Next week is the National Conference of State Legislatures' Annual Meeting, where much state legislation is spawned. I considered going so that I could report to you on a variety of public policy issues being discussed by legislators, legislative staff, government officials and issues experts.
The conference is being held for five days in Salt Lake City. A featured speaker is Christopher Buckley, whose hilarious 1995 novel,
Thank You for Smoking, is one of my favorites. See, there’s this tobacco company lobbyist, who regularly meets for lunch with his two friends from the gun and liquor lobbies: they call themselves the MOD (Merchant of Death) Squad. But, warning label here: you must have a sense of black humor to find it funny, which leaves out most members of the Safety at Any Price Squad.
This reminds me: when I last visited my family in Nevada, I saw an article in the local paper from the Los Angeles Times News Service, titled “The Sun: we’re not getting enough.” It seems that since the big skin cancer scare began, pediatricians are seeing rickets in children who have been slathered with sun block every time they set foot outdoors, and seniors are becoming more at risk for osteoporosis, because of Vitamin D deficiency. I hope this news reached the NCSL before politicians start looking for a ways to tax my summer tan.
Anyhow, I had to forego hearing Buckley speak, and the short flight to visit grandtwins again, because this is a very busy time on Beacon Hill, most things having been put off until the last minute as usual. All I could manage was a day trip last week to Washington D.C. for a meeting of the National Taxpayers Union (NTU) Board of Directors.
I expect that the majority of people meeting in Salt Lake City next week will be planning to increase the size of government, though hopefully they will also be discussing better ways of managing the size we already have. People who prefer to keep state and local government under control have our own networks: taxpayer and citizen groups, and individuals who exchange email, call talk shows, and write letters to the editor. The NTU supports local groups with assistance for initiative and referendum issues; it helped with Proposition 2 ˝ here in Massachusetts in 1980. Every other year, it holds conferences for taxpayers from all around the country.
The NTU’s Chairman, David Stanley, his wife Jean and I traveled together during the ‘90s to International Taxpayer Conferences in Sweden, France, Hungary and Australia, where we studied tax competitiveness for job creation, the European value added tax, nationalized health care and other global issues. Enthusiastic about everything from astronomy and tax limitation to their many grandchildren and good works, they are excellent companions and I was happy to see them again to discuss some of the NTU’s major goals:
1. Constitutional Protection for Taxpayers. Extend the Bill of Rights to protect the people’s income and property by limiting how much governments can take. The NTU is working on a way to hold a constitutional convention to one specific amendment so we don’t have to fear the process interfering with existing rights.
2. Reduce the government percentage take (currently nearly half) of U.S. personal income. The NTU resists expanded “entitlements” while exposing wasteful programs and pork-barrel spending, and wants to give the President a line-item veto.
3. Expose the predatory, unfair, destructive U.S. Tax System. Show how certain taxes steal jobs. Repeal the existing tax code and the IRS, the death tax and the alternative minimum tax, while leading the national debate on what taxes on spending, not savings, should replace them. Allow a full charitable deduction for
4. Personal ownership of retirement and health funds. Reform of Social Security and Medicare, before it’s too late. We discussed the fact that many retirees are not going to get the pensions they had once planned for, so the property tax issue will get bigger at the state level.
5. Education reform, focused on parents’ right to choose schools. Reduce the power of teachers unions.
While the NTU is a non-partisan organization, critical of both Senator Kerry’s vote against its proposed constitutional amendment for a balanced budget, and President Bush’s support for a new Medicare prescription drug entitlement, we hear Republican politicians talking about many of the above issues. With Republicans controlling the Presidency and Congress, my one big question this election year is: why haven’t the major NTU goals been reached yet?
However, NTU lobbyists and members have been successful in helping to slow the growth of government. Political activists across the nation use its email action updates to lobby their federal legislators on current legislation. The NTU’s rating of Congress is often referenced by the media (Senator Kerry has a 14%, lower than Senator Kennedy’s 17% and Senator Edwards 22%, though all three fall into the Big Spender category, in case you wondered). The spending lobby has many friends in Washington D.C.; I’m glad I have a Union too.