Archives for December 2012

John Callahan Should’ve Announced Before The End of the Fundraising Quarter…

Announcing a huge campaign warchest in January would’ve been a pretty good way to dissuade Lamont McClure, and maybe even Glenn Reibman, from entering the Democratic primary.

What Political Message Will Win the Northampton County Exec Race?

Local government services are popular, and protecting those services is an issue where Democrats – the party more optimistic about government’s ability to solve problems – have a natural political advantage.

Democrats create political space for Republican opponents though, when they tolerate poor performance of those services, or otherwise give taxpayers cause to believe that they’re getting bad value from the service providers – whether that’s outside contractors or public employees.

Thinking about the Democratic County Executive primaries this year, the candidate with the broadest appeal in November is going to be somebody who believes in the importance of high quality public services, but also can credibly promise to get the taxpayers a good value for their dollar. Who’s going to stretch your municipal tax dollar the farthest?

From what I’ve read from Bill White and Bernie O’Hare, I think it’s clear Glenn Reibman is not that candidate. Reibman’s tenure as Executive seems to have been one endless ripoff for taxpayers at the hands of the service providers, both private (swaption) and public (pensions).

John Callahan needs to run as the Democrat who cares about getting you a good value from all the people the County buys goods and services from.

Democrats can’t let the anti-government party have a monopoly on cost-cutting politics. It is completely possible to be passionate about the importance of public services and be equally passionate about making sure those services are run professionally and cheaply.

This doesn’t require a Democratic candidate to be for lower taxes, or lower pay. If you can save money through monopsony purchasing, or consolidating services at the County level, it might be that County taxes go up while other municipal and school
taxes go down. It might mean that some salaries need to go up to attract people with better qualifications. The County should pay what’s necessary, and no more, to deliver quality professional services. What matters most is value. How much you’re getting for your money, not just how much you’re paying.

If you can save taxpayers money through policy changes like consolidation of purchasing for municipalities and school districts, reorganizing the open space program as a Transferable Development Rights Bank, and consolidating municipal water authorities, you can either give the savings back as tax cuts or cycle it back into providing even more useful public services.

John Callahan is better positioned to make this case to the general election voters than either of the other two or three possible Democratic candidates.

End the Mortgage Interest Deduction

Emily Washington explains that the mortgage interest deduction is a regressive subsidy for the wealthiest homeowners, which distorts the housing market in favor of large lot suburban housing. Unfortunately Obama and the Democrats won’t touch this because *some* taxpayers making less than $250K would see their taxes go up, but clearly there are much better ways to get money to lower income people than this:

As the deduction is designed to benefit those who spend the most on mortgage interest, it also encourages consumers to take on greater debt. Lower-income homeowners who are likely to have smaller mortgages and interest payments may not receive the break at all because they are often better off taking the standard deduction. Of middle-income households earning between $50,000 and $75,000, the average benefit of the deduction is $179, and only about one-third of this group claims it. High-income taxpayers, on the other hand, disproportionately benefit: those with incomes over $200,000 receive an average of around $2,221, making it a highly regressive policy.

The Federal Reserve Bank of Boston has found that while the mortgage-interest deduction encourages homebuyers to purchase larger homes than they otherwise would, it is ineffective at encouraging people on the margins to buy – which is its stated intent. In other words, it favors established buyers over those who must choose between buying and renting by failing to create a big enough incentive to enter the market for the first time with a starter home.

In fact, the negative effects of this deduction fall hardest on renters. By providing tax advantages for homeownership, the federal government subsidizes all housing, artificially raising its price by increasing demand across the board. Renters don’t see their wealth rise along with home prices, making their housing needlessly expensive as government intervention keeps driving up its market value. And because they can’t use the deduction, renters pay relatively higher federal income taxes than homeowners do for the same services.

The mortgage-interest deduction often also favors those who live in suburbs over those who live in cities. As Harvard economist Ed Glaeser argues in “Triumph of the City,” the current policy drives many to abandon renting in the city for homeownership in the suburbs – simply to gain the tax deduction. While suburban communities are providing the large, single-family homes that the deduction creates demand for, cities are losing residents who are just beginning to prosper and pay more in taxes. The phenomenon occurs within city borders as well, where it leads to greenfield development at the outskirts of town instead of infill development. This requires municipalities to build entirely new infrastructure as they expand outward, rather than redeveloping existing areas that already have it.

What Was the Romney Campaign Doing in the Field?

Michel Kranish:

Rich Beeson, the Romney political director who co­authored the now-discredited Ohio memo, said that only after the election did he realize what Obama was doing with so much manpower on the ground. Obama had more than 3,000 paid workers nationwide, compared with 500 for Romney, and hundreds of thousands of volunteers.

“Now I know what they were doing with all the staffs and ­offices,” Beeson said. “They were literally creating a one-to-one contact with voters,” something that Romney did not have the staff to match.

If that’s not what the Romney campaign staff were doing in their field offices, then what were Romney field staff getting paid to do?

DERP: Lehigh Tea Party Commissioners Hold Already-Budgeted Parks Funds Hostage

Refusing to release funds that have already been budgeted for parks improvements is stupid as hell, but that’s the sort of foolishness Lehigh County voters signed up for when they put a bunch of Tea People in charge of the County legislature.

Once again, Scott Ott and crew are dead wrong on the merits of the issue, but completely correct in their approach to political power. Just because people pack the audience with advocates for a particular position in no way obligates Commissioners to vote how that group wants. The people who won the elections should vote based on their own understanding of the issues and their own values.

If voters think the Tea People they elected turned out to have insane opinions on County policy issues, then the voters need to elect a majority of less insane politicians.

Who Will Be the New Speaker of the House?

Ezra Klein on what Plan B’s embarrassing defeat at the hands of backbencher House conservatives means for the House Speaker election on January 3:

The failure of Plan B proved something important: Boehner doesn’t have enough Republican support to pass any bill that increases taxes — even one meant to block a larger tax increase — without a significant number of Democrats. The House has now adjourned until after Christmas, but it’s clear now what Plan C is going to have to be: Boehner is going to need to accept the simple reality that if he’s to be a successful speaker, he’s going to need to begin passing legislation with Democratic votes.

There’s an asterisk there, though: It’s not entirely clear whether Boehner will be the speaker of the House a month from today. The vote to elect the next speaker is on Jan. 3. To win, you need an absolute majority of the House, not a plurality. Even a hopeless conservative challenge that attracts only a handful of Republican votes could deny Boehner the speakership until a consensus candidate emerged. Tonight’s vote makes that challenge more likely.

A significant number of Boehner’s members clearly don’t trust his strategic instincts, they don’t feel personally bound to support him, they clearly disagree with his belief that tax rates must rise as part of a deal, and they, along with many other Republicans, must be humiliated after the shenanigans on the House floor this evening. Worse, they know that Boehner knows he’ll need Democratic support to get a budget deal done. That means “a cave,” at least from the perspective of the conservative bloc, is certain. That, too, will make a change of leadership appealing.

The most useful thing I’ve read to understand intra-Republican politics after 2010 is this 2011 post from Stan Collender. The Tea Party freshmen do not trust Boehner and Cantor. Boehner can’t deliver the votes from a large bloc of hardliners in his caucus, and the effect, again and again, is to force him to go after Democrats’ votes in the 11th hour. Usually earmarks would smooth all this over, but Boehner insisted on getting rid of the currency of the legislature and now he’s got no way to hold his members together on tough votes.

LV Beer Week Needs Better Public Transit

Good points from The El Vee:

All over the Lehigh Valley, with transportation: Let’s face it, LANTA and taxis in the Lehigh Valley kind of blow. It’s a bitch trying to get from city to city, or even across town without a car. Taking a LANTA bus from Brew Works in Allentown to say, Pearly Baker’s in Easton will take you nearly two hours. There’s no festival that really spans the entirety of the Lehigh Valley. Philly benefits from a (mostly) great system of buses, trains, and constant taxi service that we just simply don’t have in this area. For Lehigh Valley Beer Week to keep to its namesake it needs to be in Allentown, Bethlehem, Easton, and even in smaller places like Northampton, Hellertown, Fogelsville, etc. And as such, there needs to be a way to get from place to place, event to event. There needs to be some sort of something drawn up with LANTA or someone to get people safely and efficiently from town to town and event to event.