Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Health Care Reform and 500,000 Jobs

The Republicans want to eliminate 500,000 jobs from the economy by 2019.

So who is on the side of job creation, again?

Monday, January 17, 2011

Speak Justice

This morning, I was privileged to walk in the Martin Luther King Jr. parade in Leesburg, from the Courthouse to the Douglass School. If you do not know the history of race relations here in Leesburg, I encourage you to read about the history of the Douglass School, and the history of the Leesburg Firehouse pool as a start. Leesburg itself is a remarkable testament to the progress of the past forty years, and the distance still to be travelled.

Today we honor Martin Luther King Jr. He is, simply, one of the greatest orators in history. I have tremendous respect for people who can use language and voice to channel meaning and emotion to others. The excerpted speech below is Dr. King's so-called "I've been to the mountaintop" speech, given the night before he was killed in Memphis. It is poignantly prescient and prophetic. And it's message still resonates today.

And that is just an excerpt. The full speech is all the more powerful. That speech gets the last word, as they were among his last words.
Let us rise up tonight with a greater readiness. Let us stand with a greater determination. And let us move on in these powerful days, these days of challenge to make America what it ought to be. We have an opportunity to make America a better nation. - Martin Luther King Jr.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

The President in Tuscon

It is this man that I fought for in 2008. It is this speech that reignites my faith in his leadership.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Financing vs. Funding Our Roads

As we enter the 2011 commonwealth election cycle, there are a number of proposals coming from Republican sources that rely on bonds to pay for needed improvements to our infrastructure. The problem with that is the fact the none of these bonds come with an attendant new source of funding to service them in the long-term. In essence, these proposals put major new expenditures on Virginia's state credit card, leaving us with the bill after the Governor (and others) leave office.

The issue of addressing Virginia's (and Loudoun's) needs is not one of financing, but one of funding.

Governor McDonnell's proposal is perhaps the most prominent.
As part of his budget amendments presented in Richmond in December, McDonnell said he wants to help pay for $4 billion in new transportation spending by issuing $3 billion in bonds. Pulling in more money for road improvements is a major component of the governor’s initiatives for the upcoming 2011 legislative session, which starts Jan. 12. - The Loudoun Times-Mirror
The Loudoun Times gets it right in using the language "pulling in more money" rather than saying "finding new money." The money the governor proposes to use is already in the Commonwealth's financing plan for the long-term. He just wants to spend all of it, now. He wants to max out the state credit card on the first of the month. Which begs the question, how will we finance needed improvements in three or five years, when those bonds were already issued?

A similar argument is advanced by Leesburg Councilmember Ken Reid, in terms of the Silver Line and the Dulles toll Road.
Therefore, I have been proposing to several Fairfax and Loudoun supervisors, and state officials, to have the state take back the Dulles Rail project from the Airports Authority, use state-backed bonds for construction and apply for federal mass transit New Starts funding for Phase II. - Ken Reid, Leesburg Patch
Leaving aside for the moment the irony of Council member Reid, who voted against essential maintenance of roads in Leesburg, advocating for more local control of the most significant transportation improvement in our region's history, Reid's "use state-backed bonds" plan is a dead letter from the start. The Governor's plan already uses up all the state's debt capacity. Furthermore, even if those bonds were available to apply to the Silver Line, getting Assembly buy-in for allocating them in that manner is no slam-dunk. And this is ignoring the fact that the cost of issuing and maintaining bonds (interest rates) is getting higher, not lower, for local governments.

Ultimately, however, the procedural niceties of using bonds pale in comparison with the risks to our Commonwealth's future of issuing bonds without an attendant funding source to service them.

When we issue bonds, we need to pay them down, and pay the interest on them, every year. That money comes directly out of general (tax, fees, etc.) revenues. If we issue more debt without finding a way to also increase general revenues, we must, necessarily, allocate more future revenues from a fixed pot to debt service. When we do that, we leave ourselves less money to maintain our roads in the future. The money we could use in 2014 to pay for road maintenance and construction would have to go to servicing the bonds issued in 2011. Yes, issuing bonds so we will have more money for roads today will actually leave us with far less (not more) money for roads tomorrow!

The Governor and Mr. Reid's proposals boil down to "let's get another credit card, and max that one out." Any financial advisor, or high-school student with a job and a credit card, can tell you that you don't get a new credit card unless you have gotten a raise. Well, the Governor and Mr. Reid have proposed no way to give the state coffers a raise. Maxing out the state's debt today is not just imprudent, it is fiscally reckless.

Virginia has a long, and worthy, tradition of fiscal astuteness. The last time we tried a financing-without-funding scheme, we were promised "no car tax."

How did that work out?

It is up to the people of Virginia, and Loudoun, to be the parents in this analogy. we must send a message to Mr. McDonnell and his allies like Mr. Reid, that new debt without new funding sources is irresponsible. It puts our commonwealth's future at risk for the sake of a political goal today.

Virginia is better than that. Virginia deserves better from our elected officials, at every level.

[Update] - Sen. Mark Herring addresses this very issue in his response to the Governor's plans.
He also questioned the governor's proposal to borrow $3 billion for transportation and transit projects. McDonnell's plan doesn't provide a long-term funding solution to fix northern Virginia's congested roads, and it doesn't provide a revenue stream to repay the bonds, Herring said.

"What are we going to do over the next 17 years while we're repaying this? (McDonnell) kind of punted the problem to his successor instead of being bold and dealing with it now," Herring said. - Sen. Mark Herring
(Crossposted from Loudoun Progress.)

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Access To The ER

Did you know that under the Affordable Care Act (i.e., Health Care Reform), insurers can no longer charge you higher rates if you have to go to an "out-of-network" ER?
In the past, some health plans would limit payment for emergency room services provided outside of a plan’s preselected network of emergency health care providers, or they would require that you get your plan’s prior approval for emergency care at hospitals outside of its networks. This could mean financial hardship if you get sick or injured while away from home. The new rules prevent health plans from requiring higher copayments or co-insurance for out-of-network emergency room services. The new rules also prohibit health plans from requiring you to get prior approval before seeking emergency room services from a provider or hospital outside your plan’s network. -
Sounds like a good idea to me.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Balance The Federal Budget

Here in Loudoun County, our Democratic Board of Supervisors has successfully balanced the budget throughout their term of office. In fact, in 2010 the County ended the fiscal year with a surplus.

In general, balancing government budgets is a good idea. That's among the reasons I'm a proponent of a balanced Federal budget as a general goal. I believe in running deficits for specific emergencies (say, the greatest economic downturn since my grandmother was choosing between buying coffee or butter on her weekly grocery list), but in times of economic prosperity, the budget should aim towards balance.

Of course, I also agree with most Americans as to how that should be acheived.
Sixty-one percent of Americans polled would rather see taxes for the wealthy increased as a first step to tackling the deficit, the poll showed.

The next most popular way -- chosen by 20 percent -- was to cut defense spending
Yes, I believe those who gained the most from our American system should pay their dues to keep that system sound and prosperous - just like 61% of my fellow citizens.