Monday, July 25, 2011

Video of the Day: Gold and Money

I found this very interesting video online:

The question to ask is: What would the economy look like if we returned to the gold standard? (FYI: We likely won't see that for a very long time into the future.)

The answer is slow deflation. Since gold is limited in supply, as population grows, wages and the price of goods continually drop as the supply of gold (or gold-backed currency) is spread out among more people as a use of exchange.

Anyway, the video is fodder for good conversation.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Special Session July 2011: Booze, Budgets, and Ballets

Interim session was held today and we discussed several issues:

Utah's Looming $5 Billion Hole - During Conservative Caucus meeting this morning Rep. Ken Ivory gave us an overview of the looming budget problems that will coming down the road.  Of Utah's $12 Billion budget, $5 Billion are funds received from the Federal Government in the form of block grants and other types of payments.  With the Federal Government soon to be forced into austerity measures, state and municipal governments will be the first to feel the reduction in money flows.  Interestingly, the ratings agencies on Wall Street recently warned the state of Utah that it will need to prepare for this scenario.  The agencies were shocked to learn that we had already passed HB 138 during the 2011 general session which creates a plan for our state government to operate in the event that Federal money becomes unavailable.  The passage of this bill has helped Utah maintain is 'AAA' bond rating.  Regardless, it was felt among the body that our Federal deficit and debt problems will be affecting Utah and the States in the very near future. 

"Preferential Balloting" - In committee meeting this morning we discussed the possibility of using a rare form of "preferential ballot"  It's main purpose would be to be used when more than two candidates appeared on a ballot.  It would allow voters to rank their preferences and allow for quick elimination of inferior candidates and to give a clear majority victory to one candidate.  One of the reasons to use such a system would be to reduce "spoiler" candidates (i.e. Green Party, Constitution Party, Ross Perot) from causing victories to be established by plurality rather than a majority.  Unfortunately, our current voting system does not provide for voting in this manner and the cost to purchase a new voting system would be at least $26 Million.

Board and Commission Review - Our committee also agreed to submit a survey to all boards and commissions established by state government to identify efficiency and effectiveness so we can identify any consolidation and cuts that can occur.  Surveys will be mailed to 252 committees and boards that taxpayers are funding.

Government Optimization - Efforts are constantly being made to improve state government.  We learned today that state employees are paid 17% less than the private sector while receiving benefits that are 20% superior to the private sector.  Adjustments to state employees compensation were suggested.    It was also proposed that the number of cabinet level agencies be reduced from 21 to just 7.

FLUB OF THE DAY - Mike Mowers : "The governor wants every state employee focused on growing government."

Interesting Special Session Bills:

HB 2002 - Prison Relocation and Development Authority Act Amendments -  This bill deals with how the state will sell its 800 acre prison facility located in Draper, Utah. Due to the unique situation and the political sensitivity of such a transaction, this bill provides that the Legislature (and thus vicariously the people of the state) approve the sale of the property to any developer that submits a satisfactory proposal.

HB 2003 - Insurance Amendments - This bill provided some technical changes and gives insurers in the state some flexibility in how they craft policies to meet the needs of their customers.  There was a debate on the floor about the context of the bill.  It appears that the insurance industry has become so mired in regulation that changes in the law have ripple affects across the entire industry and interfere with other regulations.  The questions on this bill were regarding whether it would create insurance products that are "in" the state exchange system and also "out" of the system simultaneously.  The bill passed both the Hosue and Senate today.

SCR 201 - Resolution Supporting the United States Balanced Budget Constitutional Amendment - The title is self explanatory.  We passed this resolution to send a message to Washington D.C. that we expect our nation to keep it's fiscal house in order like Utah does each year.  This bill passed today.  

SB 2002 -  Alcoholic Beverage Control Act Amendments - This bill fixed some of the unintended consequences that occurred when we passed legislation earlier this year.  The bill corrects some conflict of interest problems, religious permit usage, and licensing details.  The bill passed 60-0.

Ogden School District - Finally, in Majority Caucus meeting today, Ogden School District was mentioned and received applause from much of the room for its initiative to work toward performance pay.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Ogden School District vs. UEA - KSL SUNDAY

The Ogden School District performance pay debate continues...

Bruce Lindsay does an excellent job asking pointed and direct questions.  Superintendent Zabriskie does an excellent job handling those questions.  In trying to get her message across, Ms. Gallagher-Fishbaugh seems to become mired in legal jargon that was probably lost on most of the audience.   (Click Segment 2 to watch) 

Video Courtesy of

It appears that the Ogden Education Association was asleep at the wheel while allowing the teachers to operate without a contract this past school year.  The union seems to recognize the implications of that mistake and is now demanding a last minute renegotiation.  I am curious how this dynamic would appear if the School District and UEA changed seats.  Would the UEA be as amenable to watering down its negotiating advantage as it is asking the Ogden School District to be today?

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

COURAGE! Ogden School District Goes Performance Pay

In a courageous step, the Ogden City School District has contractually initiated a paradigm shift in teacher compensation toward performance pay.   This is a first-of-its-kind move and I believe warrants public support. 

Teachers who wish to stay and renew their contract with the Ogden School District under this new paradigm can do so by July 20th.  Here is a copy of the letter issued by the district:

For the facts, here is a video of Superintendent Zabriskie speaking to the Standard Examiner editorial board:   

It is quite remarkable to hear the reaction from the union chiefs at the Ogden Education Association.  The recent Standard Examiner article on this issue contains some interesting quotes:

Doug Stephens, president of the Ogden Education Association, one of the organizations representing teachers in negotiations, said he is shocked.
“It is unprecedented in the state of Utah,” Stephens said. “It’s crazy. No school district or school board has ever done this before. This is a horrible thing.”

Well, even Christopher Columbus had his skeptics.  He goes on:

"So the NEA, President Obama and Congress have all been trying to figure out a fair system of performance pay, and no one has been able to come up with a system that is equitable, but a few board members and administrators in Ogden just magically have the answers?” Stephens said.
“There’s going to be a mass exodus of quality teachers, and they may not be replaced with the same kind of exceptional teachers that can change a kid’s whole outlook and make him feel better about himself,” he said.
“We are losing teachers right now, over the summer. Teachers are not going to stay in a district when they can get paid $3,000 or $4,000 (more) in another district.”
Stephens said there is a false impression, created by the media, that teachers and their representative groups are greedy. He said Ogden School District teachers have not asked for a raise in recent years and have gone without step increases for three years straight.

Note To Self:  If President Obama and Congress can't get something done, then it's certainly not worth doing and it should never be thought of or tried by anyone else.

Tangential thoughts: Is it our public schools' job to teach self esteem?  Or is it to prepare for higher education and the job market?  Does self esteem come before or after being educated with the proper skills?  Where does a parent's responsibility end and the school district's begin?

Additionally, is Ogden School district really going to have trouble finding folks when they put a "Now Hiring" sign on the front lawn?  Granted, not every person can be a teacher but I am sure there are qualified folks out there who will jump at the opportunity.  Looking for a job now? Here is a list of job opportunities currently.  

Also, in regards to "step increases" (or "pay raises" as the private sector calls them) I am sure most of the taxpayers in our state have not recieved a pay raise in the last three years.

Yet, do we need to pay teachers more?  I believe we do.  However, we need to do it with the money that we have.  It's remarkable that teacher salaries were preserved at their current levels despite the severe contraction in tax revenues during the past several years.  Let's be grateful for what we have.

My hat is off to the Superintendent and the School Board for their willingness to innovate and work for change in the School District.  They have shown leadership and they have my support as I hope they do yours.

Monday, July 4, 2011

George Washington: Americans Make Their Own Bed

"The foundation of our empire was not founded in the gloomy age of ignorance and superstition, but at an epocha when the rights of mankind were better understood and more clearly defined, than at any former period, the reserches of the human mind, after social happiness, have been carried to a great extent, the treasures of knowledge, acquired by the labours of philosphers, sages, and legislatures, through a long successsion of years, are laid open for our use, and their collected widsom may be happily applied in the establishment of our forms of government; the free cultivation of letters, the unbounded extension of commerce, the progressive refinement of manners, the growing liberality of sentiment, and bove all, the pure and benign light of revelation, have had ameliorating influence on mankind and increased the blessing of society. At this auspicious period, the United States came into existence as a nation, and if the citizens should not be completely free and happy, the fault will be entirely their own"

     - George Washington Circular to the States

Friday, July 1, 2011

State Government Shutdown: Minnesota's Mess

The state of Minnesota's government shut down today due to an impass on fixing a $5 Billion budget deficit.  The governor wanted to increase taxes and cut spending.  The legislature wanted to just cut spending and not increase taxes.

Here is the governor's finger pointing statement:

I found this statement amusing:

Governor: "Our American Revolution was very much about fair and just taxes, where the middle class was over taxed while the very rich went tax free."

My Rebuttal: So his answer is to tax the rich more so the overtaxed middle class feel better? I don't hear of any tax relief for the middle class in this speech.

Instead of promising to continue working toward a budget solution the good governor engages in class warfare.

He states that he cannot accept a Minnesota where:

  • People with disabilities loose part of the time they are cared for...
  • Young people cannot afford the rising tuition and University of Minnesota...
  • Elderly widows are denied at the "At Home" services...
  • Where local governments have to further slash their firefighters and police forces...
  • Where special education is being cut...
"...So millionaires do not have to pay one dollar more in taxes.  That is not Minnesota."

This speech highlights struggles that are going on in many other poorly managed states in the country.  I am grateful that Utah is not one of them.