Court ruling could leave state’s poor without access to health care,

Published in The News Tribune, August 2, 2012

The Supreme Court’s decision this summer to uphold the most controversial part of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) – the “mandate” requiring individuals to buy health insurance – was both historic and a critical victory for those battling to achieve universal health care in the United States.

However, while most of the public’s attention has rightly focused on the Court’s determination that the federal government can indeed require us to buy health insurance, this wasn’t the only provision in the ACA that opponents argued was unconstitutional:   They also claimed that the ACA’s expansion of Medicaid to more of the nation’s poor coerced states’ participation by setting the penalty for nonparticipation too high. Continue reading

In this upside-down world, public college means heavier debt load

Published in The News Tribune, June 6, 2012

With the latest news that tuition at our state’s public institutions of higher education will probably rise another 16 percent next year, it’s easy to imagine that our public colleges soon will be as expensive to attend as are the private ones.

But in fact for many students, private colleges have already become the more affordable option.  Continue reading

How many homeless, hungry? Make statistics public

Published in The News Tribune, May 23, 2012

Do you know how many children in Tacoma School District (TSD) schools are homeless?  Or how many people in Pierce County lived without heat or electricity this winter because their power was shut off?

If you don’t, you have lots of company.  And the invisibility of such problems in our community is itself part of the problem. Continue reading

Ex-offenders face incredible odds against shaking their past

Published in The News Tribune, May 9, 2012

If his warm greeting as you enter the downtown YMCA doesn’t get your attention, his story will.

Mychal Goode is an ambitious, smart and personable young man.  Like thousands of others around the state, he’s counting the days until he walks across the stage that marks the completion of his college career.  In his case he’ll have earned a bachelor’s in Business Administration from the University of Washington Tacoma.

Mychal (pronounced Michael) seems pretty typical – a full-time student holding down a full-time job at the Y, looking forward to the future.  We see a lot of students like that at UWT. Continue reading

Solutions exist for Social Security’s long-term problems

Published in The News Tribune, April 25, 2012

What is true in most poor countries today was true in our own long ago:  When elders can no longer support themselves or make sense of what is said around them, their children take care of them.  This is an example of a social compact that balances out in the long run, since children expect their kids in turn to care for them during their waning years.

Some may be surprised to learn that today this social compact is alive and well in our own country.  It is called Social Security.  With Social Security, the elderly look not to their own children, but rather to the collective contributions of the working generation; these workers in turn look to the next generation of workers for support during their retirement.  The terms of this social compact are now politically determined, but the basic idea is the same:  the economically productive support those who no longer are. Continue reading

When it comes to quality education, it’s the principal of the thing,

Published in The News Tribune, April 11, 2012

Teachers matter.  That’s just common sense.  I bet most of us can reflect back on those middle and high school days when we watched the second hand, seemingly in slow motion, tick away the interminable seconds of a boring class, or those times when an effective teacher launched us into a spirited debate that spilled over into the lunch hour and maybe even our homes.

In fits and starts, policy is very slowly catching up to common sense.  Pretty much everyone now agrees that we should prioritize attracting and retaining the best teachers to public education.  We’ll need money to do this, and there’s still a lot of debate over how we can best accomplish this.  But at least we’ve agreed on the why. Continue reading

No country for young (and undereducated, unemployable) men

Published in The News Tribune, March 28, 2012

Over the last six months Washington’s unemployment rate has fallen from 9.3 to 8.2 percent.  That’s terrific news. The same is occurring in states across the nation as employers are now hiring at a record pace.

Yet as some pessimistic sage surely said, every silver cloud has its dark lining.

The problem with our labor market is one I’ve been highlighting this month:   too many citizens have inadequate job-market skills with few options for upgrading them, and receive too little support for navigating what for them is an unstable job market.

Continue reading

Poor public policies send desperate people to dubious colleges

Published in The News Tribune, March 14, 2012

In my last column I argued that the life line we’re throwing to those at the bottom rungs of society is increasingly beyond their grasp. Truth is, we also don’t provide them with many chances to rise up.  With neither a hand out nor a hand up, too many citizens are consigned to pretty dim life prospects.

What’s more, other efforts taken to assist them have been akin to the actions taken by Captain Renault in the movie Casablanca.  The Captain famously responded to a shooting of a Nazi by a known assailant with the unforgettable instructions to “round up the usual suspects.”  Renault hoped that the appearance of vigilance would protect him from his evil superiors, and we all hope he was right. Continue reading

Safety net continues to shrink for those who need it most

Published in The News Tribune, March 2, 2012

The Obama Administration’s recently-proposed budget continues what has become a troubling trend in federal policy.  And it isn’t the growing debt I’m referring to.

What is is the large number of citizens who we seem to have given up on.  In fact, so forsaken are they, and dire the consequences to us of this abandonment, that I’ll use my next two columns to pick up where this one leaves off.

The trend is this:  We’re supplying our most vulnerable and low-skill citizens with fewer and fewer public dollars.  Instead, our nation’s “safety net” increasingly targets the rest of us, particularly those with jobs and a working- or middle-class income.  I’m all for helping the gainfully employed – especially those with low income — but when public dollars are scarce, the marginalized are the least capable of competing for them because few advocate on their behalf.  Not surprisingly, they’re losing out in the competition for public dollars.   Continue reading

Why should Lady Gaga pay a lower tax rate than Mitt Romney?

Published in The News Tribune, February 14, 2012

In my last column (TNT 2-1) I contended that Mitt Romney and others like him should pay more taxes, and that capital gains should be taxed at the same rate as income from work.

Many readers took issue with these claims.  Given the topic’s controversial and divisive nature — and more importantly the extent to which readers objected — I’m devoting this column to a more extended discussion of the subject.

A number of readers wrote in support of low taxes on capital gains on the grounds that lower tax rates are fair. Continue reading

Loopholes for wealthy weaken fairness of income tax system

Published in The News Tribune, February 1, 2012

It shouldn’t be surprising that Mitt Romney pays only 15 percent of his income in federal incomes taxes.  After all, he benefits from the fact that his income comes mostly in the form of capital gains – income from selling assets that have increased in value.  Capital gains are taxed at a top rate of 15 percent, which compares with a top rate of 35 percent on wage income.

This provision in the income tax code explains why Mitt Romney, Warren Buffett and most other super-rich Americans, pay less as a share of their income than do many working Americans.  Continue reading

Veterans need strong connection to civilians to help transition

Published in The News Tribune, January 18, 2012

As readers of this newspaper likely know, last year JBLM suffered a record number of suicides (TNT 12-30).  Tragically, this increase reflects a nationwide trend; suicide rates in the Army have doubled over the last 10 years.  Clearly all is not well with our armed forces.  Divorce rates are climbing.  And the unemployment rate among younger veterans now stands at 30 percent — twice the rate found among younger non-veterans.

In this column I’d like to draw attention to a slow shift occurring in civilian-military relations that contributes to the growing challenges faced by soldiers re-entering civilian life. Continue reading

Lawmakers need to focus on structural problems with budget

Published in The News Tribune, January 5, 2012

As our legislators return to Olympia, they must feel like the Bill Murray character in the movie Groundhog Day.  Each year they show up at Olympia and find that — once again — revenue falls far short of expenditures.  Let’s hope this year they find a way to awaken from this bad dream.

To start, legislators should begin distinguishing short- from long-term budget problems.  Short-term cyclical problems are caused by a weak economy.  Continue reading

All I want for Christmas is an improved health care system

Published in The News Tribune, December 21, 2011

Today’s column concerns “deadweight loss.”

 

Why anyone would coin a term “deadweight loss” (DWL) is beyond me.  But someone did and we’re stuck with it.  Of all economic expressions this is the worst, conjuring up images of the Mafia and concrete boots.  But DWL is important; in order to have a “healthy” economy we should eliminate it.  Read on to see where I’m going. Continue reading

Trouble 6,000 miles away can shake our financial well-being

Published in The News Tribune, December 2, 2011

It’s an extraordinary world we live in when a country 6,000 miles away and the size of Washington threatens America’s economy.

But so it is.  Even Olympia’s latest revenue forecast identifies evolving events in Greece as the wild card in its predictions.  How much our state government will have to cut services to our most vulnerable citizens hangs on the fate of Greek bonds – as well as on bonds of other European nations caught up in Greece’s contagion effect.   It goes to show how interconnected we’ve all become. Continue reading

Let’s be thankful that our problems are those of rich countries

Published in The News Tribune, November 24, 2011

These are divisive times.

It’s easy to see why.  Jobs are scarce, millions have lost their health care coverage, college debt exceeds credit card debt, income inequality is rising, more people are hungry, and state and federal governments look to be on unsustainable paths.   In the past, a robust economy and rising tax revenue succeeded in keeping some degree of division under wraps.

Today’s more austere times means that we now have to establish priorities rather than add new ones.  We’re faced with the inevitable – and unenviable — task of choosing between higher taxes or less spending. Continue reading

Flat tax might simplify matters – but it wouldn’t be fair

Published in The News Tribune, November 8, 2011

Many things are predictable this time of the year.  Earlier commercial appeals to our Christmastime splurges; twilight that sets in seemingly when lunch is over; and proposals for a flat tax, such as we now have from both Cain and Perry.

Actually, three out of every four years, we’re spared the last.  For that we should count our blessings. Continue reading

Back to square one with end of federal long-term care policy

Published in The News Tribune, October 25, 2011

With little fanfare, a Class Act died earlier this month.

Formally known as Community Living Assistance Services and Supports, Class Act was a short-lived health care program created as part of the recent health care overhaul.  The Obama Administration has just now cancelled it.

Class Act’s demise is noteworthy — certainly much more than would be indicated by its placement on the back pages of the newspapers.   Its end helps remind us of a present and growing problem we have yet to solve.   It also reminds us of the inadequacies in current health care policy. Continue reading

Gas tax would aid economy, fund state programs

Published in The News Tribune, October 9, 2011

After what now seems like a thankfully long respite – four months was it? – state budget cuts are once again on the table.  And it’s the same old story.

The state’s chief economist Arun Raha once again erred on the side of optimism.  In truth, it’s more accurate to say that he was not pessimistic enough – no one dares be optimistic these days.  At any rate, the state budget is once again short — this time it is predicted to have $1.4 billion fewer revenues than when Raha last peered into his crystal ball. So back to the drawing board.  Back to negotiating more budget cuts. Continue reading

Strike has been resolved, but many problems remain

Published in The News Tribune, September 25, 2011

If you’re of a certain age, you’ll probably recall the cult film The Endless Summer.   We seemed to be living through our own version of that movie the last few weeks.  Summer ends when kids are back in school, and like the perfect wave in that movie, our waiting never seems to end.

It’s hard to think of a better example than a teacher’s strike of an event where everyone loses.  The only way the public can “win” is if the strike provides some lessons about the shortcomings of our school system.  I can think of three. Continue reading

9/11 wrongly lumped a whole group of people with terrorism

Published in The News Tribune, September 9, 2011

As we approach the tenth anniversary of 9/11,  let’s reflect on a group that may prefer to remain unnoticed.

And let’s notice them.

It’s pretty easy for most of us to associate Islam with terrorism.  While 9/11 is the most obvious cause for this, other events also spring to mind.

But in the spirit of reflection that 9/11 evokes, let’s consider this association. Continue reading

Maybe we really do get the politicians we unknowingly want

Published in The News Tribune, August 31, 2011

No matter what poll you believe, the consensus is that Congress is not doing its job.  In fact, only about one in seven of us think it is.  People express mildly more favorable opinions of the Democrat’s Congressional leadership than of the Republican’s.   But overall the blame for this summer’s fiasco seems to be pretty evenly spread around.

Yet blaming all of Congress for the mess it created while dealing with what should have been the relatively straightforward task of raising the debt ceiling doesn’t spread the blame far enough.

That’s because we’re all a part of a larger problem.  Yep.  You and me. Continue reading

The solution to the debt crisis really isn’t a solution at all

Published in The News Tribune, August 4, 2011

Which is better for our country do you think, low taxes or big government?

According to Republicans in Congress, this question captures the essence of our national financial dilemma.

The suggestion that each of us must choose between more money in our pockets on the one hand, and a bloated unresponsive government on the other is politically astute, but also deceptive and irresponsible. Continue reading

Task for new UW President: Make college affordable

Published in The News Tribune, July 8, 2011

The University of Washington has made an interesting choice for its new President.  Michael Young, who this week took over UW’s realm, does not seem to fit the liberal reputation of this institution.  But let’s hope he proves successful in addressing the conservative features of the University.  Such conservatism marks most of the nation’s public colleges and universities, and poses one of higher education’s largest challenges.

Some background is needed to understand this.  Let’s take what is fast becoming one of the most challenging issues in higher education:  providing an affordable education for the state’s students. Continue reading