Where your tax dollars are going … and what you’re (not) getting in return

cato-tax

A reminder of where your federal income tax dollars are going … and what you’re (not) getting in return.  Happy tax day.

Graph courtesy of this Cato Institute policy report.

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A review of the Utah marriage amendment oral arguments presented to the Tenth Circuit

 

Sutherland’s Director of the Center for Family and Society Bill Duncan reviews the oral arguments heard by the panel of three judges at the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, the judges’ questions and comments, and what it might mean for the expected June ruling.

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Filing taxes? Utah’s burden is 2nd highest among Mountain States

This time of year, most Utahns’ minds turn toward thoughts of … their state and federal income taxes.

state local tax burdens

During the joyful process of filing a tax return, it is natural (and healthy for the sake of freedom) to be a bit concerned about with how much time (e.g. filing taxes) and money it takes to fund government. And it’s natural to wonder whether government elsewhere requires a smaller bite of your income, even if you have no intention of moving.

Enter the Tax Foundation’s “Annual State-Local Tax Burden Ranking.”

According to this year’s Tax Burden Ranking (based on 2011 data – the most recent data available) Utah had the 28th highest state and local tax burden in the country, at 9.4 percent of income. This reflects the conservative lean of Utah policymakers relative to the rest of the nation, to the benefit of Utah taxpayers.

When compared only to its Mountain States neighbors, on the other hand, Utah’s state-local tax burden comes in second out of eight.

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Who’s next to be ‘Eiched’? – Mero Moment, 4/8/14

This post is a transcript of a 4-minute weekly radio commentary aired on several Utah radio stations.

Brendan_Eich

Brendan Eich, creator of JavaScript, was CEO of Mozilla for all of 11 days. He resigned after relentless hounding over a $1,000 donation he made to California’s Prop 8.

Here is a name you won’t soon forget: Brendan Eich. Like so many other success stories out of Silicon Valley, Brendan Eich is a computer programmer who struck it big. He created a popular web browser language called JavaScript. In 1988, Eich co-founded a tech project that turned into the Mozilla Corporation that owns the web browser Firefox. Mozilla named him its new CEO on March 24 where he remained for eleven days when he unceremoniously resigned his position on April 3.

After two decades of brilliant work inside a corporation he built, what sort of scandal must have befallen Brendan Eich to get him to resign his post in only eleven days? What caused him to resign his prestigious job is that six years ago he donated $1,000 to Proposition 8 in California – and, for that high crime, homosexual activists drove him from office. In his resignation letter, Eich said, “Under the present circumstance, I cannot be an effective leader.”

You won’t soon forget Brendan Eich’s name because, no doubt, it will assume immortality in the political lexicon as a verb – as in, “You’ve just been Eiched.” One important lesson for the rest of us is to not cower in the face of political correctness but to fight back and stand up for what you believe. It doesn’t mean you won’t lose your job but it does mean you refuse to be bullied – Brendan Eich never apologized for his Prop 8 donation.

As someone who plays in this sandbox daily, I can tell you what really rubs me the wrong way. It’s not homosexual activists. I expect them to behave this way. I certainly don’t blame Eich. He did what he felt was best for the good of the company he built. My problem is with Eich’s corporate colleagues who didn’t have his back. Those people are the cowards who flame irrational protests. Furthermore, they’re hypocrites. In the name of pushing Eich out the door, they invoke tolerance and inclusiveness as their motivating principle.

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Video: A citizen’s guide to the Utah marriage case, Part 2

 

Bill Duncan, Sutherland Institute’s director of the Center for Family and Society and executive director of the Marriage Law Foundation, provides a citizen’s guide to the key arguments before the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in the Utah marriage amendment case. Below is an an outline of what Bill explains in the Part 2 video. (Click here to see Part 1.)

State replies to plaintiffs’ rebuttal

  • Race analogy doesn’t work because there are actual, meaningful differences between couples who can provide a mother and a father for children and couples who can’t.
    • Also doesn’t work because of the historical differences.
    • Infertile couples still support state’s ability to encourage mothers and fathers for adopted children, and also provide an example of faithfulness that’s crucial for a successful marriage culture.
    • A lot of precedent for a state’s residents to govern themselves; no clear constitutional provision that’s being violated by the state retaining the laws of marriage that have always existed.
    • State says the Supreme Court already decided this question in Baker.
    • Plaintiffs will say the Supreme Court’s intention in Windsor essentially decided the question.
    • Both sides will tell the 10th Circuit that it doesn’t have the authority to throw out previous Supreme Court decisions.
    • Issues of federalism might come into play.
    • Utah actually values marriage, doesn’t just provide lip service. It is the state with the highest rate of children being raised by their married mother and father. Can Utah continue to live by the things it cherishes most?
    • State points out there’s a lot of reason for uncertainty about what might happen if marriage is redefined. Social science points to evidence that children raised by their mother and father do best on a range of objective social measures. Continue reading
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Video: A citizen’s guide to the Utah marriage case before the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals

To help Utahns get a better grasp on this historic case, Bill Duncan, Sutherland Institute’s director of the Center for Family and Society and executive director of the Marriage Law Foundation, provides a citizen’s guide to the key arguments before the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in the Utah marriage amendment case.

In part 1, Bill discusses most of the arguments presented by the state and the plaintiffs. In part 2, which will be released tomorrow, Bill discusses the likely oral arguments, the social science arguments and the history of the changes to marriage law and the resulting consequences.

Part 1

Bill tells us that the key question for the 10th Circuit to answer is: Has the Supreme Court already decided this issue? The State submits its brief first, which Bill outlines, and then the plaintiffs respond, which Bill also explains.

  • Why is the state interested in marriage?
  • Sound social science research shows children do better when raised by a mother and a father.
  • State shows how changes to state law alter the incentives and disincentives of people to marry or not to marry.
  • The state disagrees with the plaintiffs and Judge Shelby (the Utah federal judge who struck down Amendment 3, Utah’s marriage amendment passed by 66 percent of Utah voters in 2004) when they say the state’s primary role in marriage is to approve of the lifestyle choices of its residents. The state argues that that idea has negative consequences.
  • State cites Baker case as controlling, or the case that stands as precedent for this case. In the Baker case, the Supreme Court said it isn’t going to issue a complete opinion on the case because it is so obvious there is not even a constitutional issue here. The Court said there is no federal issue; there is nothing in the U.S. Constitution that requires us to weigh in; there’s nothing in the U.S. Constitution that requires same-sex marriage.
  • The plaintiffs, Judge Shelby and other federal judges say law and society are evolving in our notions of what the Constitution requires and so Baker shouldn’t be controlling. State says no, the Constitution doesn’t change meaning over time.
  • The state argues that state law should be the standard of law in this case and in most cases, and that people of the state should be able to govern themselves except in exceptional cases.
  • Plaintiffs argue that the state marriage amendment is essentially like racism, and therefore should be overturned by the courts. The state disagrees with the idea that treating same-sex couples as not married is the same as not allowing white and black couples to marry. State argues it’s not the same for several reasons.
  • State explains the rationale for why it treats human relationships differently.

Plaintiffs respond:

  • Baker v. Minnesota is outmoded; a lot of things have changed since then so there’s no point in applying that case to this situation.
  • Plaintiffs try to convince 10th Circuit that U.S. Supreme Court has already essentially decided this issue in the Windsor case and therefore the Constitution requires every state to change its laws to allow same-sex couples to marry.
    • Justice Kennedy said a lot of things in support of the authority of the states, which makes this argument a challenge for the plaintiffs as they try to convince the 10th Circuit to invalidate state laws.
    • Try to establish that the Constitution really does require states to allow same-sex marriage. Rely on recent cases, especially by Justice Kennedy, which isn’t surprising because all sides know they have to convince Justice Kennedy, as he is often the swing vote in close cases.
    • Try to show that all the reasons the state cites for defining marriage as it has are irrational at best or done out of spite, hatred and animus at worst.
      • Difficult because they essentially have to say the 66 percent of Utah voters who voted for the marriage amendment did so simply to persecute same-sex couples.
      • Plaintiffs argue that the state is in control of marriage and therefore has the power to get everybody to accept that one’s sexual attractions are no different than other human characteristics.
      • The infertile couple argument put forward by the plaintiffs, and the state’s response.
      • Plaintiffs argue that the 14th Amendment is being violated — states can’t deny to individuals due process of law and equal protection under the law.
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Unnecessary licensing restrictions raise cost of health care

Medical toolsWhy do we have licensing laws that restrict who can treat patients as a doctor and perform medical procedures?

Ostensibly, it is for the health and safety of people who need to visit the doctor (i.e. everyone). We don’t want John Doe off the street opening up a medical clinic, calling himself a doctor, and handing out drugs or performing surgery.

So what does it mean when we find out that some licensing rules meant to protect our health have no connection with health outcomes, and in fact harm us by making medical services more expensive?

A recent study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research reported that medical licensing rules that allow only physicians – not nurse practitioners – to prescribe drugs to patients “do not seem to influence health care quality.” Changing these licensing regulations does not seem to impact health outcomes such as infant mortality rates.

However, these licensing restrictions are connected with higher health care costs. For instance, the study “shows that more rigid regulations increase the price of a well-child medical exam by 3 to 16%.” This happens through various mechanisms, such as requiring a parent (or the parent’s insurance company, which charges premiums to cover those costs) to pay the more expensive rate charged by a physician for their child’s checkups, in order to access that physician’s ability to prescribe any drugs needed.

When nurse practitioners are allowed to prescribe drugs, the cost of a well-child exam goes down because the time of the nurse practitioner is less expensive than that of a physician. And as the study suggests, this less expensive medical option is likely to come without significant negative effects on health outcomes.

Why does this matter to Utah and Utah families? In every legislative session, without fail, there is a raft of new proposals to heighten licensing restrictions to prevent people from providing various services.

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Behind the Legislative Scorecard – Mero Moment, 4/1/14

sutherland file pictures 009This post is a transcript of a 4-minute weekly radio commentary aired on several Utah radio stations.

About 10 years ago, when Sutherland Institute made it a part of our mission to “constructively influence Utah’s decision makers,” we were very reluctant to create a legislative scorecard. For several years our thinking was that legislative scorecards tend to be more divisive – less constructive – than helpful. Several advocacy groups in Utah use these scorecards to demonstrate how aligned a state legislator is with whatever a particular group is advocating. At the time, we didn’t feel the need at Sutherland to become just one more “critic” of the Legislature.

That said, we were pressed increasingly by citizens to create a scorecard that would reflect the conservatism of the Legislature. Sutherland is Utah’s conservative voice, and the many requests for us to somehow measure the Legislature’s conservatism didn’t seem unreasonable. Still, and to this day, Sutherland Institute is sensitive to how these scorecards can be used by others for political and partisan purposes.

Two years ago we decided to try our hand at producing a scorecard that would measure the level of conservatism at the Legislature without encouraging its misuse by others. The 2014 Legislative Scorecard is our third iteration and we feel confident that we’ve accomplished our goal.

Of course, the Utah Legislature is a conservative body in a conservative state. And for that very reason, the term “conservative” is used broadly and indiscriminately. Evidently conservative can mean anything from a champion of government-generated economic development all the way to a libertarian. The Sutherland scorecard attempts subtly to help citizens understand that conservatism has specific meaning.

For the 2014 legislative session recently concluded, 784 bills were introduced at the Legislature. Sutherland tracked nearly 50 bills as a part of our regular work and we’ve isolated 17 Senate votes and 18 House votes for our latest scorecard. Our measurement is simple: Did a legislator vote the conservative way?

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Michigan judge’s dismissal of research was unbelievable

See_No_Evil,_Hear_No_Evil,_Speak_No_EvilThis op-ed by William C. Duncan, director of Sutherland’s Center for Family and Society, was published March 29 in The Salt Lake Tribune.

What does “unbelievable” mean? To most of us, it means that something is clearly not true or at least is so implausible as to justify our rejecting it as an explanation.

In his ruling last week that the United States Constitution requires Michigan to change its legal definition of marriage to include same-sex couples, Judge Bernard Friedman vociferously attacked four social scientists. The state had relied on their work to cast doubt on the notion that social science establishes that there are no differences in outcomes for children raised by a married mother and father and those raised by same-sex couples, of whom only one could possibly be the child’s biological parent.

Judge Friedman dismissed all of the witnesses, two for no real reason and the other two because the judge found their research “unbelievable.” Why?

In the case of Mark Regnerus, a sociologist at the University of Texas, the judge points to four factors. One is that his study has limitations, which is true of all studies and which Dr. Regnerus freely admits. Another is that it was funded by a third party who hypothesized that it would demonstrate what anyone with a cursory knowledge of family studies would guess — that children are likely to benefit from being raised by a married mother and father.

Then, the judge said the study has critics(!) who didn’t like the study’s design but who have yet to follow the credible scientific path: produce their own research with different results. This criticism is particularly interesting. The judge and the critics fault the study for not comparing children raised for long periods by same-sex partners (the fact that so few could be found in the random sample is itself telling). But earlier in the opinion, the judge said the social scientific consensus was that “there is no discernible difference in parenting competence between lesbian and gay adults and their heterosexual counterparts.” So, the judge’s favored evidence has nothing to do with children’s outcomes when raised by any kind of family form, but he is bothered that Dr. Regnerus didn’t study that question.

At least Dr. Regnerus’ study was actually relevant to the case since it looked at the effect of family structure on children rather than at the parenting skills of individuals with varying sexual attractions.

So, apparently, “unbelievable” to Judge Friedman means that he has been told something he didn’t want to hear.

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Sutherland releases 2014 Legislative Scorecard and Lifetime Legislator Scores

Photo Credit: Scott Catron

Photo Credit: Scott Catron

SALT LAKE CITY – Sutherland Institute released today its 2014 Legislative Scorecard. Using 17 pieces of legislation considered during the 2014 legislative session for the Senate and 18 for the House (not all bills overlap between chambers), Sutherland produced an individual score for each legislator and an overall score for each body. In 2014, the Utah Senate scored 79 percent on average (79 percent in 2013 and 81 percent in 2012) while the Utah House came in at 75 percent (58 percent in 2013 and 75 percent in 2012).

Of note during this session was the wide bipartisan agreement on several pieces of transparency legislation. Additionally, the so-called “moratorium” on bills dealing with religious freedom and nondiscrimination laws contributed to a less controversial session.

The 2014 Legislative Scorecard can be found here.

2014 Senate highlights:

  • “High Five”
    • 100%     Margaret Dayton
    • 100%     Mark Madsen
    • 94%       Deidre Henderson
    • 94%       Stuart Reid
    • 93%       Scott Jenkins
  • “Low Five”
    • 50%       Jim Dabakis
    • 56%       Patricia Jones
    • 59%       Gene Davis
    • 59%       Karen Mayne
    • 64%       Luz Robles
  • 20 of 29 senators scored 75 percent or better

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Twice as good, half as well, never enough

half loaf cornbreadIs it more important to stand on principle, or get while the getting is good? Is settling for half a loaf selling out, or a step in the right direction? Does mixing metaphors like concrete weigh prose down, or liberate the literary soul?

OK, no one but the grammar police really cares about that last one. But the first two will decide the limited government movement’s fate. That’s what’s splitting us right now, you see. Libertarian-leaners, classical liberals, and “establishment” conservatives are less divided by issues and objectives than we are about timelines and roadmaps. We all want to see the same movie, but we’re wearing ourselves out haggling over which showing and how to get there. And whatever we decide, the other guys will be there first. Let’s see if I can stick with one metaphor long enough to explain why.

The reason they’ll be there first is because they’re running the theater. Government employees are predominantly big government-type people. That’s not meant as a pejorative. It’s simple common sense. If you think government is the answer and you care about the question, you are more likely to migrate to government employment (it used to be government service, but the days of the dollar-a-year man are gone) than someone who sees government as the problem; or more likely, who sees private work or charity as the answer.

The simple fact is that when conservatives engage in the political and bureaucratic arena, it’s almost always an away game. One reason is noted in this excellent piece by Kevin Williamson: “[C]onservatives are forever in a position of running against handouts, and handouts are popular.”

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Obama: I don’t know anything, and what I say means nothing

800px-Barack_Obama_in_the_Oval_Office,_April_2010Back in November, I collected a few instances of the left calling out President Obama for his claims of ignorance on a spate of issues — NSA spying, Obamacare, IRS targeting, Fast and Furious gun trafficking, the AP reporter harassment and Benghazi. That post is below for your enjoyment. But now it’s becoming more and more clear that, in addition to apparently not knowing much about what’s going on with his administration, Obama does not expect to be held to what he or his administration says. The message from Obama is clear: What I say means nothing, and I don’t know anything anyway.

On Obamacare, the president’s administration has repeatedly delayed or changed what were once hard deadlines and clear policies, while also insisting that some deadlines could not be altered. The Heritage Foundation has a rundown of what happened to one of those “unchangeable” deadlines:

“We have no plans to extend the open enrollment period. In fact, we don’t actually have the statutory authority to extend the open enrollment period in 2014.” — Health and Human Services (HHS) official Julie Bataille, March 11

“Once that 2014 open enrollment period has been set, they are set permanently.” – HHS official Michael Hash, March 11

“March 31st is the deadline for enrollment. You’ve heard us make that clear.” – Press Secretary Jay Carney, March 21

“There is no delay beyond March 31.” – HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, March 12

There was no delay … until there was. The Washington Post reported [Tuesday] that March 31 is not, in fact, the final word. To get more time, you tell the government that you haven’t been able to sign up yet:

Under the new rules, people will be able to qualify for an extension by checking a blue box on HealthCare.gov to indicate that they tried to enroll before the deadline. This method will rely on an honor system; the government will not try to determine whether the person is telling the truth.

OK, so everyone knows about the issues with Obamacare. But Obama certainly means what he says when it comes to foreign policy, right?

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Why Herbert should veto preschool bill – Mero Moment, 3/25/14

Reading

Most little children are better off at home and tax dollars are better spent on the special needs of truly impoverished children.

Most people know that Barack Obama has been pushing for universal health care since his initial campaign in 2008. But did you know that universal preschool has been on his implementation list for just as long?

The “Preschool for All” concept took center stage in his two most recent State of the Union addresses. President Obama has proposed that $75 billion in mandatory funding be allocated “for a Federal-State partnership that would provide high-quality preschool to all 4-year-olds from low- and moderate-income families, while also creating incentives for States to expand publicly funded preschool services to middle-class families and promoting access to high-quality full-day kindergarten and high-quality early learning programs for children under the age of 4.”[1]

Enter HB 96, Utah School Readiness Initiative – a heavily debated bill passed by the state Legislature but still unsigned by Governor Gary Herbert.

In order for a state to obtain “Preschool for All” money, there are eight qualifications it must have in place legally. Utah has had three of those qualifications in statute. HB 96 puts the other five remaining requirements in place. To be clear, supporters of the bill say that obtaining even more federal funding isn’t the goal of the bill. But the lure of more federal dollars is hard to dismiss.

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Hobby Lobby at the Supreme Court

Hobby Lobby in Stow, Ohio. (Photo: DangApricot via Wikimedia Commons)

Hobby Lobby in Stow, Ohio. (Photo: DangApricot via Wikimedia Commons)

The Supreme Court decision in the Hobby Lobby religious freedom case is important for many reasons; I’ll just cite a couple. First, the precedent set in the law because of the decision will either strengthen or weaken the ability of business owners to run their business according to their consciences (religious or otherwise).

Second, and related to the first, is the signal the Supreme Court’s decision will send to lower courts about its view of religious freedom. A ruling in favor of Hobby Lobby and religious freedom could stem the recent tide of state-level decisions against religious freedom, in which small business owners face fines or even jail time for declining to participate in same-sex marriage ceremonies based on the First Amendment rights to the free exercise of religious freedom and freedom of speech.

Opponents of Hobby Lobby’s position argue that, as a corporation, Hobby Lobby is not entitled to the same protections that individuals receive. However, the Supreme Court ruled in the Citizens United case that corporations have substantially the same rights as individuals in the eyes of the law. This makes sense. Simply because a business owner takes the necessary legal steps to form a corporation shouldn’t suddenly strip the business owner of the ability to run the business as they see fit.

Yes, all freedoms have limits, and in the early ’90s Congress passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) with lots of bipartisan support to define those limits and freedoms. RFRA strengthened religious freedom by prohibiting government from unduly burdening the practice of religion without demonstrating a compelling state interest, and even then, it must do so using the least restrictive means possible.

Some would find fining Hobby Lobby an estimated $475 million per year for failing to comply with the Obamacare mandate a bit excessive.

Additionally, National Review points out:

While claiming the mandate is necessary for women’s health, the Obama administration has exempted the health-care plans of tens of millions of women from the HHS mandate — often for merely political or commercial reasons. But the government is unrelenting in enforcing this mandate against a relatively small number of family businesses that simply want to provide health care without being forced to violate their conscience under threat of heavy fines.

Hobby Lobby offers 16 of the 20 mandated contraceptives under the Affordable Care Act. The company objects to the other four. The question is who should pay for one of those four if it is what the Hobby Lobby employee wants to use as a contraceptive. It seems reasonable that the employee should find an alternative method to pay for that particular contraceptive after rejecting the other 16.

Surely, no one is forcing an individual to work at Hobby Lobby and, if that person does work at Hobby Lobby, he or she understands the Christian values in play (one of which, incidentally, compels Hobby Lobby to pay wages 80 percent higher than the federal minimum wage). In other words, the employee knows what to expect, which should help inform his or her employment decisions.

It is ironic that a corporation like CVS Pharmacy is widely applauded for making a business decision based on health to no longer sell cigarettes, but when the Hobby Lobby corporation makes a decision based on religious beliefs not to offer four of 20 mandated contraceptives, it is roundly criticized by the left. Both are corporations (run, of course, by people); both make business and moral decisions that affect employees and customers; and both should be free to do so.

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Legislature supports public-lands transfer with ‘what next’ bills

Sutherland-Self-Govt-LogoThe Utah Legislature adjourned this month with a nice package of bills to support the state’s Transfer of Public Lands (TPLA) initiative. Since they’ve already passed a bill demanding transfer, the next step is to address what happens to the lands when that transfer occurs.

Other states contemplating a TPLA-like effort can front-load some of the debate and address the concerns of many potential detractors by including some or all of these “next step” bills in their initial package. The idea is to demonstrate that this isn’t an industry grab or an effort to develop every federal acre out there, but rather to responsibly manage these lands in a way that balances responsible conservation with betterment of the human condition. This means that some lands will remain (or become) preservation areas, some will be economically developed, and most will probably see some of each of those things since they’re rarely mutually exclusive.

Here are the Utah bills (with links) that I think most directly address the “what next” issue and show good faith in future management plans. …

Click here to read the rest of this post at at Sutherland’s Center for Self-Government in the West.

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