Monthly Archives: February 2004

Comments Welcomed and Encouraged

Commonwealth Commonsense is a new weblog — or “blog” — that hopes to engage Virginians and all Americans in the political dialogue that must take place if we are to solve looming problems our state and country faces — education, health care, economic and personal security and America’s role and impact in the world.

The average school in America is 40 years old. Good teachers are harder to recruit and keep. Health care costs are rising at an alarming rate. Social Security will not be solvent in a few years and our level of personal debt suggests people, especially young folks, will find it increasingly difficult to assure financial security in their retirement years. And our troubled world could make any one of us a victim in an instant.

I encourage every visitor to leave comments. (Click the comment link below each post.)

Everyone won’t agree with me and that’s fine. Talking and writing about issues can help. Letting our political representatives know how we feel is paramount.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Greenspan Urges Cuts In Social Security Benefits

Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan today urged Congress to consider cutting future benefits for Social Security recipients. Here’s part of what this AP story includes:

“I am just basically saying that we are overcommitted at this stage,” Greenspan said in response to committee questions. “It is important that we tell people who are about to retire what it is they will have.” He warned that the government should not “promise more than we are able to deliver.”
While the country is currently enjoying the lowest interest rates in more than four-decades, Greenspan warned that this situation will not last forever. He said financial markets will begin pushing long-term interest rates higher if investors do not see progress being made in dealing with the projected huge deficits that will occur once the baby boomers begin retiring.
“We are going to be confronted … in a few years with an upward ratcheting of long-term interest rates which will be very debilitating for long-term growth,” Greenspan told the committee if the deficit problem is not addressed.

The method Greenspan suggests to cut benefits seems very similar to that recommended in “The 2% Solution: Fixing America’s Problems in Ways Both Liberals and Conservatives Can Love” by Matthew Miller. That method requires indexing benefit increases to price, not average wage, increases.


Governor, Fall On Your Sword
Va. Speaker of the House Bill Howell (R-Fredericksburg) reportedly has asked Gov. Mark Warner to state which of three tax plans he likes best, as Howell believes its Warner’s duty to “help quell ‘reckless’ talk of an impasse.”

Howell, you’ll recall, spent last year demanding Warner unveil his tax plan before the elections. Never mind that the GOP, which controls both houses in Virginia, refused to develop its own tax plan. Instead they said, we didn’t need higher taxes.

Now both GOP House conservatives and GOP Senate moderates have introduced tax hike plans. The third plan is the Governor’s.

So why should Warner pick a winner now? Hasn’t he already – his? Those being reckless are the right wingers in the House who want no tax hike, and an impasse will be the fault of members in both houses who won’t compromise. I just don’t see why Warner must pick a winner. Of course, neither does he. I feel for the Governor’s spokeswoman Ellen Qualls, who must answer the Speaker’s strange request. Must be hard to do with a straight face.

Howell’s request seems a ploy to shield House GOPers from the same criticism heaped upon House right wingers a few years back when their and Gov. Jim Gilmore’s refusal to compromise with Senate GOP moderates on the car tax cut resulted in no budget being passed for the first time in Virginia history.

The Speaker is afraid he’ll be the bad guy: “The thing we need to worry about the most is the rating agencies,” Howell said. “My goodness, what is Moody’s going to think if we can’t even get a budget together on time?”

Quiet Statesman
The Washington Post’s Jo Becker today writes a largely sympathetic profile of Va. House Appropriations Chairman Vince Callahan (R-Fairfax).

Over the years, I’ve found him in private to be a reasonable and conscientious steward of Virginia’s finances, though some of his pubic pronouncements this year (e.g., that localities are flush and don’t need help from the state) are puzzling. As he will most certainly be part of the conference committee that will decide Va.’s budget, it will be interesting to see how he handles himself then.

Perhaps most revealing is what Callahan told the Richmond Times Dispatch: “I don’t think anything is off the table, frankly.”

Speaking Of Tables, Drink Yourself Under One
Probably hoping Northern Virginians and their soul mates in the Tidewater area (which is to say they’ve emerged from the 19th century) will get so drunk they’ll forget to vote, the Assembly passed a bill allowing residents in those areas to buy liquor on Sundays. Gov. Mark Warner will likely sign the bill.

Another prison
While funding for education in Virginia remains woefully inadequate, a bill to fund two new prisons at a cost of more than $140 million is working its way through the Assembly. It has passed the Senate unanimously. Why more prisons? Because a few years ago Virginia abolished parole for most violent criminals.

In God We Trust?
The Assembly sent a bill to the Governor repealing authorization for a number of license plates with slogans. One was “In God We Trust,” the national motto. Apparently not enough people signed up for the plates. Perhaps the national motto should be: In god we trust, not before we verify all tickets with the state trooper, a lawyer and the judge.


Will Gentleman Jim Be Ignored?
Del. Jim Dillard (R-Fairfax) may get the cold shoulder from House Speaker Bill Howell (R-Fredericksburg) when invitations go out for the budget conference committee. In a good piece by The Post’s Mike Shear this morning, he reports the young right wingers are pressuring Howell not to appoint Dillard, who by reason of seniority, should be on the committee. But his support for school funding may keep him off. Send an email to Howell with your opinion

Pushed…Right Over the Edge
GOP anti-tax zealot Grover Norquist paid for about 400,000 phones calls to constituents of selected Virginia House delegates with a poll that asked if people knew that the delegate “raised your taxes $500 million.” I just wished I had $500 million to pay for the new taxes! The $500 million refers to the amount the House tax plan expects to raise by eliminating sales tax breaks businesses now enjoy. This kind of misleading question is what they call a “push poll.” I could think of other names. Read about it here and here.

Pilot Blasts Callahan
A Virginian Pilot editorial blasts House Appropriations Chairman Vince Callahan (R-Fairfax) for his comment that cities and counties are crying wolf over money woes.

Dems Back Business
While it’s understandable that Democrats and moderate Republicans would think the House budget plan is inadequate, why aren’t Democrats embracing the House idea of eliminating sales tax breaks for businesses? It seems fair and the impact on jobs is probably overstated. In fact, most companies will simply pass on the sales tax increase to consumers in the form of higher prices. That’s the real rub; businesses don’t want to be the heavy for raising prices.

If the Dems think they’ll curry favor with businesses by their stance, there’s something in the Kool-Aid in Richmond. It’LL take more than that to appreciably shift business donations from the GOP to the Dems. But we can always keep track at Virginia Public Access Project, one of the best campaign finance sites around.

Blinded by the Right, Wrapped Up Like a Dunce

Thanks to Eric Alterman for picking up this piece from The Telegraph. It portrays Ahmad Chalabi, the Iraqi exile who apparently provided much of the Iraq pre-war intelligence, as unrepentant about his fabrications that help Cheney & Company decide to go to war. (Editors Note: I refer to Cheney & Co. because saying Bush & Co. would imply that Dubya was actually making the decision.)

News Flash: Bush is Gutless

OK, so it’s not a flash but a truism. Latest is how Dubya is letting surrogates attack Kerry’s patriotism, while the draft-dodger gives us that vacuous grin of his. Read E.J. Dionne.

What’s With The Post’s Lisa Rein?

A story in The Washington Post today makes you wonder if Lisa Rein can write any budget story without it being a tax/no-tax story and whether she knows anyone who has an opinion about the budget other than James Parmelee.

Rein covers Fairfax County’s Board of Supervisors, so most of the tax stories fall to her. In a Lexis-Nexis search of articles written by Lisa Rein over the past two years, Parmelee, the anti-tax gadfly, is quoted in 20 of her stories. Often, as in today’s story, no grassroots person is quoted to give the anti-anti tax message. Only government officials are quoted besides Parmelee. For example, over the same period, Ellen Oppenheim, the president of RENEW, a very active grassroots school advocacy group, is never quoted in Rein’s stories; neither is the executive director of the Fairfax Education Association. FEA’s President Barbara Allen is quoted only twice. Lyn Terhar, a leader in western Fairfax and former school board candidate is quoted by Rein only once.

It seems that Ms. Rein’s stories are too often written as if all that matters to ordinary citizens is their tax rates, the only active citizens are the anti-tax folks, and Parmelee is the only guy she has in her rolodex. Parmelee is quoted in 15 stories by other Post reporters over the same period.

It’s easy for reporters to return to the usual suspects when looking for quotes because they are either easily accessible, seek out reporters for interviews or give colorful quotes. But something’s amiss and misrepresented when thoughtful voices with a different viewpoint are routinely ignored.

It’s Jobs Stupid

Why isn’t a recovering economy allowing workers to recover jobs lost over the past two years? Read David Ignatius’ column today and listen to Diane Rheam’s show on WAMU and syndicated nationally. (It’s repeated tonight at 9:00 on WAMU and can be listened to — scroll down to the program for Feb. 24 — on the Internet.)

You can argue, as the Dems have, that we shouldn’t give tax incentives to companies for transferring jobs oversees, but the problems are systemic and won’t be solved by eliminating those incentives.

The problem is that we can’t compete with wage levels overseas, unless we want to pay higher prices for whatever industry we protect. The long-term answer is educating workers for jobs for which we can compete. On Rheam’s show, there’s a good discussion among Jared Bernstein, a senior economist at the Economic Policy Institute, Kevin Hassett, director of economic policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, and Jonathan Weisman, economic policy writer for “The Washington Post.” Worth a listen.

There You Go Again

The day after I pointed out that The Washington Post often puts suicide killings of Israelis on the front page but relegates Palestinian deaths of equal or greater number to the inside pages (See Balanced or Pandering post below), today we see it again. Watch how the inevitable retaliation is played.

Meanwhile, the World Court has opened proceedings on the Israeli wall.


The Dillon Rule
Anyone not from Virginia seeking to understand the restrictive Dillon Rule, this is what we live under.

Home Schoolers
While the challenge at public schools is to enlist smart, well qualified teachers, Virginia is considering lowering standards for teachers of home schoolers, often, of course, a parent. The bill failed in committee but kept alive for a vote this week.

Where In the World Is Vince Callahan?
Fairfax Delegate Vince Callahan (R) is all over the map. At one time, he’ll lament the draconian cuts needed if taxes aren’t raised and then he say something like he did today in the Virginian-Pilot: that local governments are flush?! Virginians, especially those in the 34th House District, send the delegate a note at All we have are property taxes, Mr. Chaiman of the Appropriations Committee, and because of the Dillon Rule, that’s all we’re likely to have any time soon.

Whatever Happened to Gentleman Conservatives?
Va. Del. Jim Dillard has toiled for many years in the Virginia Assembly as a truly compassionate conservative. As he says in this AP profile Download file, “I don’t think it’s going to go back to the Republican party that I joined 35 years ago,” he said. “The Republican party that I joined was the party to make Virginia first again.”

Another moderate GOP in the making may be Del. Phil Hamilton, who works in the Newport News public schools. See this editorial, which states:

When a small group of Republican lawmakers gathered the weekend before the opening of the 2004 session, Hamilton recalls asking, “What’s our plan?” Even though House Speaker Bill Howell and others were firmly against tax increases, Hamilton doubted that the stance would carry them through the session.

“The bottom line was, we didn’t have one yet,” he says.

Usually the GOP has no plan except “no taxes.” Let’s hope the up and coming Hamilton and the veteran Dillard talk a lot.