Archive for August, 2010

Emmer and government employees

Tom Emmer is a deeply unserious candidate for office. There will be many examples of why that is popping up between now and election day. Here’s one: his comments on public employee pay.

I really have to wonder how much attention Tom Emmer is paying to his own legislative staff people, who are themselves public employees. First, I would like to know what his source is for his claim that public sector workers make “30 to 40 percent more than private sector” counterparts. Perhaps he gets his information from not-too-bright stories like these which merely compare the average wage for all private sector workers with the average wage for all public sector workers, without bothering to point out that there are no public sector retail, food service, and other low-wage occupations to pull the numbers down for public employees (not to mention that article was mainly about federal employees anyway). Other studies I have seen (such as this one) that have looked at directly comparable jobs show that public sector employees by and large are paid less in wages than their private sector analogues, but benefits like vacation are often better, so it’s close a wash. Lower-income public sector employees like janitors do make more than their private sector counterparts, but that’s also due to the fact that public employees are largely unionized. The main point is that you can find studies that show things going both ways, and there are a host of other considerations that come into play in public employment, so that merely saying that public sector employees are paid 30-40% too much is not only inaccurate, it misses the point. I’d sure like to know if Emmer has asked his staff if they think they are overpaid by that much.

Second, Emmer wants to move people from defined-benefit plans to defined-contribution plans. Again, he must not be talking to his staff, because legislative employees hired since 1997 have been put into just those defined-contribution plans. At least in the debate, it didn’t seem like he was aware of this. More importantly, how is he going to pay for the switch? I actually have no problem with a switch to defined-contribution plans, provided it is done correctly: auto-enrollment, auto-contribution increases tied to wage increases, life-cycle funds, and low administrative costs…those pesky little details that matter. Most importantly, though, a switch has to be paid for up front if it is to be done responsibly, and the cost is going to be quite high. I can’t see how he can move from defined-benefit to defined-contribution retirement plans AND solve the state’s budget deficit, all without increasing taxes.

He also had some comments about the health insurance plans that state employees get. Has anybody asked him if he uses his legislative health insurance?

Most of Emmer’s plans are heavy on ideology and light on details and practicality. But this one stood out because, as a legislative employee, these are issues that I’m pretty cognizant of. He should probably be aware of them as well if he wants to be taken seriously.

Fannie and Freddie

More financial regulation stuff, prompted by this post, and this one from Economix. . I agree 100% that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac should go, that the mortgage interest deduction should be limited or abolished, and that the government should no more meddle in preferring homeownership over renting and vice versa. As we’ve just learned, it’s all well and good as long as things are running along relatively smoothly, but when it fails, it fails catastrophically, and everybody is on the hook.

Read the rest of this entry »

Financial Reform

I’ve wanted to write something about the financial reform bill for a while now, but school and work and wedding planning and campaigning and the rest of real life have conspired against me. I did, however, find this post on the Freakonomics blog asking a few experts on what they would do to simplify the bill, and by and large I agree with all of those recommendations. Sadly, given the sausage-making process that is democracy, we didn’t get a bill that was nearly so neat and clean.

Read the rest of this entry »

Online Poker Bill Advances

Not quite as boring a headline as “Worthwhile Canadian Initiative”, but it’s still a good sign. The bill passed the House Financial Services Committee by a pretty healthy margin. There are still several steps to go before it becomes law, but hopefully this means that Congress is starting to understand the inevitability of online poker.

Some argue that the promise of increased tax revenue is what is changing minds, but online poker is not going to be a cash cow. It’s a reality anyway, so they may as well tax and regulate it. Let’s hope the full Congress understands this and legitimizes what is already happening: the play of online poker in the U.S. by tens or hundreds of thousands of people.

Corporate politicking

Citizens United was a poor decision for democracy. I can understand how it came about: it was the logical extension of a set of decisions and customs dating from the 19th century. However logical and direct that train of thought may be, though, it loses sight of one big issue: that corporations, while a convenient legal fiction, are not people. Even if the law treats them as such for many purposes.

Read the rest of this entry »

A darker shade of humanity

The mosque near Ground Zero, the English-only city ordinance in Lino Lakes, the immigration law in Arizona…quite a lot of people these days are upset by “the other”. Each of these topics in turn deserves a full rundown, but in short, a lot of it boils down to backlash against a changing world, a world that is more diverse and less homogeneous. For some people, this describes a threatening world.

Read the rest of this entry »