Budgeting For Results: A Fiscal Roadmap for Montana (2012)

By Barry W. Poulson, PhD, MPI Senior Fellow, and John Merrifield, PhD

Click here for full study. (PDF- 4MB)

MPI Policy Note: Budgeting For ResultsA Fiscal Roadmap For Montana

Based on an MPI Study by Barry Poulson, Ph. D. and John Merrifield, Ph.D.

 BOTTOM LINE UP FRONT:

Montana has experienced unconstrained state government spending growth, resulting in a structural deficit in which future revenues will not match future spending obligations. Making matters worse is a flawed budgeting process where spending increases are “baselined” into each biennial budget regardless of affordability or necessity. When you combine the “baseline” budgeting approach to the structural deficit, recent surpluses simply are not big enough to keep Montana in the black long term. If Montana is to keep its fiscal house in order for our generation and those to come, lawmakers must look closely at these challenges in the 2013 Legislature. MPI proposes that Montana convert to a priority-based budgeting system that will empower legislators with much greater spending oversight and accountability to taxpayers.

There is a structural deficit in the state budget.

  • A state is said to have a structural deficit if under current law state revenues are projected to fall below state expenditures in the long run. Structural deficits, unlike current account deficits, are not linked to the business cycle but rather to the fiscal rules that determine expenditure growth in the long run. These rules often encourage deferring difficult choices to future lawmakers.
  • Short term surpluses, like the one forecasted for the upcoming 2015 Biennium, tend to mask the significance of long term structural deficits because lawmakers and the public perceive that the state’s fiscal outlook is rosy. Although Montana is sitting on one of the largest surpluses in the last decade, it is a drop in the bucket compared to revenues needed for future spending obligations.
  • Medicaid, unfunded liabilities in public employee and teacher pension programs, annualization of one-time federal money, and off-budget expenditures represent the bulk of Montana’s structural deficit.
  • Temporary federal injections have allowed state Medicaid spending to grow at a reasonable rate or even decline. However, Medicaid spending could increase $70 million by the end of the decade depending how the Affordable Care Act is implemented in Montana.
  • Unfunded or underfunded pension liabilities for state workers are over $3 billion and very likely worse given unrealistically high assumptions for returns on pension fund investment portfolios.
  • Various off-budget expenditures account for nearly a quarter of the state’s overall spending but are not prioritized with other state budgetary goals and obligations. This “earmarked” spending is automatic and generally immune from the rigors of the normal budgeting process.
  • The structural deficit is unsustainable and requires a change in the fiscal rules of the game and no windfall of surplus revenue will rectify the long term balance sheet.

Montana’s budget process is seriously flawed, resulting in a bias towards spending growth.

  • Montana’s “present law” system begins with existing agency budgets, adjusts them for inflation and other factors, and uses the outcome as a baseline for future budgets. Spending increases are automatically carried into future years regardless of revenues and priorities. The only way Montana has been able to keep up with present obligations is with minor cuts and the “luck” of unanticipated surpluses.
  • The system implicitly assumes that all current spending is both efficient and effective, and that the justifications behind all existing state programs and expenditures remain valid. Actual performance and need are not systematically measured.
  • The result is a baseline budget that will almost always be larger than its predecessor. Any reduction to this budget is treated as a cut, even though it may still increase spending levels from previous years.
  • The burden is on our citizen legislators to find, propose, and defend cuts to the proposed budget, something they are ill-equipped to do during a biennial 90-day session as special interests and government officials lobby for their programs. Moreover, there is an automatic political liability for any lawmaker that tries to restrain spending.

MPI recommends the state convert to a priority-based budget system.

  • Priority-based budgeting has been implemented successfully in a number of states. It is not experimental and the benefits are real and measurable.
  • The process begins by asking four basic questions: 1) What are the essential services the state must perform? 2) How can the state deliver essential services efficiently and effectively? 3) How should the state budget be allocated for the delivery of essential services? 4) How can the state assure that essential services are delivered efficiently and effectively in the long run?
  • Programs, rather than agencies, are evaluated based on their effectiveness and efficiency in addressing these four questions. Since each program is evaluated against objective criteria and against other programs with similar goals, results will be measurable and redundancy will be minimized.
  • This process forces lawmakers to acknowledge the fact that resources are limited, and then prioritize spending to achieve the greatest impact for the least amount of spending during each budget cycle. It also requires lawmakers to be accountable to those paying the bill – i.e. taxpayers – and not special interest groups and agency bureaucrats.

Other reforms are also necessary to resolve Montana’s structural deficit.

  • Off-budget or statutory spending makes up nearly 25 percent of state expenditures. This spending is automatic and outside the purview of normal budget processes. These “earmarks,” which stood at about $2.2 billion for the 2013 Biennium, should be forced to compete with other programs for taxpayer dollars.
  • Unfunded federal health care mandates greatly increase Montana’s Medicaid and pension liabilities. Federal subsidies will end at about the time costs will begin to significantly increase, resulting in unsustainable state obligations. Implementation of the Affordable Care Act could increase the cost of the program by nearly $100 million by the end of the decade.
  • Underfunded state pension programs will increasingly draw on budget resources and siphon funding from essential programs. Montana’s defined benefit system should be stabilized and then converted to a defined contribution system for new hires.

Dynamic tax scoring demonstrates that Montana can change its tax policy to boost growth.

  • This study uses dynamic scoring to analyze the impact of new fiscal rules and fiscal policies on budget stabilization and economic growth in Montana, which include tax and expenditure limits, a budget stabilization fund, an emergency fund, and capital investment fund.
  • The tax and expenditure limit caps the growth in general fund spending at the rate of population growth plus inflation. Surplus revenue above that cap is allocated to the budget stabilization fund, emergency fund, and capital investment fund. When the cap is reached on those funds additional surplus revenue is offset by tax cuts or tax rebates.
  • The study then simulates the impact of the new fiscal rules and fiscal policies on economic growth. The simulation revises personal income and future tax revenues when dollars shift between the public and private sectors, or when tax rates drop, and when idle fund balances accrue interest payments.
  • In the baseline simulation, the new fiscal rules allow for a 3.5 percentage point reduction in personal income tax rates. That reduction in personal income tax rates significantly increases the rate of economic growth. Higher growth in personal income generates additional tax revenue, offsetting some of the static revenue effects of the rate cuts.
  • Lastly, the study simulates a revenue neutral replacement of the income tax with a sales tax. This revenue neutral sales tax rate for Montana is estimated at 5.3 percent, close to the national average. This tax reform boosts economic growth even more than the income tax rate cuts simulated in this study.

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The Montana Policy Institute is a 501(c)(3) policy research organization that equips Montana citizens and decision makers to better evaluate state public policy options from the perspective that policies based upon limited government, individual rights and individual responsibility, and free markets will result in the greatest common good. To find out more or for copies of the complete study, visit us at www.montanapolicy.org. NOTHING WRITTEN here is to be construed as an attempt to influence any election or legislative action. PERMISSION TO REPRINT this paper in whole or in part is hereby granted provided full credit is given to the author(s) and the Montana Policy Institute.

 

Copyright © 2012

 

The Montana Policy Institute, 67 West Kagy Blvd., STE. B, Bozeman, MT 59715; 406-219-0508; www.montanapolicy.org

 

Public vs. Private Sector Compensation in Montana (2012)

By Glenn Oppel, MPI Policy Director

Click here for full study. (PDF – 4MB)

The State Human Resources Division (Division) of the Montana Department of Administration plays a key role in the adoption of a pay plan for state employees in Montana. It is for all intents and purposes the sole source of data on compensation used by policymakers and agency managers. Unfortunately, the data the Division produces is based on a flawed methodology and limited data.

The Division conducts a salary survey of Montana and surrounding states on a biennial basis to arrive at a private sector comparison for occupations and offices in state government. With the most recent survey, the Division determined that on average a majority of the public sector occupations studied have earnings that are 13.3 percent below what they call the “market midpoint.” The Division’s methodology is open to criticism on a number of points:

• Many positions in the public sector have no private-sector equivalent. Correctional officers and fire fighters, for instance, have no direct private sector equivalent. Comparing occupations like these to a “market midpoint” yields very little useful information.

• Comparing earnings among occupations does not account for the differences in age, education, and experience for the employees who work in these occupations.

• The Division’s analysis doesn’t include the value of employee benefits — health insurance, paid leave, pension, etc. — which make up a considerable portion of public employee compensation.

This new analysis from the Montana Policy Institute compares employees of similar personal and professional characteristics in both the public and private sectors of Montana. Instead of comparing pay in broad occupational categories, this report uses regression analysis to compare public and private employees of similar work experience, education, gender, race, and disability status. It also analyzes total compensation (which the state fails to do), including take-home pay as well as fringe benefits.

This report details the methodology and finds that public employees in Montana actually earn over 15 percent more than comparable employees in the state’s private sector.

Is The Election An End Or A Beginning?

Winston Churchill, when asked if the Allied victory in North Africa was the beginning of the end of World War II, replied “No, but it may be the end of the beginning.” Despite yesterday’s disappointing results, American Exceptionalism is not at an end. I’m not even quite ready to say it’s at the beginning of the end.

But this election marks a significant shift in our culture; and that shift is the end of the beginning of this great American experiment. We have gone from a majority that respects freedom and responsibility to a majority that envies success and covets power.

If you’re like me by about 8:00 last night you felt like you’d been kicked in the gut. How could so many of our fellow countrymen and Montanans – Montanans for crying out loud! – be ready to toss out the principles that made this country great and become mere cogs in a vast machine run by government overseers and their cronies?

And why should any of us continue to fight for those principles when most Americans today clearly don’t understand or value them?

I’ll leave it to pundits and shrinks to answer the first question. I have my own ideas on why people so willingly trade freedom for security, confuse likeability with competency, and don’t take the time or mental effort to understand the complex issues we face today. But regardless of the reasons, that’s where we are.

The question is, what do those of us who care about freedom, who understand what makes this country different and great do about it? Do we take our toys and go home: disengage, get off the grid and let the country and culture drive itself off the cliff?

Many of us who have worked hard, saved, and planned ahead in case of uncertain times have the option to step aside, live simpler lives, and watch the train go over the edge.

And I’ll be honest. My first reaction last night was “To hell with them all. If they can’t figure it out why should I care anymore.”

But that’s not who I am; and if you’ve read this far I doubt it’s who you are, either.

I had two maxims during my Naval career that got me through many difficult times: from months of being yelled at by a Marine drill sergeant, to endless months boring circles in and over oceans around the world, to twenty four hour operations in hot zones. They’re simple – almost Sophomoric – but they’re true: “Nothing is ever as good or as bad as it seems,” and “This too shall pass.”

Remember how you felt in 2008. It was bad and we’re worse off now. But we’re still here. The feelings of disappointment, gloom, and even betrayal soften. Thoughts turn to the future.

We’ll survive despite some hard times ahead. But we don’t want to go through this again.

Do your grieving and get on with the task at hand.

It’s the end of the beginning. We’ve entered a new phase in the battle for America and I for one am not ready to surrender.

With great risk comes great opportunity, but not certain success. That’s why they call it risk. We need to recognize that the culture has shifted and meet that shift head on. We need to get past short term political opportunism and invest in demonstrating the inevitable human tragedies that will result from the coming policies out of Washington and the possibility of continued failed policies coming out of Helena (the votes aren’t all in as I write this).

People are voting with their hearts, not their heads. We need to reach their hearts so that we can engage their heads.

We will do our part at MPI to ensure that you and state leaders have ideas and options to return to the principles that made this country the Shining City on the Hill and Montana its crown jewel.  But as we’ve seen, great ideas are not enough.

The culture is the key. Montanans must understand the grave issues facing our state and nation, and how the current path toward centralized control, dependency on the state and decline of the private sector affect them personally. That takes constant engagement and reaching people where they are, not where we want them to be.

And it means playing offense, not defense! For too long we’ve assumed people would do the right thing if they just had the facts. Facts are necessary but insufficient. We need to actively work to create a culture of freedom and build a bench of future leaders whose guiding principles go beyond getting into office. We need to build a Freedom Majority that feels with their hearts and votes with their heads.

The Montana Policy Institute will be on the front lines, informing and persuading taxpayers and leaders to put freedom ahead of free stuff, to win the battle of ideas that leads to victories in the battle for leadership. We need you to continue to stand with us, and to encourage others to help make that effort decisive by supporting the Montana Policy Institute.

You can start right now by forwarding this email to five friends letting them know you care about our freedoms, and asking them to join the battle for ideas that is so crucial to Montana’s future.

Let’s step up to ensure that Tuesday, November 6th 2012 becomes a tipping point for the restoration of freedom in America and a legacy of opportunity in Montana; that the end of the beginning in American Exceptionalism is the beginning of the end for statism and tyranny!

Media Trackers Montana: Bullock’s Office Seeks to Dismiss Suit Against Former Political Practices Commisioner

Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock’s office is seeking the dismissal of a law suit against former Montana Commissioner of Political Practices (COPP) Dave Gallik brought by the Montana Policy Institute (MPI). The suit was filed under the 2005 “False Claims Act,” which alleges on behalf of the state that Gallik worked for his private law practice on state time and with state resources during his tenure from May of 2011 t0 February of 2012….

To Continue Reading the Article on MediaTrackers Montana’s Website, click here.

Contrast of Facts On the Presidential Race

This is long for a blog post. Sorry about that. But I was cc’d on an email exchange between two people I know that is worth sharing. The first email was a list of President Obama’s accomplishments straight from the campaign’s website. Fair enough, but just one more political hack who spams their friends’ inboxes with campaign materials doesn’t impress me much. In fact it’s kind of insulting.

What I’m copying here – and I have to copy and paste from the email since it’s not pulled off a campaign website that I know of – is a friend’s thoughtful response to that list, providing real facts and real context from a real person. If it doesn’t read like a campaign commercial that’s because it isn’t one. It’s the product of someone who’s done their homework and thinks for themselves.

I’m in the information business and I don’t fear providing information and links from people with whom I personally disagree because I think most people are smart enough to figure out what’s right, wrong, useful, and manipulative. So I’m giving you, via link and text, a bunch of information that you can add to the mix if you’re still on the fence. I’m not going to tell you who to believe or vouch for the data and assertions by either of these takes, but please look at the link above, and then at the rebuttal below. And then do your civic duty on Tuesday.

Rebuttal to “spammer friend” of Obama campaign’s list of accomplishments:

“1. Unemployment: According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, the recession ended in June, 2009, over three years ago. Shortly into his first term, Obama promised if Congress passed the stimulus package unemployment would never top 8% and would drop below 6% by 2012. Just last month, for the first time since Obama’s election, unemployment dropped below 8%. Obama’s 43 straight months of unemployment over 8% is the longest for any presidency. As bad as that is, it is even worse if you analyze the real unemployment under Obama when you count all the folks who have given up looking for work. Taking those folks into account results in a true unemployment rate of 11.63%.

2. The Recovery Act: Most of America is now aware of the expensive failures of the stimulus just on green energy alone. These include Solyndra ($500 million), A123 Systems ($249.1 million), Abound Solar ($400 million), Amonix Solar ($20 million), and several more. Additionally, as stated above, the promised effect on employment never materialized. Despite this, digging deeper into the numbers shows the disastrous result of the stimulus. In the second Quarter of 2012, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that between 200,000 to 1.2 million people have jobs they otherwise would not have without the stimulus. Giving the President the benefit of the doubt by assuming the correct number is 1.2 million jobs, that equates to $692,500 per job “created or saved” by the Obama stimulus. Seems like we would have been better giving those 1.2 million folks a $100k each and saved the rest. While the president touts creating 5 million new jobs during his first term, it would actually have taken 9 million new jobs just to keep up with population growth. Consequently, the Obama economy is not just running in sand, it is running in quicksand.

3. Debt/Deficit/Budget: After criticizing as “unpatriotic” the doubling of the national debt from $5 trillion to roughly $10 trillion under Bush over eight years, Obama increased the debt by nearly $6 trillion in less than four years. Google or search on YouTube for “Hal Mason” and/or “United States Budget Dilemma” and you will learn the US budget cannot be balanced even if the government shut down. More specifically, you will learn the US will spend $3.8 trillion under Obama in 2012 but collect only $2.5 trillion dollars in tax revenue, a record deficit of $1.3 trillion. According to the White House’s own books, the government will spend $225 billion paying interest our debt, $2,252 trillion on entitlements and $1.319 trillion operating the government (military, energy, education, congress, courts, etc.). If you do the math, you will find that spending for entitlements in interest alone exceeds the tax revenue collected. That means we are borrowing money every day to run every other facet of government like the military, etc. Now, Washington talking about the upcoming “fiscal cliff.” After watching the Hal Mason video I came to the conclusion we already went over a cliff. Scary to think our current fiscal crisis can get even worse.

4. Health Care Reform: This was sold to the American people as costing $900 billion. This was done so Obama could say it would not add to the deficit. Now the cost is estimated to exceed $2 trillion. Obama also promised healthcare reform would result in a reduction of health insurance premiums. My health insurance agent, who is the same age and has the same number of children as me, informed me he attended agent training about the bill and what will happen in 2014 when it goes into full force. Based on the information provided, he calculated his premium will go up $300/month, or $3600/year, which means I will experience the same increase. Yet another broken promise, only this one directly hits my pocketbook (& everyone else’s).

5. Iran: Iran is 4 years closer to a nuclear bomb than when Obama took office. Despite what Obama says, the US’s relationship with Israel, our strongest allie in the Middle East, has never been weaker. Most alarming was Obama’s decision to go on “The View” to meet with Whoopi Goldberg and the gang instead of meeting with the Israeli Prime Minister.

6. Al qaeda: Obama deserves credit for authorizing our Navy Seals to kill Bin Laden. However, I think it is fair to say any President would have given the same order and I give more credit to our military and intelligence agency. While Bin Laden’s death was a terrific moral victory, we recently learned Al Qaeda wasn’t “decimated” as claimed. We learned this when an Al qaeda affiliated group attacked the US Consulate in Benghaze, Libya, and killed our ambassador (either before or after raping him according to news reports) and 3 other Americans, and then flew the Al qaeda flag over our consulate. Now I know what Obama means when he says we are leading from behind.

7. Immigration. Obama promised immigration reform in his first term. For the first two years of his presidency he had Democratic majorities in both the Senate and the House. Despite this, he didn’t get it done.

8. Auto Bailout: Both before and after the auto bailout, American automakers faced a built-in disadvantage when compared to foreign automakers, even those with plants in the US. This is because of compensation and benefit contracts with the UAW. Due to these built-in costs, US auto companies incur an increase of cost of approximately $2000 per vehicle manufactured as compared to non-US companies. Had the US auto companies gone through a bankruptcy they would’ve had to make the structural changes necessary to eliminate this disadvantage. Instead, the US taxpayer bailed them out, leaving the structural defects in place which led to the failure in the first place. These defects include $22 billion in unfunded pension liabilities worldwide for GM alone ($10 billion in US alone, according to Bloomberg). The bailout was like handing a drunk man a drink for his drive home. The latest estimate is that the US taxpayer will lose between $20 to $30 billion on the GM portion of the bailout alone. Additionally, it should be noted that as part of the bailout the Obama administration forced hundreds of dealerships to close, costing thousands of jobs. Since dealerships are not owned by the auto companies, and these dealers bought products from the auto companies which were then sold to the public, I don’t understand how eliminating dealers, who ultimately sell the products, helps auto companies. Seems to me that since someone else is footing the bill to keep the dealership open, and the auto companies make their money selling their product to the dealers, the auto companies would benefit from having more dealers to buy and sell their products. I guess I just don’t understand Obamanomics.

9. Gay marriage: Obama was against gay marriage (2008) before he was for it (2012).

10. Leadership: For me, the biggest issue is leadership. I am reading Bob Woodward’s book “The Price of Politics” and have been watching Woodward on TV criticizing Obama’s leadership failure (which is surprising because neither Woodward nor the Washington Post are known for loving conservatives). In the book I learned even the Democratic leaders in Congress are frustrated with Obama’s lack of interaction and communication with them. Most telling is the story of how the White House had to scramble on election eve of 2010 to get John Boehner’s (the Republican minority leader) phone number so Obama could call and congratulate Boehner on presumptively becoming the new Speaker of the House. After 2 years of being President, Obama did not have the phone number of the Republican leader of the US House of Representatives. Incredible! How can you expect to change the tone in Washington DC if the executive branch is not communicating with the leaders of the legislative branch, especially with the leaders of the other party? Even Bush was able to sit down with Ted Kennedy and write an education reform bill in his first term.

The discussion on leadership leads me to a comparison of Obama and Romney. In 2008 I saw nothing in Obama’s history to suggest he was prepared to be President. Four years of Obama has not changed my opinion, especially after seeing him jet off to Vegas for a campaign event on 9/12 with the knowledge that Al qaeda killed our ambassador and had its flag flying over our consulate. Then, for more than a month he and his administration continued the narrative that Benghazi was the result of an anti-Islam video. We now know Obama and White House knew it was an organized attack before Obama landed in Vegas.

Compare Obama’s record with Romney’s and it is not even close. Romney succeeded in private business, saved the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics (and actually turned a deficit into a surplus), then turned a $2 billion deficit in Massachusetts into a balanced budget as governor and lowered unemployment to 4%.

All things considered, it isn’t even close for me. Nevertheless, I know there many good, patriotic folks such as yourself who feel differently; I just hope there are fewer voters who agree with you than agree with me. Not because of my ego, but because I really believe we are at a tipping point and can’t afford 4 more years of policies that have failed in Greece, California, Illinois, New York and other bastions of liberalism.”

Montana Public Radio Commentary: Philosophies on Philosophies

Philosophies on Philosophies

By: Carl Graham, CEO, Montana Policy Institute

With stimulus packages apparently designed to just stimulate government growth, “Quantitative Easing” that’s only inflating the next bubble, and institutionalized denigration of those holding differing opinions passing for political discourse, maybe it’s time to say a few words about central planning.

Huh? What the heck does central planning have to do with any of that stuff?

Well, it’s a good representation of those differing opinions that many of us have. It exemplifies the difference in philosophy between those who think government is the only thing we all belong to, and those of us who think government actually is the only thing that belongs to all of us.

Let’s face it.  Some people want to be planned for.  They like having membership in a club that can make the tough calls, do the intellectual heavy lifting, and take the heat for our collective misdeeds.  They’re willing to give up some latitude in their lives to not have to make those hard decisions, or maybe they think there are enough others out there who are incapable of making good decisions that somebody should help narrow their options.  And of course there’s no shortage of people who think they have all the answers and gee wouldn’t we all be better off if they could just impose their ideas on the rest of us in the form of central planning. It’d be so much more efficient and, even if a few eggs get broken it’ll still be a better omelet.

But history is littered with failed attempts by states (or more accurately elites) to centrally plan all or significant portions of economies.  From the French Revolution to socialism to communism, to even Plato’s philosopher king, elites have tried to tie all the pieces of society together in a way that provided for everyone by dictating the types and amounts of things (materials, ideas, labor, etc.) to keep the machine running.  All failed spectacularly.  Well, Plato’s wasn’t really tried but come on; can you really see your old philosophy professor with the pony tail and bong blisters in charge?

These attempts were all cloaked in good intentions but failed out of a combination of hubris and indifference: someone assumed they could know the unknowable about what people wanted and needed, and what it would take to provide all of those things in the right quantities and at the right places and times.  And because enough people didn’t demand the right to make their own decisions the ruling elites were able to use powerful and centralized governments to impose their “solutions.”

Let’s see: bank lending requirements, pay caps, government-run healthcare, mass subsidies, auto bailouts…the list is growing of things that someone somewhere thinks they know more about than millions of free people making free decisions about how best to allocate their resources to pursue their own happiness. As more and more decisions and resources are centralized in Washington, the gap between haves and have-nots is being replaced by a growing gulf between those who get to make decisions about we’ll live our lives, and those of us who have live with those decisions.

And that is why, I think, we’re seeing denigration passing for opinion and demonization passing for discourse. The stakes have never been higher, and there are two broad camps out there with fundamentally different visions of what this country should look like– both with strong historical philosophical roots and legitimacy. But both can’t be right, at least not at one time in one place.

I’m getting quite tired, for example, of hearing that those on the Left are stupid, uninformed, or evil.  Some certainly are some or all of those things, as are some on the Right. But just like ignorance, racism and extremism don’t define the vast majority of those on the Right; stupidity and malevolence don’t define the activating forces behind those on the Left.

Ignoring the vast malleable center for the moment – which we generally do anyway except at election time – most people fall into one of two camps, both of which have long philosophical pedigrees and solid ideological underpinnings.

Folks like me who believe that freedom and happiness flow from natural rights and having choices in our lives too often fall into the trap of casually dismissing as useful idiots or miscreants those who believe that rights are granted by governments which are in turn best led by intellectual elites attuned to the needs of the times.

It’s not necessarily gullible or malevolent to believe that some set of experts are better at adapting to the times than individuals and so they should be in charge for the betterment of us all.  It sounds nuttier than a Planters Peanut factory to me, but it’s not an illegitimate view and it should be argued against, not belittled.

Likewise, many on the Left generally dismisses the new grassroots conservative movement as not worthy of their derision and so fall back on manufactured stereotypes of racists and bumpkins to explain any popularity and successes these groups attain.

What many on the Left don’t understand is that there are sound ideological and philosophical underpinnings to conservative values as well. Founding principles and religious values are legitimate in the mainstream, and so the people who hold them must be tarred with illegitimate caricatures of bigotry or ignorance to marginalize them. That is, or should be, insulting to honest people on both sides of the argument.

The thing is, if we don’t understand our opponents’ philosophies and what goes into their assumptions how can we tailor our arguments to oppose them and expose their fallacies?  And if we take the intellectually lazy position of ascribing ill intent or ignorance rather than understanding their arguments then we miss an enormous opportunity to debate issues on the strengths of our own arguments.  We’re seeing too much of that now, where informed and interested people are calling each other playground names instead of trying to persuade each other and educate those around them.

We would do our political system a favor, and maybe we could get back to watching boring beer commercials for a while if we spent a little more time listening and a little less time calling each other names.

–end–

Great Falls Tribune: Judge hears testimony in Gallik case

HELENA – A Missoula judge heard more than two hours of testimony in a Helena courtroom Wednesday in a lawsuit alleging former Commissioner of Political Practices Dave Gallik abused his state office.

Click here to continue reading the article in the Great Falls Tribune…