Saturday, June 17, 2006

MTB John Cortlett: Hit and Run

I took a bit of time out of Not at Camp week for the Meet the Bloggers session with Center for Community Solution’s John Corlett. I dropped Kid Z off at gymnastics team practice in Copley, headed up to Cleveland for the 10:00 session, but had to be back to pick up Z by 11:30. All very frustrating. John is thus far my favorite “get” for MTB. He’s extremely bright, knows volumes about tax and budget policy and is genuinely fun to talk to. We could have rapped with him for a couple hours without running out of topic to mine.

All of which is explanation for a new MTB high water mark. I believe I asked the windiest, most tendentious, multi-layered and impossible-to-answer question in the history of MTB. Bill Callahan previously claimed the honors at the David Abbott interview, but it’s all mine now.

First off, what we learned about the TEL effort. The removal of the ballot issue is pretty much wired. The special legislation passed recently compels the Secretary of State to remove an issue if the sponsoring committee requests him to. The TEL sponsors have delivered such a letter to Blackwell (insert joke about weight of paper here.) Once the new law goes into effect in August, Blackwell must remove the issue and that’s that.

In addition the Coalition for Ohio’s Future is still pursuing one of the legal challenges against the issue. This is important because no one knows if the legislation allowing the committee to say “Never mind” is actually constitutional. For that matter, no one knows if anyone has standing to challenge the procedure.

The Coalition hasn’t filed the legal challenge I reported on earlier – evidently they just issued a humiliation-inducing press release about it. The active suit challenges Johns says they are negotiating a settlement that would allow the Coalition to challenge a certain number of signatures.

Jill asked why the TEL proponents used this mechanism to control spending. John’s response essentially is that the best mechanism to control spending is to control spending. Indeed, one of the fundamental aggravations of the whole TEL debate is the failure to admit the failure of Republican rule in the state.

Which got to my question. Let me try to make this coherent.

Part I: No one in the public sector is actually flush with cash. In fact in every category agencies are budgeting ever closer to the bone. From John’s silent nods he apparently agrees.

Part II: In fact Ohio is caught in a perfect storm of budgetary pressures. Medical expenses – a cost for the state both in Medicaid and employee benefits – are increasing a many times the rate of inflation. Energy costs are escalating. The state loses money from Federal budget cuts and must meet unfunded mandates. All this in a political environment in which a tax increase is a laughable idea. Again, apparent agreement.

Part III: The essence of the question, when you get through all the verbiage. Do Republicans actually have an idea about how to get out of this mess, or will they just continue to use it for political gain. It wasn’t asked that clearly, but John pretty much answered it. The Republican prescription, so far as it exists, is more of the same. More tax cuts aimed at businesses, more privatization no real idea of how to grow an economy.


The challenge – and this is me, not John – is making the case for change. Our case is that the government actually plays a role in the economy. That’s an idea that runs against the current. People embrace anti-government cynicism independent of data. The terrible beauty for conservatives is that many Ohioans see ineffective government first, party affilation last if at all. The more Democrats excoriate Republicans for their abysmal record of governing, the more they reply that the problem is inherent in government.

If you find this as frustrating as I do, please read the Alan Wolfe piece I recommended earlier this week. His argument is that anti-government conservatives simply cannot be trusted to govern effectively. He is no Great Society liberal – he lauds conservatives for putting a check on the excesses of liberalism. But he makes the compelling case that 1) Americans understand that government is an essential component of modern life and 2) the failures of the Bush administration don’t result from his rejection of anti-government conservatism, but from his embrace of it. His writing is eminently readable and his argument is tight. If you click through no other link in this blog ever, go to Wolfe’s essay and read it.

Back to John. After he gamely tried to answer my question, I headed back to Summit. I was also interested in hearing him debunk the stats tossed around by the taxcut crazies – Ohio 3rd in taxes and so forth. I gave the question to Jill. When I have a chance to listen to the pod, I’ll report back.

Finally, I have pictures of the event but Blogger is in one of its sucking moods lately and hasn't been letting me upload. If I can get them up later, I'll add them.


matt r. said...

ken blackwell exmplifies the inability of conservatives to govern or even formulate sound public policy.

blackwell's push to be governor revolves around these "insert your name here" policy trends like TEL and turnpike privatization. go to the conservative playbook pick out a template ,add your name to it and run on it. gosh did you know blackwell wrote an op-ed piece with dr. arthur laffer about tax exp. limitation measures? hey j. ken is going to sell the turnpike and we will have billions of dollars to fund all of those government programs conservatives are supposed to hate. then there is my favorite, the 65% school funding plan. why 65? not even ken could tell you (and you thought 3 was a magic number).

in the end none of this crap will make for good governance. the folks at the ctr for community solutions can tell you that the groundswell of opposition from local governments building against TEL help lead to its premature death. the real benefit of the turnpike cash bonanza will be to the banks, underwriters and financial advisors included in the deal (just enough to get my beak wet). the promised windfall will surely be much less than what is being sold. unless of course ken found a way to beat the no free lunch rule of economics.

Jill said...

Hi Scott - I had to step out of the room because my oldest child called in a panic - he'd been unable to locate, ready? His library card and was in quite a tizzy. But when I returned to the room, I checked to be sure you're question was being discussed and in fact, it was. Not sure quite how far into the event we were - beyond half way.

Good luck with At Camp week.