Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Not all cuts are created equal

Apparently a average tax cut for Wisconsin taxpayers of 2% is too small to care about.

But an even smaller reduction in federal spending - or at least its rate of growth - due to sequestration is a disaster.

Who would have known?

Cross posted at Purple Wisconsin

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Spinning on tax cuts

The headline in the paper read "Much of Walker’s proposal would go to top 20%, study says."

This, the ensuing article tells us, "complicates" the notion that Walker has proposed a middle class tax cut.

Not really. The same article points out that 80% of the proposed cuts go to persons making $ 162,000 or less.

Sounds like a middle class tax cut to me.

We saw the same claims made with respect to cuts in the federal income tax shepherded through Congress by President Bush in 2003. For years, we were told that the former President had "cut taxes for the rich" when, in fact, he had cut taxes for everyone. (In fact, the Bush tax cuts were weighted slightly toward lower income taxpayers.)

That this story was, at best, incomplete and, at worst, misleading was ignored until those tax cuts were about to expire at the end of last year. It turned out that getting rid of the tax cuts "for the rich" was going to raise the bejesus out of taxes on the middle class.

Although Walker's political opponents will claim that his proposed cuts are slanted toward upper income taxpayers, the opposite is true. The lower your income, the larger your the of your taxes that the proposal will cut.
Of course, in a world where upper income taxpayers pay the most tax, a reduction in tax rates are going to benefit those taxpayers. As Willie Sutton put it, that's where the money is.
Of course, one can always argue that whatever share that they do pay ought to be higher. In theory, the answer to "how much do you need" can be "how much do you have."
But one may argue, instead, that rate reductions are most likely to lead to increased economic activity because they increase the marginal return on working and investing.

In any event, the Governor has proposed a middle class tax cut.

Cross posted at Purple Wisconsin.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Let my people go

When I was a kid, I heard a lot about the grave and intrinsic evil of residency requirements for municipal employees. Dad was a firefighter for the City of Greenfield which at the time (but no longer) required its fire and police employees to live in the city. He's basking in the Florida sunshine these days, but must be pleased (I haven't had a chance to ask) with Governor Walker's proposal to slay his old enemy for all times and all places.
Ironically, my parents wanted to move a few blocks from our house on Forest Home Avenue to Milwaukee. Today, residency requirements are largely, if not exclusively, about the desire of the City of Milwaukee to keep municipal employees on its tax rolls. There seem to be two arguments for residency. The first is that those who "benefit" from working for the city to pay city taxes. The second - and, I think, the real - reason for dictating where municipal employees can make their homes is that, if Milwaukee did not create a captive middle class, it would have no middle class at all.
We can argue about whether and why that's true. But I'd argue that residency requirements actually help to destroy the middle class in a city like Milwaukee.
The problem is that it hastens a city toward reaching a tipping point in which an effective political majority takes more from the government than it contributes toward it. This leads to high taxes and a collective unwillingness to challenge entrenched constituencies that benefit from the status quo. Failing institutions - think MPS - become very difficult to reform and middle class families who don't work for the city throw in the towel and head for the suburbs. This cycle, at its extreme, brings you Detroit.
With the exception of a place like Madison or Washington which thrive on tax dollars earned elsewhere, you can't build a thriving city on government. However large you want government to be, there must be a private economy and middle class community to support it.
To be sure, these aren't the only reasons for suburbanization and it is not to say that there aren't a lot of people in Milwaukee with a different vision for the city. Milwaukee, thank God, is not Detroit or even close to it.
But eliminating residency is, I think, more likely to be part of the solution than part of the problem. A city that cannot hold its middle class captive must make it want to stay. That city will be a much stronger place.

Cross posted at Purple Wisconsin.

Monday, February 18, 2013

An interesting filing in the state Supreme Court

Last week's filing by Justice Bradley was ostensibly an order recusing herself on a disciplinary case involving Justice David Prosser. That she would step aside is extraordinary only in the fact that it took her ten months to get around to it. It was clear from the get go that she should not sit on a matter in which she is the complainant.  

But the nature of filing - what Justice Bradley sought to say - was extraordinary and revealing.  

What she wrote was extraordinary because it had little or nothing to do with whether she ought to recuse herself. It largely consists of a reiteration of her allegations with Justice Prosser joined to an expression of displeasure with the law governing the discipline of Supreme Court justices and annoyance that the statement of a number of her colleagues who witnessed the incident with Justice Prosser don't completely corroborate her own. 

As I have written before, there is no support in the witness statements of any of the other justices - including the Chief Justice - that Justice Prosser "choked" Justice Bradley. Indeed, one can read Justice Bradley's own statement as suggesting that this did not occur. All seem to agree that Justice Bradley charged or rapidly approached Justice Prosser – perhaps with her fist or finger raised. 

Beyond that, the statements tend to depart on very subjective points in which the witness characterizes the volume of some one's voice or the rapidity with which an action was taken. Depending on which version one credits, the incident reflects poorly on Justice Bradley or both justices. If you are inclined to the latter view, it is possible to conclude that Justice Prosser was more at fault than Justice Bradley, but that is far from clear. One might well reach the opposite conclusion. It is possible that one might conclude that Prosser (or Bradley) ought to be disciplined, but that result is not foreordained. 

It is understandable that Justice Bradley is committed to her version of events and upset that others don't see things the same way. What is important for purposes of recusal is the resolving the conflicts will reflect on her testimony (which is not undisputed) and even on whether she ought to be subject to discipline. Perhaps all of those questions should be resolved in her favor. But she can't be the one to decide that.  

Normally, a judge in her position would simply step aside without comment on the merits. He or she would not use a recusal order as an occasion to editorialize. Justice Bradley is quoted as saying that her filing is a response to Justice Roggensack’s statement that the court is “doing fine.” But judges normally don’t use court filings to weigh in on their colleague’s campaigns. 

The filing is, nevertheless, revealing. The filing demonstrates the wisdom of the general rule that someone ought not to be a judge in his or her own case. 

Here's an example. Justice Bradley is upset that her colleagues' witness statements will not concede what Justice Prosser has admitted. "They deny," she writes, "what has already been admitted." But a careful - no, even a cursory - reading of the witness statements of Justices Roggensack, Ziegler, and Gableman all reveal consistency with Prosser's statement. Each of them says that Justice Bradley charged Justice Prosser with her fist or finger raised. He put up his hands in response and his hands came into contact with her neck but did not close, i.e., he did not choke her. (In any event, it was not for these witnesses to base their own version of events upon the statement of either of the participants. They were asked to relate what they saw.)

Depending on the details, one might take these statements to warrant no discipline, discipline against either Justice Prosser or Bradley alone, or discipline against both Justices. But they are not inconsistent with Justice Prosser's statement - at least not one the critical point identified by Justice Bradley. 

That she is unhappy with them is all too human. Again, she may be right and they may be wrong. But the filing also demonstrates why she was correct to recuse herself.
Cross posted at Purple Wisconsin.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Imagine no religion?

Every once in awhile, you come across someone who has summarized a point exceedingly well. I had that experience recently in reading an interview of George Weigel by Kathryn Jean Lopez regarding Weigel’s forthcoming collection of essays, Practicing Catholic.

While conservatives are often said to be “against” the environment, this has often struck me as claim that is bizarre on its face. No one chooses to poison his own living space. To the contrary, our environmental disputes tend to be about the trade-offs between our desire to use the environment to further human flourishing and the need to protect it from unwise uses. To be sure, one can be wrong about the harm that some course of conduct will cause and human beings will always be tempted to cut corners in a way that they should not, but environmental issues have always struck me as pragmatic and practical questions that are ill served by moral posturing and claims to be “for” or “against” the “environment” or some anthropomorphized geographical feature. It is a question that ought to acknowledge that advanced industrial societies – those who can develop and implement environmental protections – tend to be the cleanest.

This is not an area that is served by a desire to go back to the good old – and allegedly – pristine days. It is not clear to me that the cause of environmental integrity will ever be served by an extreme version of the Precautionary Principle which exaggerates risks and minimizes benefit. Don’t believe me? Think about nuclear power, fossil fuels and the risk of climate change.

Here’s Weigel:

LOPEZ: What do you have against Earth Day?

WEIGEL: I’m generally against pantheism, and what the first “Earth Day” set in motion was the transformation of the environmental movement from a conservation movement (which any reasonable person could and should support) to what is now an increasingly irrational cult, impervious to either the reality of trade-offs in public policy or (if I may quote President Obama and Al Gore) “the science.”