Category Archives: Nevada budget

Demolition Days On End

The television talking heads are talking about today’s sound and fury from the White House as “Demolition Day;” as if every day the mullet-maned moron occupying the Oval Office hasn’t been doing this from day one.

What is buttressing my sanity for the moment is the fact that MMM had a 49.4% approval rating in Nevada as of January 2017 (38.9% disapproval) and dropped to an approval rating of 43.6% in September 2017 and a disapproval rating of 51.2% in the Silver State.  [CNBC]

Much more love from the Republican Congress and the President and Nevada’s going to find itself in a world of hurt.   Case in point:  If the Republicans get their way in the FY 2018 budget 56,044 Nevada families will lose food assistance as of 2023, and 52,613 will lose them as of 2027.   But wait, there’s even more fun … another grand idea in this budget fiasco is to shift $100 billion of SNAP costs to the states.  So, Nevada would have to come up with 10% of the costs by 2020 and this increases to 25% in 2023 and beyond. Just in case lower income, mostly working, families in Nevada aren’t punished enough the GOP plan says states will have more “flexibility” to cut benefit levels to “manage costs.”  Of course Nevada will have to figure out how to get lower income working families basic food items at the local groceries, at state expense.  In case someone’s thinking this makes economic sense (that tired old canard about welfare queens on food stamps with waste and fraud) the actual numbers indicate that for every $5.00 spent on food stamps $9.00 is generated in economic activity. [CBPP] [MJ]

Case in point: The FY 2018 budget calls for cuts in fire-fighting operations.  As if the fires in California weren’t headline news at the moment.  The IAFC isn’t happy  seeing an FY 2017 budget of $2,833,000 for wildland fire management cut to $2,495,058 in FY 2018; or cuts to State Fire Assistance from $78 million down to $69.4 million, and Volunteer Fire Assistance from $15 million to $11.6 million.  And, by the way, the FLAME program (pdf) funding (wildfire reserve suppression fund, large fires) would be eliminated in the GOP budget.  Supposedly, the FY 2018 would sustain current 10 year average costs for fire suppression. [ECO]  The word “supposedly” is used with some caution, because as we experience climate change effects, the cost of fire suppression can be reasonably expected to increase, with a coterminous effect on budgets.   Meanwhile, there’s the matter of expensive fires in Napa and Sonoma counties.

And, then there’s the not-so-small matter of FEMA:

“The president’s budget blueprint calls for FEMA’s budget for state and local grants to be cut by $667 million, saying that these grants are unauthorized or ineffective. The program it explicitly calls out as lacking congressional authorization is the Pre-Disaster Mitigation Grant Program, and a second proposed change would require all preparedness grants to be matched in part by non-federal funds. All of FEMA’s pre-disaster grants are meant to reduce federal spending after disasters, and according to the agency’s website, there’s evidence that $1 in mitigation spending saves $4 in later damages.”  [Newsweek]

There are two points to highlight in this paragraph.  First, the budget cuts are made to grants for disaster mitigation efforts, without saying why the grants are “ineffective,” and we should note that any program can be declared “ineffective” if the standards aren’t reasonable. Secondly, as in the case of food stamps, there’s an upfront economic benefit — for every $1 spent on mitigation we save $4 in subsequent damage costs.   Once more we have a grand example of being penny wise and pound foolish.

Nor are the Republicans keeping their promises not to mess with Social Security and Medicare.

“Not only would it (the FY 2018 budget) cut Medicaid by $1 trillion, it would also cut Medicare by more than $470 billion in order to pay for hundreds of billions in tax breaks to the wealthiest people and most profitable corporations in America. Further, the Republican tax plan this budget calls for would increase the federal deficit by $1.5 trillion over the next decade, which will likely pave the way for savage cuts to Social  Security.”  [SenDem]

Oh, and by the way… let’s sabotage the NAFTA talks, scrap the only treaty containing Iran’s arms aspirations (and tick off all the other European allies who signed on), send a signal to North Korea that our word’s not worth paper on which it’s written, let the health insurance market destabilize into chaos, and withdraw from UNESCO.

And here we sit, not a shining beacon on a hill, but a flickering flame bent to whatever winds happen to be blowing through the head of MMM in the White House.  Not only are programs and services in peril within our own state, but the nation and the world are facing similar dangers emanating from an unraveling White House.

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Filed under Economy, FEMA, Health Care, health insurance, Nevada, Nevada budget, Nevada economy, Nevada politics, Politics, public health, Republicans, Social Security, tax revenue, Taxation

When Parrots Make Policy: Ron Knecht and the Great Trickle Down Hoax

parrot

Ron Knecht is the Nevada state controller.  He is a true believer in the Trickle Down Hoax and associated subsets of this egregious rationale for corporate welfare.  Not sure about the validity of this assertion? Read Knecht’s own words.   Mr. Knecht is most upset about the spending approved by the last session of the Legislature, sufficiently upset to grace Nevada editorial pages with his latest diatribe.

The first proposition in Knecht’s screed is that we are under-reporting the level of Tax Burdens on Nevada citizens.  His second major point is that “substantial empirical research shows that the numbers that determine the impact of government on economic growth and the public interest are total government spending amounts, not only those from particular accounts or sources. Research cited in our Controller’s Monthly Report #1 (at controller.nv.gov) shows that total public-sector spending, including state and local levels, has been too big a fraction of our economy for over 55 years.” [EDFP]

There are two problems with this paean to Koch Corporation Economic Theory. 

Problem One:  The assertion assumes that all government spending has a negative relationship to economic stability or growth.   Gross Domestic Product Formula

For an individual who has an academic background in mining economics, it’s remarkable that he’s possibly forgotten the good old, often cited, GDP formula in which “G” for government is part of the formula by which we measure the economy of both the states and the nation. Nor can we assume all governmental expenditures are counterproductive.  If, for example, the Federal government  decided to close Nellis AFB, what would be the impact on the Nevada economy?   Here’s the answer: (pdf)

As of 2012 there were 32,771 included in the base employment figures. 8,186 active duty military, 20,231 dependents, 289 reserves, civilian employees totaling 868.  There were 563 “non appropriated funds” civilian employees, and 2,055 on-site contract civilians; 579 “other civilians” were employed at the base.  The estimated dollar value of the jobs created at Nellis AFB was $229.7 million.  Expenditures at Nellis (federal and state) totaled $5,071.4 million.

Problem Two: Since the argument that all government spending is necessarily excessive is untenable, Mr. Knecht falls back on a subjective observation: “total public-sector spending, including state and local levels, has been too big a fraction of our economy for over 55 years.”   We’re left with at least two questions about this assertion. First, how big is “too big?”  Secondly, what’s magical about speaking of the last 55 years (since 1960)?

There is no way to objectively answer the initial question, the percentage of state and local spending relative to the GDP ranges from 5.9% in 1948 to 11.4% in 2014.  We could be dramatic and declare that this represents a 93% increase in state and local spending from their own sources over a 67 year period, but then we have to remember we’re speaking of 67 years, and the annual increase is an unimpressive 1.38%.

The percentage of state and local governments from their own sources as a percentage of GDP was 8.4% in 1960.  This would yield a 36% increase over the last 55 year period, an annual increase of 0.6545.   Even if we extend the numbers as globally as does Knecht in his discussion of expenditures and include federal, state, and local outlays, the total expenditure as a percentage of GDP was 25.7 in 1960 and 31.7 in 2014, an increase of 23% over the 55 year period, or  0.4181 annually. [OMB download Table 14.3]

State Local Expenditures GDP There’s nothing particularly dramatic about the state and local expenditures chart, and even less about the total outlays of the federal, state, and local expenditures.

Fed State Local Spending percentage of GDP The annual increases simply do not support the level of histrionics associated with the clamor from right wing politicians for decreased government spending.  Further, there is no reason not to take the numbers back as far as they go – to 1948.  There’s nothing magical about the last 55 years, certainly nothing in the actual numbers, which supports the assertion that we’ve experienced some form of grotesque increase in the level of spending as a percentage of GDP.

Problem Three:  Hyperbole doesn’t equate to substantiation. Knecht continues:

“This continued metastasis of government has slowed economic growth significantly over the last half century, directly damaging the public interest and producing an ever grimmer (not better) future for our communities and children. And Nevada politicians and special interests have played a substantial role in this uncaring destruction, especially those who supported this year’s taxing and spending blowout.

What are the true facts? First, state spending’s (sic) already excessive burden on our lives and wellbeing has increased 10 percent faster in the last decade than the incomes of Nevada families and businesses. (Due to changes in reporting categories, there is no pre-2004 total spending data comparable to figures since then; otherwise, we would use it. Hence, meaningful comparisons to earlier years such as 1992 are not possible.)” [EDFP]

These paragraphs don’t represent an economic argument, they are an ideological one.   Again, there’s an un-anchored assertion, that without the increase in government spending there would have been greater overall economic growth.   Since there’s no empirical data available because we can’t undo the government spending in the last 50 to 67 years, we’re left with an assumption – that all the revenue collected and spent by various levels of government would automatically have been re-invested in productive economic activity.   

The experience of 2007-2008 should have given us an example of what can go wrong when money isn’t transferred in ways described by classical economic theory.  Money didn’t necessarily move from investors into plant expansion and greater employment – too much went to feed the Wall Street Casino, into increasingly sophisticated financial products which had more interest in Bubble Manufacturing than in creating financial stability.  Perhaps in some utopian, and essentially academic, system money not spent on taxes would have been put into research, development, manufacturing, and sales efforts – but in the very real world of modern finance that’s not how the system works.  Mutations such as the management theory of shareholder value, and the rise of the Financialists, insured that the old illusions don’t make a solid foundation for current realistic economic discussions.

Additionally, as noted with the Nellis AFB example, not all government spending is universally considered economically counter productive.  Nor can it be effectively argued that government spending doesn’t enhance economic stability and promote growth.   Investments in infrastructure, such as the national highway system, can lead to decreases in production costs, and increases in output, yielding a net rate of return above that of private capital as shown during the forty year period from 1950 to 1989. [Rand pdf]

Knecht also attempts to create a cause and effect relationship between “excessively burdensome” taxation/spending and stagnant wages.  Welcome to the land of Post hoc ergo propter hoc.   Controller Knecht’s diatribe manages to ignore the effects of “gains in labor productivity, the division of earned income between labor and capital profits, and the allocation of labor compensation among wages and nonwage benefits.” [Brookings]  Nor does he cite the trends related to full employment, declining union density, the misclassification of employees, and the race to the bottom in labor standards. [EPI]  Knecht’s also omitting a new notion, “downward nominal wage rigidity,” in which workers in a buyers market are fearful of losing all employment so will settle for lower wages. [RCM]  [Economist]  Even the hard-right Federalist Society, of which Knecht is a member, cites “reduced labor demand,” “increased labor supply,” (and gratuitously tosses in the Affordable Care Act) as causal factors in wage stagnation.  In short, his simplistic, post hoc ergo propter hoc argument misses the point from the left, the center, and the right.  He might as well argue that wages have grown slowly since the beginning of the general economic recovery,  mid 2009, because Serena Williams won the Wimbledon Tournament on July 4, 2009.

Problem Four: Here’s another leap of logic which borders on the inexplicable.  Knecht’s syllogism appears to be: (1) Nevada has a median state and local tax burden; (2) Local governments are subsidiaries of the state; (3) Therefore, the state is responsible for negotiation results between local governments and local public employees.

“In fact, Nevada’s total state and local tax burden – that’s what matters, not headcounts – has risen to the midpoint: 25th or 26th in the U.S., depending on how measured. Because local governments are subsidiaries of the state and governed by it, legislators and governors bear significant responsibility for local spending too – especially the excesses caused by state laws allowing public-employee unions to drive local spending ever higher.”

There’s almost nowhere to begin with this other than to assume Knecht believes that local employee contracts are to blame for “excesses” in local spending.  Again, we’re in subjective territory.  How much is too much?  How much, for example, is too much to pay a police officer or sheriff’s deputy for being willing to engage with some of the most dangerous people in the state?  For being targets for radical right wing lunatics while the officers are trying to catch a bit of lunch in a pizza establishment?  How much is too much for a firefighter – how many people are willing to run into instead of out of a burning building? 

How much is too much to pay a county social worker?  The average caseload for a Child Protective Services investigator in Clark County is 18. The average case load for those responsible for supervising foster care is 13.  Or, to put it another way social workers are responsible for about 25 children per worker. [LVRJ]  The recommended standards are 12-15 children per social worker in foster family care, 12 active cases per month for initial assessment and investigation for every social worker; 17 active ongoing family cases per social worker with no more than one new case assigned for every six open cases.  The standard for a combined assessment and investigation in ongoing cases is 10 ongoing and 4 active cases per social worker. [CWLA]  

While hard cap number ratios may not reflect the flexibility needed to handle all local cases, recruiting and retaining trained professionals who are responsible for assessment, service planning, implementing and monitoring services, advocacy for children or adults who need basic services, interdisciplinary  and inter-organizational collaboration, record keeping,  and practice evaluation and improvements. [SWorg pdf] And, all this for about $45,000 to $66,000 per year.

Of course, there’s always that pesky teacher’s union – driving up the costs of public education – since there’s no way to run a school without teachers.  The current Clark County salary schedule begins at a non-too-impressive $34,637 and terminates for an “ASC + PhD” on step 15 at $72,331.  The median household wage in Nevada is $53,042.   In the private sector a doctorate in economics will get a person about $98,200 early in his or her career; a doctorate in statistics will get a person about $99,900 in the early years, increasing to approximately $128,000 in the later years.  [Payscale]

Aside from declaiming, without context, that salary negotiations are a significant driver of “excessive” local spending, Knecht also ignores another picky detail – population. In 1960 there were approximately 291,000 residents of the state of Nevada, 285,278 to be more exact.  By 2010 there were 2,839,000 residents.  There was an 895% increase in the population of the state in last 50 years.  This is the point at which “headcounts” do matter, it obviously takes more people to deliver services to 2.8 million persons than it does to provide them to 291,000.

NV Population 1960 2010

And now comes Controller Knecht’s finale, discounting efforts made by legislators to address spending issues in a rational manner:

“…as if hearing every detail of the budget means that politicians make the right decisions. Legislators can’t really know the value of each spending proposal when they hear almost exclusively from proponents, most of them paid for by our tax dollars to advocate for their interest, not for voters, taxpayers and the public interest. They certainly can’t determine its net social value unless they get equally extensive testimony in the same hearings on the damage done by the taxes needed to fund each item – and they never do that.”

There are a couple of features which require untangling in this paragraph. First, a person can be an advocate for social workers and also be a voter, a tax payer, and a person concerned with the public interest.  An advocate for highway funding is also a voter, a taxpayer, and concerned with the public interest.  There is no way to compartmentalize people, their advocacy, and their public spirit.   In Mr. Knecht’s taxonomy anyone who advocates for better police, fire, education, and social services, or highways, health inspections, public mental health services, parks, wildlife, and libraries – is not advocating “for the public interest.”  As if the public interest lies solely in diminishing these services in the name of “smaller government.”  This isn’t an economic argument – it is completely, totally, an ideological statement; and, it’s judgmental to boot.  So also is the term “net social value.”

“Net social value” is one of those buzzwords associated with radical right wing economics of austerity, and unfortunately it comes without any real meaning. [Guardian] It’s related to the economic term “social return on investment,” which is only slightly more precise.  “Social Return on Investment is an analytic tool for measuring and accounting for a much broader concept of value, taking into account social, economic and environmental factors.” [NewEcon]   Knecht’s context seems to place the “net social value” proposal closer to the Cost Benefit Analysis methodology and not quite so analogous to the SROI calculations.  Analysis in these terms can get very mushy very quickly.

For example, in purely economic terms (and ones Controller Knecht may find troubling) one of the best SROI or “net social value” or just old fashioned economic stimulus spending is the SNAP program.  A USDA Study designed to test whether or not SNAP benefits improved the economy found that an increase of $1 billion created about $1.79 billion in economic activity (GDP.) Or, that every $5 in new SNAP benefits generates about $9 in economic activity. [USDA]

If we expand the terms to include socially beneficial activities the measurement becomes more difficult to manage. How, for example, do we measure the quantitative benefits of public libraries?  Several states have made the attempt and most have returned results which might be at variance with Mr. Knecht’s ideological preferences.  South Carolina reported that for every $1 spent on public libraries contributed $2.86 in value to the state’s economy.  Florida studied 17 public libraries and demonstrated about $6.40 in economic benefit for every $1 in their budgets. [ALA]

Mr. Knecht assumes that “net social value” cannot be determined unless there  is equal weight given to the opponents of government spending for government services.  This, in turn, assumes that the arguments of the opponents are of equal quality and veracity as those of the proponents.  The evident extrapolation of Mr. Knecht’s argument is that any advocacy of government spending on government services must be self-serving, and therefore cannot be in the public interest. However, what are we to make of a hypothetical argument advanced by public health nurses that the state invest more in the inspection and regulation of out patient surgical centers? Simply because some such centers do not care to be inspected and regulated are we to assume that there would be a “negative net social value” to the increased number of inspections? What are legislators to do?  Knecht advises “focus?”

“Above all, they can’t make the right decisions if they substitute laboring over program details for focusing on the premier fact that government is already so big – even while still growing – that it has slowed economic growth to a long-term crawl and thus damaged our communities and children’s futures. If they really cared, they’d address and fix that first.”

Repeat the drum roll: Larger government = slow economic growth. As we’ve seen earlier in this post, that argument doesn’t stand under even cursory scrutiny.  This is a highly subjective point of view, and informed more by ideology than by economics.   If our legislators “really cared” they’d go over those program details, looking for ways to streamline services without compromising the basics, and in doing so would address issues in education, public safety, public health, and the quality of life in Nevada – without resorting to ideological blinders.  We could use more wise owls, and fewer parrots?

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Filed under Nevada budget, Nevada child welfare, Nevada economy, nevada education, Nevada legislature, Nevada politics

If It Ain’t Broke, Whack It Anyway: “Pension reform” in Nevada

NV Retirement ALEC Back on July 21, 2014 Nevada Assemblyman Randy Kirner (R-26) ask for the drafting of a bill to create an interim task force to examine alternatives to the Nevada Public Employees Retirement System. (BDR 184)  A more useless bit of legislation isn’t quite imaginable.  Unless, of course, one has in mind the ultimate goal of changing the system from a defined benefit plan to a defined contribution plan. 

If this is the case, then it is right out of the ALEC playbook, which offers model legislation for this purpose.  The corporate interest group also offers model legislation in case the state decides to retain its defined benefit plan.  The defined contribution plan is a notion the Koch supported NPRI has been promoting since at least 2011.  The ‘solution’ was proposed again in 2013 in NPRI’s handbook for legislators. (pdf)  ALEC, the corporate bill mill, waded into these waters again in 2014 with its recommendations from the Public Pension Reform Working Group. (pdf) It might be of some interest to note that the private chair of the task force was held by Amanda Klump, of Altria Client Services, (that would be promoting the interests of the tobacco giant, which used to call itself Philip Morris.

A quick look at a 2014 publication of pertinent facts about state and municipal pension funds (pdf) and information on Nevada’s system from NASRA, should put one’s mind to rest, unless the unsettled portion is still churning through the misinformation and misleading conclusions drawn from publications of ALEC, the Altria Group, NPRI, and the Koch Brothers organizations.

One bill draft request, #185, from Assemblyman Kirner has made it to the light of day in the form of AB 3. Assemblyman Kirner’s effort would increase the size of the PERS Board to nine members, and three of whom would be individuals who: “have specified experience relating to the design or management of retirement plans; (2) are not employees of the State or its political subdivisions; (3) are not elected officers of the State or its political subdivisions; and (4) have never been active members of the System.”  Thus, there would NOT be a member of the board who is an employee of the state of Nevada or one of its political subdivisions,  is serving in a management position,  has 10 years of service, is not an elected official, and is not an active member.  In short – Assemblyman Kirner would remove the individual board member who has a direct interest in the positive outcomes of any policy decisions and replace the individual with three board members who are ‘technocrats,’ serving from the financial sector perspective. How convenient?

Assemblyman Kirner is evidently not pleased with a PERS board consisting of a former CFO of the City of Las Vegas, two members from the Police and Firefighters Retirement Fund Advisory Committee, a chief accountant with the department of Transportation, a former Clark County Budget Manager, a former Director of Payroll and Benefits from the Clark County School District, and a representative from SEIU.  Perhaps there are too many members who might have questions about turning the defined benefits system into a defined contribution scheme?

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Filed under Nevada budget, Nevada economy, Nevada politics

Republican YOYO Home Economics: Medicaid Slashed, Other Support Burned

Former President Clinton advised the delegates to the 2012 Democratic Convention to listen carefully to what the Republicans were offering in regard to Medicaid, and those of us in Nevada should be “listening with both ears.”  Here’s the description of the Medicaid program as stated by the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services, the program:

“Provides health care coverage for many people including low income families with children whose family income is at or below 133% percent of poverty, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) recipients, certain Medicare beneficiaries, and recipients of adoption assistance, foster care and some children aging out of foster care. The DHCFP also operates five Home or Community-Based Services waivers offered to certain persons throughout the state. The Division of Welfare and Supportive Services (DWSS) determines eligibility for the Medicaid program.”

Listing those categories focuses on the aims of the program — it is to serve (1) low income families with children; (2) elderly Nevadans; (3) low income Nevadans over 65 years of age; (4) families receiving assistance for adopted children; (5) children in foster care.  Who was enrolled in Nevada’s Medicaid program as of fiscal year 2009:

What services were provided to those enrolled in Nevada’s Medicaid program?

During fiscal year 2010, 68.1% of the spending from the Medicaid program went for acute care, 25.6% was allocated for long term care, and 6.3% was used for “disproportionate care – hospital payments.”

The spending for long term care breaks down as illustrated in the following chart:

11.1% of the long term care funding was allocated to facilities for the intellectually disabled, 2.9% went to services for the mentally ill — and notice — 86% was used to provide home health & personal care, and nursing facility care.  In other words, 86% of Nevada’s Medicaid expenses for long term care went toward serving those least able to care for themselves.  The other 14% was used to provide intermediate and long term care for those unable to care for themselves because of intellectual limits or mental illness.

Here is exactly why President Clinton told his audience to “listen up:”

My view is get the federal government out of Medicaid, get it out of health care. Return it to the states.” – Romney, South Carolina GOP Primary Debate, Jan. 20, 2012.

In case anyone is remotely confused about what that statement from the former Massachusetts Governor means, he’s speaking about transforming the Medicaid program into Block Grants.

More specifically, the former Governor is adopting the block grant proposal for Medicaid set forth in his running mate’s “Path to Prosperity” budget plan:

“The plan also would repeal health system reform law provisions that will expand Medicaid coverage starting in 2014. Instead, states would receive block grants, which would free states “to tailor their Medicaid programs to the unique needs of their own populations,” the budget says.”  [AMA]

The tailoring is to be done with less cloth:

The Ryan budget would cut $2.4 trillion from Medicaid and other health programs. Reduced spending would increase the number of uninsured dramatically, Park* said. “Those who retain coverage will have benefits scaled back and have higher cost-sharing.” [AMA] (emphasis added)

We can drill down further into what Governor Romney and Representative Ryan have in mind for the Medicaid program by looking at the Congressional Budget Office’s analysis of the Ryan position:  Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP)—from 2 percent of GDP in 2011 to 1¼ percent in 2030 and 1 percent in 2050.

Now is the moment to recall that 58% of those who receive Medicaid assistance for their health care needs in Nevada are children, and the AAP isn’t thrilled at cuts to that constituency:

“American Academy of Pediatrics President Robert W. Block, MD, said the proposal would undo investments in health programs for children. More than half of Medicaid recipients are children, but their care accounts for up to only one-quarter of the program’s costs.

“Whether considering fiscal year 2013 federal spending bills or reviewing long-term budget proposals, Congress must seize this opportunity to invest in the future of our country by protecting children’s health,” Dr. Block said.” [AMA]

Dr. Block has reason to be concerned, if we return to the Congressional Budget Office’s analysis we can see why.  In two paragraphs from their analysis of the Ryan “Path” the non-partisan office explains why the proposal would make deep cuts, and place greater burdens on the states:

“The specified path (Ryan Plan) would cause federal spending on Medicaid and CHIP to decline relative to GDP in coming decades, rather than to rise sharply as in the other policy scenarios that CBO has analyzed, and would include no exchange subsidies (see Figure 3). As a result, by 2050, such spending would be 76 percent below what would occur for Medicaid, CHIP, and exchange subsidies under the baseline scenario and 78 percent below what would occur under the alternative fiscal scenario. Because spending on CHIP and exchange subsidies represents a relatively small share of the amounts in the baseline and alternative fiscal scenarios, most of the reduction would have to come from the Medicaid program.” [CBO] (emphasis added)

The Republicans do, indeed seem serious about eliminating Medicaid as a federal program and shifting the expenses for health care access to low income elderly, the disabled, the intellectually disabled, elders in nursing facilities, and children in poverty to the states.  The CBO explains the nature of this shift:

The responses of the states would be of particular importance. If states were given additional flexibility to allocate federal funds for Medicaid and CHIP according to their own priorities, they might be able to improve the efficiency of those programs in delivering health care to low-income populations. Nevertheless, even with significant efficiency gains, the magnitude of the reduction in spending relative to such spending in the other scenarios means that states would need to increase their spending on these programs, make considerable cutbacks in them, or both. Cutbacks might involve reduced eligibility for Medicaid and CHIP, coverage of fewer services, lower payments to providers, or increased cost-sharing by beneficiaries—all of which would reduce access to care. (emphasis added)

Translation: Even if the states were able to achieve all the vaunted efficiencies a “flexible” plan might provide — the cuts proposed are so deep and so drastic that citizens in the United States who are lower income elderly or the disabled in nursing homes, and those who are low income and living in foster care, or families in poverty — would have reduced access to care. Period.

These aren’t generic numbers and pie in the sky statistics we’re talking about, we’re speaking of 25,841 elderly Nevadans, 40,898 disabled Nevadans, 55,626 adult Nevadans – mostly women, and 168,070 Nevada children.

So, here’s a question for Governor Romney and Representative Ryan — If no matter how much efficiency the state of Nevada squeezes from your block grants for Medicaid, Nevada and the other states will still have to either appropriate significantly more revenue, or drastically reduce services — how is your plan anything other than a proposal to shift the burden of health care costs, for the least able among us, from the federal treasury to the state treasuries and the pockets of low income Americans?

Where, Governor Romney and Representative Ryan, does the Nevada Legislature start cutting? From the acute care services for adopted or foster children? From the acute care for pregnant women? From acute care for children in poverty who have asthma, autism, broken arms, or sprained ligaments?  From the long term care for the elderly who need home health care services and personal care to avoid institutional living?  From the long term care for the indigent mentally ill?  From elderly residents of nursing facilities?  From disabled children who need home health care? Where?

Perhaps cuts aren’t the only option. Must the Nevada government raise the eligibility standards such that only those living at “25%” of the official federal poverty level can receive assistance?  Here are the 2012 guidelines from the Department of Health and Human Services —

How much more should a family of four living on $1,920.83 per month  have to pay for basic health care?  How much more should a young man and his pregnant wife living on $1,260.83 per month have to pay for pre-natal care, and expenses associated with the birth of their first child?  For a political party which lauds its “Pro-Life” stance — asking low income families to dig deeper to pay for health care to make up for federal and state budget issues (while proposing more tax cuts for the top 1% of American income earners), makes it sound as though the GOP is the Pro-Birth, not Pro-Life party.

How much more should a young family have to pay for health care before the cost of health care begins to impinge on the capacity to put a roof over their heads?

Or their ability to put food on the table?  It’s likely going to cost our young family with two children under the ages of 19 approximately $366.40 to $578.40 per month to keep everyone fed. [USDA] Our hypothetical family might be lucky to have $764.43 per month remaining after housing and food for utilities, clothing, transportation costs (auto payments or bus fare) — that $764.43 translates to about $25.48 per day to cover ALL the basic family needs listed previously… including Health Care.  But wait, the Romney/Ryan budget cuts nutrition assistance too, drawing fire from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops:

“Cuts to nutrition programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) will hurt hungry children, poor families, vulnerable seniors and workers who cannot find employment. These cuts are unjustified and wrong.” [The Hill]

And what other program do the Republicans fantasize about turning into a Block Grant Program and then cutting?  Housing subsidies. [TO.org]  There was some discussion of the Ryan proposal on this topic at the March 21, 2012 House Budget Committee hearing:

“Rep. David Price (D-NC) asked Donovan what the implication of the Ryan budget cuts would be on HUD programs such as public housing, Choice Neighborhoods, HOME and others.  Donovan responded that, under the proposed Ryan budget, approximately one million households could lose their housing.  Of the one million households at risk under the Ryan budget, Donovan estimated that 585 thousand would come from the Housing Choice Voucher Program, 425 thousand from the Project-Based Voucher Program, and 110-180 thousand from homeless assistance programs.  He also mentioned that an estimated 17 thousand jobs would be lost from CDBG, and cuts to the HOME program would mean tens of thousands of new affordable housing units would not be built.”  [CLPHA] (emphasis added)

So, no help for financially fragile families for health care, or housing, or food — or anything, but tax payers in the top 1% of all our income brackets will get more, yet more generous, tax breaks.  Little wonder the Bishops were annoyed.  Less wonder Sister Simone Campbell from Nuns on the Bus received a standing ovation at the Democratic National Convention.

A person doesn’t have to be Roman Catholic to find the Republican proposals supported by Governor Romney and created by Representative Ryan astonishing in their parsimony and appalling in their avarice.

Perhaps one has to be incited by the fact that a family in Las Vegas might have an air-conditioner, or a DVD player, or a functional motor vehicle — “Look,” cry the miserly, “They have nice stuff, and they got it by doing nothing.” Not. So. Fast.   As of 2010 not that many Nevadans were receiving public  assistance. [Census] In fact, about 3% of Nevadans were receiving public assistance. [Census pdf]

Thus much for the Miserly Myth that “They’re all sitting around collecting welfare, and learning to be dependent on Guv’mint.”  Perhaps we should add the usual follow up, “and they’re doing it on my hard earned tax dollars.”  The latter portion is correct, we do pay taxes which support assistance programs for fragile families.  However, the Grinches among us appear to believe they are the only ones chipping in.

S’cuse me Mr. Grinch, but I really don’t mind paying a fractional portion of my income to insure NO child goes to bed hungry, NO elderly person with dementia is left alone, NO foster child is left with an untreated case of pneumonia, NO pregnant woman is without pre-natal care, NO family is homeless, NO mentally ill person is abandoned, NO disabled child is without care.

This is what Democrats mean when we say, “Just Say No.”

References and Resources:  * Edwin Park, CBPP.  Congressional Budget Office, Ryan’s Specified Paths, March 2012. (pdf) “House Republican Budget Seeks to Slow Medicare, Slash Medicaid,” American Medical Association, April 2, 2012.   Kaiser Family Foundation, State Health Facts, Database.  “Public Assistance Relief,” Census, Department of Commerce, pdf.  “HUD Secretary Defends FY13 Budget Before House Appropriators,” CLHPA.   “Four Ways Romney and Ryan Would Roll Back the 20th Century ,” Jake Blumgart, AlterNet, September 5, 2012.  “What Paul Ryan’s Budget Actually Cuts,” Brad Plumer, Washington Post, August 12, 2012.  USDA, Cost of Food Plans, Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, May 2011 (pdf).  ASPE, Department of Health and Human Services, HHS Poverty Guidelines 2012. Congressional Budget Office, “The Long-Term Budgetary Impact of Paths for Federal Revenues and Spending Specified by Chairman Ryan,” March 2012, pdf.   Kaiser Family Foundation, link to interactive database for state health care statistics.

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Filed under 2012 election, Economy, family issues, Health Care, health insurance, Medicaid, Nevada budget, Nevada child welfare, nevada health, Nevada politics, Politics, public health, Republicans, Romney

ALEC’s plans for 2013 Nevada Legislature

The Nevada Policy Research Institute just released its “Solutions 2013” policy manual for conservative legislators (pdf); it doesn’t take much digging to see some remarkable consistency with ALEC’s “Budget Took Kit,” (pdf) and with some traditional anti-government proposals from time out of mind.

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that one of the initial recommendations from NPRI is the rejuvenation of the TASC proposal.  “TASC would offer long‐term certainty to potential investors and job‐creators in Nevada by curtailing the perpetual drive for new taxes.”   There’s absolutely nothing new here.  TASC is simply TABOR with another acronym.  The so-called “Taxpayer Bill of Rights” has long been the darling of Americans for Prosperity, a front group for Koch Industries.  In November 2005, voters in Colorado found that they had had all the “improvements” they could stand with their version of TASC, and loosened most of the restrictions. [Dkos]

Moving beyond the large graphs, we find NPRI recommending “Charter Agencies,” as a surrogate for government divisions: “The charter agency framework can be modeled after the 2003 enabling legislation from Iowa, SF 453 and HF 837. Agency directors who opt in should be signed to performance contracts that outline their responsibilities for meeting legislatively defined goals. These contracts should reward each increase in agency excellence with more and more agency discretion.”   Now, where might the think tank have derived this notion?

First from their own “Better Budgeting” (pdf) offerings, derived in no small part from ALEC’s “Priorities of Government Budgeting Model” (page 15).  While there is nothing intrinsically wrong with establishing priorities and monitoring the performance of government agencies — there is something to be feared if the priorities are skewed toward privatization, and the performance measured by money saved instead of efficacious services rendered.

The NPRI further recommends: “The position of an elected, independent state auditor should be established under Nevada law, free of manipulation by incumbent politicians. The state auditor should be free to select any state or local government or program for review. Existing auditors’ offices in the legislative and executive branches should be consolidated with the office of the state auditor.”  (page 10) And, this would not be all that different from ALEC’s recommendation: “The state auditor should have the discretion to conduct comprehensive performance audits on a routine basis to identify waste and overlapping regulations, and ensure that taxpayers are getting the best value.” (page 28) The question becomes, if the auditor is elected, do we not have just one more “incumbent politician?”

NPRI recommends: “Incorporate a competitive bidding process into the performance based budgeting method. Nevada taxpayers deserve the highest value possible for their tax dollars. Competitive bidding is crucial to that effort.” (page 12)  ALEC has another, more compact title for this concept: “Embrace the Expanded Use of Privatization and Competitive Contracting.” (page 29) Privatization by any other term is still privatization.

NPRI continues: “Through constitutional provision or statute, limit the growth in local government spending to the rate of population growth plus inflation. Also, reform or repeal NRS 288, Nevada’s collective bargaining statute, to eliminate upward pressure on local government spending from special interest groups.”

If you noticed the formula in the first section of the recommendation, and it seemed familiar, you were correct — it is simply a restatement of the TABOR/TASC formulation we’ve seen before.  The second part is a blunt statement asking for the repeal of collective bargaining for public employees. Those “special interests” are more commonly known as public employees,  teachers, firefighters, and law enforcement personnel.

ALEC has some model legislation to deal with these pesky public servants.

If we were thinking that the fight over public employee pensions were a thing of the past, we’d be wrong.  NPRI has a “plan” and asserts that PERS doesn’t properly account for risk, is over enthusiastic,  and is not “market-modeled.”  Translation: Public employees should have a defined contribution plan, not a defined benefits plan. The NPRI states it ever so much more politely:

Require PERS to incorporate a market based accounting approach. If policymakers and taxpayers want to uphold the promises made to public employees in Nevada, they first need to have a clear understanding of what those promises entail. The current PERS accounting method obscures the magnitude of those commitments.” (page 22)

The rejoinder to this recommendation: “... state-based conservative groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) have called for cutting public employee pension and health care benefits and replacing them with less secure 401k-style plans that would inevitably leave many retirees in poverty.”   This would be the “market based approach.”

It’s not just public employees NPRI and ALEC would assault, private sector employees are also a target:

NPRI: “Reduce construction costs by repealing prevailing wage requirements. The bulk of local‐government bonds are issued to finance the construction of public infrastructure. These costs — and the bond issues required to finance them — can be dramatically reduced by repealing the state’s prevailing wage requirements, which artificially inflate labor costs by about 45 percent, on average.”   Repealing prevailing wage requirements? Who else is calling for this?

Not surprisingly, ALEC has a piece of fill in the blank legislation for this target too:

Judging from the length of the NPRI’s segment on public education we ought to expect another frontal assault on that topic, and perhaps there will be time in the next few days to compare the ALEC approach and the NPRI’s recommendations in that battle field.

In short, the NPRI’s recommendations fit smoothly into the general framework of the ALEC proposals, and for this the Koch brothers should be pleased.

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Filed under Nevada budget, Nevada legislature, TASC

Coffee and the Papers: Ethics, Ethics, and Ethics

## Those who bemoan the lack of ethics in government and harp on “waste, fraud, and abuse,” in Nevada’s operations don’t get to have it both ways: Either you support adequate  funding for the Nevada Ethics Commission or you don’t.  [full story LV Sun] Nor, do such advocates get to minimally fund the Commission and then complain that government oversight doesn’t work because the agency is backlogged and can’t do its job.

## We’d have to wonder, if gold were discovered under St. Patrick’s Cathedral in NYC would we be discussing how to “quantify” the impact of the mining operations?  (A question lost on the Not-Native-Americans discussing the impact of mining at Mt. Tenabo)  [More Nevada Appeal]

##One in every 118 homes in the state of Nevada received a foreclosure filing in September, according to the foreclosure listing firm RealtyTrac.”    The Republicans responded: “They got everything they wanted from Congress the first two years. Their policies are in place. And they are demonstrably not working,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Sunday.” [RGJ]    Not quite everything.

On August 30, 2009 the Senate of the United States voted down an amendment to S. 1014 which would have allowed judicial resolutions of mortgage problems, on a 45-51 vote.  [roll call 174]  Opponents of the measure cried it would reward the irresponsible and have bank customers paying for the “neighbor’s mortgage for the house with the extra bathroom.” [DWT] Bank supporters labeled the provision a “cram down.”

And so, it was left to the private sector to handle mortgage modifications, with less than admirable or effective results. The bankers won the “cram down” fight and now there’s an even greater need for “cram down” legislation:

Aside from propping up the country’s largest banks, there’s very little reason not to pass bankruptcy reform. In contrast to the Obama administration’s Home Affordable Modification Program, under which the taxpayer is partially footing the bill, court ordered mortgage cram-downs would cost the federal government nothing. Indeed, cram-down legislation requires no government bailouts or financial incentives for lenders or for borrowers. The 2009 CBO cost estimate of the proposed cram-down legislation shows that the federal government actually would have made money on the bill through the increase in bankruptcy filing fees.”  [Nation] (emphasis added)

Now, the President is about to announce plans to make it easier for homeowners to refinance mortgages.  [RGJ] The banks are still being “propped up.”

 

 

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Filed under Foreclosures, Mining, Native Americans, Nevada budget, Nevada politics

Coffee and the Papers: Reductions Enforced

## The bad news from Nevada’s latest round of budget slashing may not be the number of state and local jobs lost, but the compression of the workload on those currently employed: “The state’s Welfare and Supportive Services Division, which gives out Medicaid, food stamps and welfare, had 1,247 workers approved for the upcoming two years, the same number it had this year. But with the numbers seeking assistance growing, the agency projects workers there will have gone from fielding 160 cases per employee to 306. ” [LVSun]  There is always the danger that high caseloads may yield a larger opening for mistakes, and any mistakes may be touted as “The System Doesn’t Work” fodder for further calls to reduce government services.

And, this state of affairs doesn’t seem to be adding to the economic viability of Nevada’s economy either: “State workers have over the past two years had to take once-a-month furloughs. They will have to take six unpaid furlough days a year starting today, plus a 2.5 percent pay cut. In addition, they have to pay more toward their pensions, and saw dramatic reductions in health care benefits. In total, it’s a reduction in take home pay of about 10 percent, according to Vishnu Subramaniam, chief of staff of the AFSCME Local 4041, the state’s largest employee union.”*  [LVSun] *state workers are not unionized in Nevada. (emphasis added)  That would be a 10% reduction in the income available for housing, food, clothing, and other portions of the household budgets involved– all of which have consequences for local economies.

Before we get too complacent about “only 37 layoffs” so far, Nevada State Employee Focus reminds us: “There were about 21,000 regular state employees a few years ago and now there are just 17,000, a reduction of  19 percent. Over the next two years there will be a reduction of 665 full-time positions a 4 percent reduction from today’s levels.”

## To make matters more complicated, the Budget Hole that is the Nevada system of governance may have to be realigned still further [LVSun] as the scramble begins to determine how the costs can be re-calibrated to state and local sources. And, it rolls down hill —  Nye County may make some budget adjustments by handing over animal control and shelter responsibilities to Tonopah and Pahrump. [PVT] Blue Lyon asks: If the “ownership society” is so great why do some leaders want to sell off our country?”

## 229 new laws go into effect in Nevada — including some Chamber of Commerce Specials:  Locally negotiated collective bargaining agreements can be reopened in case of an “economic downturn,” a governor’s power grab for the State Board of Education, tax breaks for corporations which want to avail themselves of inland port zone facilities, and a nice chink in the seniority provisions in teacher contracts.  [NVAppeal] [LVSun]

## The Nevada Supreme Court appears to be closer to making a decision concerning the nature of the election to fill the vacancy in the House of Representatives for the 2nd District.  [NNB via CarsonNow]

## GOP candidate Mark Amodei has picked up some endorsements for his 2nd CD campaign: “Twenty-six senators and assembly members and Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki joined in the endorsement.  The list of lawmakers endorsing Amodei includes state Sen. Dean Rhoads, R-Tuscarora; Assemblyman John Ellison, R-Elko; and Assemblyman Pete Goicoechea, R-Eureka. There are 10 state senators and 16 assembly members on the list.” [EDFP]

Mr. Amodei has been making a great effort to hide his support for the Ryan Plan and its privatization of the Medicare Program.  [NRDC with video]

## Kirk Caraway suggests questions for conservatives who have espoused the Ryan Budget: “While we are on the subject of Medicare, Ryan’s plan assumes that costs will be contained to the rate of inflation. Again, there’s no evidence that this is workable, just some more of Ryan’s magical thinking.  Anyone can make a budget balance if he or she just makes up the numbers. The fact that Ryan’s budget makes up so many numbers yet doesn’t balance for 29 years should set off huge alarm bells for anyone claiming to be fiscally conservative.  Is this all the conservative movement has left? Are the GOP members of Congress so stupid that they buy all of this magical thinking, or are they just so desperate for a plan — any plan — that they signed on despite its obvious flaws?”   (emphasis added)
## 2010’s in the rear view mirror but Glenn Cook can’t seem to disentangle himself from his obsession with former Congresswoman Dina Titus. [The Nevada View]

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Filed under Nevada budget, Nevada politics