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Tchaikovsky Sounds Funny: Wait, This Isn't Funny, It's Boring: It's Like School

Is this where I put in key words such as sex, lesbians, vampires, Christopher Lloyd and others things to which this blog do not pertain, but by putting them here, I may get hits from all the Christoper Lloyd lesbian vampire fans (and you know who you are)? This is the primarily humorous and occasionally rambling writings of Leon Tchaikovsky, humor writer. Enjoy.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Wait, This Isn't Funny, It's Boring: It's Like School

Tchaikovsky Sounds Funny

The following is not funny to most (although it may be a scream to a few). I am putting it here so I can find it again someday in case I ever need to find it. For readers looking for laughs, skip over this posting and go to the next one. Itit is about Gore being elected President. Wait, that one is chillingly serious. You know, that's the problem with the world: things aren't funny, they just seem funny when you realize what is really going on.

The following is summaries of sessions at the Fall 2004 National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) Forum

TRAFFIC SAFETY AND PUBLIC HEALTH

Delegate Carol Perzold (Maryland) described the importance of recognizing traffic accidents as a public health issue. Deaths from traffic accidents are the leading cause of death for every people at every age from age 1 through 34. Over 40,000 people die annually from vehicular accidents and over $450 billion in hospital costs are due to such accidents.

Kevin Bakewell, Senior Vice President of AAA Auto Club South, described how AAA offers free rides to people who imbibe too much during the Christmas holidays through the Super Bowl. AAA drove over 400,000 home during the previous holiday and football season. AAA supports legislation on seat belt primacy, which would allow a police officer to cite a person for not wearing a seat belt without first stopping the driver for another violation. Pennsylvania only allows ticketing for not wearing a seat belt as a secondary offense only after a vehicle has been stopped for another reason. Mr. Bakewell congratulated the Tennessee legislators for recently passing seat belt primary into Tennessee law.

Brian McLaughlin, Senior Associate Administrator of the National Highway Transportation Safety Association, described how Congress had approved Omnibus appropriations the prior day. Within this appropriation is money to fully fund highway safety programs and research into making highways safer. $600 million in incentives will be offered to states to either adopt seat belt primacy laws or reach 90% of vehicle riders using seat belt use under a secondary law. A state could receive up to $30 million for reaching either goal. It is the goal of the National Highway Transportation Association to reduce all injuries from automobile accidents by 25% by 2008. Wearing seat belts and removing drunk drivers are seen as having the most impact towards reaching this goal. Two thirds of all lost days of life (considering the age of victims and their expected life expectancies) are due to accidents from drunk drivers or not wearing seat belts, according to Mr. McLaughlin.

Seat belt usage is at 80% of car occupants, Mr. McLaughlin stated. Seat belts saved an estimated 14,000 lives and 300,000 people from serious injury last year. The number of accidents from impaired drivers declined nationally, as well as in 28 states last year, marking the first annual declined in drunk or impaired driving accidents since 1999.

It has become easier in recent years to ticket people who drive under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs, according to Brian McLaughlin. A problem exists in following through with successful prosecutions. He is critical of the practice in many jurisdictions of assigning prosecutions of cases involving driving under the influence to the newer members of prosecution staffs. He urged prosecutors to develop experts in prosecuting such cases. He also called for the creation of more courts that specialize in driving under the influence cases. Another concern is following through after prosecution and seeing that those convicted carry forth the terms of their sentences, such as seeking help. Many people assigned by court decisions to medical treatment do not go for their treatment, and many whose licenses are suspended continue to drive without their licenses.

Ellen Engelman Conners, Chair of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) told how the NTSB compiles accident data on all kinds of transportation accidents, including airplanes, rail, and vehicles. 115 people die every day from car accidents with car accidents costing every American $850 a year, yet the media and the public hardly notice these tragedies. She mentioned that the NTSB has lots of draft legislation on reducing accidents, and urged more legislators to develop the political will to introduce and fight for such legislation.

WHAT HAPPENS IN A MOTOR VEHICLE CRASH?

Sue Ferguson of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety explained how the physics of a body in motion continues in a straight line at a steady speed until it comes in contact with an external force describes what happens in vehicle accidents. She showed films on the dangers of people riding in the back of pick up trucks whose bodies are thrown in crashes and who can be ejected during truck turns. She called for outlawing people riding in the back of pickup trucks.

Vehicles need to have means that extend the time of impact in order to reduce damage to the body, such as frontal crumble zones on cars, padded dashboards and bumpers, collapsible steel, bendable polls, and air bags, including side air bags. Lighter cars will crush more when colliding with a heavier car, although SUVs tend to roll over more, thus diminishing their weight advantage. Many Americans wear seat belts wrong, many seat belts do not properly protect women, and many children do not use age appropriate belts or restraints. Lap belts should be low and snug across the hips and not against the abdomen or where internal organs would be impacted. Shoulder belts should be comfortable across the middle of the shoulder and chest. Safety belts should have inertial locking mechanisms. She further told how air belts are under development as a new method of protecting people during crashes.

Kinetic energy increases by the square of the increase in speed, meaning higher vehicle speeds lead to more extreme accidents. The protection an SUV provides its occupants can alternately be very damaging to occupants of another vehicle, and a side collision delivered from an SUV is a strong argument for getting side airbags in other vehicles.

Mark Scarboro, Program Manager with the National Highway Transportation Administration (NHTSA), told of injury studies from modern cars. There are 4.7 million vehicle crashes annually leading for 430,000 injuries, of which 126,000 are serious injures, 37,000 are severe, 10,000 are critical, and 43,000 are fatal. He urged for better safety standards and improved safety designs. He also spoke of the need to improve Emergency Medical Services triage skills in assessing accident victims to improve diagnosis and treatment. He also stated many physicians need to better understand vehicle accident injuries to better treat patients. He also noted that many victims are people more prone to take chances, and that many risk taking people also risk not obtaining medical insurance, making car accidents a major Medicaid cost.

THE ECONOMIC AND SOCIETAL COSTS OF MOTOR VEHICLE CRASHES

Terry Schiavone, Southeast Regional Administrator of the NHTSA, told how studies indicate that seat belt primary laws have decreased vehicle crash deaths by 11%. He also noted that license revocation laws in 42 states have decreased death from vehicles crashed by 6.5%. He stated that the 39 states with graduate drivers’ licenses can reduce youth fatalities from car crashes by 5% and driving under the influence fatalities by 2%, according to their studies.

David Snyder, Assistant General Counsel of the American Insurance Association, told how death from vehicle accidents is the ninth greatest disease burden worldwide, and is expected to become the third greatest disease burden worldwide by 2020 unless steps are taken now to reduce accidents. Personal auto insurance premiums are $81 billion with $70 billion in losses. Commercial auto insurance premiums are $19 billion and losses are $15 billion. These figures do not include health, life, or workers compensation payments. Vehicles accidents are preventable. While 42,643 people died from vehicle accidents in 2003, there would have been 50,350 deaths had accident rates existing in 1993 continued and 74,215 deaths had 1983 accident rates continued. The average insurance claim loss per car in 2003 was $109, which would have been $141 had 1993 accident rates continued.

Mr, Snyder was critical of Motor Vehicle Departments that have improved customer service by making it easier to obtain drivers licenses yet do so by failing to enforce licensing requirements. He called for stricter licensing enforcement, graduated driver licensing, programs for older drivers, side vehicle impact protection, SUV improvements, electronic data recorders in trucks, red light cameras, more public transit and transportation alternatives, and black box data in cars.

Kathy Lusby-Treber, Executive Director of Employers for Traffic Safety, defended giving traffic injuries and deaths the status of disease. She also stated it should concern employers, as traffic accidents are a leading cause of lost workdays and of occupation fatalities. 13,000 employees died in work-related vehicle deaths from 1992 through 2002. This causes a ripple effect of added costs to employers through workplace disruptions, retraining costs of replacement employees, and loss of institutional knowledge. A motor vehicle crash costs an employer an average of $16,500.

Employers should institute traffic safety programs, which could also lead to lower insurance premiums and reduce operating costs, according to Ms. Lusby-Treber. This can further improve employee morale, improve employee relations, and improve the corporate image.

Matt Shedd, of the National Board of Directors of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, described from personal experience how crashes impact many people.

THE PUBLIC HEALTH CONNECTION

Bella Dinh-Zarr, National Director of Traffic Safety Policy for AAA told how public health programs are supposed to protect the vulnerable and how children need more protections against vehicle accidents, as passengers, pedestrians, and bicyclists. She also noted that over 7,000 people die annually because they were not wearing seat belts during accidents. She spoke of the benefits of graduated licenses to allow new drivers to gain experience before being granted greater driving privileges. She also noted the elderly are more frail and thus more at risk from vehicles crashes. She called for senior friendly road design that includes better lighting and bolder signage, which would benefit people of all ages. Further, AAA supports .08 blood alcohol content (BAC) laws for determining if a driver is legally drunk.

Ms. Dinh-Zarr noted how parents vaccinate children against diseases yet should do more to protect their children against the leading cause of death to children which is vehicle accidents.

Ann Dellinger of the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, explained how vehicle accidents are a health problem by noting that if a person is hurt or dead, then it is a health matter. She noted that in 1900, there were 8,000 vehicles in America with one death per 100,000 miles of travel, in 1937 there were 30 million vehicles with 32.8 deaths per 100,000 miles of travel, and today there are 230 million vehicles with 15.1 deaths per 100,000 miles of travel. Vehicle accidents lead to 500,000 hospitalizations and four million emergency room visits annually. 31% of all injuries are caused by vehicle accidents. Native Americans and Alaskan Natives have the highest vehicular accident rates. Two third of children killed in accidents involving a drunk driver were passengers in the drunk drivers' vehicles.



PUBLIC HEALTH AND INJURY PREVENTION

Suzanne Hill, Manager of Advocacy and Outreach for the Child Passenger Safety in Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, told how child restraints should continue being used until age 8, but that, since many state laws do not require child restraints past age 4, many parents stop using these restraints. Indeed, many parents take the law as an example of acceptable practices, believing it would be the law otherwise. She noted the public looks to state legislators for guidance in such matters and she urged for requiring age appropriate restraints. She further noted that seven states (not including Pennsylvania) have laws on rear seat provisions for children.

Jean Shope of the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, noted how traffic congestion is making driving a more complex experience. She called for greater laws to dissuade drivers from being distracted while driving, for greater enforcement of vehicle laws, for improved drivers education programs to meet modern driving challenges, and for graduated drivers licensing.

H. Douglas Robertson of the University of North Carolina Highway Safety Research Center, stated that motor vehicle injuries are second only to falls as the causes of accidents requiring hospitalizations and is third only to falls and "being struck" as reasons requiring emergency room visits. Vehicle accidents are the leading cause of quadriplegia, paraplegia, and serious brain injuries.

In 1970, the highest annual death toll from vehicle accidents occurred with 52,000 deaths. Since then, occupant restraints and stricter enforcement of vehicle laws have caused annual death tolls to fall.

WHAT CAN BE DONE?

Bill Georges of the Century Council, stated how his organization, which is funded primarily by large distillers, is concerned about hardcore drunk drivers. The Century Council provides information to Judges on how to deal with hardcore drunk drivers. He notes that drivers with high BAC account for 58% of alcohol related vehicle accidents.

Mr. Georges called for swifter identification of hardcore drunk drivers followed by swift and certain punishment and effective treatment. He also stated that drivers who refuse to be tested for alcohol content should receive punishment equal to or greater than the punishment given to drunk drivers.

The Century Council conducted a study of 126 hardcore drunk drivers in Ohio. Mr. Georges noted that 77% were employed, which he believes means Judges shouldn't listen to them when they argue they can't afford to pay for judicial sanctions. He also noted the most common charge hardcore drunk drivers have also faced is domestic violence. The study also found 98% were alcohol abusers and 75% were alcohol dependant. 62% had never attended a driver intervention program even though most had previously been sentenced to attend such a program. It was noted that no one followed through to see that they attended and the drunk drivers were aware that no one cared if they attended, including drivers with seven previous drunk driving convictions.

Mr. Georges called for creating a penalty of aggravated driving under the influence with higher penalties for people driving with a .15 or higher BAC.

Robert Miksell, Deputy Director of the Georgia Governor's Office of Highway Safety, noted that in 2003 1,601 people died from car crashes in Georgia compared to 611 murders in Georgia. He told of programs in Georgia that provide child seats to the indigent and check that people know how to properly use them. Legislation that he supports includes laws against aggressive drivers, .08 BAC, seat belt primacy, sobriety checkpoints, graduated licensing laws, and motorcycle helmet laws.

HEALTH CARE POLITICS - WHERE WE'VE BEEN - WHERE WE'RE GOING

Two journalists, Todd Sloane of Modern Healthcare Magazine and Andrew Miller of the Atlanta Journal Constitution, who write about health care issues conducted a discussion on health care issues. Todd Sloane described how Americans spend twice as much as do the British on their health care yet they do not receive much better care. The rising costs of American health care will soon be in the one to two trillion dollars a year range. Yet, little is being done with all this money to improve the quality of health care. He also sees emerging crises in Medicare and Medicaid and stated he doubted that the money current politicians have pledged for Medicare and Medicaid will be there in four years. He sees stem cell research as an issue that will be determined by each state. He sees state losing their ability to regulate other areas of health care and predicts that Association Health Plans, which will be beyond state regulations as multistate operations, will be a large issue next year. He warned that several such plans have vaporized and taken their customers' money along with them and that there will be little for state regulators to do about them. He criticized many hospitals for failing to uphold quality care standards. Yet, he said he is less worried about hospitals that make huge mistakes now and then and warns the real problem is we are getting a health care system that is primarily mediocre.

Andrew Miller sees tort reform as a continuing major issue, noting that 26 states have passed tort reform bills. Rising health insurance premiums are another issue, and the reduction in payments due to litigation seems to be having little impact on keeping premiums down. This is causing an increase in people without health insurance as more people can not afford the premiums. The proposed solution of creating tax free medical savings accounts to allow people to save and pay for health care costs will not assist many working poor who don't have the money to put into such savings plans. He believes the lack of competition in the health insurance industry allows premiums to rise so high. The market cycle is a major driver in the stability and profitability of the health insurance industry. He further sees the pharmaceutical industry as a very strong and influential lobby.

STEERING COMMITTEE

Many NCSL committees, which pass policy resolutions that will be voted upon at Annual Meetings, stated they will not be voting on policy matters until the spring meeting. NCSL has a report near completion on the No Child Left Behind program and has also created a Medicaid Reform Task Force. Among emerging issues facing NCSL committees include brownfields, hazardous management, storm water management, pay day lending, hurricane insurance, terrorism risk insurance, drivers licensing, welfare, workplace issues facing military families, and remote control locomotives.

THE U.S. ECONOMIC OUTLOOK

David Wyss of Standard and Poor's, projected during the Plenary Session that the economy will continue improving following two years of downturns. The economy grew 4 1/2% last year, the best growth since 1984, and while he predicts the economy will increase by less at around 3.5% this upcoming year, he sees inflation being 2% which, in combination, are strong economic numbers. He sees capital spending growing although higher interest rates will put a damper on housing and consumer spending. He warns that world economic stagnation and the Federal budget deficit pose potential dangers to our economic growth.

Oil prices could pose a threat to our economy if they rise sharply, yet David Wyss notes that the average household spent 8% of household income on energy expenses in 1980 and spends 5% of household income on energy expenses today. Rising oil prices may not make as much an impact on our economy today. If oil prices rise above $50 per barrel, Mr. Wyss lowers his economic growth forecast next year to 3.0%.

The Federal deficit represents 3.3% of Gross Domestic Product during Fiscal Year 2004 and he predicts it will decrease to 2.8% in Fiscal Year 2005 and be eliminated by Fiscal Year 2008. He warns that revenues are coming in at lower amounts than expected which could upset these predictions. He also noted increased spending may be required for the war in Iraq.

The stock market is slowly recovering, according to David Wyss. The decline had been the steepest since the 1929-32 depression. The rule of thumb that price earnings ratios of stocks should be equivalent to bond interest rates indicates that stock markets’ prices presently are undervalued, according to Mr. Wyss. Profits are high which makes the stock market attractive, although increasing interest rates could lower profits for businesses who did not lock the interest rates on their debt.

Trade is posing a problem as 600,000 jobs have been exported to other countries, Mr. Wyss noted. He stated the trade imbalance is being complicated because the value of the dollar should fall to make American products more competitive to reduce the trade imbalance. This is not happening because foreign countries are protecting their goods by using their currencies to keep our dollar strong. This normally would cause inflation on the foreign countries doing this, yet some, such as Japan, have been in deflationary times so the inflationary aspects of these actions help their economy.

The average household debt equals 120% of after tax household income. 80% of this debt is mortgage debt. The average household price is 3.1% of household income, which is an all time high figure. Mr. Wyss believes household prices will soon decline.

Social security is an overemphasized problem, according to Mr. Wyss. Describing the future social security problem as equal to the rounding error in determining the Medicaid and Medicare future difficulties, he warns the real problem is with health care. We spend too much on health care administration. The result is Americans spend more on health care than in any other country for a health care system that is worse than what is found in most other countries. He stated the only solution is to go to a single payer system, but he doesn't see Americans as having the political will to allow this to happen.

ECONOMIC OUTLOOK

David Wyss continued a discussion with a session with the Budgets and Revenue Committee. He noted we are presently in the longest time period in history where state and local government bond yields have been above Treasury yields. As these bonds no longer have tax advantages to them, investors are demanding higher rates. This should warn state governments that their cost for debt will be much higher than in the past.

Only California and Louisiana have AA bond ratings. Most states, though, are in good shape. The recent recession was a mild one in historical context, according to Mr. Wyss. Bond rating organizations are very concerned with states that under-fund their pension systems, as pension payments take priority over bond payments.

It should be noted that many of our economic competitor foreign countries have caught up with us in education. Japan had surpassed us on college graduation rates and South Korea has equaled our rates. Soon, Asia will produce more college graduates than all of Europe and America combined. In addition, Asian countries are producing more graduates in occupations that will assist their growth. Japan graduates nine engineers to every three American law graduates to every one American engineering graduate. Another problem is our quality of education is declining. American high school students are learning what many in other countries learn in elementary school.

David Wyss warned states against using economic incentives to attract businesses, noting it is a zero sum game. He noted that reality dictates states will still use incentives, so he recommended that if states do us incentives that use them only to attract businesses that export goods outside the state so they are not just rewarding companies for shifting their location decision from one part of the state to another; that business that have spin off industries, either suppliers or with multiplier effects that will attract more businesses to the state are the businesses that should be sought; and that only industries that will take permanent locations be attracted. He notes too many incentive attract big box businesses that take the rewards and leave empty shells of buildings after a few years.

The economy needs to move from a corporate income tax, which corporations can easily hide from states, to a value added tax, recommended David Wyss.

An economic danger sign is that the savings rate has declined from 9% during the 1990s to 0.2% today. Without new investments, the economy will stagnate and capital will be imported from foreign investors. Our debt is high, and David Wyss does not see this turning around in the near future as Americans continue to seek high consumption, save little, and take on increasingly higher debt. Despite all this, the United States still is the strongest economy in the world.

THE NEW REALITY IN STATE FINANCES

Ron Snell of NCSL told how certainty of taxes is an important quality of taxation. Businesses and people wish to plan knowing their tax expenses, and governments wish to plan knowing that revenues are guaranteed. He described the history of state taxation and how personal income taxes arose during the 1930s as an alternative to the property tax so that wealth could be better taxed while agricultural properties struggled. The 1960s produced demands for more state government spending in education, higher education, and Medicaid. By 1971, most states had both personal income and sales taxes. Recent years have seen the increasing use of excises and licenses to produce revenues to states.

State tax revenues, which have a large dependence on sales tax proceeds, are increasing threatened as consumers increase their consumption of untaxed services and relatively decreases their consumption of taxed goods. From 1959 to 2000, of the share of Gross Domestic Product, goods producing industries declined from 38.9% to 23.0%, services producing industries increased from 48.8% to 65.9%, and government was relatively stable changing form 12.8% until 12.4%.

State financial planners should note that our population is aging. Only Alaska is forecast to lower its percent of elderly into the future. This means average household incomes will decline due to an increase in elderly with lower average incomes and untaxed Social Security and pension incomes, which will affect state tax collections. Pennsylvania exempts retirement income. Retired people also tend to spend less than others on housing, utilities, cars, clothing, and meals, which represents decreasing sales tax revenues.

State financial planners should also note there are proposals to exempt investment income from income taxes. This would put pressure on states to also exempt investment incomes from state taxation, according to Mr. Snell.

CONSTITUTIONAL DEVELOPMENTS AND LEGISLATIVE-JUDICIAL ROLES

Sol Wachtler, former Chief Judge of the New York State Court of Appeals, described how judicial originalists believe that the Constitution should be interpreted as it was understood at the time its provisions were adopted. The U.S. Supreme Court looked at the original intent when deciding the Dred Scott case. The current Supreme Court has disregarding strict readings of language and original intent. Mr. Wachtler noted the Court has interpreted the 11th Amendment on suing one's own state even though the language is written only regarding suing other state governments. States courts are allowed to sanction frivolous suits that impact interstate commerce. He advised state legislature to only pass laws when there is a good basis for the law, noting a recent Circuit Court decision.

Richard Ruda, Chief Counsel for the State and Local Legal Center, stated that while this past term of the U.S. Supreme Court was relatively slow, this upcoming term should be very active. Kelov v. New London raises the question of whether a locality can use eminent domain for economic development without a blight determination. Lingle v. Chevron saw a Circuit Court strike down state law because it was not a substantial advancement of state interest. He sees court as determining the validity of state laws as potentially dangerous, arguing that the standard should be whether state law has a "rational basis". In Castle Rock v. Gonzales, a $30 million law suit against a police force that did not respond in time before three people were murdered where, if the Court waives a government's immunity, is seen by Mr. Ruda as a tragic set of circumstance searching for a legal theory that does not yet exist. He warned that hard cases led to bad precedents.

FEDERAL BUDGET UPDATE

Molly Ramsdell of NCSL observed how President Bush signed an Omnibus spending bill for the Fiscal Year six months into the Fiscal Year. The bill has no spending increase in non-defense discretionary spending although she observed there is much shifting of funds within this bottom line stability. Congress is scheduled to reconvene to remove a provision within the Omnibus bill that allows members of Congress access to individual tax returns.

Education receives an additional $10 billion in Fiscal Year 2004, Help American Vote continues being funded at the same level, and there is a .8% decrease in non-Homeland Security discretionary spending. Grants to state and local governments are cut. WIC, No Child Left Behind, LIHEAP, state criminal alien ID system (despite President Bush's attempt to eliminate this program), and highways receive funding increases. Justice programs receive decreases, although some of their programs have been shifted to the Homeland Security program. Several grant programs are consolidated to allow greater flexibility amongst selecting programs within the consolidated grants with the total amounts funded with fewer funds. The Intelligence Reform program will hit states with unfunded mandates regarding state issued drivers’ licenses and birth certificates. Some Congressional representatives stated they do not see these as unfunded mandates as they believe state can simply increase fees to meet these new requirements. Plus, states are not required to meet this new requirement yet, if they fail to do, identifications issued from their states would not be acceptable identification for boarding airplanes.

HISTORIC PRESERVATION

Lee Webb, Assistant Preservation Officer with the Savannah Preservation Office, told how Savannah has produced the largest amount of state tax credit projects in Georgia. Georgia offers preferential property tax rebates for historic preservation as well as property tax freezes for eight years. The state tax credit is capped at $5,000.

HUD funds are assisting with mixed housing construction that hopefully will spur development within a low income neighborhood. Another project involves turning an old diary into the center of an arts district.

Lisa Sundulah of the Savannah Economic Development Authority told how Savannah has a sprinkler cost assistance program. This has helped in downtown revitalization so new businesses could rent their upper stories as housing units. The Savannah College of Arts and Design has used its teachers and students to rehabilitate 58 structures at an investment of $78 million. The school locates all of its classrooms and requires its students to all live downtown. Savannah still has 82 vacant lots that it hopes to develop. Savannah has a special purpose local option tax that raises $3.4 million for pedestrian enhancements, sidewalks, and public housing. Savannah has a Film Office that has attracted several major motion pictures without offering tax incentives yet working to accommodate the needs of filmmakers.

WORKING FAMILITES' STATE AGENDA

The National Labor Caucus of State Legislatures was formed four years ago and has 400 legislative members representing every state. This caucus is making a nationwide push for state legislation designed to improve the lives of working families. They are concerned that 400,000 jobs were outsourced in 2004 and that the rate of outsourcing has been increasing in recent years. They state that 14 million jobs at at risk of being outsourced. Among legislative policies they favor including not providing outsourcing companies with state subsides and state contracts, clawbacks to regain subsidies when they do outsource, require disclosure when state contracts are contracted to companies that outsource, require companies to provide early notification of layoffs, prohibiting requiring laid off employees to retrain their replacements as a condition of receiving severance pay or unemployment compensation, and rewarding companies that maintain employees with economic development subsidies. In addition, the caucus favors a health care disclosure bill that determines and announces which companies are eliminating health care for their employees and thus having them use publicly financed health care instead.

THE INCREDIBLY SHRINKING STATE AUTHORITY: THE CAUSES AND CONSEQUENCES OF PREEMPTION IN THE FEDERAL SYSEM

Paul Posner, Managing Director of the U.S. Government Accountability Office, provided historical background how the Federal government had a modest primacy role over states 50 years ago in areas such as education, elections, and justice. The Federal government has increased its role over times, from providing mandates in areas such as OSHA and Social Security. For many decades, Federal mandates excluded affecting state and local government employees as an automatic assumption that the Federal government does not interfere in such areas. Today, that assumption no longer exists.

Federalism comes in many categories, from operating programs dually with state and local government, operating in cooperation with grants, and enacting coercive mandates. Sometimes Federal requirements are exclusive, such as pesticide enforcement, and sometimes state governments are permitted to create their own programs if they exceed Federal minimum standards, as with OSHA. Mandates are a bipartisan matter with both political parties supporting them approximately equally. Alice Rivlin, who a decade ago advocated turning some Federal functions back to states, now states that after observing the Federal government first hand, she realizes that this cannot be politically achieved.

Paul Posner does not see the prospects of diminishing Federal regulations over states as very bright. The hopeful signs for states are in areas where states unite and attempt to recapture authority, as they may do if a streamlined sales tax program is created.

Peter Riggs of the Forum on Democracy and Trade, told how trade agreements trigger preemptions over state laws. Congress has authorized the Federal government to preempt state laws under the WTO and NAFTA. The WTO and NAFTA cannot directly overturn state laws but dispute resolutions decided against state laws could lead to applying economic shocks until the state changed its law. These shocks could include withholding Federal funds and vetoes by the Federal government of state programs, Trade disputes are to be resolved according to the "principle legal systems of the world", which means that a World Bank or United Nations dispute resolution panel would determine cases according to this yet--to-be-determined criteria,

To date, there has been a ruling favoring Antigua to allow internet gambling in America. State laws prohibiting gambling would not apply if this is the final outcome. There is also a provision prohibiting the re-importation of American drugs from Australia back into the United States that may be used to prohibit exporting drugs of American pharmaceutical companies from Canada into the United States.

Douglas Kendall, Executive Director of the Community Rights Council, observed that state governments are losing the overwhelming number of court cases that challenge their laws. He foresees the interstate shipping of wine into states prohibiting such shipments even though the Constitution specifically provides for the right of making such determinations as left to the states. He predicts the U.S. Supreme Court will justify this on the dormant commerce clause which does not exist within the Constitution.

POLICY FORUM AND BUSINESS MEETING

The entire Consent Calendar was adopted unanimously. The only item of the debate calendar, which seeks reauthorizing of NCSL's storm water pollution policy, was unanimously adopted. This meeting also unanimously approved creating an NCSL Task Force on Medicaid.

The following policies were adopted:

Hazardous Waste Management. The Federal government should pay for hazardous waste cleanup and distribute these financial obligations across the nation. More effort should be made to recycle byproducts from hazardous waste. The EPA should act to reduce the amount of hazardous waste products that are created. Congress should create affordable liability insurance for environmental hazards and seek to create industry insurance pools.

Publicly Owned Treatment Works. Local public water treatment works should have discretion in determining how to meet local needs. Federal laws hampering the ability of these public works to restructure their finances should be lifted.

Toxic Release Inventory. Toxic Release Inventory reports should be provided to the public in a clear manner that allows the public to properly evaluate the risks and responses available should toxins be released into their community.

Use of Outer Continental Shelf Revenues and On-Shore Drilling Revenues. State legislatures should have a role determining the allocation of the states' share of mineral extraction royalties. States should receive half of Outer Continental Shelf revenues. States should have the ability to place moratoriums on mineral drilling and mining activities. States should be able to recover Federal sand, gravel, and shell revenues when used for protecting beaches and coasts against erosion,

State Authority Over Drivers' Licensing and Birth Certificates. The issuance of drivers licenses and birth certificates should be a state government matter. The Federal government requires states to obtain social security numbers and verify these numbers with the Social Security Administration when issuing drivers licenses and issuing new birth certificates.

Funding for States Under the Help America Vote Act of 2002. The Federal government should properly fund this under-funded mandate upon states,

Tort Reform. There should be no uniform Federal standards concerning tort law.

Intelligent Transportation Systems. The use of Intelligent Transportation Systems by the U.S. Transportation Department is supported,

Rail Regulation. The Federal government should be allowed to determine appropriate new technologies that may be permitted to be used in rail transportation. Amtrak, intercity rail systems, local rail freight assistance programs, and high speed rail projects are supported. Rail lines and rights of way should be preserved. Federal law should not preempt the ability of states to determine rail property valuation for state and local taxes. Rail performance and safety standards should be national standards. The Federal government should provide grants to state governments to improve rail grade crossing safety.

Transportation Safety. The Federal government should continue establishing transportation safety and performance goals. Blood alcohol levels for determining driving under the influence should be state matters. Aviation security should be funded by the Federal government.

Identity Security, Driver's Licenses and State Identification Cards. State legislators should be included in rulemaking committees on these issues.

Storm Water Pollution. The Federal government should fully fund Combined Sewer Overflows, Sanitary Sewer Overflows, and storm water wet weather discharge programs, including half of remediation costs.

Medicare-Medicaid. State governments should receive additional Federal funds for Medicaid budgets during economic downturns. Federal law should be changed so states may create asset protection laws under Medicaid long term care insurance. States should be allowed to provide Medicaid for disabled children. States should be allowed to retain unspent Disproportionate Share Hospital Funds and use them for uninsured and low income assistance. The Medicaid prescription drug program is supported with some reservations over specifics and implementation. Clawback penalties against state maintenance of effort payments are opposed. States should receive funds for determining eligibility for Medicare Part D prescription drugs.

AS THE DUST SETTLES-AN ANALYSIS OF THE 2004 NATIONAL AND STATE ELECTIONS

Larry Sabato, Professor of Politics at the University of Virginia, stated political polls are no longer reliable. Some polls noted that as many as three fourths of people reached refuse to participate and, with an increasing inability to even reach segments of the population with cell phones, polls are no longer effective. He stated history is the best substitute for polls, as voters tend to be voters, nonvoters tend to be nonvoters, Democrats tend to be Democrats, and Republicans tend to remain Republicans. The 2004 election map was almost the same as in 2000 The same divisions that existed in the 2004 election were the same as in 2000, noting they were not economic divisions as the economy was prosperous in 2000, nor terrorism, as that was not an issue in 2000. He sees the divisions as existing on social and cultural issues such as abortion, gun rights, death penalty, race, and gay rights., He stated he senses a quiet rebellion reminiscent of Nixon's silent majority where voters are rebelling against the rejection of their culture and being told their values are antiquated by the media, Hollywood, and government.

The nation is divided into the Northeast, which is solidly Democratic (with New Hampshire most recently tipping Democratic and Pennsylvania the only competitive state in this region), the West Coast which is solidly Democratic, the South, which is the Republican base and, as the fastest growing region in the nation gives Republican long term political security (and where no state is competitive for the Democrats, noting 22 of the 26 Southern Sentors are Republican, and two of the four Senators are from Arkansas which otherwise is Republican), and the Mid West, which is the only competitive region in the country. Mr. Sabato sees the Mid West as deciding Presidential elections for possibly the next generation. A shift of only a few percentage points swings the Mid Western states. Thus, he would advise political parties to put all their Presidential campaign resources into this region and he would advise Democrats to nominate Evan Bayh of Indiana for President.

There are four factors that determine Presidential elections, according to Larry Sabato. The most important is War and Peace, and this year the Iraq war and terrorism cut both ways. The Economy is the second most important issue, yet this issue also cut both ways in an economy that was viewed as positive for some and negative for others. Scandal is the third most important issue, yet the Swift Boat Veterans ads nullified the scandals of Haliburton and Abu Grahib. Ironically, Dan Rather may have swung this election to Bush. This election was thus determined by the fourth most important issue, that of Hot Button Social Issues. The gay marriage issue probably cost Democrats Ohio and the death penalty, abortion, guns, and stem cells solidified the Republican base for Bush. In retrospect, Larry Sabato states Kerry should have run against the war and used the most important issue, of War and Peace, in the election to his advantage. His mixed message regarding the war did not allow him to use this issue to his advantage.

There is a lack of competition in Congressional races, where 77% of House and Senate winners received 60% or more of the vote. Only ten races were determined within three percentage points. Congress is becoming increasingly Republican and Larry Sabato expects the Congressional map to look almost exactly like the map that votes Republican for President. He does see the 2008 Presidential elections as a free for all as it will be the first time since 1952 that there is no incumbent President or Vice President in the race. There already are 44 Republicans and 12 Democrats who seem to be considering running for President. Larry Sabato sees John McCain as a classic maverick and that voters seeks reliability rather than maverick streaks in their Presidents. He believes a ticket of Evan Bayh and Governor Bill Richardson, who can swing Hispanic voters, as the strongest ticket for Democrats and Senators Bill Frist and Mel Martinez as the strongest for Republicans as he sees Frist as appearing Presidential and Martinez as appealing to the Hispanic vote. He sees Hillary Clinton as having no chance at being election as he believes a Democrat needs to win at least 40% support of white males and Hillary Clinton appeals to under 30% of white males.

8 Comments:

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