Increase Gas Tax to Fund Infrastructure Reform?

by Scott Hill

Widener University Political Science Major

With everything that is happening in the world, it is easy to lose sight of some of the important domestic issues. On Thursday, February 14th Former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell asked Congress to consider a few options concerning our infrastructure. He suggested increasing the gas tax, allowing states to toll more on roads and providing more grants for multi-state projects that can help fund improvements to our infrastructure. Rendell says that “moving goods is one of the keys to American competitiveness, and we are getting our brains beat in”. Opponents to this are claiming that instead of looking for ways to cost-effectively improve conditions Rendell is jumping straight to increasing taxes. One controversial issue raised by Rendell is the institution of a user fee based on miles traveled in individual cars. This user fee can end up flirting with an invasion of privacy and will not be popular with working people who require a long commutes.

I think that it makes sense to use an increase in gas tax to fund infrastructure reform since transportation will be directly funding itself. I also see how a user fee can directly counteract the diminishing returns of a gas tax due to the increasing efficiency of cars. However, in-order to track movements in miles and to remove user error a tracking system will be placed in each car documenting movements, this can easily be viewed as an invasion of privacy. When it comes to increasing the gas tax however, Rendell says that “We need to figure out what is right…What we need for the future of this country…and accept the political consequences”. He goes on to say that there is not an American out there that does not want a better infrastructure, because each and every citizen benefits from it in some way.

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Why the Philadelphia Eagles Need a Little Federalism

by J. Wesley Leckrone

Assistant Professor, Political Science

Widener University

The end of the Andy Reid Era in Philadelphia cannot come soon enough. Perhaps the current sad state of the Eagles could have been avoided if Jeffrey Lurie would have heeded the philosophy of the Founders that designed the American governmental system.

As Jeff McLane noted in yesterday’s Philadelphia Inquirer:

In 1999, when Lurie last looked for a head coach, he had director of football operations Tom Modrak and team president Joe Banner to aid him. The new coach would have to defer to Modrak in personnel matters and Banner when it came to contracts and the salary cap.

Now most of the power is consolidated in Andy Reid’s hands and the responsibility for the decline of the franchise rests in a pattern of ill conceived decisions that he has made over the last several years. Reid made the decision to bring Michael Vick on as the franchise quarterback. Reid hired a defensive line coach with a gimmicky “wide-nine” formation before hiring a defensive coordinator. He then promoted his offensive line coach to defensive coordinator despite the fact that Juan Castillo had no defensive experience in the NFL. Castillo was replaced by another gimmicky offensive line coach, Howard Mudd, who’s scheme has failed to protect the quarterback. The list goes on….

John Boruk of CSN Philly defines the problem:

Clearly, the on-the-field product has suffered as a result of poor drafting, bad free-agent signings and an overall lack of identity, and the dual responsibilities Reid currently juggles should be separated moving forward.  Giving one person that much power and authoritative control hasn’t produced the desired results.

The Founders warned against such concentration of power and designed a system of government that would prevent one person from obtaining too much decision-making capability over the country. James Madison described these safeguards in Federalist Paper #51. The first method of dispersing powers is adding checks and balances to our system of separation of powers. Subsequently each of the three branches of government (legislative, executive, judiciary) are given the power to impede the activities of the others. Madison argues that

it is evident that each department should have a will of its own; and consequently should be so constituted that the members of each should have as little agency as possible in the appointment of the members of the others.

The Founders realized that separation of powers was not enough because over time one branch could consolidate power over the others. Consequently they put several checks in place to avoid this scenario. Madison states

the great security against a gradual concentration of the several powers in the same department, consists in giving to those who administer each department the necessary constitutional means and personal motives to resist encroachments of the others….Ambition must be made to counteract ambition. The interest of the man must be connected with the constitutional rights of the place.

Federalism provides the second method to prevent the consolidation of power. Madison makes the argument that while

all authority in it will be derived from and dependent on the society, the society itself will be broken into so many parts, interests, and classes of citizens, that the rights of individuals, or of the minority, will be in little danger from interested combinations of the majority.

The problem for the Philadelphia Eagles was that they initially created a system that divided power between equal and rival interests within their decision-making apparatus. However, as Andy Reid achieved success Jeffrey Lurie was lulled into believing that the head coach should administer the reigns of the organization with little or no checks. Reid installed staff dedicated to his football philosophy that were unwilling to expend their capital to challenge him because they were his proteges. Madison specifically warned against this:

It is equally evident, that the members of each department should be as little dependent as possible on those of the others, for the emoluments annexed to their offices. Were the executive magistrate, or the judges, not independent of the legislature in this particular, their independence in every other would be merely nominal.

The solution is to FIRE ANDY and create a new system of organizational governance that divides coaching, personnel, and contract negotiations into separate and rival interests. Of course, that could lead to the mischief of factions. But that’s an argument for another day when we examine Federalist #10.

Two Views on the Secession Petitions

The following are two opinions of the petition drive for Secession by Widener University American Government Students Danny Griffin and Erica Sharp:

A Divided America

Danny Griffin

A surprising amount of Americans have signed petitions to secede from the United States in recent weeks. The online proposition has found the most popularity in Texas, attaining over 100,000 signatures. The petition has versions founded by supporters in all 50 states, however. Some people feel that those who have signed the petition should be stripped of their citizenship and deported, while others assert that these people should be allowed to secede as long as they pay their share of the national debt.

In my opinion, I find the statements about stripping citizenship of the political dissenters to be outrageous. How can such harsh treatment for free speech be justified? If such a course of action was ever taken, what kind of example would it serve as to others? People would be terrified to speak out against government. This nation was founded on the principle that the people should be able to voice their opinions without fear of any repercussions from the government.

As for the statement about paying a share of the national debt, I also find it to be deluded. Many of these people are probably signing the petition simply to voice their disgust at President Obama winning a second term. Therefore, they most likely voted for Romney, which in their eyes would have significantly helped reduce debt. In effect, these people would feel that they did their part already in attempting to negate national debt.

In regard to the entire situation, I see nothing wrong. I am doubtful that many of these people are serious about seceding from the US; they just hope to see a change in the way the country is being run. If these citizens especially did not want to be a part of America anymore, they move and relinquish citizenship. I see the acts as perfectly valid executions of free speech.

Will We Secede Again?

Erica Sharp

Throughout an election there are some that are in full support of either their candidate or their political party. It seems some people have taken this idea to the extreme, most people have heard or seen someone state that, “if so and so doesn’t win the election I’m moving to Canada.” This idea is completely irrelevant and is just some people’s simplistic way of showing how they feel when their candidate does not win. Unfortunately, this was not the case this presidential election period. Citizens have returned back to the old idea of if we don’t agree with who’s running the government and his ideas we should have our state secede from the Union. As we know this idea worked extremely well the last time it was implemented, leading our nation into a Civil War.

So which states feel this way and what do they want to happen and why? The list of states continues to rise, now consisting of, Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas. Their idea is that they want to withdraw formally from the membership of our federal union. People from these states have begun supporting petitions to secede from the U.S. right after the President was announced to win himself a second term in office. They need to gain at least 25,000 signatures in 30 days or less for the administration to grant a formal review. As of right now Texas seems to be the closest to its goal with 23,000 signatures already. But then getting back to it why do they want to secede in the first place? It seems these people that are petitioning truly believe that this government has become in their mind “destructive,” and they see it as there right as American citizens to alter or abolish it and create a new form of government.

This idea and the large support being shown towards it is beginning to scare some of the other citizens of this nations. The fears should really be put to rest right now because as it is seen these states are very reliant, probably more than they know, on the government and what it does for them. Without this help these states wouldn’t survive. So although there is always that slim chance of a state seceding it shouldn’t be a main concern for now.

The Electoral College, Federalism and the Small State Bonus, Part 1

by J. Wesley Leckrone

Assistant Professor of Political Science, Widener University

The 2012 presidential race is close enough that some pundits are predicting the winner of the Electoral College (EC) will differ from the popular vote. Whether or not this happens, there will likely be a post-election debate about the utility of the EC and whether it contradicts notions of democracy in the 21st century.

There are numerous arguments against the Electoral College (see The National Popular Vote for a list).  One of the most contentious is whether the “federalism bonus” gives too much representation to small states. Randall Adkins and Kent Kirwan address this issue in their 2002 article “What Role Does the ‘Federalism Bonus’ Play in Presidential Selection” (Publius: The Journal of Federalism). They address why the Founders created the Electoral College, whether it actually has any effects on the outcomes of presidential elections, and whether there is any chance of reforming  or abolishing the EC given our constitutional amendment process. I’ll address how the “Federalism Bonus” has affected presidential elections in this post and explore their other arguments in future blogs.

Adkins and Kirwan argue that

“If each state receives a number of presidential electors equal to that state’s number of members in the U.S. House of Representatives plus the two senators, then the ‘federalism bonus’ represents the two electoral college votes that correspond to the position of each state as an equal entity in the Senate.”

This has been criticized by contentions that

“the ‘federalism bonus’ causes a distortion of the popular vote, leading to unequal representation by providing  disproportionate influence into the citizens of small states. For example, in the 2000 presidential election, each of Wyoming’s three electors ‘represented’ 151,196 persons in the state. At the other extreme, each of California’s 54 electors represented some 551,112 persons.”

The authors examined all elections between 1856 and 2000 to see if the “federalism bonus” played any part in the outcome of the Electoral College vote. To do this they compared the EC vote under the existing system and then created another EC vote that subtracted the EC electors attributed to a state’s Senators (i.e a state with only one House member and two Senators would normally receive three electoral votes. However, minus the “federalism bonus” they would receive only one).

They found that there were only three elections where the “federalism bonus” influenced the outcome of a presidential election: 1876, 1916, and 2000. Missing from this list is the 1888 election between Cleveland and Harrison that was decided by the EC. The 1916 election is not typically an election associated with a divergence between the EC and the popular vote, but Adkins and Kirwan show that absent the “federalism bonus” Hughes would have defeated Wilson.  The chart below shows the stats on these elections:

Here is the breakdown of how small states affected the EC vote in these elections.

Adkins and Kirwan have two meaningful conclusions about this data. First, between 1856-2000 only 3 of 37 elections were affected by the “federalism bonus” (8.1%). Second

“[w]hile two-thirds of the states enjoy some degree of over-representation in the electoral college… the states with only three to five electoral votes often represent the margin of victory in these very close elections.”

A future blog will explore the authors’ arguments as to why it is unlikely these states will give up their “federalism bonus” through a change in the EC.

More of the Same? Or Romney’s 50 Nation Plan?

by Tori Remondelli

Widener University American Government Student

The first presidential debate was between an eloquent, enthusiastic speaker who beat around the bush and a supposed lock for the presidency who didn’t prepare as well as he should have. Mr. Romney, former governor of what he made out to be the best state in America, wants to give more power to each individual state in an effort to try and make them a little more like Massachusetts. It wasn’t very clear what Mr. President’s counter proposal was, so we can assume that nothing will change.

My mother who is a born and bred Republican believes that if you don’t like the way your state is run, then you should be able to move to a different state where the control will be different. But if the government sets regulations that every state must abide by, then you have no choice but to throw your vote into a pool of every American voter and pray you pick the same as the majority.

What I got from that debate was a choice between President Change’s same old ways or Romney’s 50 Nations policy. However, neither provided the details of their plan.  A choice is only as good as the reasons behind it and right now neither one of the candidate have provided enough reasons to merit one. Hopefully the next debate will bring more clarity, but only time will tell.

Federalism & the 2012 Vice Presidential Debate

Unlike the first presidential debate which included a number of issues relating to federalism and state and local politics – the VP debate did not address federalism. There was no real debate on education, medicaid or the health care reform. Consequently – we’ll have to wait until next Tuesday to discuss the issues related to this blog.

Federalism and the October 3, 2012 Presidential Debate

by J. Wesley Leckrone

Assistant Professor, Political Science, Widener University

Federalism played a surprisingly important role in the first debate between President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney on October 3, 2012. The roles of the federal government and states were addressed on the issues of education, Medicaid, and health care reform. There was even a mention of the 10th Amendment (a first in a presidential debate in the last 50 years?).  In general, Romney made a traditional Republican argument to allow states to make decisions for themselves, advocating for the consolidation of federal programs and devolving them to states. President Obama argued that the federal government had a role in ensuring minimum standards, thus supporting more grants to the states and opposing devolution.

Here’s a montage of their positions in their own words:

EDUCATION

President Obama:

” And when it comes to education what I’ve said is we’ve got to reform schools that are not working. We use something called Race to the Top. Wasn’t a top-down approach, Governor. What we’ve said is to states, we’ll give you more money if you initiate reforms. And as a consequence, you had 46 states around the country who have made a real difference.

But what I’ve also said is let’s hire another 100,000 math and science teachers to make sure we maintain our technological lead and our people are skilled and able to succeed. And hard-pressed states right now can’t all do that. In fact we’ve seen layoffs of hundreds of thousands of teachers over the last several years, and Governor Romney doesn’t think we need more teachers. I do, because I think that that is the kind of investment where the federal government can help.

It can’t do it all, but it can make a difference. And as a consequence we’ll have a better trained workforce and that will create jobs because companies want to locate in places where we’ve got a skilled workforce.”

“You know, this is where budgets matter, because budgets reflect choices. So when Governor Romney indicates that he wants to cut taxes and potentially benefit folks like me and him, and to pay for it we’re having to initiate significant cuts in federal support for education, that makes a difference.

You know, his — his running mate, Congressman Ryan, put forward a budget that reflects many of the principles that Governor Romney’s talked about. And it wasn’t very detailed. This seems to be a trend. But — but what it did do is to — if you extrapolated how much money we’re talking about, you’d look at cutting the education budget by up to 20 percent.”

Governor Romney:

“Well, the primary responsibility for education is — is, of course, at the state and local level. But the federal government also can play a very important role. And I — and I agree with Secretary Arne Duncan, he’s — some ideas he’s put forward on Race to the Top, not all of them, but some of them I agree with and — and congratulate him for pursuing that. The federal government can get local and — and state schools to do a better job.

My own view, by the way, is I’ve added to that. I happen to believe, I want the kids that are getting federal dollars from IDEA or Title I — these are disabled kids or — or — or poor kids or — or lower-income kids, rather, I want them to be able to go to the school of their choice.

So all federal funds, instead of going to the — to the state or to the school district, I’d have go, if you will, follow the child and let the parent and the child decide where to send their — their — their student.”

“Mr. President, Mr. President, you’re entitled as the president to your own airplane and to your own house, but not to your own facts. All right, I’m not going to cut education funding. I don’t have any plan to cut education funding and — and grants that go to people going to college. I’m planning on (inaudible) to grow. So I’m not planning on making changes there.”

MEDICAID

President Obama:

“It means that Governor Romney talked about Medicaid and how we could send it back to the states, but effectively this means a 30 percent cut in the primary program we help for seniors who are in nursing homes, for kids who are with disabilities.”

Governor Romney:

“I would like to take the Medicaid dollars that go to states and say to a state, you’re going to get what you got last year, plus inflation, plus 1 percent, and then you’re going to manage your care for your poor in the way you think best.

And I remember, as a governor, when this idea was floated by Tommy Thompson, the governors — Republican and Democrats — said, please let us do that. We can care for our own poor in so much better and more effective a way than having the federal government tell us how to care for our poor.

So — so let’s state — one of the magnificent things about this country is the whole idea that states are the laboratories of democracy. Don’t have the federal government tell everybody what kind of training programs they have to have and what kind of Medicaid they have to have. Let states do this.

And, by the way, if a state gets in trouble, well, we can step in and see if we can find a way to help them.

But — but the right — the right approach is one which relies on the brilliance of our people and states, not the federal government.”

HEALTH CARE REFORM:

President Obama:

“… the irony is that we’ve seen this model work really well in Massachusetts, because Governor Romney did a good thing, working with Democrats in the state to set up what is essentially the identical model and as a consequence people are covered there. It hasn’t destroyed jobs. And as a consequence, we now have a system in which we have the opportunity to start bringing down costs, as opposed to just leaving millions of people out in the cold.”

Governor Romney:

“The federal government taking over health care for the entire nation and whisking aside the 10th Amendment, which gives states the rights for these kinds of things, is not the course for America to have a stronger, more vibrant economy.”