Hillbilly Elegy, The Utah Republican Party And The Salt Lake Chamber Of Commerce

I wrote about political insiders effectively consolidating their take over of the Utah GOP. The outgoing party Chair then told conservatives and other grassroots folks they are not welcome and to get out and find another party. The GOP entrenched elites headed by Governor Gary Herbert have some fellow travelers, most prominent of which is the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce. These select groups have formed various policy front groups which they control and employ to provide a false veneer of neutral analysis to champion/justify their political goals/policies; a self-licking ice cream cone. The roll up of the GOP will certainly strengthen the local oligarchy they have formed.

They operate under the premise that what is good for business and GDP is good for everyone. They seem to believe in a one-size-fits-all silver bullet that stock values and business profits and growth equate to a healthy society. But that’s a lazy half truth that they (and many conservatives) fall for. To wit, with the power consolidation, we’ll likely see further business costs/risks being pushed onto the backs of of struggling families, onto low and middle income Utahns and onto small businesses — socializing the costs and privatizing profits. This will be done to improve the (big) business environment and to ensure the continued growth of government by broadening the tax base.

Certainly, having jobs is important to society but business success doesn’t always translate into jobs (e.g. automation and outsourcing) nor does it mean jobs are created where they’re needed (such as the rust belt and the vacating of rural Utah and especially where there is a seemingly blind focus on the Wasatch Front for government-assisted economic development measures). Nor can business success serve as a surrogate for the health of the foundational unit of society – the family and it certainly does not ensure a higher quality of life.

At the beginning of this year, Tucker Carlson gave a monologue on this issue which should be considered by everyone. I was going to quote part of his talk to capture his main point but decided against it because it is too important. It really must be considered at in full. Watch the segment or read the transcript here: Mitt Romney supports the status quo. But for everyone else, it’s infuriating.

I also just finished J.D. Vance’s book Hillbilly Elegy. I can’t recommend a better book. Just read it. It is a must for anyone who cares about their neighbors and community (and for those involved in politics/policy) or preparing for a church mission*.

Vance also took note of Carlson’s monologue (The Health Of Nations: Conservatives should heed Tucker Carlson’s advice. We shouldn’t assume that what is good for markets is good for all of us). He notes:

This raises a fundamental question with which so many of Tucker’s critics refuse to even engage: What happens when the companies that drive the market economy — and all of its benefits — don’t care about the American nation’s social fabric? What happens when, as in the case of a few massive narcotics sellers, they profit by destroying that fabric?

Surely our response can’t be: “Well, the market will take care of it.” The market is not a Platonic deity, floating in the sky and imposing goodness and prosperity from on high. It is the creation of our choices, our laws, and our democratic process. We know, for instance, that pornography has radically altered how young boys perceive their relationships with women and sex, and that the pornography industry has acquired a lot of wealth…

Again, please read the entire article (AND his book). It is true that both parties have rejected the social aspect of policy. National Republican economic elites have basically cast out and silenced social conservatives. We’re told the way to win elections is to limit ourselves to economic issues and definitely avoid anything about morality or “traditional family values”.

Meanwhile, in his book, JD Vance refers to family values with strong church and community support as part of the remedy to the situations he was faced as a youth:

…So I wasn’t surprised that Mormon Utah—with its strong church, integrated communities, and intact families—wiped the floor with Rust Belt Ohio.

When I read this, it was a source of pride. But it vanished quickly and I was chilled when I realized that I know kids and families much like JD’s in my own neighborhood and in our classrooms*. Utah is not immune. We all know someone or a family just like JD’s. It’s already here and we’re not talking about it. Nor is it helpful when local churches waver on foundational moral principles that give the stability cited by Vance to Utah and, most importantly, its families.

I hope we’ll wake to this and not continue to be lead by the nose by the Salt Lake Chamber and that we will recognize that gross economic growth does not ensure a thriving society and economy. As individuals, we don’t get absolution by blaming our oligarchs and doing nothing. We need to get ourselves together, inculcate religious values in our children, take political action, and reach out to those like JD.

*If you want to understand those near you and those you teach or will serve. Read Hillbilly Elegy. His was an Appalachian family but the experience, consequences, and ‘enduring monsters’ that JD faces transcend Appalachia and exist next door, sit in an elementary school, and can be found behind the door missionaries knock on as they proclaim Christ’s gospel. There’s plenty of swearing but it isn’t gratuitous – it’s the way they talk. Get passed it and look at the heart and lessons, and act!

Advertisements

2019 Legislative Lesson: Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce, Swamp Consolidates Stranglehold On Utah

The general session of the Utah legislature ended on Thursday and it was a major win for the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce and the elite swamp.

Let’s start with some temporary good news. Outcry stopped, for now, the Chamber’s HB441 tax reform which would have further socialized costs and privatized profits. Again, this is temporary as the legislature is planning a special session to address tax reform. I expect they will basically run HB441 with a bit more lipstick and stick residents with a larger portion of government/infrastructure cost while minimizing big businesses’ contribution (businesses represented by the Chamber), thus maximizing their profits.

Teachers were also unhappy with HB441 and should be reminded that it was the Chamber’s past president, Lane Beattie, who screwed up school funding in the first place. Senator Howard Stephenson also picked up on this as well on his March 9th radio show where he called out those behind this mess.

Stephenson: I believe they created a crisis to then have a solution that was basically cooked up behind closed doors and sprung on the legislature with only two weeks left in the legislature.
Dougall: So when you say “they”, you don’t mean the legislature created the crisis, others created the crisis was responding to…
Stephenson: Well we know who was involved in it: The Salt Lake Chamber, the Kem Gardner Institute and Natalie Gochnour, and the uh Representative Quinn and some others, who, nobody really knows who was part of this brain trust and when they were meeting or anything…

Next, the Chamber and politicians made another big step in pulling political power from citizens and into the hands of political power brokers and political elites (“the swamp”). HB119 modifies the rules on citizen intiatives/referendum to greatly increase the logistics (and cost) by carving cities up into separate districts and requiring signatures come from 75% of those districts along with having to hold town hall meetings. The bill also lets cities spend money to fight such initiatives (thus, they get to use citizens’ tax money to fight citizen initiatives). The bill was sponsored by none other than Brad Daw and chief Utah swamp creature (imported from Chicago), Curt Bramble. This junk comes on the heels of SB54 which shifted candidate selection from the neighborhood caucus (advantageous to citizens) to big money political campaigns and lobbyists/consultants. SB54 also resulted in candidates being selected with less than a majority. Somewhere, Kurt Jowers, his Alta Club posse and his “California friend” are smiling…

The Chamber and Legislature (BIRM) also pushed more high density housing onto local cities. This will make the Chamber’s developers very happy and will not help housing affordability – likely the opposite (note: read the op-ed but then read the author’s (Justin S) comments in the comment section, they are key). The Chamber is also behind the propaganda ads on this issue and note that the Chamber cites the Kem Gardner Institute in the article (you’ll never guess who sits on the board of the Kem Gardner Center…).

More cronyism is glaringly obvious with HB290 where the legislature decided to dish out your sensitive personal information (including SSN, mother’s maiden name, place and date of birth, physical characteristics, medical information, etc.) to the University of Utah (UofU) for their health and epidemiology studies. As I said when I highlighted this abuse of power:

I’ve been part of medical studies but voluntarily participated. The UofU is no better than any other university or other medical research group when it comes to this. They should adhere to the same standards as the rest. They should be ashamed for engaging in political cronyism and trying to get this type of preferential treatment to take our driver license information without asking. It’s another example of Bastiat’s “legal plunder”.

Our so-called elites continue their path of power consolidation and legal plunder. Unfortunately, we’ll be left holding the consequences these ignorant elites foist upon us.

Addendum: the Chamber also had limited success with their support of the irrigation water metering bill. They used the guise of water conservation for this bill but it was bunk – water operators stated it was easy to conserve water by simply limiting irrigation to certain days (turning of the system on ‘non-water’ days) etc. What they had attempted (pushing expensive water meters onto everyone) was likely to result in cheaper, smaller water operators being forced out and effectively creating water monopolies and to favor developers. That danger still exists and there’s a question if Utah’s aquifers will be harmed (irrigation water significantly replenishes the aquifer).

Utah Media Bias Chris Jones (KUTV) Style

Waste is always worthy of being exposed and addressed. It’s the pretentious nature and condescending attitude Jones has toward parents (i.e. ‘outsiders’) coupled with his failure to disclose conflicts of his go to “expert” and one-sided reporting that torpedoes his credibility. His bias was on full display.

Here’s a snippet from his report (“APA charter school blew nearly $500K in botched expansion plan”):

American Preparatory Academy [APA] is in the middle of a lengthy, expensive legal battle that has cost Utah taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars, all thanks to what critics suggest is poor planning and a sense of entitlement.

“It was an expensive, dubious project to undertake,” said Carol Lear of the Utah State School Board.

He goes on to go after APA’s actions but here’s what Jones left out of his report:

  • He didn’t disclose Carol Lear is a counsel attorney to Lear & Lear, LLP, a competing law firm (specializing in education law) to the one paid to represent the charter school in Jones’ report. Her firm is one which, just a few months ago, bid on a state school board contract resulting in conflict of interest concerns: “State board mulls possible conflicts after firms of 2 school board members bid on $40,000 contract“.
  • Jones didn’t disclose Lear’s apparently passionate involvement prior battle with this issue and APA which occurred and was reported on over a year ago. She certainly wasn’t one of the “board members [who] were more moderated in their communications, while still hinting at discomfort over the issue.”
  • In the televised newscast, he concluded, telling the KUTV anchors, that charter schools aren’t managed well because parents sit on the board instead of an elected politician or a professional education administrator.

Believe it or not, parents have a vested interest in the school’s operation (they pay for school and often volunteer) and their kids are directly involved and may be harmed. Meanwhile, a politician’s interest is in a career path. Of course, the media is in bed with professional political swamp, so not much of a surprise here that KUTV would want to promote the latter.

Charter schools are far, far more responsive to parents than a traditional school. I speak from experience. Obviously, not all charter schools are good (conversely, plenty of traditional schools suck too) but they are overall much more responsive and, at least, bear the consequences of their actions (decreased enrollment, funding, and eventual closure). Traditional schools generally don’t have this level of feedback. In economics, it’s been long known that the closer an individual or organization is to the funding source of their service, the better job they do – just read the section on public and private education pros and cons in Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations.

I looked through several KUTV “Beyond the Books” reports and I didn’t see such a ‘tenacious’ report on waste and poor management from the traditional public schools and I’m sure there’s plenty (some options: student data sharing, school fee abuses, Taj Mahal buildings, apparent violations of Utah code and district policy). Maybe he’ll go after them with the same zeal but I’m not counting on it.

I’m sure Jones has never found any problems with any politician’s decision…well, besides those he politically disagrees with. But he can sure run some exposé when it’s someone outside the anointed Utah political insider club like a bunch of parents on  a board…ugh that icky rabble should just stay out of the playpen.

All this begs the question given the one-sided nature of his “reports”: Who’s feeding Jones the attack information so he can act as their hired gun? At least one of his benefactors is the left-wing Alliance for a Better Utah who sicced him on School Board member Lisa Cummins and I suspect he’s happily aligned with them and/or just plain lazy and happy to regurgitate what he’s been told.

I already linked to this above, but if you really want to know what’s going on with the APA issue in a much more objective manner read this in full: Should Utah charter schools be allowed to seize private land? Maybe Jones should ask the article’s writer, Benjamin Wood, to mentor him. Otherwise, he and KUTV are always welcome to the world of blogging where he can spout his opinion rather than feigning objectivity.

Note: I’m not affiliated with APA nor at all enamored with their actions based on what I read in Wood’s actual reporting (last link above). I’m just sick of pretend journalists (“fake news”). If you’re going to advocate, fine,  just be open and explicit – don’t call yourself a journalist.

Side note for potential future reference: I stumbled on this. Apparently Carol Lear isn’t a fan of concealed carry and weapons training in schools:

“It’s a terrible idea,” said Carol Lear, a chief lawyer for the Utah Office of Education. “It’s a horrible, terrible, no-good, rotten idea.”
Utah educators say they would ban guns if they could, but legislators left them with no choice. State law forbids schools, districts or college campuses from imposing their own gun restrictions.[I believe this the opinion of the UEA]

Davis School District Violated Their Policy And State Code During March School Walkout

This refers to the walkout that was organized by gun control groups to advocate for gun control in schools (back in the spring of 2018) after the Parkland shooting.

The Davis School District, told principals to inform (not ask) parents that their children would be walking out of schools. The District, Principals and Superintendent Newby decided to tacitly sponsor and provide logistical resources for the obvious political advocacy and disrupt school. They also figured parents weren’t worthy to be consulted on their child’s participation but just do as they were told.

On that day, school administrators and some teachers were also required to attend the protest to “observe” and ‘keep kids safe’. Several teachers also made statements in support of the protest including to students who opposed it and stayed in class.

Besides violating basic ethical standards, they also violated the following:

Utah Code 62A-4a-201(1)(a)&(d)( and 78A-6-503(10) along with the district’s own policy by the definitions in Section 3.2.2 subsections [b] and [c] (School Attendance and Truancy Intervention, Section 5 of the District’s policy manual):

[b] “Unexcused absence”
means an absence charged to a student when the student was not physically present in the assigned class or class period at any of the times attendance checks were made and the student’s absence could not be accounted for by evidence of a valid excuse in accordance with this policy or the school’s attendance procedures

[c] ““Excused absence”
means a student’s absence from school which has been verified by a parent/guardian or school administrator in accordance with school level procedures and is for a reason identified by state law or District policy as valid including:
(i) Illness, which may be either mental or physical;
(ii) a scheduled family event if the parent/guardian submits a written statement at least one school day before the scheduled absence;
(iii) medical appointment;
(iv) family emergency;
(v) death of family member or close friend;
(vi) preapproved extended absences in compliance with Section 3.4; and
(vii) approved school activity.

Although an absence may be identified as “excused”, the student is responsible to make up course work for the days missed in accordance with the school level procedures.

The protest resulted in students not being “physically present in the assigned class”. Thus the only way for the District to allow them to protest is an option in the “Excused absence” subsection which only parents or a school administrator can provide. Obviously parents were never consulted so that’s out. That only leaves official sanction from a “school administrator” and the only criteria they could use would be “approved school activity”.

When I contacted Superintendent Newby months ago, he claimed it the protest wasn’t an approved school activity and “No school personnel authorized students to leave class.” No participating students were marked as truant. So under what authority could Newby et al. provide official notification (the letter) and logistics for the political activism without official sanction (“approved school activity”)?
Answer: None. They just straight-up violated state parental primacy code as well as district attendance/truancy policy and effectively official sanctioned a political protest.

A note: Yes – this happened months ago. There’s lots of stuff I would like to write but don’t have time so sometimes I catch up on a few when I get some time. I doubt many people (if any) read this blog anyway so I use this as a way to document stuff for my own reference and maybe someone will be looking up stuff and be able to find background or resources on an issue. If you’re that someone, hopefully it helped.

Same Gamble: Our Schools Now Proposition 1 And The Mega Millions Lottery

Tomorrow we vote on Questions 1 promote by the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce’s front group “Our Schools Now”. The initiative will raise the fuel tax which will ripple through the economy (e.g. fuel costs impact the cost of food at the grocery store).

Besides being a bad idea to begin with, especially with the fiscal shell game the Chamber and their political pals plan to use, take a read of this article:

The Mega Millions jackpot (and why you are not being told the truth)

In the middle of the 20th century, when lotteries first started in the U.S., they were sold to states as a way to benefit the American public by providing additional funding for education.

This means that as the jackpots get bigger and people spend more money on lotteries – $223 per year by the average American, in fact – there should be more money in state budgets to spend on education.

But that isn’t happening.

Most state legislatures haven’t been using the lottery money for additional education funding. Instead, they’re using it to fund the basic education budget, and using the money that would normally fund education on other things altogether. As a result, public schools rarely get a budget boost.

With the Chamber’s involvement, I would expect the same here but rather than using lottery money for their shell game, they’ll use the gas tax to fund their other pet projects.

Really, it will be a double shell game: The tax is already a shell game as they use the gas tax money to fund other stuff so they free up money for education but I’m counting on them eventually turning around and using the freed up money for their pet projects instead of education.

Again, please look at my prior post on Question 1 and the prior political game with education money lead to this situation. Don’t fall for the shell game. Like the lottery, it’s a losing gamble but worse – this time you’re gambling with someone else’s money under government force.

Finally, an acquaintance passed an email on to me that also hits the issue:

Please see the attached link of the legislature when they were in the process of passing the “non-binding questions 1” that is on the ballot.

It shows how many of the legislators hold us, the tax paying voters.

http://utahlegislature.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?clip_id=22914&meta_id=846895

Please consider how wise it would be to vote for a lifelong gas tax that cannot go directly to schools, it must be gerrymandered to go to education. Future legislatures cannot be held to switch funds around and every legislator I have talked to say it will only be for 1 or 2 years, but we will pay the tax increase for our lifetimes.

Please use wisdom in voting as we all have to live with the consequences.

The same advice should be applied regarding Proposition 3 (Obamacare-lite Medicaid expansion). Proposition 4 should also be opposed (I have no interest in unelected bureaucrats drawing up/manipulating election lines, it’s ripe for corruption; people doing this should be directly responsible to voters).

Growing Big Government And The Welfare State, Utah Edition: Ballot Question 1 and 3

The Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce loves pushing government intervention and tax schemes, especially if they can benefit by pushing their costs and taxes onto you. This continues.

The chamber started a front group to push the “Our Schools Now” initiative which will raise gas taxes a whopping 18%. The chamber keeps using some tiny increase but it’s woefully deceptive ‘math’ (ironic given this is purportedly for education). Besides the bunk claim, the initiative will essentially muddy the waters on transportation funding as heretofore, the gas tax was reserved for transportation. Basically it will be placing the camel’s nose in the tent.

Worst of all, it will impact family budgets. Unlike a sales or income tax, this is a regressive tax. Families need fuel to get to work, take kids to school, and run basic errands. This will hit mid-to-low income families disproportionately to higher income levels.

Not to mention, this will put a drag on small businesses and the local economy as a whole (the Salt Lake Chamber represents big business, political elite interests, not mom & pops). There’s a reason high fuel/energy costs are always a concern and why people scream when gas pump bills jump – now they want you to give them carte blanche to jump prices.

Finally, as the Libertas Institute points out (read the report), current education funding issues are a consequence of Lane Beatty and his economic elites’ policies foisted on us in the late 90s. There are far better solutions to this than harming families and the Utah economy. Ironically, Lane Beattie is sponsoring the OurSchoolsNow charge for this tax increase…the same guy and group who messed things up totally has the fix now. Sure he does.

On to the next part of the shifting Utah to a welfare state: Medicaid expansion.

Do we really want Obamacare-lite at a local level that caused all sorts of problems in other localities that have expanded Medicaid? The expansion will increase taxes and will cost money resulting in additional raised taxes as cost overruns are realized and just create more drag on family budgets along with an expanded government role in personal health issues. No thanks, I’ll take care of that myself.

Other states that expanded Medicaid have seen cost overruns among other budgeting issues and have found worse health outcomes. Again, Libertas has a good write-up on this worth reading: Common Sense Healthcare Solutions Need More Than Band-Aids.

This should be an absolute nonstarter but people often have trouble turning down “free” government cheese, especially if they aren’t informed. Plus, I understand the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce supports this too* but don’t have time to confirm/link to such (I recall they have in the past as it pushes business healthcare costs onto taxpayers).

As the adage goes (for both ballot initiatives):

Government: If you think the problems we create are bad, just wait until you see our solutions.

*Addendum: The Salt Lake Chamber did directly support Medicaid expansion as well as indirectly through the United Way. The Chamber likes expansion as it pushes healthcare costs from business onto taxpayers. Click the link and look at the sections on the “Health Systems Tax Force” and the United Way.

Primary Election Issue: Yes, The 2018 Utah Legislature Raised Taxes On Middle Class Families

If you haven’t noticed yet, take a look at your recent paycheck. If you have a family and have a middle class income, you may notice that your take home pay went down. But how can this be? We were told the legislature (slightly) lowered the income tax rate from 5.00% to 4.95%. Yes, but they also knowingly did nothing about the removal of personal deductions. The Trib article,“Utahns with large families could be paying a lot more in state taxes next year”, and it’s associated impact table (be sure to look at it!) sum it up:

The Utah Legislature passed a 0.05 percent income tax cut this year but took no action on changes in federal tax law that eliminated personal deductions. The decision means most Utah taxpayers will pay more in state tax in 2019 even though their overall tax bills will be lower because of the federal cuts.

Legislators and he Governor were well aware of the need to address the changes and certainly better not claim ignorance:

For example, an $80,000-a-year family of seven with one disabled child might currently itemize deductions equal to about 20 percent of income and end up with a state tax bill of $2,200. Next year, that family will do better claiming the standard deduction. But they will lose $17,000 in other deductions, and their tax bill could jump by $1,000, or 45 percent.

Lawmakers knew all this back in January, when the state Tax Commission reported a potential $80 million windfall for the state thanks to federal tax changes and outlined the “average Joe” impacts. The cost of the income tax cut the Legislature eventually approved was about $55 million — an amount more than offset by that windfall.

But for about the same cost, lawmakers could have taken action to preserve the state personal exemption and pass along those savings to taxpayers — something that neighboring Idaho did this year by creating a state child tax credit.

House Bill 385 was such a bill. Introduced by first-termer Rep. Tim Quinn, R-Heber City, it didn’t even get out of committee, a victim of other priorities.

Yes, they had “other priorities”…like helping political cronies such as UTA with millions for a name change. Maybe another priority was creating a bridgehead for an education ‘head tax’ on children but they didn’t have the guts to debate it in the open. Instead, they chose to sneak one through on taxpayers and Governor Herbert went along with it.

Since it’s primary season and an election year, this issue would be a good one to bring up to incumbent state legislators (such as Ray Ward in South Davis County) and opposing candidates.