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Should Pennsylvania Decriminalize Marijuana Possession?

If Governor Tom Wolf gets his way, Pennsylvanians will no longer be going to jail for possessing modest quantities of marijuana.

The governor told WITF-FM, “There are too many people who are going to prison because of the use of very modest amounts or carry modest amounts of marijuana, and that is clogging up our prisons, it's destroying families, and it's hurting our economy, so I think decriminalization is the first step.”

Gov. Wolf is proposing decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana, which is different from full legalization. Decriminalization means that it is still against the law to possess marijuana, but it is a civil infraction or a misdemeanor with no chance of jail time. Legalization, on the other hand, is removing any criminal or civil penalties for marijuana possession.

Possession of small amounts of marijuana is decriminalized in 21 states and the District of Columbia. Fifteen of those states impose only a civil penalty (such as a fine) for possession, while in 6 states possession is a misdemeanor that does not involve jail time.

Four states (Alaska, Colorado, Washington, and Oregon) along with the District of Columbia have fully legalized possessing minor amounts of marijuana for recreational use. Voters in those states have approved initiatives that removed criminal and civil penalties for this type of drug use.

Do you think that the commonwealth should follow the lead of 21 other states and decriminalize marijuana possession?

Nothing Closer to Eternal Than a Failed Michigan Public School?

State education officials have been unable or unwilling to say whether they have ever used their power to close a Michigan public school that has persistently failed academically. (Some low-performance school districts have been closed by the state because they became fiscally unviable.)

 

Whether that will change is uncertain. A few weeks ago, an official with a state School Reform Office told an education news website that with a few exceptions, schools that rank in the state’s bottom 5 percent on academic performance will be closed after the current year.

 

But apparently that was news to officials in the state Department of Education, who said no closings were planned.

 

Which brings us to the release this week of the latest update to the worst-performing schools report,  essentially the lowest 5 percent of school on what the state calls its “Top to Bottom” list. The bottom 5 percent includes 116 schools, of which 58 are in Detroit.

 

This list of so-called “priority schools”comes from the same School Reform Office from which the earlier “bad schools will be closed” report originated. The press release accompanying the updated rankings says nothing about closing schools, with instead just a vague reference to “a next level of accountability.”

 

However, an aide to Gov. Rick Snyder told the Detroit Free Press that no Detroit schools on the worst schools list – precisely half of the total  – will be closed for at least three years, based on some legal interpretations of a Detroit school bailout bill Snyder championed and recently signed.

 

One school reformer is skeptical. Gary Nayaert of the Great Lakes Education Project told the Detroit News, “Legal opinions are not hard to come by, not hard to purchase…I would encourage the governor to seek a second legal opinion.”

 

The National Assessment of Educational Progress has named Detroit’s as the nation’s worst performing urban school district in each of the four biannual rankings released since 2009.

 

Snyder has been under stress since the Flint water contamination debacle hit the news almost a year ago. At the end of 2016 the term-limited Republican will have two years left before a new governor takes office on Jan. 1, 2019.

 

 

 

http://www.chalkbeat.org/posts/detroit/2016/08/15/scores-michigan-schools-shuttered-based-test-scores-told-wouldnt-count/#.V8hvovkrLiw

 

http://www.michigan.gov/documents/sro/2015_Lowest_Achieving_5_List_v.2016.09.01_533522_7.pdf%20

 

http://www.michigan.gov/sro/

 

http://www.freep.com/story/news/local/michigan/detroit/2016/09/01/snyder-aide-failing-detroit-schools-unlikely-face-closure-yet/89680796/

 

http://www.detroitnews.com/story/news/politics/2016/09/01/snyder-adviser-forced-detroit-schools-closures-soon/89681518/

 

https://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/subject/publications/dst2015/pdf/2016048xr8.pdf

A Republican Poverty Plan

There has been a lot of talk about poverty during this election season. In a USA Today op-ed, House Speaker Paul Ryan and Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson explain what they would like to see happen with federal policy aimed at moving people out of poverty.

 

In their op-ed, Ryan and Johnson discuss a Wisconsin program that connects low-income workers with good jobs. They point to it as a model of how initiatives focused on individualized results can do more to move people out of poverty than government programs.

 

According to Johnson and Ryan, “Each year, it spends nearly $800 billion on more than 90 different programs to fight poverty, with almost no coordination or any consideration of an individual’s needs. It should be no surprise that upward mobility is no better now than when we started the War on Poverty in 1964. But it should be a scandal that today, if you were raised poor, you’re just as likely to stay poor as you were 50 years ago.”

 

What do they propose instead? “What the federal government should do is direct resources to communities, let them try different ideas, then hold people accountable for results.”

 

This op-ed echoes many of the themes found in the anti-poverty plan released by Speaker Ryan in June. In it, he laid out reforms he would like to see the federal government undertake, such as:

  • Expecting adults who are able to work to seek employment
  • Removing incentives that keep people from finding work
  • Measure the results of anti-poverty initiatives
  • Focus resources on the most needy

 

Not everyone thinks this approach is a good idea, however. The Washington Post editorial board, for instance, criticized Rep. Ryan’s plan, saying, “The program offers no real sense of how states might work through a series of thorny issues in practice: How to design a welfare system that phases out as income grows but does not discourage people from seeking higher wages, for example.”

 

Others, such as Timothy Smeeding, an economics professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, dismiss the plan for being little more than rhetoric. “I don’t see anything here,” he asserts. “I see some broad generalities.”

 

What do you think of the anti-poverty agenda being put forth by Speaker Ryan and Senator Johnson?

 

The End of “Minimum Markup” in Wisconsin?

A Wisconsin law that mandates higher prices may be on its last legs.

At least, that’s what the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty hopes. They have filed suit to overturn the Unfair Sales Law, perhaps better known as the “minimum markup” law.

What does this law do? According to the MacIver Institute:

“The law requires that alcohol, tobacco, and motor fuel are marked up 3 percent at the wholesale level, 6 percent at the retail level for alcohol and tobacco, and 9.18 percent at the retail level for motor fuel. It also forbids retailers from selling most other products below cost.”

In essence, this law forbids businesses from selling certain products at prices lower than what the state thinks is proper.

Proponents of the law claim that it helps small businesses fight off competition from bigger companies. Larger businesses, in their view, can offer discounts that their smaller competitors cannot, so the law is needed to ward off “unfair competition.”

Opponents of the law say that it hurts consumers, who are unable to benefit from lower prices that businesses may otherwise be willing to offer. The law, in their view, artificially drives up prices and protects entrenched businesses from competition.

Two bills that would have repealed this law, SB 371 and AB 452, failed to pass the legislature this year.

What do you think? Do small businesses need the state to protect them from price competition? Or should businesses be free to offer products at prices below a state-mandated minimum?

A New Attorney General for Pennsylvania

The tumultuous tenure of Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane came to an end on August 16. She resigned from office following her conviction for perjury and obstruction of justice. Governor Tom Wolf has nominated Bruce Beemer to replace her.

Kane was charged in August 2015 with felony perjury and other charges. The charges stemmed from Kane’s leaking of grand jury testimony in an attempt to smear a rival prosecutor. This prosecutor had alleged that Kane shut down an investigation of Democratic elected officials for political reasons. Kane leaked confidential grand jury testimony to embarrass that prosecutor, then lied about the leak under oath and conspired with others to impede the investigation.

Kane’s resignation comes after a long refusal to give up the office. Governor Wolf and others had called upon her to resign, but Kane vowed to stay in office and fight the charges. A state Senate resolution directing the governor to remove her from office failed to receive the necessary two-thirds vote, although it did receive support from a majority of senators. The state House voted to open an impeachment investigation in February. Even though Kane has resigned, the impeachment investigation will continue.

The state Senate must confirm Gov. Wolf’s nomination of Bruce Beemer, the current inspector general for the commonwealth. Given Republican leadership’s support for Beemer, it seems that he will obtain the necessary two-thirds supermajority vote to become the state’s next attorney general.

What’s the Holdup for Zika Funding?

                                                                                                                           

With 42 Floridians catching Zika, there is concern there and in neighboring states that the virus could spread. In Congress, both Democrats and Republicans say they want to provide federal funds to combat the virus. And yet, no funds have been approved.

The culprit, as is so often the case, can be blamed on partisan gridlock.

Funding for combatting Zika is contained in one of the thirteen appropriations, or spending, bills that Congress must pass every year to fund the government. This bill contains funding not only for Zika efforts, but also for other government functions.

The House of Representatives passed this legislation with a vote of 239-17 on June 23. Senate Democrats, however, are refusing to allow the bill come to a vote in that chamber. Although a majority of Senators voted to proceed with a final vote in late June by a vote of 52-48, that vote was not enough to reach the 60-vote threshold to overcome the Democrats’ filibuster.

Why are they blocking the bill?

It’s not because of the Zika funding, but because of the other items in the bill. Among their issues of concern:
• Defunding the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare – the legislation would remove $500 million in funding for this program
• Defunding Planned Parenthood
• Allowing wider use of pesticides to destroy mosquitoes
• Continuing to allow Confederate flags to fly in military cemeteries

Republicans contend that Democrats are so fixated on these unrelated issues that they will allow Zika to spread in order to protect Obamacare and Planned Parenthood. Democrats, on the other hand, say that Republicans are holding Zika funding hostage to get their way on these contentious social issues.

This situation is why Congress recessed for its summer break without coming to agreement on an issue that both Republicans and Democrats, in essence, agree on.

Should the Senate pass this legislation, even with these controversial provisions? Or should Senate Democrats insist that Republicans remove the contentious sections of the spending bill before Zika funding is approved?

 

Political Gamesmanship, Partisan Differences, Stall Enhanced Funding to Counter Zika Threat

The government response to the Zika virus is one of those situations that reminds so many people of why they hate politics. Florida has been hit by the mosquito-borne virus, which can produce significant birth defects in humans.

The Centers for Disease Control counts more than 400 cases in the state, and according to USA Today, the disease has recently been found in a new section of Miami. Most cases in the state have been introduced by people returning from Brazil and other infected areas. But some cases have been locally transmitted, meaning that people become infected without leaving the state.

Political commentators across the ideological spectrum blame their partisan opponents for stalling a government health response. The conservative publication National Review, for example, criticized Democratic members of the U.S. Senate. It contends that the Democrats made federal funding for Zika dependent on a block grant for Planned Parenthood. The progressive publication Mother Jones, meanwhile, says that Florida state governments “war on abortion is hurting its fight against the virus.”

Republicans in Congress blame Democrats for asking for too much money and not using money that can be redirected from unspent funds. Democrats blame Republicans for not spending enough. The result is an impasse.

Politico reports that Florida’s Republican representatives in Washington are pressuring their party leaders to deliver funds to Florida, one way or another.

Meanwhile, fearful Floridians may be right to ask, “We don’t care who started the fight; why can’t you people get your act together and do something to help us?”

 

 

 

No Gold in Hosting the Olympics

Have you been enjoying Michael Phelps, Simone Biles, and the other American athletes as they compete in the summer Olympics? As you cheer on these Olympians, you may also want to cheer the fact that these games are being held in Brazil and not in the United States. While there may be prestige in hosting the Olympics, cities that do so generally pay a hefty price.

It may sound strange to be glad that such an important international event is not being held in the U.S. But the history of how host cities have fared financially in the wake of the Olympics shows that, indeed, one of the best things that can happen to a city is not to host these games.

In 2009, Chicago was doing all it could to attract this year’s Olympics to the city. As Chicago Tribune columnist David Haugh recently concluded, the day the International Olympic Committee removed Chicago from the competition, “It was the day the IOC saved Chicago from itself.”

Why?

"Finding a way to pay for the Olympics would have been hard to accept in a city that barely can pay its teachers. Chicago's bid came in at $4.8 billion, an unrealistically low number. Rio already has gone at least $100 million above its $14.4 billion estimate. London, host of the 2012 Games, budgeted $4 billion but spent $14 billion. According to tax returns, Chicago's unsuccessful bid cost $70.6 million and we can feel fortunate the sea of debt went no deeper."

Whole nations may even suffer from hosting the games. In Greece, the massive expense of the 2004 Olympics played a role in pushing that nation towards fiscal crisis: “Hosting the event cost almost €9 billion ($11 billion at today’s exchange rate), making the 2004 Games the most expensive ever at that point. Greek taxpayers were on the hook for €7 billion, which did not include the cost of extra projects such as a new airport and metro system.”

As Eric Boehm of Reason magazine notes, “Of the 17 Summer Olympics held since the end of the Second World War, only the 1984 event in Los Angeles turned a profit.”

Of course, cities host the Olympics for many reasons. They may want to see a financial boost, but they also like the prestige that comes with the eyes of the world focused on them. However, the facts are pretty clear: for all the things that the Olympics may offer a host city, they generally turn out to bring financial problems in their wake. Do you think the trade-off is worth it?

What’s in Trump's Economic Plan?

The economy is one of the major issues in this presidential race, with both candidates touting plans to create jobs. On August 8, GOP presidential candidate gave a speech outlining his “America First economic plan.”

What did Trump pledge to do in this speech?

  • Eliminate the carried interest deduction for income taxes
  • Reduce the 7 income tax brackets to 3. These would be rates at 12%, 25%, and 33%. In contrast, the current income tax brackets are 10%, 15%, 25%, 28%, 33%, 35%, and 39.6%
  • Cut the corporate income tax to 15% from 35%
  • Allow families to take a full deduction for childcare expenses
  • Permit American companies to repatriate income back into the U.S. with a 10% tax
  • Eliminate the “death tax,” also known as the estate tax
  • Issue a temporary moratorium on new federal regulations
  • Cancel all “illegal and overreaching” executive orders
  • Ask agencies to compile a list of unnecessary rules or rules that do not improve public safety, and then eliminate them
  • Withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership
  • Impose tariffs on countries that “unfairly subsidiz[e] their goods”
  • Renegotiate NAFTA
  • Enforce American trade agreements with China
  • Lift federal restrictions on American energy development
  • Repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare
  • Force military allies to pay “their fair share” for protection
  • Reform the Veterans Health Administration

What do you think about Donald Trump’s economic plan?

Would a Redskins Stadium be Worth It?

The Washington Redskins may be coming to Virginia. Would the state benefit if taxpayers shelled out for a new stadium?

Virginia Governor Terry McCauliffe is having what he calls “very serious negotiations” to persuade the Washington Redskins to move to Northern Virginia. While the Redskins’ current lease in Maryland is not up for another decade, the team is already looking at its options for future stadiums.

Governor McCauliffe would like the state to use its resources to persuade the team to move across the Potomac River. However, he also says, “It’s got to make sense for the taxpayers of Virginia.”

Will such a deal make sense for taxpayers? It may be possible, but it will be difficult. The academic literature on the economic impact of stadiums and the return to taxpayers is summed up by researchers from the Brookings Institution:

A new sports facility has an extremely small (perhaps even negative) effect on overall economic activity and employment. No recent facility appears to have earned anything approaching a reasonable return on investment. No recent facility has been self-financing in terms of its impact on net tax revenues. Regardless of whether the unit of analysis is a local neighborhood, a city, or an entire metropolitan area, the economic benefits of sports facilities are de minimus.

Virginians may gain some pride from having the Washington Redskins located within their commonwealth. However, as Governor McCauliffe works to lure the team, he should be aware of the ways that stadium subsidies can go wrong.

Do you support using taxpayer dollars to subsidize sports stadiums?