Thursday, October 24, 2013

Washington House GOP Transpo Survey

The Washington State House Republicans tweeted out a survey regarding transportation funding... figured I'd share my responses here:

(Q1) Would you be willing to pay 10 cents or more per gallon of gas to pay for transportation projects around the state?

(A1) Yes.  (also- mmm A1)

(Q2) If you had to pay 10 cents or more per gallon of gas, how would this impact you financially?

(A2) It would have little to no impact on me financially.

(Q3) If our state moves forward with a transportation revenue package, please rank what you think the funding priorities should be:

(A3) 1-Transit Agencies ;; 2-Ped/Bike Paths ;; 3-Large Projects ;; 4-Maintenance ;; 5-Ferries ;; 6-Hwy Widening

(Q5) The governor is pushing for a special session, before the regular legislative session scheduled for January 2014, to pass a transportation revenue package. Do you think a special session is necessary for this issue?

(A5) Yes

(Q6) The high-profile failures of the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) have cost taxpayers millions of extra dollars. We want safeguards put in place to prevent these problems. We are pushing for reforms to ensure accountability in our state transportation system. Some of our solutions include: 
using transportation dollars to fund transportation projects, not other government programs; 
reducing cost of permitting while protecting the environment; 
reducing or eliminating non-essential components of projects; and 
making sure taxpayers don't get stuck paying for cost overruns and errors. 

Please share your feedback on these solutions, or any other ideas you have for transportation reforms:

RE: Projects, not Programs - There is some validity, but caution must be given toward supporting only those projects which are prettiest and most politically-linked; leaving behind those which may be necessary but of little interest; or those which bring more benefits than a legislature's pork preference. What is wrong with the programs, and why not reform those rather than scrap them entirely?

RE: Permitting - Everyone wants to cut red tape; it's easy to say it.  But in practice: many of those delays, costs, restrictions, limitations, requirements... they were all put in place for a reason.  It's fair to question some, cut some of them.  But at what cost?  Do not take such a blanket approach; be deliberate in what is struck and what is kept.

RE: Eliminating Non-Essential - Another bit of lip-service: why do we have anything if we do not consider it important?  As with permitting: most elements are in place for a reason.  Beware overriding technical expertise or past regulations & priorities too hastily, without forethought and deliberation.

RE: Overruns / Errors - I couldn't agree more!  Errors are easier: there are legal processes that can be taken.  Overruns, however, can be politically-driven: it pains me when I work with a cost estimate that everyone widely agrees is wildly inaccurate, but the project would never move forward if the real numbers were used.  Or there are large variables, such as a private company (often utilities) being part of the critical path, but inducing delays due to inaction... and in some cases utilities are legally immune from those because of how deregulation set them up.  Or prices can skyrocket, as has been the case with asphalt, in particular.  Don't just look at shifting the costs & blame, as that WILL come back with higher-cost bids & competition that is reduced to only a few of the largest companies... instead: look at the causes.

(Q7) Please share your comments, concerns or questions regarding transportation and/or a proposed transportation revenue package:

(A7) It depends what quality infrastructure you want, which directly impacts our personal lives and businesses. It is *because* I am conservative that I support mass transit, bicycle, and pedestrian transport: a socialized cost, yes, but it enables greater freedom of movement for all users, reduces demand on the road network which freight can utilize, and are the more efficient lower-cost modes.  [a bit more detail]

Regardless of mode: assuming you want to fund infrastructure to maintain a healthy economy: we need funding in some form, be it the antiquated fuel taxes or some other manner: mileage taxes, tolling, etc... but at the least, if we want to use our existing framework: we need to index to inflation of construction costs so that the purchasing power of the revenue does not erode over time.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Naval Forces

I've seen this image shared quite a bit since Monday night's Presidential debate which focused (more-or-less) on foreign policy:

At the debate, both Romney and Obama had valid points at the root of their soundbite rhetoric.  Romney argued that more ships offers greater capabilities (true), but his phrasing was off in that he made it sound like he was wondering why we don't have any battleships anymore.  Obama stated that the scale and methods of warfare have changed (true) but appeared to dismiss that an increased naval presence helps support our ground and air forces, even if we don't have battleships lobbing huge shells at enemy battleships.

As most of my friends are pretty liberal, many are looking at that graphic as reason to justify cuts to the military -- we have more aircraft carriers than the rest of the world combined.  Several commented that aircraft carriers are obsolete -- why are we spending so much money on keeping them around?

To be a slight dissenting voice- aircraft carriers do actually get frequent use, both for supply chains as well as combat.  They provide mobile airports to areas where airports may be in short supply.  Getting access to land-based airports is a tricky process: we may not have allies in an area, and land-based airports inherently mean that at some point you're flying over somebody else's airspace.  If you come in from the sea: except for countries inaccessible to our ships, we can have direct air access without any need for another country's permission.

This is important for maintaining a supply chain, which might sound like a minor part of war; but I'd sooner argue it's the single most critical element.  Most military tacticians and strategists throughout all of history have concurred that if you cut off the opponent's supply lines: you win the war.  If you have a poor supply line you must expend greater resources (funds, materials, personnel, lives) and -- if you fall short -- your forces can be utterly unable to fight.

As air combat has become one of the primary theaters of war: aircraft carriers have become an integral part of the modern equation in fielding both reconnaissance as well as offensive capabilities.  Aircraft carriers are not obsolete; in fact, they are precisely the reason that battleships have become obsolete.  Aircraft supports our ground forces by striking without need of ground forces to begin with, and also providing aerial observation vital for the ground forces knowing what they're getting into.

Aircraft carriers field our modern offensive capabilities, replacing the battleships of yore.  We now use smaller & more mobile defensive ships to protect the carriers.  These configurations are better suited for combating smaller, more-mobile opponents.  These recognise that the foreseeable future no longer shows much sign of massive naval battles between grande fleets of one sovereign state to another.

In the end I'm a bit more aligned with Obama on this issue, but mostly for reasons that should appeal to fiscal conservatives: the dern things are expensive; we'd fare better to take a more diplomatic approach to international affairs -- starting with recognising the root motivations of our adversaries rather than slapping on such expensive band-aid solutions.  I'd criticize both candidates for being rather lacking on that element.

The fact of the matter is that if we're serious about cutting back on our national debt: both healthcare and warfare have to be significantly restructured; and I believe that in this specific case Obama offers the more fiscally conservative and efficient approach.  But I would not so readily dismiss valid concerns from others that the fewer ships we have; the less responsive our military can be.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Individually-Directed Tax Dollar Spending

Grist recently published an article about how Americans might allocate their tax-dollars if they were given the ability to do just that.  This is a subject I've often thought about... basically, the tax code would be rewritten to establish that the taxpayer, on their annual tax filing, can specify up to a set percentage of their taxes to be dispersed as they choose among various departments, agencies, and perhaps even specific programs and projects.  How specific we get is really up to us.

An example:

I'm a big fan of infrastructure, which I see as an immensely practical, a driver of short-term jobs, and an investment in long-term growth.  I'm admittedly slanted toward getting more bang for the buck: I like walking, bicycling, transit, freight rail, and seaports.  But I'm also a bit of a dreamer: I'm infatuated with NASA... I just love the adventure of exploration (even if I do it from my desk chair), the beauty of their photos, and I can't deny the technological marvels that have come from and continue to come from their mission.

Lets say the law lets me dedicate up to 30% of my taxes.  I might dedicate:
 - 5% to pedestrian & bicycle projects
 - 5% to inner-city transit (local bus & rail systems)
 - 5% to inter-city transit (e.g. Amtrak; high-speed rail)
 - 5% to freight rail
 - 5% to seaports
 - 5% to NASA
 - 70% go to the existing tax structure

That's 15% toward the movement of people, 10% toward the movement of goods, and 5% toward pure science and exploration.  In reality I'd probably fine-tune that a bit more: ped/bike projects don't require nearly as much capital as transit, so 5% of tax revenue could fund a lot of ped/bike projects but wouldn't have nearly as much of a dent in a transit budget.

That remaining 70% would go through existing formulas.  Let's say 10% of all taxes goes directly to healthcare under today's system... well, now it'd be 10% of 70%, for a total of 7%.  Let's say that the rest all goes into a general fund: that means 63% goes into the general fund for spending as per Congress' desires.  Much of that would go to defense, more to healthcare, etc... continuing just as today.

Why a cap?:

I do believe that 30% cap is necessary.  It doesn't have to be 30%, but some number.  Some might think it well & good if we could have such direct democracy where we can all call the shots directly with our tax dollars, but in practice there are some interests which provide a very clear and tangible public benefit even if we do not individually appreciate its benefit to us as individuals.

One example is in infrastructure: we rarely think about how our food gets to us, where our toilets flush to, or where our water comes from.  We only care when it doesn't work or provide the quality we expect, and even then we rarely understand why it fails on the occasions that it does.  Infrastructure is the very backbone of civilization: it's what enables personal freedoms, commerce, and our modern lifestyles.

Another example is defense.  It's fair game to question what role a military should take -- do we engage in an offensive manner, do we strike preemptively to protect ourselves, do we only defend after attack, etc.?  It's also an open question as to what degree of internal security: how we protect our borders, how we identify threats within our country, etc.  But with only some exceptions on the further-left and further-right sides of civil liberties and peace advocates: by and large most agree that some amount of national defense and internal security is necessary, even if we disagree on how much and in what form.

But one likely outcome of individually-directed tax spending: our current hefty military budget would almost certainly suffer considerably.  It's not necessarily that people dislike the military or don't appreciate it's value; it's just that people underestimate its size, cost, and needs while simultaneously placing greater value on issues that more directly and visibly impact their lives.

I'm generally a small- (well, more specifically "local-") government person, but one thing I think is critical to be handled at a national (federal) level is defense, and I'd foresee significant portions of that remaining 70% (or whatever the value may be) helping to ensure that the impact is not too severe to budgets without as strong of an interest to individuals.

One other element is that many budgets require long-term spending forecasts... and doing that with a budget that could vary considerably from year-to-year is quite difficult.  Calling on the same examples: infrastructure projects take years -- sometimes decades -- of sustained funding to build.  And we can't disband an army unit or sell a naval ship one year when the public decided not to give as much to the military; only to suddenly train and arm a unit or construct a ship the next year.  A professional military requires some degree of consistency; not to mention the long-lasting research & development projects that -- like infrastructure -- require many years of continuous investment.

What of businesses?:

So all of the above is from the mindset of a resident paying his or her annual taxes.  But what about businesses?  They pay taxes, too.  It's a question I have admittedly not yet given much thought to... a part of me fears the role of corporate dollars in governance, but on the other hand I think that the large sum of dollars generated by business taxes could similarly achieve great benefits if given the option of directing their tax-dollars.  While infrastructure might not figure too prominently in the minds of residents: it might be a pretty major factor among businesses -- they more readily appreciate the true costs of infrastructure as it becomes apparent in every step of their process; every infrastructure problem akin to feudal lords sapping more and more of their profit away at each turn.

Why?  -For the Liberals:

As the Grist article notes: science and environmental programs would likely see bipartisan increases.  Even social-oriented programs would likely see gains, particularly given that their budgets today aren't exactly considerable.  Social and education programs would find supporters from socially-minded left-leaning individuals as well as more religiously-motivated charitable individuals on the right.

Why?  -For the Conservatives:

This is the very definition of empowering the individual.  While this alone may not reduce your tax bill (that'd still be for the legislators to decide), this enables you to at least have greater say in deciding how it is spent.  Think a program is a waste of money?  Put all your money in something else which you support.  It may not necessarily be small government, but this is a big step toward more capable local government, increasing the power and freedom of we individuals, and demanding greater accountability, efficiency, and benefit out of our government.


This would have not likely been feasible in the past, as the complexity is such that it would cost entirely too many resources to organize up to (and now beyond) 300 million different responses.  But as our governance becomes increasingly computerized, the cost for implementing and operating such a taxing system should diminish considerably.  While there would be some significant start-up cost at building the necessary system, it is absolutely within our technological capabilities and after it's built: the additional cost should be comparatively small.  In my opinion, it's a concept well worth exploring given the greater freedom it grants to each of us as taxpaying citizens of our country.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Healthcare - The Left

The Supreme Court began its first day of hearing arguments on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, popularly coined "Obamacare" by the Republicans.  I will refer to this by its proper acronym PPACA from here-on... you don't have to remember that here; just remember that if I use some weird acronym that might remind you of alpacas: I'm referring to this 2010 healthcare law.  This post is intended to accompany my other post (intended to be read before this post) which delves into the Republican proposals from back in 2010.

PPACA has many traits which I support and believe represent a sound long-term approach, but yet I anticipate (and somewhat hope) that the Supreme Court will overturn its individual mandate -- a key element of the entire bill.  Before I explain just why I take such a contrasting view I'll first delve into some of the positives that the individual mandate does indeed provide:

The Pros

The key issue with PPACA being challenged in the Supreme Court is the so-called "Individual Mandate", which requires every U.S. citizen to obtain health insurance or face penalty.  Now this admittedly provides benefits:

Today, those receiving medical treatment not covered by insurance are effectively covered by the government.  Note that people in this grouping can include those denied coverage (such as due to preexisting conditions), those whom can't afford coverage, and even those with insurance but whose bills have overrun what insurance will pay for.  It can also include those voluntarily without insurance, which can include healthy people who choose not to pay for insurance as they know they only rarely get sick & they deem themselves unlikely to get injured.  But we, the Taxpayers, pay their bills under our current system.

If we require the poor to get insurance: the insurance companies won't voluntarily give them a discount; we must either directly subsidize it or offer the insurance companies another revenue source.  Similarly, those with preexisting conditions or those whom overrun their coverage will also bring additional costs to the insurance companies: a government has no right to force a private company to accept bad customers, and the insurance companies rightly have a claim for these groups to be either subsidized and/or for there to be a strong revenue stream to provide an offset in these additional costs.

By requiring everyone to be insured: the taxpayer is effectively taken off the hook.  The healthy are now forced into the insurance pool, their payments offsetting the insurance companies' costs of provided for the more sick & those with injuries.  There may also still be some subsidies to provide a balance with the additional costs of companies covering the higher-cost groups, but there can still be savings to be had by leveraging the insurance companies' abilities to fine-tune their apparatus.

An individual mandate is actually a free market option.  It gets government out of figuring out how to cover the uninsured & instead gets the insurance companies motivated to figure out how to do it.

The Cons

First: no, there aren't death panels.  No, it isn't the biggest tax increase in world history.  No, this isn't Big Brother watching your every move and listening to every heartbeat.  Pretty much any soundbyte you've heard is likely to be false.  Take it from someone who doesn't support what you might call Obamacare: if you're going to oppose it- at least opposite it based on facts and not misinformation.

While I am ideologically aligned with the more Conservative approach of Darwinism, in practice the PPACA is actually the better deal as compared to the alternatives that have been offered thus far from the GOP.  But there's another side of the Individual Mandate: can we, under our current legal system, mandate a person to purchase a commercial product?

My opinion is no, we cannot.  Even the income tax required a Constitutional Amendment to become legal, and under our current system I feel that a healthcare mandate is likewise not legally permissible; and even if an amendment were proposed to make it permissible: I would not support it.

I absolutely see its benefits, but I also feel that mandating a citizen to purchase a commercial product oversteps our bounds.  Here I side with the more libertarian take in that the government should not have the authority to require such a thing.  In a rare case where I actually feel a soundbyte to be rather accurate, I have to agree with today's somewhat amusing question of how you'd feel if the government required you to eat broccoli.  Or what if, under threat of a financial penalty, it was required that everyone buy a Detroit-manufactured car to boost the auto industry?

Usually I loathe these sorts of exaggerated questions, but that's only because they often over-simplify things... here, I actually think they prove a valid point (albeit in the more sarcastic overtones more reminiscent of The Daily Show or The Colbert Report).  It's a question that I have not yet received a clear answer to.

The Alternative - A Public Option

So I have something that I see great benefits to, yet I oppose its very existence.  I try not to be a masochistic madman... so what are the alternatives?  I oppose the Republican proposals because I have not heard how they would succeed in practice, and I oppose the PPACA because I disagree with the individual mandate.

Here's where the much maligned public option actually makes some sense.  Well, it was maligned in 2010... then we forgot about it.  If we have a public option: we can require everyone to have health insurance... and if they don't: they get enrolled into the public option.  Instead of penalizing individuals as we do under the current system, we can instead incentivize those who do enroll in other plans.  An example:

Mr. Healthcare gets himself on a private healthcare plan and Mr. Noplan does not.  Mr. Noplan instead gets enrolled onto the public plan.  Now come April 15th: both Mr. Healthcare and Mr. Noplan are charged a $500 healthcare tax for the year.  But there is a $500 tax credit for those on private plans: Mr. Healthcаre therefore pays nothing... and Mr. Noplan pays a $500 tax.

Under the current PPACA system: Mr. Healthcare would also pay nothing and Mr. Noplan would pay a $500 penalty (not a tax).  From this standpoint, it's the same fiscal outcome to you, the individual... but we skirt around the legal hurdles of an individual mandate.

...And Then We Run In Circles

Under PPACA today: the uninsured (the poor, denied coverage, overruns, and voluntary) would be picked up by private companies.  With a public option this would be less likely to be the case.  The voluntarily uninsured, which tend to consist of healthier individuals, may be inclined to join private insurance companies... if they have to pay, anyway, they might decide it's worth the extra money to at least get something decent.  Or they may decide the public plan is good enough and settle for not getting the tax credit (that is, per my example in the previous section: basically paying $500/yr for the public plan).

The insurance companies would love to have healthy folk join their plans: that means new revenue without as much cost.  This could yield more profits for them or, if the insurance marketplace is competitive enough, it could eventually translate to lower premiums for all of their customers.  That's something I haven't touched upon at all: both Republican proposals as well as PPACA have some great ideas for encouraging such increased competition.  That's a whole issue on its own, but the short of it is that I think there's valid potential to both increasing interstate competition as well as creating a user-friendly database of insurance companies.

But while a few healthy folk may come onto the public option, by and large the public option is left with the poor, those with preexisting conditions, or those whom have overrun their coverage.  All three require higher costs in some degree.  What offsets these?  As best I can tell: nothing... we pay for it somehow, just as we are somehow paying for it today.

How is it different from our existing situation, whereby the government effectively covers the uninsured, anyway?  One perk is that it cuts down on the need for verifying insurance before treatment, but that's not quite as significant an issue to itself necessitate such an overhaul, is it?

So what if we still require private insurance companies to accept individuals despite preexisting conditions... that's one of those high-cost groupings, but that's not fair to require a private industry to accept a bad customer.  We have an obligation to reimburse them for this.  If we require them to accept the poor at a discounted rate: we have an obligation to reimburse them for this.  If we require that they cover cost overruns of a high-needs customer: we have an obligation to reimburse them for this.

Perhaps some of the healthy people, now incentivized to become insured, will help boost our coffers to pay for these reimbursement; or perhaps the healthy will go to the private companies and help offset their higher costs.  But in the end, as best I can tell, it's the same money just being shifted around but otherwise achieving the same goals.

The Closest This Is Getting to a Conclusion

So basically... a public option would just be a way of circumnavigating the individual mandate.  Then we either group the high-cost groups into the public option (essentially the status quo of what we have today); or we require private companies to accept the high-cost groups and send revenue from the public option to the insurance companies to offset the high-cost groups (essentially what PPACA indirectly proposes).

I can't guarantee I have that right... but this is the conclusion I've found myself at.

[Part I - My thoughts on the Republican proposals]

Healthcare - The Right

The Supreme Court began its first day of hearing arguments on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, popularly coined "Obamacare" by the Republicans.  I will refer to this by its proper acronym PPACA from here-on... you don't have to remember that here; just remember that if I use some weird acronym that might remind you of alpacas: I'm referring to this 2010 healthcare law.

Here I will take a step back to 2010 to consider some of the Republican proposals, whereas an accompanying post (intended to be read after this post) will address the Democrats' proposal which ultimately became law and, today, is what is now before the Supreme Court.

My basic position on the Republican offerings is that, ideologically, I largely support their efforts; but in practice I find some significant faults with their proposals which I have yet to hear any sound response.

From the Right

So with that: many of the proposals that came out of both the Left and Right back in 2010 were both very reasonable, even if they represented somewhat opposing sides of the spectrum.  Each represented a different approach to a problem.  The Right proposed shifting the costs toward the consumers and private sector, thereby using market forces to direct consumers to healthier lifestyles & private sectors to streamlining their operations and cutting costs.  This could vastly reduce government costs if the government requires citizens to be responsible for themselves, and personal responsibility is something I can identify with.

Of course, the drawback is that people aren't responsible (proof).  People who don't get health insurance can still get sick; they can still get injured.  And when they go to get healed... who pays if the patient can't?  The way it's functioned in our country before is for the government to cover this cost... this adds up.  I haven't heard a clear argument for what happens to these people if the government does not cover it, other than at a 2011 Republican Primary debate when Ron Paul very narrowly avoided the answer but the crowd offered it for him (video).

But do we let the uninsured die?  What if we do let the uninsured die?  It sounds horrible, but if you believe in personal responsibility: it's not so far-fetched.  A part of me looks at all the warning labels we have... just run a search for "Absurd Warnings" or even check out (admittedly poorly designed, but there you have it).  What ardent libertarian or science-loving Darwinist wouldn't loathe such nannyism?  But on the other hand, is a first-world country really the sort of place that lets its citizens die?  I can quite appreciate both these arguments.

I'm a bit sickened hearing an audience cheer letting people die as happened to Ron Paul, but if we were having a calm discussion I could actually find myself listening to a case that an individual chose to accept the risk of death, and now pays the consequences.  I can't say I'd support it; but I can't say I'd necessarily oppose it, either.  It's your choice as to whether you want insurance or not.  It's free market vs. the sanctity of life, which pits two of the core Conservative doctrines at odds with one another.

Let the Uninsured Die

But there are some for whom they might still not have such a choice.  What of those whom can't afford insurance?  Do we just let the poor die?  Could there be healthcare subsidies to those with lower incomes, or perhaps a public option to provide them with coverage?

What if medical bills overrun what the insurance covers?  Medical treatments are expensive, and sometimes they can vastly outweigh what your coverage provides.  I have seen this happen among those with aging parents or chronically ill children -- the bills eventually stop being paid by insurance & start arriving at your doorstep.  What if you give birth to a sick child: she spends years confined to a hospital bed but has a smile, a personality, and lives each day as best she can.  Then your insurance runs out.  Do you walk out the room, turn out the light, and call it quits?

What of those with  preexisting conditions and are denied coverage?  Do we just let them die?  Do we require insurance companies to cover them, or again: do we provide them with a public option?  Speaking as someone with a hereditary blood disease: even my Darwinist leanings have to come face-to-face with the fact that if I have any sons: he'll need a major operation at some point in his life.  Not many folk could easily afford that.  So I'm a bit biased... but think about it: do you have anything in your family that might rule you out?  Heart problems?  Strokes?  Cancer?  What if you were denied and someday find yourself unable to pay?

Let the Insured Wait

Now if you've made it through those blue parts up above and still feel safe, here's how this could still affect you: is it advisable to verify every patient's insurance before beginning a procedure?

This may not be so bad if you're in for a routine visit or if you're there to check out some minor symptoms you've been having... but what if you suffer a heart attack or stroke?  What if your daughter lands on her head doing gymnastics?  What if your son is out hiking and gets bitten by a snake?  What if your toddler ingests something beneath the sink?  The difference between life and death might be in the range of seconds; minutes if you're lucky.

The hospital doesn't treat people if they're uninsured, but no worries: you're covered.  But... do you want the hospital to tell you to wait while they verify your insurance?  Do you have those seconds or minutes to spare? What if you lost the life of a loved one simply because the computers were too slow to give the A-OK?  And of less concern to you, but a thought on my mind: could telecommunications providers be liable if their networks slow down and result in deaths on account of it taking too long to verify insurance; or nurses / staff if they're too slow to key in numbers; or a caretaker if they're too slow to produce the card?

The Economics of Death

And whether they die by being unable to afford care or if they die because it took too long to verify insurance: a lost life doesn't just carry its spiritual implications or sorrows & grieving... admittedly, that's not the federal government's prime concern.  But with the deceased does go their economic productivity: the cost to save them could have been justified by the revenue they would have generated over time.  From a free market macroeconomic standpoint: letting your citizens die is not usually, in the long run, a sound economic strategy.

Ideologically Sound; Practically Fleeting

As I said: I can strongly identify with many of the Republican proposals at an ideological level -- I love the idea of embracing individual responsibility.

But in practice: I have yet to hear a clear case from our elected officials as whether we would indeed let people die & how this might address the economic impacts of death; or if we don't let people die then who pays the bills.  Nor have I heard a clear case as to how to address the societal impacts to the poor, the chronically ill, and those with preexisting conditions; or even to those whom are insured but find their time limited by the waiting room.

To address these requires some degree of a middle ground, be it a public option or subsidies to cover those left out of the system or to ensure that doctors can continue to respond immediately without first waiting for the paperwork to go through.  This is what requires elements of the PPACA.

[Part II - My thoughts on the PPACA]

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

A Conservative's Argument for Transit

I'm a small government fiscal conservative who comes from rather rural roots... and that's exactly why I'm an urbanist.

A sales pitch to those who identify with that first part but are confounded by the second part…

Strong Cities mean Strong Towns
The structure of our country favors the rural regions, with the large tax bases in cities helping to finance the rural areas around them, just as envisioned by Jefferson with his dream of a nation of citizen-farmers.  Improved city transit helps support that tax base, further growing its capability to support the schools, roads and rails serving the villages in the countryside.

Strong cities are also strong markets for rurally-produced goods, including both food and craft.  A strong and vibrant city core helps preserve the countryside from runaway development, helping our family members' farms remain in the family as well as profitable.

Regional transport helps move our goods to market and also enables us to more readily travel to and from the city, either with our products or at our own leisure.  Our small towns, by their smaller scale, rarely have quite the same recreational or entertainment amenities as cities can provide, and transit helps us easily travel into the cities to learn at universities or museums, wander through parks and monuments, or enjoy the nightlife of theaters, clubs, and other destinations.

Freedom of Movement; Freedom of Choice
Transit does not replace our roads; it complements them.  Transit grants us greater freedom of movement and freedom of choice, letting us choose our own paths, our own schedules, and enjoy more of our own time as we wish.

Those who wish to take transit may enjoy time to distract themselves without worrying about attention to the roads, and those who prefer to drive may travel on roads with that much fewer other cars on them.  I absolutely love a weekend drive: the freedom of the road and the power of man and machine; but I love commuting by train: more time to rest or to work on the tasks that busy my day.

A Small Home Budget and a Small Government
It may sound counter-intuitive, but a good transit system is also small government at its finest.  Sure, it serves a social good – it benefits lots of people even if it may not *directly* appear to benefit you; but it serves these people at lower cost.  It's expensive for every person to own, maintain, and operate their own vehicle; and it's expensive for all of us to provide the necessary roads... it's cheaper if you carpool with a friend, and transit is that extension: lots of people using only one vehicle, needing only a few "roads" to move many more people.

Some can hear "efficiency" and "socialism" and think of some Orwellian world.  But in some cases -- particularly when dealing with infrastructure -- efficiency means we're using less of our taxpayer dollars; each dollar is being stretched further, doing more, and getting more people where they need to go.

Your car takes up about 10%-15% of your annual budget… what if you could get where you need to go without your car?  Imagine getting a 15% raise: what would you spend that money on?

Serving Wall Street, Main Street, and Your Street
Transit works in partnership with business – both Wall Street and Main Street.  Both are important: Wall Street invests in our factories and sometimes even our farms; Main Street is what keeps our villages, towns, and cities interesting, vibrant, and serving our daily needs.  Transit caters to what businessowners already know: customers arrive into their stores on two feet, not on four wheels; and transportation investment, in general, recognizes that our goods and produce travel by engines, not by our hands.

Transportation in all its forms supports our cities as much as it supports our countryside, providing jobs, getting people to their jobs, and ensuring that they’ll continue to have jobs well into the future.  It affects absolutely every aspect of our society, from our education to our health to our environment.  Transportation is infrastructure; the backbone of our society; running behind-the-scenes to keep our civilization going.

Take Action!
There is always room for discussion on what projects are most appropriate for where, but there is simply no good basis for partisanship in transportation.  Transportation of all modes benefits each and every one of us, even if we never use it.  Republican President Eisenhower contributed to great strides in transportation, and President Reagan likewise played an important role in supporting transit.  There is a strong tradition of Republican leadership in supporting transportation.

There are two starkly different transportation bills before Congress right now – a bipartisan bill in the Senate (MAP-21) with strong funding for transportation; and a partisan bill in the House (H.R. 7) with severe cuts.  There are good traits to both as well as bad, but I will admit that of the two I find the Senate’s bill to be the most appealing.  I strongly encourage you to take an interest and share your opinions with your elected representatives, regardless of what your support or opposition may be.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Congressman Issa's DC Autonomy Legislation

[in response to the legislation as described at sites such as WaPo and DCist.  I CC'd Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, DC Mayor Vincent Gray, and the DC Council]

Dear Congressman Issa,

This is with regards to your proposed legislation regarding the District of Columbia.  I'll start by saying that I support increased fiscal autonomy for DC and, in general, also support overall efforts to limit taxpayer financing of abortions.  While I'm not necessarily against abortion per se, I find agreement with you in that I am not supportive of my taxpayer dollars financing it.  I can therefore appreciate you intentions with this legislation.

However, I also believe that the abortion debate should not be fought over DC.  If it really is such an ideological battle that you wish to begin within the halls of Congress, then it is an issue that should be levied upon the entire country; not singling out but one jurisdiction.  This is akin to legislating that abortions be limited in San Francisco but readily financed in San Diego.  Such legislation must either be made at a purely national level or, barring that, left to local governance.

I am a big supporter of a smaller federal government and a stronger local government, but this legislation's efforts regarding abortion -- regardless of whether or not I agree with its intent -- is in direct contradiction to our conservative ideals.  Sure, I know that if left to its own devices: DC would otherwise continue to spend my taxpayer dollars on abortions for low-income families, and yes: I do not agree with it... but as long as it is a decision made at the local level: the decision is at the very essence of what it means to be a democracy.

I urge you to split the legislation apart: one bill for increased fiscal autonomy for DC; and if you really believe it is an issue that must be legislated in our current national situation: propose a separate bill for reducing federal taxpayer dollars across the *entire* country -- not just one small subset.

Thank you for your time.