Government Bytes


State of the Union - States' Perspective

by Brent Mead / /


On Education

President Obama's remarks on education are how shall I put it...disappointing.


At a time when other countries are doubling down on education, tight budgets have forced States to lay off thousands of teachers.  We know a good teacher can increase the lifetime income of a classroom by over $250,000.  A great teacher can offer an escape from poverty to the child who dreams beyond his circumstance.   Every person in this chamber can point to a teacher who changed the trajectory of their lives.  Most teachers work tirelessly, with modest pay, sometimes digging into their own pocket for school supplies – just to make a difference.

Teachers matter.  So instead of bashing them, or defending the status quo, let’s offer schools a deal.  Give them the resources to keep good teachers on the job, and reward the best ones.  In return, grant schools flexibility:  To teach with creativity and passion; to stop teaching to the test; and to replace teachers who just aren’t helping kids learn.

We also know that when students aren’t allowed to walk away from their education, more of them walk the stage to get their diploma.  So tonight, I call on every State to require that all students stay in high school until they graduate or turn eighteen.


Of course, it’s not enough for us to increase student aid.  We can’t just keep subsidizing skyrocketing tuition; we’ll run out of money.  States also need to do their part, by making higher education a higher priority in their budgets.

First and foremost, K-12 education should be left to the states and local governments. Any solution in the United States becoming globally competitive will not come from overly expensive programs like "Race to the Top." Most of the President's proposal focusing on increasing taxpayer committments to education, while reducing the few accountability controls on public education.

On a broad point, states make education a priority, contrary to the President's insinuations. According to the liberal, Centers for Budget and Policy Priorities, K-12 and higher education funding constitutes upwards of 40% of state spending. Compared to our foreign counterparts, the $91,700 we spend per pupil is the 2nd highest in the industrial world, behind only Switzerland. Despite the massive treasure we pour into public education we have recieved stagnant returns. More students enter college needing remedial courses than ever before. Simply put, and poignant during school choice week, the continued devotion to a public education monopoly is not the solution.

Moreover, while potentially laudable, the requirement that the state school all children up until 18 is simply not realistic, either fiscally or administratively.

Finally, it is courteous of the President to acknowledge that increased federal tuition aid in higher education has not made college any more affordable. Unfortunately, his solution is for states to bankrupt themselves propping up the higher education bubble.

On Milk

I’m confident a farmer can contain a milk spill without a federal agency looking over his shoulder. 

Crying over spilled milk jokes aside, milk control remains a persistant abuse of government authority. Milk control boards have long engaged in price setting and artificially hold consumer costs high.

On Health Care

I’m a Democrat.  But I believe what Republican Abraham Lincoln believed:  That Government should do for people only what they cannot do better by themselves, and no more.  That’s why my education reform offers more competition, and more control for schools and States.  That’s why we’re getting rid of regulations that don’t work.  That’s why our health care law relies on a reformed private market, not a Government program.

So ends the discussion on the far-reaching law set to go into place two years from now. From a state budget point of view, the primary problem with Obamacare is that it is a Government program. Most of the claimed benefits of reducing the uninsured are only accomplished by massive expansions of Medicaid.

I was somewhate disappointed the President did not expound upon the growing problems with the law's implementation. Politico had a decent summary of states who have thus far resisted efforts to stand up insurance exchanges. Another good resource is the Heritage Foundation study detailing some of the financial implications for states. Needless to say, they are not pretty, even when most of the negative effects are masked by an enhanced federal match. Make no mistake, the Government program that is health care reform will bankrupt the states. 

The long-term budget pressures related to Medicaid, and the enhanced costs associated with Obamacare, are one of the most pressing concerns for state's budgets. A majority of state's attorney generals have filed suit agains the federal government due in part to these concerns. This is a serious for the states and deserves more than one sentence in this speech.

On Infrastructure

So much of America needs to be rebuilt.  We’ve got crumbling roads and bridges.  A power grid that wastes too much energy.  An incomplete high-speed broadband network that prevents a small business owner in rural America from selling her products all over the world.

Investment in legitimate public goods is a necessary and proper role of government. However, as is currently being debated in California, the infrastructure programs being debated are not necessities they are expensive frivalities.

California's high speed rail project has ballooned in costs to close to $100 billion. The only reason the project is still be considered rather than sent back to planning is that unless ground is broken soon, the state will forfeit a multi-billion loan from the federal government. Worse, the initial portion of the line will be built in a sparsely populated region, which all experts agree will not generate ridership numbers sufficient to justify construction. It is a boondoggle in every sense of the word.

A similar project in Connecticut drew NTU's attention and ire last year. Too often, when the federal government attempts to spur infrastructure development it leads to wasteful spending on the state level.

Finally, a brief note on broadband. The stimulus bill dedicated $7.2 billion towards rural broadband networks. The Government Accountability Office found high levels of waste, primarily resulting from duplicative over-builds. For instance, $100 million was spent in Western Kansas to build a broadband network in an area already served by multiple private providers. Therein lies the problem. President Obama is not identifying an infrastructure deficiency, he is trying to make the argument that the government can do a better job than the private sector. As economic studies have shown, this is simply not true.