the LawBy Tristan L. Duncan, Jonathan S. Massey, Washington Legal FoundationWorking Paper, 02/22/2012
Recent high-profile legal scholarship argues that courts should permit plaintiffs to use admittedly policy-oriented lawsuits of questionable merit, such as tort suits alleging harm from climate change, as a means of “prodding” legislatures into taking action. Treating court proceedings as a form of “political theater” is at odds with the Constitution, undermines judicial legitimacy, and forces defendants to play the unwilling pawn in such lawsuits at their own expense.
The Health Care Compact: A Historic Opportunity to Restore Self-Government and Affordable Health CareBy Mario Loyola, Texas Public Policy FoundationTestimony, 02/22/2012
One promising tool that has enormous potential to retrace the vanishing boundary between state and federal authority is the interstate compact. With the consent of Congress, interstate compacts can shield whole areas of regulation from federal intrusion, allowing states and local communities to reassert their proper role as the primary instruments of self-government. Adopted in four states, with more on the way, the Health Care Compact will give each state the opportunity to chart its own path in the health care arena, without having to worry about giving up “federal matching funds” that the states have already paid for. The Health Care Compact will give states a formal mechanism for working together to roll back federal overreach in health care, and reassert state and local control at the right time and in their own way.
Regulation & DeregulationBy James Broughel, Jerry Ellig, Mercatus CenterMercatus on Policy, 02/22/2012
For more than three decades, presidents have instructed federal agencies to consider a wide variety of alternatives to regulation as well as alternative types of regulation. Agency compliance has been uneven at best—largely because agencies often decide what regulation to issue before they even consider alternatives. Agencies sometimes do examine the pros and cons of alternatives, but this is the exception rather than the rule. To remedy this problem, regulatory process reforms should require agencies to thoroughly analyze alternatives and publish that analysis for public comment before they propose a regulation.
Foreign Policy/International AffairsBy Ted R. Bromund, The Heritage FoundationIssue Brief, 02/21/2012
The final Preparatory Committee for the United Nations Arms Trade Treaty was held last week. The purpose was to adopt rules of procedure for the United Nations Conference on the Arms Trade Treaty, which will be held in New York July 2–27. This conference is intended to complete the negotiation of the Arms Trade Treaty and thus open the treaty for signature and ratification. The outcome of the Preparatory Committee makes it even more vital for the United States to establish its red lines and stand its ground before and during the July conference. The United States must limit the damage the Arms Trade Treaty does to its interests, the rights of its citizens, and the responsible conduct of diplomacy.
Elections, Transparency, & AccountabilityBy Michael Ennis, Washington Policy CenterLegislative Memo, 02/21/2012
Sound Transit officials spend about $1 million per day in public money, yet their leadership is not accountable to the public because they are not directly elected to their positions. They are appointed. Allowing citizens to run for positions on an open and directly elected Sound Transit board would ensure real oversight, provide accountability and create a more collaborative approach to future decisions.
Transportation/InfrastructureBy Michael Ennis, Washington Policy CenterLegislative Memo, 02/21/2012
If Washington state drivers are going to pay more in higher transportation taxes and fees, it should be in exchange for projects that not only maintain the current system, but that also reduce traffic congestion.
Transportation/InfrastructureBy Michael Ennis, Washington Policy CenterLegislative Memo, 02/21/2012
Each year, drivers pay about $204 million in various transportation taxes and fees that state officials then divert and spend on non-highway purposes. Annually, this amount is equivalent to about seven cents per gallon in the state gas tax rate. These other projects may be important, but they should have their own funding sources, particularly paid by the user group who benefits from the program or service. Drivers have their own infrastructure needs that are not currently being met. Lawmakers should stop diverting current revenues to subsidize other, non-highway purposes and use the money they already have, before asking drivers to pay more.
Natural Resources, Energy, Environment, & Science
Proposals to Impose Drug Take-back Mandate Would Increase Health Care Costs and Do Little for the EnvironmentBy Paul Guppy, Washington Policy CenterLegislative Memo, 02/21/2012
Proposals to force collection of unused pharmaceuticals claim such mandates are needed to protect ground water quality, stating: “Disposing of medicines by flushing them down the toilet or placing them in the garbage can lead to the contamination of groundwater and other bodies of water, contributing to long-term harm to the environment and to animal life.” There is no firm evidence, however, that this is an accurate description of how pharmaceutical elements end up in groundwater.
EducationBy Liv Finne, Washington Policy CenterLegislative Memo, 02/21/2012
Research shows that Quality Rating and Improvement System programs are expensive and difficult to administer, that state funding to them in the future may not be available, that Quality Rating and Improvement System programs do not raise learning or social development outcomes for students, and that they will tend to eliminate the jobs of people working in small, family group care providers.
The Constitution/Civil Liberties
Interposition and the Heresy of Nullification: James Madison and the Exercise of Sovereign Constitutional PowersBy Christian G. Fritz, The Heritage FoundationFirst Principles, 02/21/2012
The seemingly unstoppable growth of the federal government has led to a revival, in some circles, of the discredited notion of nullification as a legitimate constitutional mechanism for states to reassert their sovereign powers. Proponents of this doctrine invoke the authority of James Madison to defend the claim that the Constitution empowers states to nullify laws passed by Congress. Madison emphatically rejected the attempt by a single state to nullify national laws. Instead, Madison embraced something very different. The practice of interposition—public opinion, protests, petitions, and legitimate actions of state legislatures—focused attention on whether the government was acting in conformity with the Constitution. Recovering Madison’s understanding of interposition offers a useful corrective to the mischaracterization of his views and makes clear that he rejected any constitutional basis for nullification.
Budget & TaxationBy Jagadeesh Gokhale, Cato InstituteWhite Paper, 02/21/2012
State and local employee pension plans have come under increased scrutiny of late. Plan funding conditions have worsened during the early years of the 21st century, especially during the aftermath of the post-2007 recession. But the patterns of financial changes vary considerably across the United States and under alternative ways of measuring plan funded status.
National SecurityBy Jessica Zuckerman, The Heritage FoundationIssue Brief, 02/21/2012
On Friday, authorities arrested a man in an attempted suicide attack on the United States Capitol. The attempt marks at least the 45th publicly known attempted terrorist attack against the United States since September 11, 2001 and is the sixth such attack targeting Washington, D.C. This latest attempted attack serves as yet another reminder of the importance of maintaining strong counterterrorism tools. Terrorists continue to seek to harm the United States. The nation must not become complacent.
National SecurityBy James Jay Carafano, Paul Rosenzweig, Jessica Zuckerman, The Heritage FoundationIssue Brief, 02/17/2012
In the wake of 9/11, the government undertook a number of initiatives to strengthen the security and resiliency of the supply chains that power the United States economy, safeguarding against both manmade and natural catastrophes. After a decade of experience in trying to keep the free flow of peoples, goods, services, and ideas moving in the face of terrorist threats, it is past time to reevaluate how effective these measures have been and how they can be improved. No program is greater need of rethinking than the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism, a public–private cooperative venture to adopt and implement best practices. As currently structured, the program lacks adequate initiatives to ensure the robust enduring cooperation of the private sector. Better incentives are needed to keep the partnership moving forward.
Health CareBy The Heritage Foundation, The Heritage FoundationFact Sheet, 02/17/2012
Under Obamacare, all insurance plans must cover, at no charge, abortion-inducing drugs, contraceptives, sterilization, and patient education and counseling for women of reproductive age. Religious employers like Catholic hospitals, Christian schools, and faith-based pregnancy care centers will have to provide and pay for such coverage for their employees, regardless of their religious beliefs. To protect all Americans’ religious liberty, and freedom generally, Obamacare must be repealed.
Regulation & DeregulationBy Wendell Cox, Show-Me InstitutePolicy Study, 02/17/2012
The decade of 2000 to 2009 saw changes in domestic migration trends in America. These changes saw an increase in domestic migration away from the coasts and to the interior, or heartland, of America. The well-documented increase in housing costs was one of the primary drivers of that change. While housing costs increased everywhere, they increased much more substantially along the coasts, especially the West Coast. The Saint Louis metropolitan area was one of the beneficiaries of this new migration trend. Saint Louis has one of the United States’ most affordable housing markets. One of the reasons for the affordable housing in Saint Louis is the lack of centralized planning by governments in the area. The greater Saint Louis metropolitan area should position itself to continue to benefit from these domestic migration trends by limiting the planning requirements it imposes on homebuilders and developers.
Economic GrowthBy The Heritage Foundation Economic Freedom Task Force, The Heritage FoundationSpecial Report, 02/17/2012
Promoting economic freedom at home and broad is essential to revitalizing the United States economy. In 2010, for the first time ever, the United States fell from the ranks of the economically free in the Index of Economic Freedom, and economic freedom in the United States has continued to decline. The United States influence can be decisive in promoting property rights and anti-corruption measures in other countries. In addition, the United States should specifically seek out opportunities to negotiate new free trade agreements and promptly implement the free trade agreements with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea. The United States should also expand the Visa Waiver Program to ease tourist and business travel and to assist counterterrorism efforts.
LaborBy Matt Podgorski, Public Interest InstituteInstitute Brief, 02/17/2012
Hostess Brands filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy less than three years after emerging from a 2004 filing. How can a company with such well-known brands and with annual revenues of $2.5 billion not be able to turn a profit? The answer is, like in most cases, a combination of many factors, such as stiff competition from healthy alternative brands, as well as rising commodity and fuel costs. But one that stands out more than others is its burden created by its own employees – or their union representation to be more specific.
Information TechnologyBy T. Randolph Beard, et al., Phoenix Center for Advanced Legal and Economic Public Policy StudiesPolicy Study, 02/17/2012
There is a growing concern that the present inventory of commercial spectrum—an essential input for providers of mobile wireless services—represents just a fraction of the amount necessary to match growing demand for mobile data services. At the same time, there has been mounting anxiety among policymakers about the number of competitors in the mobile wireless industry. What is lacking from the policy debate today is an economic theory of market performance that integrates these two key issues—spectrum exhaust and industry structure. Policies that impede incumbent carriers from acquiring more spectrum—via either auction or acquisition—may do harm rather than good.
Budget & TaxationBy Maryland Public Policy Institute, Maryland Public Policy InstituteSpecial Report, 02/17/2012
In Maryland Governor O’Malley’s Fiscal Year 2013 budget proposal, he recommends raising the tax on “other tobacco products” from its current rate of 15% of wholesale price to 70% of wholesale price. Advocates for this tax say it is necessary to stop teenagers from smoking cigars. These advocates claim that teenagers switched from smoking cigarettes to smoking cigars because of the recent increase in the cigarette tax, and now it’s time to increase the tax on cigars. While this narrative may make for good press conferences, it is based on faulty assumptions both about youth cigar usage and on how this tax will affect the sale of the small cigars preferred by youth.
Health CareBy Hadley Heath, Independent Women's ForumPolicy Focus, 02/17/2012
Even before the Affordable Care Act became law, Constitutional law scholars and limited-government advocates were preparing to sue the federal government over the law’s unconstitutional provisions. Across the country, more than 30 lawsuits were filed, three of them involving a total of 28 states as plaintiffs. Americans want to know with certainty what laws and regulations will shape our health care system. We don’t want to see more time, energy and money wasted on what could be an unconstitutional law. And perhaps even more importantly, this court battle will determine the future of individual rights in America. If the Court upholds this overreach of federal government power, individuals and states will no longer have the rights guaranteed to them by the Constitution, and our system of governance will be forever changed.
The Constitution/Civil LibertiesBy Paul Marshall, Hillsdale CollegeImprimis, 02/17/2012
A growing threat to our freedom of speech is the attempt to stifle religious discussion in the name of preventing “defamation of” or “insults to” religion, especially Islam. Resulting restrictions represent, in effect, a revival of blasphemy laws. America’s Founders, who had broken with an old order that was rife with religious persecution and warfare, forbade laws impeding free exercise of religion, abridging freedom of speech, or infringing freedom of the press. We today must do likewise.
Budget & TaxationBy Charles Blahous, e21: Economic Policies for the 21st CenturyCommentary, 02/17/2012
It is rare that an act of legislation encompasses nearly every feature of poor public policy making in the manner of the current “temporary” Social Security payroll tax cut. Imperfect legislation is of course the norm in any system that brokers compromises between competing interests, but more typically even the worst outcomes advance the general policy objectives of one side even as they may be fiercely condemned by the other. The payroll tax cut, by contrast, serves almost no productive purpose while causing severe adverse consequences from almost any conceivable policy vantage point.
LaborBy Commonwealth Foundation, Commonwealth Foundation for Public Policy AlternativesPolicy Points, 02/17/2012
Pennsylvania’s Prevailing Wage Law was enacted in 1961 to protect construction workers from out-of-state competition, mandating that contractors pay the wages that “prevail” in each region on all government construction projects more than $25,000. This limits the number of construction jobs in the state and forces state and local governments to unnecessarily spend more taxpayer money.
Health CareBy Michael Ramlet, Nicole Fisher, American Action ForumPolicy Primer, 02/17/2012
The Affordable Care Act tasked the Department of Health and Human Services with creating a comprehensive package of health benefits, known as “essential health benefits”. Beginning in 2014, all health plans are required to begin offering the Essential Health Benefits package to beneficiaries in the individual and small group markets. The Department of Health and Human Services took its first formal step toward offering official guidance on the Essential Health Benefits issue by releasing a first of its kind, pre-rule “bulletin”. The bulletin outlined how the Secretary intends to approach the formal Essential Health Benefits rulemaking process. Instead of setting a single uniform standard for national health benefits, the Obama Administration has proposed using a state-based benchmark plan approach, which eventually could affect nearly 70 million Americans. The following primer explains how the proposed benchmark approach is supposed to work and the red flags that have been raised since the bulletin’s release.
Budget & TaxationBy Curtis Dubay, The Heritage FoundationBackgrounder, 02/17/2012
A host of annual tax-reducing provisions expired on December 31, 2011. As it does each year, before restoring these policies, Congress is sure to argue about how to “pay for” extending these tax reducers, for some of which have been the law as long as 30 years. As the debate plays out, Congress should remember that continuing these tax policies—thus preventing tax increases—is not a tax cut. Not needing to offset these policies, however, does not give Congress a free pass to avoid a long-overdue assessment of the value of each of the individual provisions that make up the larger package.
Budget & TaxationBy Mark Robyn, Tax FoundationFiscal Facts, 02/16/2012
At the request of the North Dakota Taxpayers Association, the Tax Foundation offers a list of recommendations to improve North Dakota’s business tax climate. The recommendations are derived from the State Business Tax Climate Index, which the Tax Foundation produces annually to enable business leaders, government policymakers, and taxpayers to gauge how their states’ tax systems compare according to the economic principles of simplicity, neutrality, and broad tax bases with low tax rates.
Budget & TaxationBy Scott Drenkard, Tax FoundationFiscal Facts, 02/16/2012
Retail sales taxes are a transparent way to collect tax revenue. While graduated income tax rates and brackets are complex and confusing to many taxpayers, the sales tax is easier to understand: people can reach into their pocket and see the rate printed on a receipt. Less known, however, are the local sales taxes collected in 36 states. These rates can be substantial, so a state with a moderate state sales tax rate could actually have a very high combined state-local rate compared to other states. This report provides a population-weighted average of local sales taxes in each state in an attempt to give a sense of the statutory local rate for each state.
Health CareBy Laura Lieberman, Joseph Henchman, Tax FoundationAmicus Brief, 02/16/2012
The health care individual mandate is properly considered a penalty and not a tax for purposes of the United States Constitution’s Taxing Power and for purposes of the Anti-Injunction Act. Holding otherwise jeopardizes a widely-used, long-standing, working definitional construct, which would have severe implications for taxpayer protections and revenue statutes across the country.
LaborBy James Sherk, The Heritage FoundationIssue Brief, 02/16/2012
Congressional leaders have agreed to maintain extended unemployment insurance benefits while reducing maximum benefit duration to one-and-a-half years. The legislation moves in the right direction, but in an improving labor market, Congress should go further. Extending unemployment insurance has helped some workers in difficult circumstances at the cost of increasing unemployment and the deficit. While there are valid humanitarian reasons to extend benefits in a recession, two years of benefits was excessive. Unemployment has now fallen to a three-year low, and new unemployment insurance claims have fallen to a four-year low. Sixty weeks of benefits would be more appropriate at this stage of the recovery.
LaborBy Andrew C. Spiropoulos, Oklahoma Council of Public AffairsPolicy Study, 02/16/2012
As observers of Oklahoma’s public-policy scene are keenly aware, the field of workers’ compensation reform is littered with the remains of failed reforms of years past. Why do our efforts to reform the workers’ compensation system repeatedly disappoint? Because we refuse to address the chief structural feature of our system—its conception and organization as a judicial system. Conceiving of workers’ compensation claims as legal causes of action, rather than employee benefits administered by the administrative branch of state government, places excessive control of the administration of the system in the hands of the judiciary. Oklahoma will not succeed in implementing the reforms necessary to reduce costs until it does what every state except Oklahoma and one other has done—transforms its system to one that is primarily administrative, with a more limited role for the judiciary.
Budget & TaxationBy Jeffrey Miron, Robert Sarvis, Mercatus CenterMercatus on Policy, 02/16/2012
The troubled condition of the federal budget has overshadowed the poor fiscal health of the 50 states. State debts are underreported, and state budgets are on an unsustainable long-term path. If current spending patterns continue, the ratio of state debt to output will increase without bound. While the states have varying levels of officially reported debt, all share two worrisome characteristics: an understatement of unfunded pension liabilities and ever-increasing expenditures, driven primarily by health-care costs.
Regulation & DeregulationBy Richard Williams, Mark Adams, Mercatus CenterMercatus on Policy, 02/16/2012
Regulators try to reduce risks by creating a more prescriptive and growing regulatory code. The evidence suggests, however, that the difficulty of complying with such complex regulation may actually be making Americans less safe. To reverse this trend, regulators need to prioritize the most effective rules, eliminate those that are not needed, and define outcomes, leaving businesses to work out the details.
Health CareBy Scott Beaulier, Brandon Pizzola, Mercatus CenterWorking Paper, 02/16/2012
This paper explores recent state-level Medicaid reforms and the effects of these reforms on individuals and on state budgets. The five featured states explicitly reformed their Medicaid programs with an eye toward cost savings for taxpayers. Two of the states—Rhode Island and Washington—are probably in the too soon to tell category when it comes to cost savings, but it is nonetheless useful to examine how they implemented their reforms. The other three states—Florida, Idaho, and Tennessee—all developed innovative programs to save money and ensure quality care. Other states can benefit from imitating the successes and avoiding the pitfalls that earlier reformers encountered.
WelfareBy Elizabeth Stelle, Commonwealth Foundation for Public Policy AlternativesPolicy Report, 02/16/2012
Government welfare, with its goal to provide a helping hand to those in need, has instead become a vast series of programs that fall far short of the good intentions behind them. Welfare spending in the Keystone State consumes a growing share of the state budget, and is projected to crowd out spending on other government programs in the near future. In addition to being costly, too many welfare programs frequently provide low-quality care to recipients. The result is that Pennsylvania’s welfare system promotes greater dependence on government – instead of independence and personal responsibility – resulting in higher, rather than reduced poverty. This doesn’t have to be the case. Pennsylvania lawmakers must take on the task of overhauling the welfare system to ensure more efficient spending of tax dollars and to promote the economic independence of those now trapped in poverty.
Foreign Policy/International AffairsBy Luke Coffey, The Heritage FoundationIssue Brief, 02/16/2012
President Obama will host British Prime Minister David Cameron at the White House on March 13–14. The official visit will be dominated by the eurozone crisis, developments in Syria, Iran’s nuclear program, and Afghanistan. For the United Kingdom, the Falkland Islands will also be an important agenda item. In addition, this visit will be an important opportunity for the two leaders to discuss the United States–United Kingdom defense relationship in light of recent defense cuts on both sides of the Atlantic. It is in America’s interest to have a strong British military partner. On the military level, the desire to increase cooperation is there. President Obama and Prime Minister Cameron need to help facilitate this cooperation. Like all relationships, the United States–United Kingdom defense relationship needs nurturing and direction. Both leaders should use this visit as an opportunity to expand military cooperation.
Information TechnologyBy Randolph J. May, Free State FoundationPerspectives from FSF Scholars, 02/16/2012
The current debate concerning the extent to which Congress, in authorizing the Federal Communications Commission to conduct new spectrum incentive auctions, should prevent the Federal Communications Commission from encumbering such auctions in various ways is instructive. And the debate is instructive beyond the immediate implications it has for the proposed auctions. More broadly, the debate has important implications for the future direction of communications law and policy reform.
Budget & TaxationBy Kevin Munger, Michael Sanera, John Locke FoundationRegional Brief, 02/16/2012
Raleigh Convention Center staff continues to provide favored organizations deep discounts for the use of meeting rooms and convention space. Taxpayers need to be aware that Raleigh Convention Center staff have broad discretionary power to award discounts, including granting free use of Raleigh Convention Center space. Organizations receiving deep discounts are not the only beneficiaries. The taxes that subsidize these discounts unfairly subsidize a very small group of downtown businesses and property owners.
Natural Resources, Energy, Environment, & ScienceBy B. Delworth Gardner, Randy T. Simmons, Independent InstituteBook, 02/16/2012
Is water facing a crisis? Yes and no. On the one hand, declining water quality is a serious problem in many parts of the world; and if recent usage trends continue, shortages are inevitable. On the other hand, water quality has improved in many economically advanced countries, and in some regions institutions and policies have been adopted that would postpone, or even avoid, the onset of “water crises.” These policies include establishing secure and transferable water rights and extending these rights to enhance ecosystems. Aquanomics: Water Markets and the Environment discusses many examples of such policies—particularly water markets and market-like exchanges—and makes recommendations designed to improve their effectiveness.
Budget & TaxationBy Anthony Ryan Gonzalez, Independence InstituteIssue Paper, 02/16/2012
Residents of Colorado should know how their tax burden compares with Americans throughout the nation. Colorado ranks 26th nationally, compared to all other states for the combined state and local tax burden, on a per capita basis.
Foreign Policy/International AffairsBy Paul Marshall, Hudson InstituteTestimony, 02/16/2012
The Iranian government is one of the world’s worst religious persecutors. All religious groups suffer—Baha’is, Christians, Mandeans, Jews, and Zoroastrians—as well as Sunnis, Sufis, and dissenting Shia. Many minorities are dwindling; the ancient Assyrians and Mandeans have almost disappeared. Genuine religious (or political) pluralism is deemed unacceptable and, where required by international agreements, senior Iranian leaders denounce it as a Western aberration, though Iran is a signatory to United Nations conventions.
Budget & TaxationBy E.J. McMahon, Empire Center for New York State PolicySpecial Report, 02/16/2012
Defined-contribution plans are personal retirement accounts supported by employer and employee contributions. In contrast to traditional pensions, they can follow employees if they change jobs, and the pension account is usually not wiped out if an employee dies before retirement. The State University of New York and City University of New York have offered a defined-contribution retirement option since the 1960s, and large majorities of professional employees in both systems have chosen it over the standard pension mandated for other public employees. The creation of a universal defined-contribution option for new state and local government employees in New York is a golden opportunity to create a national model for pension reform.
Foreign Policy/International AffairsBy Victor Davis Hanson, Hoover InstitutionDefining Ideas, 02/16/2012
The role of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization—and America’s participation in it—is now more critical than ever, both to protect a relatively disarmed and insolvent Europe from foreign pressures—but, even more importantly, to help protect twenty-first-century Europeans from themselves.
EducationBy Koret Task Force, Hoover InstitutionPolicy Report, 02/16/2012
The Hoover Institution’s Koret Task Force on K–12 Education recommends moving away from the top-down approach and fully embracing policies (which may mean abandoning some old practices) that promote parental choice of all hues.
EducationBy Russell Muirhead, Hoover InstitutionDefining Ideas, 02/16/2012
The key to improving civic education is to equip students with the tools to sort out the political life unfolding around them. The problem today is not merely that students don’t “know enough” facts. It’s that they lack the basis for forming and holding opinions. And without opinions—ultimately, opinions about the common good—politics will always seem a distant chore best left to others. Good citizens do things: they speak out, they vote, they volunteer, they organize. But to do those things well, citizens need to know things. Civic action requires civic knowledge.
Health CareBy Goldwater Institute, Goldwater InstituteAmicus Brief, 02/16/2012
Fourteen states have enacted or adopted “Health Care Freedom Laws” that protect individual freedom of choice in health care plans. In these “Health Care Freedom States,” the Minimum Coverage provision of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act threatens to quash a traditional exercise of state sovereignty that directly serves the structural purpose of federalism in our compound republic – the protection of individual liberty and decentralized local governance guaranteed by the Bill of Rights. Such federal overreaching must be rejected if the vertical separation of powers established by our Constitution means anything at all.
Crime, Justice & the LawBy Marc A. Levin, Vikrant P. Reddy, Georgia Public Policy FoundationIssue Analysis, 02/16/2012
Georgia’s fiscal situation requires renewed policy strategies to ensure that the state’s limited corrections dollars are spent properly. If Georgia follows the recommendations of the Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform for Georgians, the savings could be significant.
Foreign Policy/International AffairsBy Brett D. Schaefer, The Heritage FoundationIssue Brief, 02/16/2012
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization funding prohibition has little impact on America’s policies and priorities, so it is an excellent vehicle for sending a signal to the rest of the United Nations that the United States considers Israel’s peace and security a top priority—one that supersedes the more ambiguous value of United States funding of programs and projects overseen by organizations like the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.
Health CareBy Robert F. Coulam, Roger Feldman, Bryan E. Dowd, American Enterprise InstituteHealth Policy Outlook, 02/16/2012
A major reason Medicare faces a severe fiscal crisis is because it pays too much for basic benefits. But chronic overpayment can be cured by harnessing market forces in the form of competitive bidding. It uses bids from private Medicare Advantage plans and the traditional fee-for-service Medicare program to set the payment rate for all Medicare health plans. Research shows that competitive bidding—a key feature of the Wyden-Ryan plan—could save Medicare $339 billion over ten years while maintaining basic benefits and without raising taxes. Crucially, the elderly would not be exposed to the risk of higher health care costs, as in approaches that would set fixed voucher payments toward the purchase of medical insurance.
Foreign Policy/International AffairsBy Roger Bate, American Enterprise InstituteSpeech, 02/16/2012
For a bankrupt country in the middle of hyperinflation, the discovery of a major diamond deposit in Zimbabwe in June 2006 should have been good news. Instead it has provided sustenance to a volatile and violent political elite that suppresses the majority. With elections likely within a year, it has to be hoped that the diamond wealth will not finance a new wave of violence, and plunge Zimbabwe back into the dark days of the middle of the last decade. That is the hope, but the likelihood is that mayhem will return come the next election.
Monetary Policy/Financial RegulationBy John H. Makin, American Enterprise InstituteEconomic Outlook, 02/16/2012
The current economic environment of low—virtually zero—interest rates has hit savers hard, but abruptly raising interest rates could harm economic growth and the housing market. Until the economy stabilizes and the Federal Reserve begins raising interest rates again, savers have few options: they can adjust their lifestyles, dip into their savings, or take on riskier investments such as gold and stocks.
National SecurityBy James Jay Carafano, Paul Rosenzweig, Jessica Zuckerman, The Heritage FoundationIssue Brief, 02/16/2012
In January, the White House released its long-awaited National Strategy for Global Supply Chain Security. The six-page report, however, does little to lay out a comprehensive strategic plan for supply chains security, instead providing a basic vision for future planning and implementation. While the basic goals of the strategy are sound, more should be done to work with international and private-sector partners in taking a risk-based approach to supply chain security that respects the complexities of the United States supply chain.
Budget & TaxationBy Jason Richwine, James Sherk, Andrew G. Biggs, The Heritage FoundationBackgrounder, 02/16/2012
A January 2012 report by the Congressional Budget Office shows that federal government employees receive substantially higher compensation than similarly skilled workers in the private sector. The report’s methodology and conclusions are broadly similar to previous studies from both The Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute. This Q&A discusses the Congressional Budget Office’s findings, highlighting the similarities and differences among the three approaches. Three studies, three approaches, three similar results—make a strong case for reforming federal wages and benefits.
Foreign Policy/International AffairsBy James Phillips, The Heritage FoundationIssue Brief, 02/16/2012
The United States can play a constructive role in the Syrian conflict by supporting efforts to deliver humanitarian aid. The United States should also be working closely with regional partners, especially Turkey, both to help speed the transition to a new, legitimate government and to continue diplomatic pressure and international sanctions against the Assad regime. Direct United States military intervention, however, is not warranted. At this point, an outside “peacekeeping” force would only become embroiled in the conflict as a combatant. That might increase the suffering of the Syrian people, which is sure to continue as long as Assad remains in power.