Government Spending

Gentrification and the LID

28 Feb
by John, posted in Colorado Politics, Government Spending, leadership, Policy, Poverty, Rural   |  2 Comments



Tomorrow I will pay my property bill, including the LID tax of $9,420 that we will pay over the next 15 years for the repavement of the roads here in Fairview Estates.  Our three roads are:  Ord, Theresa Dr., and Fairview.  Three roads that by visual inspection anyone can see do not “need” repaving.

I would invite any interested Boulder County resident to visit Fairview Estates.  There are two entrances to this collection of homes without a homeowners association in the eastern part of the county between Boulder and Louisville.  You can enter onto Ord off Baseline just east of 76th or onto Fairview directly off 76th between South Boulder Road and Baseline.  You can drive, or ride your bike, or take the bus which stops right by Ord on Baseline.

Fairview Estates at the eastern end of Fairview has an entrance to a unique piece of county open space, which makes for a nice walk with a great view of the county back toward Boulder.  What you will see is three roads with very little traffic that are thoroughfare to nowhere.  Nobody but residents and visitors use these roads.  The neighborhood just west of 76th still has gravel roads.

It is part of why people live in the county.  Fairview Estates is a throwback to a simpler time in Boulder where you could own an acre.  Some of those commenting on the LID assessment have made derogatory comments about free riders and rich county residents.  When you walk or bike Fairview Estates you will see mixed housing.  Yes, the redevelopment the City of Boulder has adopted and has transformed it into a modern mix of high end brands for elites or the middle-class willing to live in overpriced often tiny housing has impacted the neighborhood.  But it also retains a high percentage of folks who bought their houses decades ago, have not remodelled, and live on a fixed income.

Nine thousand dollars goes a long way for a retired couple, or a middle-class family putting a child through college, or a young family buying their first home in a county with a big down payment requirement.  It goes a long way for any taxpayer.  And that really is the issue  - people in Fairview Estates need the money but they do not need a new fancy St. Julien access road.

The taxpayers in the county have voted over and over again to support open space and school taxes.  They are not freeloaders.  They voted last fall  not to reject taxes, but to reject the idea that the roads need repavement at these costs.

The legal aspects of all this will play out in court.  This piece is not about the court case or intended to divide city and county residents from each other in a divisive play so cynically typical in the politics of our day and age.  Rather it asks you to come out on a nice spring or summer day and see for yourself.

The politicians that have lost an election on this issue, by all accounts lost the communications and marketing battle, also told you  these roads need repaving.  The sad story is that they have never taken the time to visit our little neighborhood and see the truth.  Nobody would pay nine thousand dollars to repave these three roads, because all they need is a few hundred dollars of annual pothole and crack repair to handle a trivial amount of traffic.

I love downtown Boulder, but let the county keep an echo of our history.  In a time of scarce resources the Commissioners should focus on the homeless, the hungry, the flood victims, and the less fortunate. Leave the centrally planned gentrification projects on the shelf for the day after they pass in an election.


Early Childhood Education Going Down the Rathole

30 Jan
by John, posted in Government Spending, Policy, Poverty   |  8 Comments

One of the main reasons to be a Democrat is the idea that the poor need help that the government can provide effectively.  That last word is important if you are a moderate Democrat who wants to govern not fight.  And it is especially important in discussing pre-K education.

I wrote a piece a few weeks ago on Head Start and the fact that Head Start is a failure as pre-K education.  It is as inarguable as President Obama’s State of the Union Address pronouncement that the debate on the existence of climate change was over. This was established clearly and unarguably in the blue chip  bipartisan Federal government study conducted over three presidencies released in 2012. (see my earlier piece for web links to the source material).

That is why it is so distressing to wake up day after day with truly passionate pre-K advocates on the left arguing against the data.  They argue that the study actually demonstrates Head Start may have no lasting educational benefit, but we should still continue it.  They base this argument on much less rigorous studies that are nevertheless valuable in proving one point.

That Head Start is effective day care for poor children.

Anyone who has dropped a child off at day care knows that high quality adult interaction in a safe environment with healthy food is good for the child and the family.  In other words let us have the argument over whether we ought to have a national day care program for the poor.  As I point out in my earlier piece, it is not a stretch of imagination to believe quality day care helps adults deal with all the other grinding challenges of poverty and gives the child structure and nutrition that could be helpful  later life lessons.

But that is not early child education.  Early child education focuses on providing children the basis for math, reading, and other elementary school curriculum.  When it is effective it does not generate vague results decades later, but higher achievement immediately in elementary school that continues into middle school and beyond.

That is why to wake up today to Nicholas Kristof bemoaning conservatives misreading of the HHS study that demonstrated clearly that Head Start was a failure is so upsetting.  If you slog through the whole study and the following studies Kristof references, they all can be read clearly to agree.  Head Start is a failure as early childhood education preparing kids for elementary school.  Head Start probably has some success as quality daycare preparing poor kids for the rigors of life.

But why is this upsetting?  Because Kristof is a passionate, brave, and successful champion of women’s and children’s issues.  Going into brothels in Southeast Asia to save young girls deserves a Presidential Medal of Freedom.  But if he and other liberal intellectuals that are currently running the Democratic Party go off on “conservatives are now expanding their war on women to children”, we will have a campaign fight and no help to kids.

We cannot allow the pre-K education debate to descend into the usual right versus left of cost vs. heartlessness.  Effective day care and effective pre-K education have the potential to produce more self-sufficient contributing members of society.  The cost savings over time in reduced drug dependency, incarceration, and the drag on the social safety net are clear.

But we are not going to push this initiative forward by misrepresenting the facts and once again alienating the House of Representatives with cries of heartlessness.  We have had five years of the President and his allies on the left bludgeoning the Republicans.  It is not working, except in winning Presidential elections.

If Democrats cannot return their party to the center, cannot offer one single concession to Republicans, cannot face the data it is poor children that will suffer.  It is time for the President to stop giving speeches and start negotiating on the facts.  It is only fair on pre-K, since he is demanding the same of the Republicans on climate change.

Understanding Head Start

16 Jan
by John, posted in Government Spending, Policy, Poverty   |  1 Comments

One of the wedge issues between the two major parties in 2014 is early childhood development or pre-k education.  The President and others have argued for increased spending and taxes to pay for universal pre-k education.

“I mean how can you not be for that?  Do you not like children?  Do you beat puppies too?”

The federal government’s main pre-K educational program is Head Start.  Head Start was part of President Johnson’s War on Poverty in 1965.   Democrats and Republicans are predictably divided over Head Start.

When you enter a turnaround business one of the most effective ways to evaluate ongoing initiatives from the fired executives is to dig out the original powerpoint presentation supporting the initiative.  In bad businesses with bad leadership you often find that a failing initiative has had its benchmark of success moved  many times to hide failure.

According to the US Department of Health and Human Services Head Start “promotes the school readiness of children ages birth to five from low-income families by enhancing their cognitive, social, and emotional development.”  In 2012 HHS completed a two decade long study begun in the Clinton Administration on Head Start.    As Russ Whitehurst a prominent critic summarized the results, “There is no measurable advantage to children in elementary school of having participated in Head Start. Further, children attending Head Start remain far behind academically once they are in elementary school. Head Start does not improve the school readiness of children from low-income families.”

It is a long slog to review the study conclusions, Whitehurst’s analysis, and many others who argue that the above data and obvious conclusion miss the fact that over the long term there are “sleeper effects” from Head Start.  But, not even the proponents of these benefits claim that Head Start adequately prepares kids for elementary school.

When 47 years into a program’s life you change the measurement of success from preparing kids for elementary school to benefits that may arise in 15 or 20 years and have nothing to do with elementary school that is a scam to avoid accountability.

But it is more complex.  Supporters of Head Start such as David Deming, a professor at Harvard, do describe potential benefits. The long term sleeper benefits that arise from very sophisticated analysis indicates that children who attend Head Start may not do well in elementary school, but some do attend some college, work productively, and are healthier.

It is certainly logical that taking a child out of a dirty, undernourished, unscheduled environment with its daily grind of poverty, then placing the child in the exact opposite environment with focused adult attention during the day yields a happier child.  While the evidence cited in studies needs a lot more work, such as the HHS study methodology, it is certainly a legitimate hypothesis that this type of early childhood intervention in poor families could have lasting non-educational benefits.

It just does not have anything to do with early childhood education.  Despite good intentions, the unintended consequence of Head Start is mitigating childhood poverty not promoting early childhood education.  It is providing food, shelter, and healthy adult interaction, which may help break the cycle of poverty.

If we are serious about early childhood education, we should follow the much more rigorous and expensive alternatives to Head Start that produce next year educational and following year results (the Perry Preschool Study and the Abecedarian Study cited by Whitehurst and Demming are examples).  In addition to that, we need to understand the non-educational benefits of Head Start and how they fit into the existing federal poverty programs.

But please oh please, do not support just pouring more money down the rathole of Head Start under the misguided belief you are helping kids get ready for school.  Because when you waste scarce dollars on failed programs, you are robbing children of opportunity for the sake of your own ideology.

Why Do Some Progressives Hate Work?

06 Jan
by John, posted in Government Spending, innovation, Policy   |  No Comments

We are in the midst of a binary political argument over unemployment insurance.  There is apparently agreement in Congress for a three month extension of extraordinary long term unemployment insurance.  This blog is supportive of the proposed three month extension.

But it not supportive of the screaming Left wing narrative that Republicans are cruel merely for asking the question if this makes sense or if it should be paid for elsewhere in the budget.  This country does not have an unemployment insurance problem.  It has an unemployment problem.

unemployment rate

Unemployment still high – Bureau of Labor Statistics 

After extraordinary government intervention in the free market we are making steady economic progress in the context of a horrible financial recession – the worst kind.  All the forward looking indicators, such as the stock market, are robust.  At some point, the answer is going to be work not large government support programs.

That is not a cruel statement.

What the Left wing of the Democratic Party risks is dragging the party into a Carteresque reputation that it only likes some work.  Work in a clean energy business.  Work in public service.  Work based on STEM degrees.  Work that does not make too much money.

If it was really in support of work, it would favor expanding the earned income tax credit not unemployment insurance.  It would stop handing out unemployment insurance to single men and women without families. Instead it would  buy them bus tickets and a couple weeks grubstake to Eastern North Dakota, West Texas, or many of the other parts of the nation screaming for employees.

I saw in Dickinson, North Dakota a diner hiring at $13.50 per hour with a $500 signing bonus.   Yes it would be culture shock, yes it would be cold or hot, but a broad moderate swipe of this country got their start toward prosperity with precisely that kind of dramatic market driven change.  For many of us it was the most valuable sacrifice of our lives.  It certainly was not cruel.

It is not just economic policy choices, it is in the actual Progressive refusal to accept work, any legal work, is inherently valuable.  The latest dustup on this was the suggestion from some Republicans that as the school lunch program expanded the kids benefiting from it do some cleanup work at school.

The Left desperate to avoid Obamacare cried in every media outlet about the Republican cruelty.  There is of course a danger of bullying and classism if middle-class and wealthy kids stand around jeering at minority and poor kids pushing brooms around the gym.  But that was not the Republican suggestion.

As a moderate Democrat let me suggest an alternative way to engage Republicans positively on this idea.  Every year that Jimmy, our youngest, was in elementary school we received an invitation for him to get a free breakfast at school.  This truly irritated Val and me.  We support feeding poor kids and expanding the program to every child with a need.

Why would you waste scarce funds on a child with no need and risk the danger that Jimmy learn lunches came from largess not hard work?

A program everyone should support is if the school asked all the kids to work one day a week after school in rotation to help pay for the school lunch program.  I would sign Jimmy up for that program tomorrow.  Working to help others because there is no “free lunch” would be a valuable civics lesson.

It is the kind of intangible personal growth Liberals talk about, but because it involves work and does not come from a SNAP card it is somehow not quite right.  Work is the normal answer for unemployment.  It is not entitlements cloaked in victimhood with false claims of cruelty for those that disagree with you.

And as we near 6% unemployment, Liberals had better accept that the time for big government intervention in the labor market fades even under Keynes.

The Death of Moderation

11 Dec
by John, posted in Colorado Politics, Cost-Cutting, Debt, election, Government Spending, gun violence, leadership, President, UK   |  5 Comments

In 2011 I went back to Oxford to my old college, St. Anne’s.  In 1983 studying  Stuart and Elizabethan history and literature I reconnected with my mother’s side of the family in Somerset and my own British heritage.  All of my views on the complexity of the world, America’s proper role in it, and of the variations in successful human cultures were formed in Europe that summer.

aunt edie's house0006

Showing Val  my old haunts in the ancient city was a hilarious mix of pub crawling and sightseeing. But it was also an odd experience.  It was not the 30th reunion of my class, but the 30th reunion of the program.  None of my friends and classmates from 1983 came back to Oxford.  It is an odd reunion when by design you know no one.


It led to some unanticipated encounters.  We  met for an afternoon a young woman recently fired from the Democratic leadership staff in the US House of Representatives.  It was the summer of 2011 and the effects of the 2010 election transferring the House of Representatives to Republican control were in full swing.

She was searching for a job elsewhere in government or even “God forbid” in the private sector.  As we toured the ancient city walls and the older colleges with their spectacular rooms, stain glass, and oddities bitterness  poured out of her. When she found out I was a Democrat she was  giddy in her glee to make fun of Republicans with a fellow Progressive.

Gleeful until I mentioned I was a Blue Dog.  The kind of Democrat willing to vote for Ronald Reagan, who thought President Clinton’s remark that the “era of big government was over” had transformed the party, and generally believed the 2010 election was a wholly predictable  response to Progressive overreach.

She turned with her hands on her hip and said to me, “Yeah, you people did really well in the election.  You are the kind of person who cost me my job.”  With a contemptuous bounce of the head she turned back to St Annes and never spoke to either of us again.

Let me be clear that I believe in almost the entire Progressive social agenda.  I believe in equal rights for everyone, including gay marriage, and that discrimination remains a persistent if diminished problem.  I believe in women having the fullest possible control of their bodies without any interference from the government.  I believe in public education including public university systems, but with a healthy skepticism of teachers unions.  You name the traditional progressive social cause and I support it in some form.

But I also believe in personal gun ownership, the lowest possible taxes, capitalism, domestic energy production, that punishing outstanding corporations and executives for the sins of others is stupid,  that we must have a constant focus on the dangers of dependency in social welfare programs, and an overpowering national defense. I also retain  a stubborn belief that for Colorado our state legislature in Denver can solve most problems much better than the Congress or the US Supreme Court.  Working with Republicans on economic issues is usually a question of timing.  I too want to cut spending, reform entitlements, and pay down the debt, just not until we have full employment.

The national press has written a lot about the Tea Party’s derisive attacks on RINOs (Republicans in Name Only).   But the untold story is the DINOs.  There is no one in the Progressive dominated Democratic leadership with the skills or inclination to cut deals with Republicans.

President Obama on issue after issue (budgets, taxes, immigration, etc) begins negotiations announcing the final unnegotiated deal and ridiculing any amendments or alternatives.  That simply does not work in a democracy and it is not producing  Clinton or Reagan style economic growth.

The negative effect of the Tea Party on Republican chances of governing are obvious.  Making your tent narrower is a stupid policy.  But the avalanche of big government makes it impossible for moderate Democrats to win Republican leaning districts or states.

The party that opens its tent back up first is going to win the next few years of elections.