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Recent Policy Studies
Budget & TaxationBy Liz Malm, Tax FoundationFiscal Facts, 03/25/2014
Illinois lawmakers are considering moving the state’s income tax system from a flat rate on all income to a graduated rate system with top rates ranging from 8 to 11 percent in 2015. This tax change would impact a large share of Illinois employers because many are pass-through businesses which pay taxes via the individual income tax rather than the corporate income tax.
Transportation/InfrastructureBy Eric M. Gruzen, Reason FoundationReport, 03/25/2014
In recent years, one approach to infrastructure construction upon which the state and local governments have increasingly relied is the public-private partnership (“P3”). P3s place on private entities a broad range of project responsibilities and risks, some of which traditionally have been borne by public agencies alone. Typically, a P3 agreement calls on the private partner to not only design and build a facility, but also finance, operate and maintain it. In exchange, the private party may be entitled to tolls or user fees that the facility generates, or may receive direct payments from the government. California statutory law authorizes the use of P3s for certain state and local government projects, and an ongoing debate has arisen surrounding a major P3 project in Long Beach. However, in a landscape of intense budgetary constraints and fiscal austerity, P3s offer government agencies in California and across the nation an alternative mechanism for financing much-needed infrastructure projects.
Transportation/InfrastructureBy Robert W. Poole Jr., Reason FoundationReport, 03/25/2014
An infrastructure investment fund is an entity by which large investors (generally institutional investors such as insurance companies and pension funds) pool their resources and rely on experienced managers to find viable infrastructure projects to invest equity into. During 2013 investors worldwide put $33.6 billion into infrastructure investment funds, a five-year high. This section of Reason Foundation’s Annual Privatization Report 2014 analyzes major developments in the financing of surface and air transportation infrastructure. Subsections include transportation infrastructure finance overview, infrastructure investment funds in transportation infrastructure finance, the growing role of pension funds in transportation infrastructure finance, and the emergence of infrastructure debt funds in transportation finance.
Transportation/InfrastructureBy Robert W. Poole Jr., Reason FoundationReport, 03/25/2014
This section of Reason Foundation’s Annual Privatization Report 2014 provides a comprehensive overview of the latest on toll roads, managed lanes and other news on privatization and public-private partnerships in surface transportation. Subsections include global overview, leasing existing toll roads, public-private partnership enabling legislation and litigation, major PPP highway projects by state, and managed lanes and networks.
Transportation/InfrastructureBy Robert W. Poole Jr., Reason FoundationReport, 03/25/2014
In the 25 years since British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s government privatized the former British Airports Authority, airport privatization has become a global phenomenon. Governments in Europe, Asia, Australia and New Zealand, Latin America and the Caribbean subsequently privatized major airports. By the end of 2010 a study by Airports Council International (ACI) Europe found that 22% of Europe’s 404 principal airports were either wholly investor-owned or had mixed (public/private) ownership. The Air Transportation section of Reason Foundation’s Annual Privatization Report 2014 provides an overview of the latest on privatization and public-private partnerships in air transportation. Subsections include airport privatization, U.S. airport security, and air traffic control.
Budget & TaxationBy Anthony Randazzo, Reason FoundationPolicy Study, 03/25/2014
In 1996, the Michigan state legislature passed a first-of-its-kind bill that froze the state employees’ defined-benefit pension fund for new members and created a defined-contribution pension system for future hires. New workers had their pension contributions put into personal accounts that they could manage on their own and take with them if they left employment with the state. When the Michigan legislature did not vote to reform the public school employees’ pension fund, which was operated in the same way as the state employees’ defined-benefit system, they inadvertently created a natural experiment to determine which system would be more sustainable in the long run. Over the past 15 years, the public school employees’ plan accrued unfunded liabilities that would have likely been mirrored by the state employees’ fund in the absence of a defined-contribution option. This would have increased fiscal pressure on current state leaders and made Michigan worse off.
Health CareBy Jacob Casey, National Center for Policy AnalysisIssue Brief, 03/25/2014
TRICARE, the military health insurance program run by the Department of Defense, has a well-deserved reputation for inadequate quality at an exorbitant public cost. While the failures of TRICARE are widely known, neither the public nor the administration has shown a willingness to make the necessary changes to fix it. Any real market-based solutions face steep political challenges because nobody wants to be perceived as reducing benefits for servicemen and retirees. Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates tried repeatedly throughout his tenure to create a financially sound system, but stringent opposition in Congress thwarted his efforts. To care for our military, we must control spending and provide coverage and services that reflect the needs of patients. The system will continue to be dysfunctional until health care decisions are by made those receiving care.
Monetary Policy/Financial RegulationBy R. David Ranson, National Center for Policy AnalysisPolicy Backgrounder, 03/25/2014
Market analysts usually attribute changes in the prices of commodities—uniform, widely traded goods, such as metals—to higher or lower demand in major world economies, such as the United States and China. However, the price of a commodity also relates to the value of the currency in which prices are expressed, in most cases the U.S. dollar. A fall in the value of a currency is easily recognized in the form of its depreciation relative to gold. Over the long term, commodity prices are part of a general movement in the prices of tangible assets. The prices of all of these are driven primarily by the changing value of the U.S. dollar. Since June, the dollar has been falling, the price of gold has been rebounding and metals prices have begun to climb back too. While lagging behind gold, industrial-metals prices perform in advance of inflation.
Foreign Policy/International AffairsBy Nile Gardiner, Jack Spencer, Luke Coffey, Nicolas Loris, The Heritage FoundationBackgrounder, 03/25/2014
On February 28, Russian troops, aided by pro-Russian local militia, occupied important sites across the Crimean Peninsula under the pretext of “protecting Russian people.” Now Crimea is under Moscow’s de facto control and the Russian parliament has voted to annex the region into the Russian Federation. The failure of the Obama Administration’s Russian “reset,” the unilateral disarming of Europe, and the U.S. reduction of forces and disengagement from Europe have led Russia to calculate that the West will not respond in any significant way. The Administration can demonstrate America’s commitment to its NATO allies and support for the Ukrainian people by bolstering the defenses of NATO countries in the region, lifting restrictions on energy exports to reduce Europe’s dependence on Russian natural gas, and enacting meaningful sanctions.
Elections, Transparency, & AccountabilityBy Hans von Spakovsky, The Heritage FoundationIssue Brief, 03/25/2014
The latest data from Tennessee about the state’s experience with its new photographic voter identification law show that this requirement has done nothing to suppress voter turnout throughout the state. In fact, overall turnout in Tennessee was slightly higher, and black voters turned out at higher rates than white voters in the first election held after the law became effective. The claims made by voter ID opponents that the law would prevent minorities and other Tennesseans from being able to vote have been shown to be untrue.
Economic GrowthBy Adam Thierer, Mercatus CenterBook, 03/25/2014
What policy vision will govern the future of technological innovation? Will innovators be forced to constantly seek the blessing of public officials before they develop and deploy new devices and services, or will they be generally left free to experiment with new technologies and business models? In Permissionless Innovation: The Continuing Case for Comprehensive Technological Freedom, Adam Thierer argues that if the former disposition (“the precautionary principle”) trumps the latter (“permissionless innovation”), the result will be fewer services, lower quality goods, higher prices, diminished economic growth, and a decline in the overall standard of living. “Permissionless innovation” has been the secret sauce that fueled the success of the Internet and much of the modern tech economy in recent years, and it is set to power the next great industrial revolution—if we let it.
Transportation/InfrastructureBy Marc Scribner, Competitive Enterprise InstituteOn Point, 03/25/2014
America’s freight railroad industry is one of the greatest success stories of economic liberalization. After decades of stifling regulation that nearly ruined the railroads, Congress partially deregulated the industry. Consequently, freight rates have fallen, industry productivity has skyrocketed, and the industry is now able to invest more than $20 billion back into its networks every year. However, a number of commercial interests, including representatives America’s largest agriculture, coal, and petrochemical corporations, now support reregulating aspects of the industry. A more significant threat comes from the Surface Transportation Board (STB). In the name of competition, a shipper lobby has proposed new access rules to force railroads to interchange one another’s traffic. Rather than imposing new regulatory burdens in a clumsy attempt to improve outcomes for shippers, regulators and legislators should examine existing regulatory burdens that raise prices for customers and work to repeal them.
Health CareBy John H. Cochrane, Cato InstituteCato Policy Report, 03/25/2014
This fall’s Affordable Care Act (ACA) website fiasco and policy cancellations are only the beginning. The individual mandate is likely to unravel this spring when we see how sick the people are who signed up on the exchanges. In the midst of the ACA’s many dysfunctions, the way forward depends on devising—and communicating—a better system. In short, only deregulation can unleash competition. And only disruptive competition, where new businesses drive out old ones, will bring efficiency, lower costs, and innovation. Health insurance should be individual. It should be portable across jobs, states, and providers. It should be lifelong and guaranteed-renewable. Insurance should protect wealth against large, unforeseen, necessary expenses, rather than act as a wildly inefficient payment plan for routine expenses. Liberalization is always politically hard, but the American people should understand that it’s a viable alternative.
Natural Resources, Energy, Environment, & ScienceBy Richard A. Epstein, Hoover InstitutionDefining Ideas, 03/25/2014
The Department of Interior, which is charged with the enforcement of the Endangered Species Act, has announced its intention to introduce a comprehensive “ban on Commercial Trade of Ivory as Part of Overall Effort to Combat Poaching, Wildlife Trafficking.” That ban will cover both the sale of objects that contain any amount of ivory, however small, and the shipment across state lines by the owner of any object that contains ivory. Unfortunately, the White House Report that outlines a “National Strategy for Combating Wildlife Trafficking” is oblivious to vital concerns of private property owners and to the low probability that its draconian measures will reduce the illegal ivory trade. As The New York Times reports, an “uproar among musicians, antique dealers, gun collectors, and thousands of others whose ability to sell, repair, or travel with ivory objects will soon be prohibited.”
EducationBy Tom Loveless, Hoover InstitutionDefining Ideas, 03/25/2014
Herbert Spencer famously posed the question underlying all curricula: what knowledge is worth the most? Conflicting answers to that question have generated political controversy throughout the history of American education, primarily because of philosophical conflict between the traditionalist and progressive camps. This essay sketches the evolution of that conflict from the 1990s to the current day and evaluates its impact on the content and breadth of the school curriculum. Although the most heated curriculum wars quieted down by the mid-2000s, two forces loom that may reignite them: new technologies and the Common Core State Standards. Much more research is needed on the effectiveness of different curricula, on the impact of the Common Core on curriculum as the implementation of standards and tests unfolds, on the linkages between curriculum and instruction, and on the relationship between technology and learning.
Budget & TaxationBy Jagadeesh Gokhale, Institute of Economic AffairsBook, 03/25/2014
Europe and the United States will soon begin to encounter unprecedented fiscal constraints. Federal debt as a percentage of GDP more than doubled between 2000 and 2012, nearing 100 percent. An ageing population alone does not create greater government indebtedness as long as each generation sets aside adequate funds to meet their own future pensions and health-care costs. In contrast, Western governments have developed unfunded social insurance programmes that the taxes of the working-age population fund. This means that an ageing population leads to ?rising expenditures that require increasing taxes on the young. In the UK, total spending would have to be cut by more than one quarter or health and social protection expenditure by around one half compared with the level implied by current policy if the UK is to avoid tax increases and all spending is to be met out of tax revenue in the long run.
Economic and Political ThoughtBy John Steele Gordon, Hillsdale CollegeImprimis, 03/25/2014
The word “entrepreneur”—one who undertakes, manages, and assumes the risk of a new enterprise—comes from the French, where it literally means “undertaker.” The word was borrowed into English in the mid-19th century—perhaps the golden age of the entrepreneur—when the number of new economic niches was exploding and the hand of government was at its lightest in history. The activity of entrepreneurship, of course, is much older, going back to ancient times. As for America, our nation was founded, quite literally, by entrepreneurs. Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations was published the same year as independence was declared. Being very young, America did not have the burden of hundreds of years of economic cronyism. Having less past history than any other country, the United States could make its own history, creating the most Smithian economy in the western world.
Health CareBy Tyler Hartsfield, Grace-Marie Turner, Galen InstituteHealth Care News, 03/25/2014
By our count at the Galen Institute, more than 37 significant changes already have been made to ObamaCare: at least 20 that President Obama has made unilaterally, 15 that Congress has passed and the president has signed, and 2 by the Supreme Court. But even this large number of changes hasn’t stopped the cascade of failures we are seeing today in the implementation of the law.
Information TechnologyBy Randolph J. May, Sarah k. Leggin, Seth L. Cooper, Free State FoundationComments, 03/25/2014
Today, the video market is flourishing. Indeed, D.C. Circuit Judge Brett Kavanaugh was correct when he said: “In today’s highly competitive market, neither Comcast nor any other video programming distributor possesses market power in the national video programming distribution market.” But legacy regulations threaten to slow the pace of innovation and growth and pass unnecessary costs onto consumers. In its forthcoming Sixteenth Report on Video Competition Report, the Commission should recognize that the market for the delivery of video programming is competitive. And it should pursue the sunset of regulations, such as the video device integration ban, that have failed to promote competition as intended or that are inconsistent with the current market. Despite the apparent intention of regulators to increase competition in the video device marketplace, growth, diversification, and innovation have occurred in spite of regulatory barriers to innovation and investment.
Natural Resources, Energy, Environment, & ScienceBy Brian Sonntag, Glen Morgan, Scott Roberts, Conner Edwards, Freedom FoundationReport, 03/24/2014
When the Washington state Legislature first established the Puget Sound Partnership in 2007, they intended for the agency to provide oversight and accountability to the many ongoing environmental restoration projects around Puget Sound, ensuring that taxpayer resources would be spent effectively. Unfortunately, the Puget Sound Partnership has adopted the very problems the Legislature set out to avoid: engaging in corrupt practices, wasting taxpayer dollars, and failing to fulfill any of its responsibilities as a state agency. For example, the Partnership stuck taxpayers with a $40,000 bill to pay off a former employee whom Partnership head David Dicks had illegally fired for reporting unethical practices to the State Auditor’s Office. The Puget Sound Partnership needs to be abolished before another taxpayer dollar goes into this corrupt, wasteful, and unnecessary state agency.
EducationBy Nathan Benefield, Commonwealth Foundation for Public Policy AlternativesTestimony, 03/24/2014
Charter school reform remains a critical policy challenge facing Pennsylvania. This testimony examines three major aspects of proposed charter school reforms—accountability, authorization and growth, and funding. There have been several anecdotal cases of fraud and abuse by charter school operators (the same could be said of school district administrators and staff). But such abuses should not be used to demonize charter schools or eliminate charter schools. Improving school spending transparency would make charter school operators more accountable to taxpayers. Meanwhile, although enrollments in charter schools have skyrocketed, another 44,000 students currently await admission, in large part due to local school board resistance to approving charter schools and local enrollment caps on charter schools. Finally, much of the controversy related to charter school finances is based on misinformation. Charter schools receive less funding per student than district schools, and district schools keep the difference.
Foreign Policy/International AffairsBy Brett D. Schaefer, The Heritage FoundationIssue Brief, 03/24/2014
President Barack Obama released his fiscal year (FY) 2015 budget proposal on March 4, 2014. Although much of the budget reflects long-standing programmatic and budgetary practice, there are 11 specific issues that Congress should address. The President’s FY 2015 budget request for International Affairs (IA) totals $50.01 billion, including a base budget of $44.1 billion and an additional $5.91 billion for Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) tied to operational costs for Afghanistan, Iraq, and associated activities of the global war on terrorism (GWOT). This request is $714 million less than the FY 2014 estimated budget and $1.8 billion less than the FY 2013 actual budget. Within this budget request are a number of controversial budgetary and policy positions that Congress should reject or modify, as well as others that the Obama Administration ignores or inappropriately seeks to eliminate or curtail.
LaborBy George Landrith, Capital Research CenterLabor Watch, 03/24/2014
For years, a Wisconsin Indian tribe has tried to open a new casino hundreds of miles from its reservation. The controversy over the casino has encouraged the tribe to cut deals with labor bosses in which the unions trade their political support for the tribe’s agreement to help coerce casino workers into joining unions. Now Gov. Walker must decide whether to approve the proposed casino. Governor Walker has set three criteria for approval of any new casino, but it is unclear whether his criteria have been met. The casino would represent the first fully unionized casino in Wisconsin. Providing a path that leads to the forced unionization of employees through “card check” or by any other method should not be tolerated in a free society.
Natural Resources, Energy, Environment, & ScienceBy Tom Tanton, American Legislative Exchange CouncilReport, 03/24/2014
Across the country, more and more customers are using rooftop solar panels and other small-scale, on-site power sources known as distributed generation (DG). To encourage the introduction of these systems when they first came to market years ago, many states approved a billing system called net metering. Today, 43 states plus the District of Columbia have net metering policies and regulations. While these policies vary in details, DG customers are typically credited at the full retail electric rate for any excess electricity they generate. There are, however, a number of negative implications associated with such policies. For instance, the battle over net metering has come to represent a fight between a relatively wealthy minority taking advantage of lucrative economic handouts at the expense of their lower-income neighbors who simply cannot afford, or are not eligible to adopt, solar usage.
National SecurityBy Lisa Curtis, The Heritage FoundationIssue Brief, 03/24/2014
After 12 years of fighting against the Taliban in Afghanistan and failing to convince Pakistani leaders to crack down decisively on terrorist bases on their side of the border, American military planners are considering providing Pakistan with billions in leftover equipment from the war, including armored vehicles and other equipment deemed too expensive to ship back to the U.S. While giving the Pakistanis U.S. military equipment, including mine-resistant ambush-protected (MRAP) vehicles, might make sense from a cost and logistical standpoint, the U.S. also needs to take into account the possible exacerbating impact of such decisions on regional security dynamics. Washington should also condition the transfer of such military equipment on Islamabad’s meeting certain counterterrorism benchmarks, including cracking down on groups that are destabilizing Afghanistan, such as the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani network.
Monetary Policy/Financial RegulationBy Satya Thallam, American Action ForumResearch, 03/24/2014
In the immediate aftermath of the financial crisis, there was no epithet more feared than “too big to fail” (TBTF)—a designation that simultaneously conveyed having an unfair advantage against competitors and emblazoned a conspicuous scarlet letter across the public image of the target. This paper re-examines the notion that a financial firm is “too big to fail” (TBTF). In doing so, it emphasizes that TBTF is not the result of poor firm management, unethical conduct, or other behaviors. It is the result of creditors’ beliefs that financial shocks will be transmitted among banks (contagion) and that policymakers will undertake firm-specific policies to stop any such transmission. The cost of TBTF is inappropriate perception of safety accorded financial firms’ securities as a result. The paper also examines Dodd-Frank’s effectiveness in reducing the likelihood of failure and containing the costs.
EducationBy Lisa Graham Keegan, American Action ForumTestimony, 03/24/2014
Two decades worth of data on every student’s performance in every public school has taught us so much. We have proof that any student is capable of graduating from school prepared for college or to make another life-sustaining choice. We are learning every day what can be achieved by allowing excellent teachers and other education leaders to bring their ideas to public schooling. But those who assume we know enough or who believe that we should codify today’s knowledge and not tolerate future failed attempts at excellence should be challenged. Our goal has to be excellence for all students, and we are far from it. Innovation must be allowed to continue. The critical balancing act by authorizers and by all governing boards is to act on the best of what we know today, and to be open to learn what is possible tomorrow.
Information TechnologyBy Will Rinehart, American Action ForumResearch, 03/24/2014
Earlier this year, the DC district court ruled on Verizon v FCC, a case involving the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) 2010 Open Internet Order. While the courts got rid of the blocking and nondiscrimination rules, they also affirmed the power that the Commission had carved out in making the order, and kicked the rule back to the agency for further consideration. Regulations are far from costless, so it is imperative we understand their costs and benefits. As stakeholders and the public weighs in on new regulations, the FCC should ensure future proceedings are oriented towards fully exploring the economic implications of network neutrality.
Health CareBy Sam Batkins, American Action ForumResearch, 03/24/2014
After four years of implementation, countless delays, a website disaster, and constant ligitation, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) celebrates its inauspicious birthday this week. From a regulatory perspective, the law has imposed more than $27.2 billion in total private sector costs, $8 billion in unfunded state burdens, and more than 159 million paperwork hours on local governments and affected entities. What’s more troubling, the law has generated just $2.6 billion in annualized benefits, compared to $6.8 billion in annualized costs. In other words, the ACA has imposed 2.5 times more costs than it has produced in benefits.
Health CareBy Thomas P. Miller, American Enterprise InstituteThe American, 03/24/2014
In recent months, Republicans have renewed efforts to offer a health care reform plan to replace and not just repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Previous Republican reform proposals have lacked the comprehensive scope, attention to implementation obstacles, and strategic vision to present an effective and attractive replacement alternative to the floundering ACA regime. Enter the Patient Choice, Affordability, Responsibility, and Empowerment (CARE) Act, proposed in late January by senators Richard Burr (R-NC), Tom Coburn (R-OK), and Orrin Hatch (R-UT). The Patient CARE Act’s stated objectives are to lower health care costs, put patients in charge of their health decisions, provide relief from Obamacare’s mandates, and ensure affordable health care for patients and taxpayers. Unfortunately, the initial Burr-Coburn-Hatch plan falls short of what is needed to reverse the downward drift of our over-regulated, over-subsidized, and over- politicized health care system.
Natural Resources, Energy, Environment, & ScienceBy Austin L. Hughes, American Enterprise InstitutePolicy Brief, 03/24/2014
Science consists of using the experimental or empirical method to gain knowledge about the material world, and the general public and their elected representatives seem to agree that scientific research is an important, even necessary, component of a modern economy. Government funding of science is justified by the argument that scientific research benefits the public, but modern science has become so technical and specialized that the public are rarely able to appreciate the potential value of the research their taxes fund. Scientific literacy remains low even in the most technologically advanced societies. As a result, scientists have increasingly become accustomed to thinking of themselves as constituting an all-knowing, unquestionable elite. Meanwhile, the focus on overhead has made grant-getting, rather than teaching or research activity per se, the primary responsibility of faculty in the sciences. At least some portion of universities’ scientific research should be pro bono.
Budget & TaxationBy Andrew G. Biggs, American Enterprise InstituteEconomic Perspectives, 03/24/2014
City and state governments around the country are pursuing reforms to address the rising costs of public employee pension plans. In response, public employee unions and pension plans themselves often portray these benefits as “modest.” In reality, public pension plans offer long-term government workers benefits that make them among the best-off retirees in the country. Indeed, the average full-career government worker in eight states retires as a “pension millionaire,” with 23 states paying $750,000 or more in lifetime retirement benefits. Drastic benefit reductions for current retirees would be unfair, but reforms that make public—and private—sector pensions more comparable should be on the table.