Robbing Yourself at Gunpoint

It really is odd to see some “less government” Republicans voting to protect more government and more expensive government, even if it is at the local level. Big government wasting tax dollars is big government wasting tax dollars, whether it’s in Washington, D.C., or in Shelby County or Nashville.

There’s a scene in an old ’70s Mel Brooks Western movie in which a man, about to be lynched by a mob, pulls his pistol from his holster, holds it up to his own head and starts saying to the mob, “Don’t move, or I’ll shoot him.” The mob freezes in its tracks, saying, “I think he’s serious.” Well, when it comes to taxes, some local governments are essentially doing the same thing. It’s like they rob themselves at gunpoint and then run to the state complaining that the state needs to do something about the crime rate.

For example, last week Metro Nashville schools were complaining about the need for more money and that the state needed to help more. And just yesterday Metro Nashville government was saying it was going to have to shift more costs onto its employees because of a lack of money. Maybe Metro Nashville would have more money for its schools and employees and would not be running to the statehouse asking for money if they weren’t spending money that they didn’t have to spend, but have forced themselves to spend. I don’t know if the Shelby County school system needs more money, but if they do, as most schools systems seem to do, then they are doing the same thing to themselves.

Here’s the deal, and local taxpayers ought to be furious. You see, these two governments have imposed on themselves a requirement that contractors whom they hire to do construction work have to charge the government more than what that contractor might be charging if the same work were done for other private businesses. Yes, you read that correctly.

Self-Imposed Funding Shortages

For example, I recently got a call from a contractor who, when doing certain jobs for private sector clients, pays one classification of his employees $27/hour in wages and benefits. So, if that contractor did a job for a private sector client, he’d have to cover $27 for each hour his employee worked. But when that contractor does a job for one of these local governments (city name withheld to protect the contractor from local retribution), he told me he has to pay that employee $42/hour in wages and benefits. That’s the cost he now has to charge that local government. That’s a 56% increase in labor costs being charged to local government. So, if labor is about half the cost of a construction job, which is perhaps a good rule of thumb, then that local government is making its taxpayers pay 28% more than it would otherwise have to pay!

Now, you could say, why would they do that to their local taxpayers? Good question.

Well, the reason could be that organized labor has more influence over local governments in urban areas like Memphis and Nashville because they tend to be more liberal and Democratic in their local government councils and commissions. Labor unions tend to fight for higher minimum wage laws over market-based wages. So, those local governments can be an ally for labor unions if they can’t get state minimum wage requirements on a statewide basis through a Republican-dominated statehouse. It would make sense that they would want to preserve their ability to run to the local courthouse to get what they want. In other words, unions and the city officials who court their votes and campaign money might want to preserve the right to do the “end run” around state government.

If that’s the case, then it may also explain a rumor I heard this week. Don’t know how true it is, but word is that labor union representatives (including maybe the Tennessee Education Association) are meeting regularly with at least some of the cities’ representatives/lobbyists. I don’t know if all cities are involved or just some of the larger cities, but if it’s true, it’s very telling and something local taxpayers should know. I doubt anyone is truly representing taxpayers in those meetings.

Who Will Represent You?

However, state legislators themselves can represent you on this issue, and well they should if locals are going to complain to them that they need more state money. Why should the state give local governments more of your state tax dollars if those local governments are voting to make themselves pay more for services?

So you ask, “How can my state Representative represent me when it comes to the size of my local tax bill?” Easy. Your state representative can vote for Senate Bill 630/House Bill 598. That bill would prevent local governments from imposing on private businesses requirements that they have to pay certain “minimum wages” over and above what is required by state or federal law. And it would also repeal any locally mandated minimum wage laws that are already on the books. In other words, keeping with my introductory analogy, the state can make local governments put down the gun they are holding against their own head.

Sadly, that bill has run into some trouble in the state legislature, the House in particular. The reason is that some local governments are pushing back on their state Representatives, apparently asking them not to wipe out the higher costs they’ve mandated on themselves.

‘Local’ Big Government Is Still Big Government

Sadly, some Republican legislators may have put the bill in jeopardy with a vote last week in the House Commerce Subcommittee. The purported reason for voting against the bill is because some think the state should never tell a local government what to do. Others may think that the government closest to the people should have free reign to do what it wants for its citizens. Those may be good general rules to be considered, but when that local government is wasting local tax dollars and then turning around and wanting more state tax dollars, I submit that the state government does have an interest in repealing these self-imposed funding shortages.

In essence some legislators seem to be unwilling to take away the gun these local governments are holding against their own heads while listening to them complain about the crime rate, in other words, their need for more money. When the House Commerce Subcommittee votes on this bill again next Wednesday, we can hope the majority of the Subcommittee members get it right this time.

It really is odd to see some “less government” Republicans voting to protect more government and more expensive government, even if it is at the local level. Big government wasting tax dollars is big government wasting tax dollars, whether it’s in Washington, D.C., or in Shelby County or Nashville.

You know, if this story were in a Mel Brook’s movie, it might be funny. But it’s not funny when it’s for real and it’s my tax dollars and yours that are being spent.

President Obama Replaces the Supreme Court

With the President single-handedly deciding how the U.S. Supreme Court should rule on the federal Defense of Marriage Act, who needs the expense of that Court anymore? The President can just serve as the supreme judge for our country. After all, it’s just one more usurpation of power by a President with a growing list of usurpations.

President Obama’s decision to instruct the Justice Department not to defend the federal Defense of Marriage Act is an insult to the majority of the American people. But that is not the worst of it.

President Obama, in saying that the government couldn’t justify keeping marriage between one man and one woman, insulted a majority of the citizens of this great nation. To date, a majority of the citizens in every state where they have been given a chance to vote to keep marriage between one man and one woman has done so. Apparently the majority just didn’t understand the concept of marriage as well as our President.

But, saying he understands the meaning of marriage better than a majority of Americans may not be the most significant thing about his decision. The President said that in the case at hand the Second Circuit Court of Appeals had never determined what the standard of review should be. This, in layman’s terms, is sort of like the burden of proof you’ve heard about on television shows.

Generally courts give deference to legislative determinations and apply a “rational basis” standard for determining whether a law is constitutional. In other words, if there is any rational basis upon which the law could be justified, it will be upheld. But when dealing with certain rights or certain classes of people, notably race, the court will apply a higher standard of review—strict scrutiny. Virtually no law is ever upheld if strict scrutiny is applied.

So what did the President do that was so bad? Well, even though other Circuit courts have held that DOMA should be judged on a rational basis standard, the President was unwilling to advocate that the Second Circuit should follow the standard of review applied by the other Circuit Courts. No, this President said that the Second Circuit should follow a higher standard of review. “Heightened review” is the standard he has assumed the U.S. Supreme Court will use when the case finally reaches that Court. The President’s decision not to defend DOMA was, in Attorney General Holder’s words, “based … on [the President’s] conclusion that classifications based on sexual orientation should be subject to a more heightened standard of scrutiny.”

So, the President’s first dereliction of duty was not to argue for a rational basis standard of review, the normal standard of review that is presumptively applied until a higher Court, in this case, the Supreme Court, says otherwise.

But the most glaring and serious dereliction of duty was the President assuming a judicial standard of review that the Supreme Court has never applied to marriage itself or to laws related to sexual orientation. What makes this assumption the height of arrogance is that the U.S. Supreme Court has twice ruled on cases involving homosexual conduct, and in neither instance did the Court say that homosexuality was a “protected class” of people who need the protection of “heightened scrutiny.” In essence, he made a decision about a standard of review that is within the province of the Supreme Court, not the President.

But with this assumption the President has now essentially said that, going forward, his administration will argue that any statute or rule or regulation that has an adverse impact on those who engage in homosexual conduct should be subject to a higher standard of review. So Congress and the states better understand that any time President Obama’s Justice Department has to defend any statute touching on homosexuality, he is liable to instruct them not to defend it either.

So, having decided what the Supreme Court should do, who needs the expense of that Court anymore? The President can just serve as the supreme judge for our country. After all, it’s just one more usurpation of power by a President with a growing list of usurpations.

Tenuous Tenure of Tenure

The Governor has proposed that school boards have up to five years (not three) to evaluate a teacher before granting tenure. This is good, but the Governor should be encouraged to take his reform at least two steps further as reflected in Senate Bill 624/House Bill 367.

After the Senate Education Committee voted last week in favor of a bill that would remove collective bargaining rights from the state’s teachers’ union, the tenure of teacher tenure is the next target on the list of education reforms to be considered. This time it is the Governor who is doing the “shooting.” The Governor’s idea is a good one, but has he gone far enough?

Tenure is a right granted to teachers in Tennessee’s public school system that allegedly protects them from wrongful termination (it can also protect them when they should be terminated) and accords them several opportunities to oppose any disciplinary action by a school board. During my 12 years in office I often heard school administrators lament the number of hurdles they had to jump through to dismiss a bad teacher.

Right now, under Tennessee law, school boards must grant tenure after three years or essentially “fire” the teacher by not granting them a contract for a fourth year.

The Governor has rightly noted that three years is hardly enough time in which to evaluate whether a teacher should be given a near lifetime guarantee of employment. Consequently he has proposed that school boards have up to five years to evaluate a teacher before granting tenure. This is good. In fact, legislation that our legislative arm, Family Action of Tennessee, has already gotten legislative sponsors to file, proposes a five-year evaluation period. You can read the bill (SB 624/HB 367) at this link.

As far as it goes, the Governor’s proposal is a good one, assuming that the abolition of tenure is not politically feasible, which might be the case. But we would encourage our Governor to take his reform at least two steps further as reflected in SB 624/HB 367. (There’s also been talk that the Governor might recommend that tenure have to be renewed every five years, which is a good idea but one not yet formally presented.)

First, with tenure being an act with such finality, it would be appropriate not to require a school board to make the dramatic and rather final decision to grant tenure or fire a teacher after just five years. That is why we have proposed allowing a school board to grant tenure at the end of the fifth year, but have up through the tenth year to make that decision.

Some might say this is not teacher-friendly, but actually it is. I know law firms and accounting firms have begun to recognize that someone may be a good lawyer but just not an equity level partner in the business. So many have created intermediate levels of professional employment. Thus it is now not always a choice between being unemployed or becoming an equity partner. Essentially young associates have more time to prove themselves and perhaps move up the ranks. And in the interim, the legal or accounting firm has a solid practitioner working for them.

And the same should be true with teachers, if we’re not going to abolish tenure altogether. A young teacher, thrown into a tough classroom, might really struggle the first couple of years. Current law would foster a school board letting the teacher go after that second year to avoid having to make the tenure decision at the end of year three. But over time, the person may grow as a teacher. It may be that they will hit their stride in year four or five, but should a school board have to make a decision based on one or two good years out of five? If they are uncertain, then the teacher is fired, maybe a teacher that will really prove to be good. So why not give that teacher another year or two or three to prove himself or herself?

Setting an upper limit of 10 years recognizes that a teacher shouldn’t be left hanging forever. If there’s going to be tenure, at some point the school board needs to fish or cut bait, as the saying goes.

But even this is not enough. Right now teachers who are disciplined or fired get three bites at the apple to reverse the decision. First they have the right to a full-blown trial in front of an impartial hearing examiner. If the teacher doesn’t like the result, he or she then has a right to appeal to the school board. And if the teacher doesn’t like the school board’s affirmation of the hearing examiner’s decision, he or she has a right to appeal to the Chancery Court. This is a time-consuming procedure that can keep a bad teacher in the classroom longer than is good for students. And it can be a costly procedure for supposedly cash-strapped school boards. Consequently administrators often find it easier just to reassign a teacher to another school or move that teacher into an administrative position, where they only waste taxpayers’ money, not a student’s mind.

So SB 624/HB 367 removes the third bite at the apple and stops the process with the school board. After all, we elect school boards to run our schools, and if they get in the habit of firing good teachers, voters can provide the school board members the opportunity to return to private life. It is not in the long-term best interest of principals and school boards to fire good teachers.

But elimination of this third bite at the apple—appeal to chancery court—doesn’t mean that if some law is violated that a teacher can’t sue. If, for instance, a school violates the state’s antidiscrimination law by letting a teacher go because of his or her race, then the teacher has a cause of action against the school independent of the tenure laws.

So, Governor, thanks for taking on tenure reform. For the sake of parents who want good teachers for their children and bad teachers removed as quickly as possible, we’re for you. We just hope you’ll consider taking your reform a little bit further.

Making John Scopes Proud—Finally

We need more science teaching, not less. In fact, today’s evolutionary scientists have become the modern-day equivalents of those who tried to silence Rhea County schoolteacher John Scopes for teaching evolution in 1925, by limiting even an objective discussion of the scientific strengths and weaknesses of evolutionary theory.

John Scopes, the Rhea County schoolteacher who in 1925 stood trial for violating a Tennessee law prohibiting the teaching of evolution, would surely support new legislation pending before the General Assembly. After 86 years, Tennessee lawmakers have a chance to get the “scope” of science instruction right.

The crux of the infamous Scopes trial was the Tennessee General Assembly’s effort to reduce, by law, the scope of what could be taught in the science classroom, namely, to prevent the then relatively new theory of Darwinian evolution from being taught in the science classroom. The law was called the Butler Act, named after state Rep. John Butler, head of an organization known as the World’s Christian Fundamentals Association.

But now the shoe is on the other foot, and the scientific community, generally speaking, wants to use the law to limit the scope of what can be taught in science class, and they often seek to impugn any school of thought critical of Darwinian evolution.

For example, one high school science teacher in Tennessee last year did her best to make sure that students didn’t get a balanced understanding of intelligent design. The theory of intelligent design holds that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection.

Now Tennessee does not require the teaching of intelligent design. In fact, the curriculum standard for Tennessee on the subject of evolution is one of the most one-sided, pro-evolution standards in the country. It provides that students shall be able to “summarize the supporting evidence for the theory of evolution.” No mention is given to the educational value of learning how to think critically about the state of the scientific evidence on evolution and to know both the strengths and weaknesses of that evidence.

But this teacher apparently wanted to make sure she didn’t do anything to undermine her students’ understanding of the evidence “supporting” evolution. She brought up intelligent design, a rival theory to evolution, and then made sure it was discredited. In fact, after having her class watch a rather one-sided PBS documentary decrying the theory of intelligent design, she then had her students write an essay about what they learned. To assist with the paper she provided students with writing prompts such as:

Why is evolution the only current acceptable scientific theory to explain the origin of the species?
How is bias a problem with [Intelligent Design] Theory? What religion is spearheading the intelligent design movement? And the coup de grace for the lesson on intelligent design was the prompt for the final paragraph: Why is the separation of church and state so vital to the foundation and continuation of our way of life in America?

Certainly intelligent design theory is not without its critics, and if the subject is going to be taught, then discussion of those criticisms is appropriate. But it is also appropriate that students understand that intelligent design is a theory that many scientists are beginning to consider and hold because of the weaknesses in the scientific evidence supporting evolution. In fact, over 850 PhD.-level scientists from some of the finest universities around the world have subscribed to this statement:

We are skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life. Careful examination of the evidence for Darwinian theory should be encouraged.

The point is this: We need more science teaching, not less. In fact, today’s evolutionary scientists have become the modern-day equivalents of the legislators who passed the Butler Act. They want to limit even an objective discussion of the scientific strengths and weaknesses of evolutionary theory.

To correct this problem, state Rep. Bill Dunn and state Sen. Bo Watson have filed legislation (Senate Bill 893/House Bill 368) that would permit science teachers “to help students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories covered in the course being taught.” Note that the law does not require the teaching of intelligent design or creationism since they are not “scientific theories” that are being “covered in the course[s] being taught” in Tennessee. And the law is clear that the teacher is limited to discussing scientific evidence.

But the bill does one more important thing. The bill would make clear that no teacher can be disciplined for helping students evaluate all the evidence on the subject. Such a law in 1925 would have protected John Scopes.

Thus my bet is John Scopes might say that, with this bill, the Tennessee legislature has a chance to finally get it right when it comes to teaching science on the subject of evolution. They get their first chance this Wednesday when the bill comes up for its first hearing in the House Subcommittee on Education.

Governor Gets It Right

Losing one’s job because of excessive government regulation while your taxes go up is a bad combination. Let’s hope our legislators agree with Gov. Haslam and Lt. Gov. Ramsey and pass one straightforward law that will prevent a whole lot more job-killing laws.

Governor gets it right. And some just don’t get it at all.

Jobs and the economy are the major issues on the minds of Tennesseans. That’s understandable. It’s hard to care about much else if you don’t have food or shelter or are living on the brink of having neither. So when asked what the “government” was going to do about unemployment, newly installed Governor Bill Haslam said, “I don’t think we’re going to solve Tennessee’s unemployment issues with legislation. I just don’t.” And he’s right. Government does not create jobs in that it does not produce anything.

Economics 101

But, wait, you say, “That’s not right. When the state builds a new road, it’s creating jobs.” Yes, the people building the road have a job, but the government didn’t create or produce anything. Why? Simple. It is paying those building the road with other people’s money. The government can “rearrange” where money is spent, but it doesn’t produce wealth in a real and true sense.

Oh, government can make people wealthy, and we have to look no further than the increase in wealth that takes place when someone gets elected to Congress. And it can make people wealthy by taking money from a lot of people, like taxpayers, and reallocating into the hands of a few who own the businesses that governments hire to do things like build roads. But the government is not producing any wealth but merely reallocating it.

In other words, the government takes our money, money you and I and 100 other Tennesseans might have spent on new kitchen counters, and uses it to pay for the new road. So, there may be a new job in the road business, but one may have been lost within the industry that makes and installs kitchen cabinets. And the reason that job is lost is because the money is no longer out in the marketplace to be spent on cabinets. Thus, the government didn’t “create” any new job. It simply dictated, by its spending, what jobs the market was going to have.

What the Governor rightly wants is an environment that frees business from as much government regulation and entanglement as possible so that business is free to do what it does best—produce wealth—which is another way of saying jobs and income, which is another way of saying growing the economy.

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, a small businessman himself, said what most business people really want when it comes to government: “Absolutely nothing. … Leave me alone. Get out of the way, and I’ll create jobs. All I want for government is to get out of the way.”

Curbing the Overreach of Local Governments

Now, to be honest, many industries and businesses do lobby on the Hill for competitive advantages over other industries and businesses. And sometimes the bigger businesses lobby to make competition from the smaller businesses harder. And the government needs to resist that, too.

So, it’s ironic that one of the best things state government can do for business is pass new legislation. But in this case it is legislation that prevents more legislation. Sounds like an oxymoron, but here’s the deal.

Some local governments have begun to try to do what all governments tend to do, namely, arrogate power to themselves. In other words, some local governments are beginning to assume more and more power, and when they do, government becomes bigger and bigger and regulates more and more. And when that happens, the state needs to step in and say, “No more. Stop.”

That’s exactly what SB 632/HB 600 does. It tells local governments to stop going beyond state law by imposing new and additional regulations on businesses. It tells local governments to stop the kind of interference with intrastate commerce that can come when each of the 95 counties and the hundreds of cities across the state start coming up with new rules that businesses must follow.

Any business in Tennessee is free to do business anywhere in the state and should be encouraged to do so. But if every city and town in Tennessee can start dictating to employers the terms and conditions for the employment and management of their personnel, then businesses will be choked to death trying to figure out what kind of policies they have to have to do business from one locale to another. Just figuring out a morass of regulations will add cost to business. It’s akin to the doctor’s office that has to hire people just to keep up with what all the various insurance companies with their different policies cover and require.

Unfortunately, folks like the Mayor of Nashville and some members of Metropolitan Council of Nashville and Davidson County don’t get it. Right now Nashville is attempting to put additional regulations on businesses. Specifically, it is poised to pass an ordinance that says that if a business wants to be a vendor with Nashville or if it wants to lease property or facilities from Nashville for more than six months, then that business will need to make it a policy not to “discriminate” against its employees on the basis of their homosexual conduct or their engagement in activities that give expression to the gender they perceive themselves to be (in other words, things like cross-dressing at work).

Such a “little” change in the law may sound innocuous. The sponsor even has the audacity to tell citizens that adding an additional legal requirement is not a “regulation” of business. But it is a regulation of business, and it is not innocuous, even if liberal politicians don’t know it.

Even the Federal Government Knew Better

There are a number of well-documented concerns about legislation of this type. In fact, even with a Democratically-controlled U.S. House and Senate and Democrat for President, the U.S. Government didn’t pass similar legislation at the national level. The national bill, called the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), is a primary goal of those advocating the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered agenda. Yet ENDA wasn’t passed into law by the very same liberal, pro-homosexual Congress and President that are against the Defense of Marriage Act and pushed the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.

SB 630/HB 600 attempts to reign in overreaching and overregulation by local government. It states that local governments cannot impose mandates on businesses that go beyond what state law requires with respect to anti-discrimination protections, health insurance, minimum wages, and grounds for taking “family leave” from work. Imagine the nightmare for businesses if every business that wanted to do business in multiple locations had to figure out what kind of minimum wage that government required.

But not only that, consider that essentially one local government will be dictating to every other local government what the rules are. For instance, assume Nashville were to say that a business with whom it is doing business has to pay a minimum of $10/hour. And assume the City of Clarksville, which has no such minimum wage law, does business with the same business, which means that but for the Nashville work, this business could otherwise pay the lower federal minimum wage. What is the result? The City of Clarksville will have to pay more for the goods and services it buys from that business. This, in turn, results in a higher tax burden on its residents. And why is this so? Because the business cannot have one wage for an employee who is doing work on a job for Nashville and have a different wage for that same employee who is also working on a job for Clarksville.

This is not good for business, nor is it good for taxpayers. Losing one’s job because of excessive government regulation while your taxes go up is a bad combination. Let’s hope our legislators agree with Gov. Haslam and Lt. Gov. Ramsey and pass one straightforward law that will prevent a whole lot more job-killing laws.