Category Archives: Nevada politics

A Small But Significant Win? NV Voting Rights Case sent back to Federal District Court

ballot box There was a small but perhaps significant win yesterday for those who believe that ALL eligible citizens in Nevada should have to opportunity to register to vote.

“A federal appeals court on Thursday revived a lawsuit alleging that the Nevada Health and Human Services Department has been disenfranchising potential low-income and disabled voters by not providing registration materials to clients at its offices as required by federal law.

The civil rights lawsuit, filed in 2012 by the National Council of Las Raza and two branches of the NAACP, had been dismissed by U.S. District Court Judge Robert Clive Jones after he determined the groups had no standing to bring the claims.

A panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed that decision, reviving the complaint that Nevada state officials are violating Section 7 of the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 by failing to make voter registration materials available to people who visit their offices.” [LVRJ]

Note, the Appeals Court isn’t saying that the NV HHS was, in fact, in violation of federal statutes, but that the District Court erred in declaring that the original plaintiffs didn’t have standing to file their suit.  Voting rights groups were pleased with the decision:

Voting rights groups Demos, Project Vote, and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which represented the plaintiffs along with the law firms Dechert LLP and Woodburn and Wedge, applauded the decision.

“Today’s decision is a victory for low-income voters in Nevada and the community groups that serve them,” said Brenda Wright, Vice President for Legal Strategies at Demos. “The Ninth Circuit’s decision recognizes the fundamental importance of access to the courts in protecting the right to vote. We are pleased that the Ninth Circuit has rectified a miscarriage of justice by reinstating our clients’ voting rights claims.”

In its opinion, the Court rejected Nevada’s argument that the plaintiffs—organizations that conduct voter registration drives in low-income communities throughout the State—were not harmed by the state’s violations of the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) and therefore lacked “standing” to challenge them. 

“The Court recognized that Nevada is answerable to community groups that have been forced to pick up the slack for the State’s failure to fulfill its legal obligations,” said Sarah Brannon, Director of Project Vote’s Government Agency Voter Registration Program.”  [more at Demos]

This, of course, will not please the “election integrity” crowd who will assert that voting is a sort of privilege, a reward for being a “taxpayer” – as if members of minority groups, and those who need social services aren’t “real” taxpayers.  They will, no doubt, continue to whine that their lack of success in some elections can’t possibly be because they lack candidates who appeal to a majority, ergo it must be because the “other side” cheated in some conspiratorial way.  In short, any election they don’t win must necessarily be fraudulent.

No, a “fraudulent” election is one in which there is ample evidence of voter suppression, indications that minority community members were sent misleading and downright inaccurate information, activities such as those of the infamous Nathan Sproul, sweeping voter roll purges, and such suppressive legislation as photo IDs which are difficult for rural, elderly, and non-white voters to access.

Here’s hoping the Federal District Court will take a more constructive view of the issues raised in this case, and will direct that more eligible individuals will be encouraged to participate in Nevada elections.

Leave a comment

Filed under elections, Nevada news, Nevada politics, Vote Suppression, Voting

To Swallow The Propaganda or To Research The Facts? Comprehensive Immigration Policy and the Undocumented

Immigration 2

An excellent, and recommended, post at Let’s Talk Nevada, drew all the usual suspects in the comment section.  The short piece, “To Deport or To Not Deport,” inspired the following xenophobic response which invites some additional commentary:

“The cost of illegal immigrants yearly is a staggering $113 billion dollars according tp FAIR (Federation for American Immigration Reform.) The issue of Anchor babies is being discussed in this election. Are they really American citizens? The burden of illegal immigrants upon our society is enormous. Health Care Costs, educating their children in American Schools, legal costs and the cost of keeping those convicted in jails is staggering. America cannot afford to support those people who come here without means of supporting themselves.” (emphasis added)

One of the common features in discourse from those opposed to comprehensive immigration reform is the word selection which states or implies that the United States is awash in unproductive undocumented “burdensome” immigrants in “staggering” numbers.

Let’s consider the two points the anti-immigration advocates are promoting. Is the US awash in undocumented immigrants? 

First, the population of the United States at the moment is estimated by the Census Bureau to be 321,657,235 as we speak.  The number of undocumented immigrants is estimated by the Department of Homeland Security to be 11.4 million.  A quick calculation shows that the number of undocumented immigrants in the United States as o.03544 or 3.5% of the total population.  Thus, about 97% of the people in the US are citizens or are here legally.  This really doesn’t support the notion that the US is drowning in a sea of undocumented residents.

Secondly, has there been any increase in illegal immigration such that the percentage calculated above is likely to increase in the immediate future? No.  The images of a flood of the undocumented flowing over the porous border with Mexico is a carefully tended bit of xenophobic mythology, the truth is rather different.

The worker bees at Politifact decided to investigate former President Bill Clinton’s statement that between 2010 and 2014 there was no net in-migration from Mexico.  True.   However, comprehensive immigration policy reform opponents appear to be locked into a time warp in which, like Ground Hog Day, it’s always 2007.

“According to Pew’s estimates, the undocumented population grew rapidly in the 1990s and early 2000s, rising from 3.5 million in 1990 to a peak of about 12.2 million in 2007. The total dropped during the recession, however, and has been roughly flat since then at about 11.7 million in 2012.6 A narrow majority — about 52 percent — are from Mexico, although a growing share are from Central America and, increasingly, Asia.” [538]

Are these people an unendurable burden on this country?  Right wing, and anti-immigration sources tout a figure of some $4.3 billion annually for health care services for the undocumented paid for by the tax payers, which they say is extrapolated from estimates of costs for emergency room services and free clinics.  A Rand Study is slightly less histrionic:

“Similarly, the undocumented constituted 12 percent of the nonelderly adult population (Los Angeles, CA)  but accounted for only 6 percent of spending. Extrapolating to the nation, total spending by the undocumented is $6.4 billion, of which only 17 percent ($1.1 billion) is paid for by public sources. The foreign-born (especially the undocumented) use disproportionately fewer medical services and contribute less to health care costs in relation to their population share, likely because of their better relative health and lack of health insurance.”

Let’s put that $1.1 billion into some perspective.  For $810 million you could purchase two A380 Airbus passenger airplanes which accommodate about 853 people each.  For $945 million you could purchase the AC Milan football (soccer) team. For the entire billion you might be able to get Roman Abramovich to sell you the Chelsea FC.  [TheRichest]  None of these come close to the total (public and private) health care expenditures for the latest estimates from the CDC.  Our total national health care expenditures were $2.9 trillion (2103) which equals about 17.4% of our GDP. [CDC] Yes, that’s trillion, with a T.  Now, how much of that was public health care services?

The answer, according to World Bank Data, is 47.1% which sounds impressive until we look at the 83.5% in the UK, 69.8% in Canada, 76.8% in Germany, 77.5% in France, 78% in Italy, 82.1% in Japan, 55.8% in China, and 70.4% in Spain.   Thus, we seem to be getting inordinately excited about an amount which is less in percentage terms than other industrialized nations, and which at best will only get a person 2 big airplanes or one major soccer team.

There’s also a problem with the alarmism about the cost of educating undocumented children.  Again the estimates from anti-immigrant or nativist groups puts the cost at $761 million per year.   Again, we’re not speaking of an outlandish number of individuals.  Of the total number of undocumented individuals in the US about 4.4 million are under 30 years of age.  As of 2012 there were approximately 4.7 million undocumented adults who were parents of minor children (3.8 million whose children were US citizens). [CAP]   Two important puzzle pieces need to be inserted.

One, it is the law of the land, as expressed in the Supreme Court decision in Plyler vs. Doe (1982) that “A Texas statute which withholds from local school districts any state funds for the education of children who were not “legally admitted” into the United States, and which authorizes local school districts to deny enrollment to such children, violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.” [Cornell]  So, whether the number is inflated, conflated, or specious doesn’t matter – since 1982 states cannot discriminate against school children because of their immigration status.

Second, there’s a problem with that $761 million figure.  It comes from an organization with some “baggage” in terms of immigration –as in “hate” group luggage. It also seems assumes that every undocumented child of every undocumented adult will be enrolled in a school.  This isn’t exactly competent calculation.  Nor are the numbers likely to “add up” because different states will use differing funding formulas to absorb the cost of educating children, as one right wing source admits in its article using the $761 million figure.

The commenter’s line, “America cannot afford to support those people who come here without means of supporting themselves,”  implies that undocumented individuals are without “means of support,” and therefore must be (1) non-taxpayers and (2) using the social welfare services in the U.S.

Wrong on both counts.  First, unauthorized immigrants make up about 5.1% of the total US labor force. [Pew]  Secondly, we have Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump asserting that “the annual cost of free tax credits alone paid to illegal immigrants quadrupled to $4.1 billion in 2011.”  Politifact jumped in at this point.  Their assessment gave Mr. Trump a “half true” rating.  As of 2009 (not 2011) unauthorized individuals were paid $4.2 billion in refundable tax credits, over a four year period.  Since undocumented individuals can’t get Social Security cards they can file with an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number, ITIN.  ITINs constitute an amorphous group of both those documented and undocumented.  Among the group of “legal” filers are refugees, asylum seekers, foreign workers in higher education, technology employees, and people who own businesses in the US but don’t live here.  Regardless of immigration status, and the number of ITIN filers who aren’t “legal” isn’t clear at all, none are eligible for Social Security. In fact, undocumented workers paid in $12 billion in payroll taxes but will never get Social Security benefits.

The tax credit Mr. Trump is speaking of goes back to the 2001 Bush tax cuts:

“The credit as it stands today was established in the Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001, one of the tax cuts passed under President George W. Bush. Unlike in 1996, Congress did not write a provision barring ITIN filers from claiming the refund.

As a result, claims for the additional child credit have increased significantly since 2001, according to the Treasury Inspector General audit. By 2009, 2.3 million ITIN filers received $4.2 billion through the additional child credit, a four-fold increase over 2005.” [Politifact]

Yes, undocumented workers ARE taxpayers:

“Collectively, they paid an estimated $10.6 billion to state and local taxes in 2010, according to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP), a research organization that works on tax policy issues. Contributions varied by state. In Montana they contributed $2 million. In California, more than $2.2 billion. On average they pay about 6.4% of their income in state and local taxes, ITEP said.

A 2007 Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report on the impact of undocumented immigrants on the budgets of local and state governments cited IRS figures showing that 50% to 75% of the about 11 million unauthorized U.S. immigrants file and pay income taxes each year.” [CNNMoney]

And do they qualify for US social services programs?  Again the answer is a resounding NO:

Undocumented immigrants do not qualify for welfare, food stamps, Medicaid, and most other public benefits. Most of these programs require proof of legal immigration status and under the 1996 welfare law, even legal immigrants cannot receive these benefits until they have been in the United States for more than five years. [CNNMoney]

And then there are those “legal costs.”  Much of this argument refers back to, and is informed by, an April 1, 2006 episode on the Lou Dobbs Show. This would be an April Fool’s piece if the mis-information hadn’t been so widely disseminated and taken for truth by immigration opponents.

Supposedly, there’s “some $3 million a day spend to incarcerate illegal entrants, and about 30% of all Federal Prison inmates are illegal immigrants.” The facts are less dramatic:

Both of these claims can be traced back to that same April 1, 2006, episode of “Lou Dobbs Tonight” on CNN, in the same segment, with the same correspondent, Christine Romans. But the e-mail misrepresents what Romans said. She gave figures for people who are “not U.S. citizens,” a category that would include legal residents as well as “illegal aliens.”

Romans said that “according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, 30 percent of federal prisoners are not U.S. citizens,” adding that “most are thought to be illegal aliens.” Actually, the Federal Bureau of Prisons does not keep figures on illegal immigrants. What solid numbers we can find point to a much smaller figure. A Department of Justice report from 2003 found that only 1.6 percent of the state and federal prison populations was under Immigration and Customs Enforcement jurisdiction, and thus known to be illegal immigrants. Half of these prisoners were detained only because they were here illegally, not for other crimes.

The Bureau of Prisons does track prisoners by offense when information is available. By that metric, 10.7 percent of prisoners in federal jails were incarcerated for immigration offenses in 2009. In 2006, when Romans gave her report, the figure was 10.2 percent.

The “$3 million dollar a day” figure is based on the false assumption that  30 percent of all inmates are illegal immigrants, and thus is greatly inflated. [FactCheck.org]

The Bottom Line

In the simplest possible terms:

  • In terms of the number of undocumented persons in the US, we are NOT awash in any sort of flood of “illegal” entrants. Except in the minds of those who think 3.5% of the total population is entirely too many.
  • Undocumented persons are not a drain on our health care system, indeed they use the services less than the general population.  Again, this would only be disturbing to those who want them not to have any services, even in the event of an emergency.
  • Undocumented individuals do not excessively burden our educational institutions.   There is currently no way to precisely calculate the costs, and there is no way a state may discriminate against children who are undocumented as the Supreme Court ruled back in 1982.
  • Undocumented immigrants may file for child tax credits, but that too, is the law of the land – since 2001; and they do pay payroll taxes. They are not eligible for Social Security, SNAP, Medicaid, or any other services which require proof of citizenship.
  • Far from being indigent burdens to the community – the undocumented comprise 5.1% of the total US labor force. That’s Labor, as in Working.
  • No, undocumented individuals are not clogging American federal and state prisons. 1.6% were classified as undocumented and only half that number were convicted of any crime other than illegal entry.

1 Comment

Filed under Immigration, Nativism, Nevada politics

The Big Catch: Pay Us and We’ll Do The Right Thing

Banker Sorry A small group of ultra-wealthy individuals are getting alarmed by the widening income gap in America. [NYT]  Their cries hit some major news outlets and were analyzed in others. [Salon] [NationalMemo] And, as we might expect there’s a catch:  Corporate Welfare.

“There is a way to start. Government can provide tax incentives to business to pay more to employees making $80,000 or less. The program would exist for three to five years and then be evaluated for effectiveness.

The benefits would be huge. People would have more money to spend, and many would no longer need government help. That would mean a reduction in entitlements.” Peter Georgescu, CEO Young & Rubicam

Yes, you and many others read this correctly – CEO’s like Ken Langone (Home Depot founder) and Georgescu and Paul Tudor Jones are worried about the possibilities of either peasants with pitch forks or declining sales.  And, no, there is nothing new here. Nothing that ventures too far from the business model calling for tax breaks, cuts, incentives, etc. for corporations to locate in beautiful downtown West Buffalo Fart. 

If the suggestion weren’t so demonstrably callous it would be ludicrous and risible.  First, there’s nothing preventing companies from doing this without benefit of yet more tax cuts for the already wealthy corporations – or, is there.  Welcome back to the world of Shareholder Value!

Wal-Mart recently announced plans to increase company-wide minimum wage to $9 per hour, and to increase pay to $10 per hour for many employees by February.  And, then it bowed to the First Law of Staffing:

The company has also increased store staffing at peak hours so shoppers move quickly through checkout lines and see stocked shelves, said executives during the company’s quarterly earnings call earlier in August. [MarketWatch]

The old First Law is that you have enough employees if you can satisfy customer demand and maintain acceptable levels of client or customer service.  This should have been good news all around – except it wasn’t.

Those efforts contributed to a 15% drop in second-quarter net income compared with a year earlier, said executives. [MarketWatch]

What did Wall Street do?  The Street didn’t like that drop and punished Wal-Mart accordingly.

walmart stock

That’s right… it didn’t matter to investors if there were happier employees at the giant retailer; it didn’t matter that customers didn’t have to wait in the cashier’s line so long.  It mattered that the second quarter net income report was down on a YOY basis.

This is one of the more egregious contemporary examples of the Shareholder Value Monster trampling on any corporate plans to do what businesses should do best – meet customer demand with an acceptable level of customer/client service.

As long as the Financialists continue to steer the corporate ships details like customer service and employee retention – which used to inform management policy – will take a back seat to the quarterly earnings reports. So, Wal-Mart caved to the financial side and announced to its +/- 4,600 store managers that it would return to “pre-determined” staffing levels (back to the old levels), and cut employee hours to trim expenses.

CEO’s, of such organizations like Wal-Mart, are now trapped in a device of their own creation. If they attempt to offer higher wages (or improve the quality of customer service), both of which have long term benefits;  they are punished by the Shareholder Value oriented short term investors and their stock prices drop. If the stock prices drop so does executive compensation.  Should the stock prices drop too far in the estimation of investors the CEO can be gliding off on his or her Golden Parachute into the corporate sunset.

Thus, it isn’t surprising that the CEOs are anxious to have some taxpayer assistance “doing the right thing” (increasing wages) in the long term because the short-sightedness of the Shareholder Value Theory of Management has translated into a situation in which long term benefits are sacrificed on the altar of short term profitability.

The paycheck pinch: One of the CEO’s angling for government (read: taxpayer) assistance in decreasing the widening income gap is Ken Langone (Home Depot founder). Sales and revenue for Home Depot in 2011 was $68 billion, increasing to $83.1 billion in 2015. 2011 gross income was reported as $21.69 billion, increasing to $27.3 billion in 2015. Its current domestic income tax liability is $3.26 billion, it has a deferred domestic tax liability of $116 million. [Marketwatch]  And, Mr. Langone agrees that corporations should be given tax breaks in order to pay more to the employees of concerns like Home Depot.

There are some 20 Home Depot stores in Nevada, most in the Las Vegas area, some in Reno/Sparks, and a couple in what is understood as rural Nevada, Elko and Pahrump.  There are plenty earning less than $80,000 per year in these operations.  The wages for a sales associate range from $8.67 to $13.95; cashiers earn from $7.93 to $10.83; department supervisors earn between $12.01 to $18.91; and, retail sales associations can make from $8.68 to $17.16.  (See Payscale.com as information updates)

These salaries have tax implications in Nevada as a result of 2015 legislation:

The Modified Business Tax (MBT) is currently imposed on businesses other than financial institutions in the amount of 1.17 percent of wages paid above an exemption level of $85,000 per quarter. Financial institutions pay a higher rate of 2 percent. The MBT rate had been scheduled to decline to 0.63 percent for nonfinancial institutions beginning July 1, 2015. The MBT base has been narrowed significantly since the tax’s introduction in 2003, with exemption level increases in 2011 and 2013.

After significant debate over whether to expand the MBT or adopt a new gross receipts tax, the final plan includes elements of both options. The MBT will increase from 1.17 percent to 1.475 percent for most businesses, effective July 1, 2015. Mining companies will join financial institutions in paying the higher 2 percent tax rate. The MBT base is broadened by reducing the exemption to $50,000 per quarter, increasing the estimated number of MBT taxpayers to 18,607, up from the 13,492 paying the tax at present.[2] An earlier proposal to remove the MBT exemption for employer-provided health care costs was dropped.

After the first year, taxpayers may deduct up to 50 percent of their Commerce Tax payments over the previous four quarters from their MBT liability. Moreover, should total revenue from all business taxes exceed projections by more than four percent, the MBT rate will be adjusted downward, though to a rate no lower than 1.17 percent. [TaxFoundation]

Note the last paragraph, even with a compromise between larger and smaller corporations in Nevada, there’s still a bit of a tax break allowed on the Commerce Tax depending on the “previous four quarters.”  We’re probably not looking at any massive tax breaks in the 2015 legislation, but we need to add these to the $88 million in breaks given to Apple [MJ]  and the state’s generosity to Tesla in the form of $1.25 billion. [RGJ] In the latter deal the understanding was that Tesla would pay an average of $25/hr.

Not to put too fine a point to it, but corporations are quite used to having government entities, be they Apple in Nevada and North Carolina, Tesla in Nevada, or the bargaining in the 2015 Nevada legislature over how to maintain tax revenues, engage in tax-payer subsidies for corporate operations.  Thus, it’s not the least bit surprising the CEOs would ask for tax-payer subsidization for payroll increases.

It would be a reasonable conjecture to conclude that Home Depot and other Big Box firms like Wal-Mart might be willing to adopt staffing policies which increase employee wages and provide for better customer service –IF and ONLY IF there are further tax breaks associated with those policies which will please the short-term oriented Shareholder Value financialists who pull on the purse strings.

Hanging the Wash? Consider what the CEOs are proposing – it’s all good: “The benefits would be huge. People would have more money to spend, and many would no longer need government help. That would mean a reduction in entitlements.”  But wait, there’s some loaded language herein.  Programs like SNAP, and subsidized housing, or similar assistance to low wage earners are NOT entitlements. These are situational support programs for people in need.  Social Security/Medicare, into which people have paid for decades are entitlements – you get what you paid for.

Loaded language aside,  What happens when the corporations raise wages, projected to reduce the number of people receiving social assistance, but the revenues for that social assistance are reduced by the tax breaks given to the corporations in order to support those very same wage increases? The tax payers are on the hook either way – they either pay for the social assistance programs which subsidize low wages,  or they subsidize the tax breaks to corporations to reduce the need for the social programs?  It’s a win-win for the corporations, and a lose-lose for the average American.

2 Comments

Filed under Economy, Nevada economy, Nevada legislature, Nevada politics, nevada taxation, Politics

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?

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

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

Bits and Pieces: Misleading headlines, and other matters in Nevada Politics

Jig Saw Puzzle Sometimes the headline doesn’t quite fit the story. Here’s an example: “Millions in the red an Obamacare insurer has failed” compliments of the Las Vegas Review Journal.   You have to read a few paragraphs down to get the basics of the story.  In addition to poor administration and long repayment waiting periods, “the co-op made a critical mistake: Only Nevada allows enrollment in non-exchange plans outside of the federal sign-up period, which runs from Nov. 1 to Jan. 31. Most insurers require a 90-day wait to discourage people from going without a plan until they get sick, but the co-op started with no waiting period, then added a 30-day window in late 2014. That created a sicker — and pricier — member pool,..”  [LVRJ]  These aren’t issues with the Affordable Care Act, nor is this indicative of any flaws in the overall system. What this illustrates is that the reason most firms go under is poor administration and management.

Speaking of management:  Is Waste Management Inc. living up to the terms of the contract it signed with Washoe County?  The Reno Gazette Journal reports on a crucial point: “One central issue is whether Waste Management has fulfilled the requirement to build an Eco-Center in Reno to sort its single-stream recycling and provide other services to customers. The city allowed Waste Management to raise rates, in part, to finance the construction of the Eco-Center.”  Back in March, 2013, The RGJ reported that the Eco-Center was supposed to streamline recycling in the area, noting that there were still some “kinks” to be worked out. Evidently, the kinks are winning?

The Washoe County Democrats have a quiz for us.  How do you score on a test of Rep. Joe Heck’s statements on Medicare? Social Security? Immigration?  I’ll give you one – yes, he’s called Social Security a “pyramid scheme,” and called for it to be privatized.  By July 2012 he’d called the basic social safety net program a Pyramid Scheme at least four times. [NVDems]

One win for Solar Power:  Perhaps not a long term one, but for now the efforts of NV Energy Inc to slap down the solar power industry in Nevada have been thwarted in the short term. [LVSun]  The power company is all for solar, except: “NV Energy’s proposed plan would reduce the value of credits paid to consumers and add a new fees. In filings with the PUC, the company said that the current structure unfairly shifts costs to customers without solar. The rooftop solar industry expects that the utility-backed proposal would reduce the rate of adoption of solar power.”  Original NV Energy filing here (warning: slow loading PDF)  and here (warning: slow loading PDF).  There’s the Solar Energy’s proponent statement to the PUC August 18, 2015 which makes interesting reading – again a warning: slow loading PDF.

All this in time for the Valley Electric Association to build a 15 mega-watt solar project in the northern part of Pahrump. [PVT]

Comments Off on Bits and Pieces: Misleading headlines, and other matters in Nevada Politics

Filed under ecology, energy, energy policy, health insurance, Heck, Nevada energy, Nevada politics, Social Security

St. Paul (Laxalt) and the ACA: NV joins anti-choice case

birth control pills Heaven help us. Paul Laxalt, Attorney General of the State of Nevada, has proudly announced he’s filed an amicus brief in the U.S. Supreme Court in Little Sisters of the Poor v. Burwell

“Little Sisters of the Poor is an organization of Roman Catholic women dedicated to serving the poor. The Little Sisters and co-petitioners sued the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in response to the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate. The mandate requires religious nonprofits such as the Little Sisters to provide employees with all available forms of contraception at no cost. Facing hefty fines for non-compliance, a number of these groups have sought U.S. Supreme Court review of their case.

    “Religious organizations serve our communities in countless ways, and their contributions should be supported, not impeded by the government,” said Laxalt. “These organizations should not be fined for living in accordance with their sincerely held religious convictions. This brief encourages the Supreme Court to take the necessary steps toward ensuring that our government and our courts do not force people of faith to violate their religious beliefs.” [Laxalt]

    Here’s what he’s jumping into:

    “On July 14, 2014, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals issued a decision denying the Little Sisters of the Poor and other religiously affiliated nonprofits’ request for a stay. The Court found: “The accommodation relieves Plaintiffs from complying with the Mandate and guarantees they will not have to provide, pay for, or facilitate contraceptive coverage. Plaintiffs do not “trigger” or otherwise cause contraceptive coverage because federal law, not the act of opting out, entitles plan participants and beneficiaries to coverage. Although Plaintiffs allege the administrative tasks required to opt out of the Mandate make them complicit in the overall delivery scheme, opting out instead relieves them from complicity. Furthermore, these de minimis administrative tasks do not substantially burden religious exercise for the purposes of RFRA.” In July 2015, the plaintiffs appealed this case to the Supreme Court.” [KFF.org]

    In short, the Little Sisters have a Church Plan. The Church Plan doesn’t cover contraception. This is accommodated under the exemptions to the Affordable Care Act.  Their plan does not have to “provide, pay for or otherwise facilitate contraceptive coverage.”  What’s the question?  They can opt out of the ACA provisions – but, they argue the mere act of opting out makes them “party to the scheme?”

    This gets even better – because entangled in the case is the question of whether or not the Little Sisters of the Poor (or the Christian Brothers) can prevent their employees from getting insurance covering contraception from a third party. [AU]

    The Kaiser Foundation offers this handy chart on the exemptions from the provisions of the Affordable Care Act:

    Religious Freedom Court Chart

    Thus far the provisions of the ACA have been upheld. Contrary to the anti-contraceptionists, the courts have held that the law doesn’t unduly burden anyone, and they can opt out by requesting an exemption. Period. Of course, that didn’t prevent the Little Sisters from availing themselves of the funding and efforts of the arch-conservative Becket Fund.

    Making this entire case even more incredible is the fact that as of August 2014, the government provided a second accommodation for religious non-profit organizations which as of that date only needed to “write a letter to the government in order to be relieved of any obligation to provide contraceptive coverage.” [AU]  A letter.  One single letter.

    So that an exempt religious organization doesn’t have to write one single, one paragraph letter,  the Attorney General of the state of Nevada signed on to an exceptionally spurious, often downright illogical amicus brief with his fellow Tea Party, Radical Right, Ultra-Right Wing anti-contraception amigos.

    Comments Off on St. Paul (Laxalt) and the ACA: NV joins anti-choice case

    Filed under Health Care, health insurance, nevada health, Nevada politics, Women's Issues, Womens' Rights

    Nevada’s Health Care Problem We’re Not Talking About

    Skip the political blathering about “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act.  The law has enabled 16.4 million Americans to get health insurance as of March 2015. [OFacts]  This means there’s been a 35% reduction in the number of people in this country who are without health care insurance. [OFacts] So, instead of posturing and polarizing, let’s talk about improving the health care to which more people now have access.

    NV Substance AbuseOne area in which we could be doing better is in addressing and treating addiction issues faced by citizens of Nevada. Notice the information from SAMHSA indicates most individuals who are in treatment programs are getting help with both alcohol and drug abuse problems.   However, the next two charts aren’t quite so positive.

    NV Substance Abuse Treatment You read that correctly… over 85% did NOT receive treatment for substance abuse issues.

    NV Alcohol Treatment PercentageYes, you read this one correctly too. Some 95.4% of individuals with alcohol addiction problems did NOT receive treatment in the year prior to the SAMSHA survey.   These numbers should improve as the policy requirements for comprehensive, basic, health insurance take effect:

    “The ACA includes substance use disorders as one of the ten elements of essential health benefits. This means that all health insurance sold on Health Insurance Exchanges or provided by Medicaid to certain newly eligible adults starting in 2014 must include services for substance use disorders.” [WH.gov]

    Nevada participates in the Medicaid Expansion provisions of the Affordable Care Act, and so we should expect some improvements in the percentage of individuals who have access to health insurance which covers addiction treatment programs.  That still doesn’t fully answer the question: Why are there so many untreated cases?

    As of 2013 some 61% of those without health insurance said they couldn’t afford it, or they lost coverage when they lost a job. [KaiserFnd]  The financial assistance under the terms of the ACA should help, but there may still be some gaps.  “Not all workers have access to coverage through their job. Most uninsured workers are self-employed or work for small firms where health benefits are less likely to be offered. Low-wage workers who are offered coverage often cannot afford their share of the premiums, especially for family coverage.” [KaiserFnd]  So, who is most likely to be without health insurance?

      • “Individuals below poverty are at the highest risk of being uninsured, and this group accounted for 27% of all the uninsured in 2013 (the poverty level for a family of three was $19,530 in 2013). In total, almost nine in ten of the uninsured are in low- or moderate-income families, meaning they are below 400% of poverty.”
      • “While a plurality (46%) of the uninsured are White, non-Hispanic, people of color are at higher risk of being uninsured than White non-Hispanics. People of color make up 40% of the population but account for over half of the total uninsured population. The disparity in insurance coverage is especially high for Hispanics, who account for 19% of the total population but more than 30% of the uninsured population. Hispanics and non-Hispanic Blacks have significantly higher uninsured rates (25.6% and 17.3%, respectively) than Whites (11.7%).” [KaiserFnd]

    And herein we run directly into the revolving door of addiction treatment access issues.

    Those who may need access to treatment programs for addiction problems may (1) fall into the gap between the insured and the uninsured; because (2) of job loss or low wages; and (3) they may be spending funds on their addiction that would otherwise be available for treatment.

    Enter the Boo Birds: “If these people would just stop spending money on booze and dope and start saving for addiction treatment programs… problem solved.”   How righteous? The problem is that we are speaking about ADDICTION.  We’re not talking about “discretionary” spending here in the classical sense.  And, the individuals who fall into the uninsured category are more likely low income or unemployed in the first place.

    “Alcohol treatment costs vary widely depending on your individual treatment needs, your insurance, and the facility. Here are some tips to help you pay for treatment:

    • Check your insurance. If you have health insurance, call the number on the back of your card to ask about your mental health and substance abuse coverage. Find out what your out-of-pocket costs will be, including deductible and co-payment amounts.
    • Look into programs that offer sliding scale or reduced payment options. Check with your state’s substance abuse agency or call SAMHSA’s helpline (1-800-662-HELP) to ask about affordable treatment in your area.” [HelpGuide]

    Checking your insurance is good advice – IF a person has insurance, “finding out the deductible/co-pay expenses is good advice as well – IF a person is in a financial position to pay those costs.  Yet again, we run into a situation in which if a person is “well off” financially, or has family resources which can absorb the costs, treatment is available.  Not “well off,” don’t have family resources to offset the costs?   Not. So. Much.

    To drive this point closer to home, Nevada has 62 drug treatment center listings, 38 of which are shown as offering “payment assistance.” [DRHQ]  Making the point even more sharply – Nevada has 11 behavioral health professionals for every 1,000 people in the state, the lowest in the nation. Vermont has about 70 per 1,000; Connecticut about 60; Maine about 55. Nevada is sitting down at the bottom with Georgia, Texas, and Indiana. [PCT]

    There are some efforts we could make before the next legislative season to address these issues:

    1. Research and publish the findings on the availability of alcohol and substance abuse treatment centers which provide payment assistance for low or middle income patients, and the uninsured. 
    2. Research and publish the findings on the availability of alcohol and substance abuse professional services in both our urban and rural regions.
    3. Research and publish the findings on the average waiting time for those who are seeking treatment, especially in residential treatment programs.
    4. Research and report the efforts made to attract more individuals and institutions into the field of behavioral health, including substance abuse professionals.
    5. Recommend ways the state might improve its ration of expenditures on prevention and treatment or incarceration.

    It would seem logical to approach this health care issue from a positive perspective – now that the ACA makes health insurance more affordable for more people, how can we help Nevadans take advantage of treatment programs?  Further, how can we assist those who have fallen into the non-insured gap get the treatment they want and need?  How can we get Nevada off the bottom in the list of availability of behavioral health care professionals?

    Comments Off on Nevada’s Health Care Problem We’re Not Talking About

    Filed under health, Health Care, health insurance, nevada health, Nevada politics