Friday, June 08, 2007

Friday's Loose Ends

I tend to prefer means testing for taxes, but I have a possibly wacky guess as to why Ted doesn't like means-testing the Homestead Exemption for Seniors, and it's not administrative headaches...

When levies roll around, many seniors don't want to vote for them, which is a big problem, because seniors are the most likely group to come out and vote in the off-year and special elections where these levies often show up. A big problem for them is that their property taxes keep rising faster than their income due to the increasing assessed value of their homes, but unlike younger homeowners, they are less likely to see any direct benefit from the increased value of a home they never plan to sell. They have no kids in school, and their grandkids don't live in the district. If you want to sell a school funding system that continues to rely on property taxes, paying off seniors, especially well-off seniors, with a property tax break might be very helpful. Means testing the exemption might simply create greater resentment among a population whose support you need.

Like I said, possibly wacky.

I keep getting more and more ambivalent about HB151. I will say that it was interesting to see the simultaneous statewide realization of the existence of the public employees themselves. I thought it was a good, unique point when I made it, but by the next time I looked, everyone was making it. Of course, it can be neatly sidestepped when the heads of the funds open their official response to "the deal" with:

Dear Speaker Husted, On behalf of the more than one million active and retired members of the Ohio Retirement Systems, thank you for meeting with us on June 5, 2007 to discuss Sub. H.B. 151. The Ohio Retirement Systems oppose terrorism and genocide, and share the General Assembly’s concerns over the acts of the governments of Iran and Sudan.
I guess the funds are in charge of their members' consciences as well as cash after all. My bad.

And finally, GIRFOF seems a little peeved about the public speculation that they might hold off a year, like some folks (cough) encouraged after hearing that supporters of the proposal were considering it:

"We are going forward with an all-volunteer effort and doing what we can to get on the November ballot," Jim Betts, head of Getting It Right for Ohio's Future, said afterward. The coalition has until Aug. 8 to submit signatures of 402,276 registered voters for the issue to appear on the Nov. 6 ballot. With two months to go, they've collected about 100,000 names, Betts said. Other supporters declined to comment, saying they had agreed that only Betts would speak on behalf of the campaign.

I think they meant that from now on, only Betts...

I'm heading to Vermont tonight for a wedding this weekend. It should be quite nice, but I can certainly think of better ways to spend 6 hours of my birthday than hanging out in airports and flying with a 14-month-old. I won't have internet access until I get back, so if anyone wants to get me a present, just join me in asking Ohio not to do anything too interesting for the next 50-60 hours. Thanks.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Oh really? Dispatch reporting now vs. CD Editorial Board then...

First of all, a hat tip to Gray Hunter at Licopac, who referenced an article my standing search missed: "As Pryce becomes centrist, Tiberi moves right."

You see, things have changed in D.C. ... Back in October, Deborah Pryce was endorsed by the Dispatch, in part, because she was one of a group of three incumbents who "consider meeting constituents and answering their letters or e-mail as the most satisfying aspect of their public service."
-CD 10/11/06

Now, in June, we learn that Deborah Pryce believes "the voters delivered a 'loud, clear message that I needed to devote more time to my constituents.'" Jack Torry says that "Free from the demands of being in leadership, she regularly returns to Columbus."
-CD 06/03/07

So, get this, Deborah Pryce is paying lots of attention to her constituents now, because she realizes that voters were upset that she wasn't really doing so at the time that the Dispatch Eds. endorsed her because she was. It's almost as if the Dispatch has realized their fantasy through sheer power of wishfulness. Clap if you believe in constituent services.

It would be a neat power if it actually worked. The problem is, in that same October endorsement, they supported the re-election of Pat Tiberi in large part because:

Congress' inability to deal effectively with tough issues has frustrated Tiberi, who blames the bitter partisan divide in Washington for much of the problem. Tiberi says he has reached across the aisle to work with Democrats, adding that Congress can make progress on the most-pressing issues only if the two parties work together.
-CD 10/11/06

Unfortunately, the inability for the CD to wish a continued Republican majority into existence has led to this miserable failure of their wish-fulfillment strategy of endorsements:

Tiberi has jettisoned his once-cautious image and transformed himself into a more robust partisan who relishes verbal jousting with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her Democratic allies.
-CD 06/03/07

Thanks for the update, guys. And don't worry, nobody could have known at the time that Pryce was too focused on her leadership role or that Tiberi was only a moderate when things were going his way. Easy mistakes.

When Pro is bad and Con is Bad do we have to compromise on Badder?

I opted for the defined contribution plan, so I have no money being managed by the public pension funds who are the subject of HB115. I will tell you this: I think that asking the fund managers to voluntarily divest 50% of their current holdings in energy companies doing business in Iran and Sudan is one of the absolute most wrongest solutions I can imagine.

The fund managers are supposed to have the single job of growing the assets of the fund. The legislature should let them do that, or mandate that they divest completely, or mandate exactly how a partial divestment should work, and take responsibility for the positive and negative consequences of that decision. I don't want a hypothetical future Husted claiming that 'OPERS would have performed better if they had simply divested themselves of the "right" energy companies', or hear a similar hypothetical future Mandel claiming that OPERS was 'subverting the intent by not divesting itself of the "worst offenders."'

Do you know what seems like a better idea? Let the people whose money is in the system hold a referendum on HB115 as written. Public employees are going to be a lot more willing to vote their conscience and pull their own investments than they will be to watch the legislature set a precedent that allows their families' futures to be used as political points (or that's my guess, quickly could OCSEA/OEA/SEIU, etc. poll a representative sample of members?). I'd be for letting the people to whom fiduciary duty is owed decide to release their fund managers from that duty in explicitly circumscribed ways.

Mixed Messages on Amendment: Getting it Right might mean getting it later.

At the same time that I'm feeling the push for a signature campaign on the proposed Education Amendment, others are getting the impression that backers want to throw in the towel for 2007. Reasons, in my opinion, to wait for '08:

1) I don't think they're going to get enough signatures.
2) Even if they do get enough signatures, I don't think it'll pass in November.
3) Changing plans now looks like strategy. Changing plans in August looks like failure.
4) Me personally, I'd like to see a rewrite.

There are some pretty cynical takes on this amendment, and I've endorsed some of them myself. Local blogger (and frequent BB commenter) Paul believes that the amendment is an attempt by unions to preserve perpetual salary increases in the face of budget constraints. In his argument, staff salaries act like entitlement programs do at the federal level, creating mandated expenditure increases that dwarf any possible discretionary cuts elsewhere. I'm not really doing his argument justice (so you should let him lay it out for you), but that's partially because I don't completely buy it. If the unions are doing that, they had better think carefully about assigning the role of determining the costs of the individual components of a high quality education to a state level commission with which they have no apparent legal authority to bargain directly. On the other hand, I don't doubt that doubling per-pupil revenue in some districts will give the union a much better bargaining position. As always, feel free to straighten me out in the comments when I'm just plain wrong.

The other cynical take on the amendment, which I've put out there in conversations, either has some basis or has blossomed independently elsewhere, as it was mentioned by a panelist at the forum last week. That one contends that the goal was not necessarily to pass the amendment, but to scare the bejesus out of the Republican legislature with the thought that it might pass, forcing them to actually work with Strickland on a compromise comprehensive funding reform package.

In order for that to work, you have to actually scare the bejesus out of the legislature. I'm not sensing any real fear. That's where my reasons, 1-4, are coming from. I hope they do walk it back for now.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Higher Ed Reference Data

There's a lot of noise coming out of the legislature with respect to higher education funding. The House added money to Strickland's proposal, with the Senate piling on and adding more than the House.

Everyone wants to barter State appropriations for tuition freezes or caps.

In a similar manner to the k-12 funding debates, I think there is a tendency among folks to view funding and budgets as fairly similar, and furthermore, similar to whatever is serving as a prototype for the viewer. This is not really the case. Here are some graphs (click them to enlarge) based on some publicly available** summaries of budget numbers for Fiscal Year '07 (which ends this month). In them, you can find differences in the overall scope of the operating budgets, the proportion of funds coming from tuition and fees, the proportion coming from state appropriations, the proportion coming from grants, contracts, and other local/state/federal sources, and other (which includes things like endowment earnings, alumni gifts, licensing, athletic revenues, dorm room/board, etc.).

These schools are obviously in very different positions when it comes to bartering appropriations vs. tuition and fees, and vary widely perhaps in the degree to which they should be conceptualized as state-supported institutions of higher learning.

** data sources:

Monday, June 04, 2007

Map Gadgets and Real Estate Bloggers

Many of y'all might find it amusing that when my wife and I got serious about actually buying a home we picked a Realtor based on his... blog. Joe Peffer did a fine job patiently getting us into the right Bexley home (I think it was the 1st, 12th, and 15th house he took us to), and he has continued to constantly improve His most recent post highlights a nifty little map applicaton called 'Hindsight' from the real estate website Trulia. What it does is plot little dots on the map year by year from the mid nineteenth century to the present that represent each new house (or a representative sample, depending on the scale of the map) in an animated format. Mapping Bexley shows how my neighborhood sprouted up almost overnight in the 1920s. Mapping Akron shows distinct concentric rings sprouting up every couple of decades in the first half of the 20th century. It's fun.

p.s. I just found this post on Joe's blog. I was one of those customers. He deserved the award, and he didn't ask me to say any of this.

There is an ethics violation.

I'd like to start out this post by thanking BizzyBlog for confirming and clarifying a thought I had about OPERS and the methods they use to select investments. In general, overall return on investment should trump just about anything else. This comes to bear in discussing HB115 and apparently to a justifiably lesser extent in discussing the Ohio Midwest Fund. I appreciate the willingness to share time and expertise with me, so I hope nobody thinks I'm going after Tom's blog.

It's just that in the course of this, I followed some links and visited some other sites from the State of Ohio Blogger Alliance. I usually try to avoid doing this, because I get really irritated really quickly. For instance, there is no "Professor of Pugilistic Ideology" at Iowa State University. That right there should have tipped folks off that any interview of a person with that title was a work of fiction (satire, in this instance). On the other hand, knowledge is power and nobody's perfect, so I try to keep an open mind.

Well, it seems that some folks on the other side of the aisle believe that going after the bonuses paid out by Ken Blackwell at the end of his term is a partisan act, and they're pointing to an article in today's Dispatch. According to "journalist" Mark Niquette, his "research" has found information in the CD's files about "retirement buyouts" made by former Treasurer Withrow before she left to take a position as U.S. Treasurer under Bill Clinton.

Here are some bits of those news reports:

An Ohio Senate committee will review retirement buyouts for 16 employees of former State Treasurer Mary Ellen Withrow to determine whether early retirement guidelines protect taxpayers' interests.

Senate President Stanley J. Aronoff, R-Cincinnati, said yesterday that he is not suggesting any wrongdoing in Withrow's actions. But he said he wants buyout policies reviewed in view of an increasing turnover of state officials, which he said will be accelerated by voter-approved term limits.

''I have the highest regard for Treasurer Withrow, and I believe she was a superb choice for U.S. treasurer,'' Aronoff said.

-Columbus Dispatch, 03/30/1994

Aronoff, R-8, of Cincinnati, said he asked the chairman of the Senate's Education, Retirement and Aging Committee to investigate.

"I don't think it's a question of legality," he said. "But it is a question of timing and what's good and fair for the state."


Maurice Pizzoferrato, who was deputy treasurer to Withrow, said planning for the buyouts started about a year ago, long before Withrow was nominated as U.S. treasurer.

Eight of the jobs were being abolished because of computerization and do not need to be filled. Replacements for the higher-ranking positions should not be as costly because the retiring employees had built up seniority and high salaries, he said.

The buyouts would save between $150,000 and $175,000 this fiscal year, he said.

-Cleveland Plain Dealer, 03/29/1994

So on the face of it, it would appear that the 1994 payments were made, their legality was unquestioned, and it led to a discussion, led by Republicans, of how to handle such situations in the future. 13 years later the 2007 payments were made, an investigation led to a finding that such bonuses were illegal, and the state is pursuing the matter.

On a day when Rep. Jefferson of Louisiana is being indicted, it only seemed like a good idea to check out charges of the pot calling Blackwell a kettle. But there's not much there. Oh well, I expect that from some blogs. What I don't expect is the repeated use of scare quotes by a Dispatch reporter, when there is nothing in the record to warrant them. Using these quotes implies that those 1994 payments were retirement buyouts in name, but something else conceptually. If what he's referring to are, in fact, actually retirement buyouts, the use of scare quotes is unethical at best, outright dishonest at worst.

Perhaps Mr. Niquette's Senior Editor can sit down and have a chat with him.