Monday, June 26, 2006

Dick Armey's Astroturfing of Alabama

Former GOP House Majority Leader Dick Armey and current Chairperson Of Freedom Works (originally Citizens for a Sound Economy) dropped an op-ed in The Anniston Star this Sunday entitled “The sky didn’t fall in Alabama after all”. While I applaud The Star in allowing Dick the chance to contribute to the marketplace of ideas I wanted to respond.

Dick Armey simply hates government. A Grover Norquist level of hatred. Maybe Grover’s “Field Marshall” to the Dick Armey? Perhaps once seen as simply a conservative ideologue, after years of DeLay and the rise of “The Machine” who can guess. Dick’s advocated a “flat tax”. He referred to Massachusetts Representative Barney Frank as “Barney “Fag”. His office was one of the main slime spreading centers going after Al Gore in 2000. He was one of the main cheerleaders of Bu$hCo’s efforts to privatize Social Security yet he is seemingly now frustrated with his own Republican Party.

Dick Armey’s infamous “Charlie Story” that was used to demonstrate the peril in raising the federal minimum wage was apparently made up. Maybe all the allegations of sexual harassment and also not getting tenure had Dick distracted while he was at North Texas State? Here’s what Molly Ivins, rather familiar with Dick in that both are from Texas, via Mother Jones, reported,

For years, Armey told the story of Charlie, a janitor at North Texas State when Armey taught there. According to Armey, Charlie was a retarded man who loved his job; then in 1977, the federal government raised the minimum wage, and Charlie was fired because the university couldn't afford to keep him on anymore. A month later, Armey saw Charlie in a grocery store with his wife and infant child, buying provisions with food stamps. "My heart's been broken about it ever since," Armey often lamented.

Unfortunately, no one else who worked at the university at the time had any memory of Charlie. What's more, the chancellor explained, janitors at North Texas are state employees, so the federal minimum wage would not have applied to any "Charlie."

In the above 2002 piece, Ms. Ivins described Dick as follows:
Armey is a no-compromise, free-market ideologue: His great heroes are Adam Smith and Milton Friedman. He is so devoted to free-market ideals that he wants to abolish Social Security and the home mortgage deduction, along with the minimum wage, and replace the progressive income tax with a flat tax.
Dick’s CSE/FW claims to be grassroots yet at best it is Astroturf given that the money to pay the bills comes from the Big Mules. In fact just recently FW has jumped into the net neutrality issue. And guess which side they jumped to? You got it! Big Teleco uses this “grassroots” organization to throttle one major tool for democracy. Lots of profits for Dick in all of this I’m sure.

Here’s how Riley’s Amendment One was described by Jason White of
The tax increase hits Alabama's wealthiest residents, corporations and large landowners hardest. Most low-income Alabamians would get tax cuts. The plan would raise nearly twice as much revenue as is needed to wipe out a $675 million budget deficit. The extra $525 million is slated to fund college scholarships, bonuses for teachers who agree to teach in rural and poor schools and performance-based contracts for school administrators.

Dick and Grover had interfered with Riley’s tax plan before the election so I guess he figured it wise to come back and gloat over the grave. John Giles of The Alabama Christian Coalition, when he’s not helping Grover and Ralph Reed with their gambling clients, also was involved in defeating Riley’s plan. So why does Dick now care about Alabama’s tax issues? Well, I’d argue he doesn't, except so as to make some political points. This is a portion of what was printed in The Star, with my emphasis supplied:

Turns out the sky didn’t fall after all. Remember the 2003 debate over Amendment 1, the state constitutional referendum that would have created the largest tax increase in Alabama’s history? The talking heads and professional alarmists had a field day, earnestly and ominously predicting that prisoners would be let loose and high school football would lose its funding.

But Alabama’s taxpayers knew better than to buy the scare tactics, defeating Gov. Bob Riley’s $1.2 billion tax hike by a 2-to-1 margin.

And, the predictions that the sky would fall if Amendment 1 failed were not even close. Three years after voters rejected higher taxes, the state is rolling in a $700 million budget surplus. Prisoners are not roaming the streets, high schools still play football on Friday night, and no one kicked grandma out of the nursing home. Turns out the taxpayers called the liberal bluff that massive tax hikes were needed to avoid budget shortages.

So what happened? After years of legislative mismanagement and spiraling spending, Alabama faced a $675 million budget deficit in 2003. But when the voters refused to let Riley pass the buck onto Alabama taxpayers, the governor had no choice but to buckle down, prioritize and reduce nonessential spending.

Working closely with the Legislature, he cut out a half-billion dollars in line-item spending and $40 million of pork from the budget. They also shrunk the size of the state bureaucracy by reducing the number of state employees and vehicles. It wasn’t easy, as there was tremendous political pressure from big government interest groups, but they got the job done.

.... Keeping taxes low makes Alabama more attractive for business and investment.

More important, holding the line against higher taxes in the lean years after 9/11 resulted in quicker and stronger recovery today. It’s a win-win approach.

… His latest $60 million tax relief package, unanimously approved by the House and Senate, was a step in the right direction. But that’s not enough. It is not even one-tenth of the surplus economic growth has brought the government coffers.

Pro-growth tax relief will help continue Alabama’s virtuous cycle of lower taxes, more economic growth and a more efficient government. Research consistently shows that when it comes to taxes, businesses and residents vote with their feet; and if given the incentives, they will most certainly vote for Alabama, bringing jobs for the people and revenue for the state.

But this lesson is lost on many pundits who insist on frittering away the surplus on more government programs. …

Increasing funding for bureaucratic programs would put Alabama back on the vicious tax-and-spend cycle that it took so long to break. …

Dick, the reality is that the Big Mules defeated the Riley with tactics that you GOP style operatives have honed to perfection. In the latter phases of the campaign, with poll numbers looking bleak, some people did surely stretch the dire predictions yet no responsible person can deny that Alabama, as did much of the nation, faced a serious budget crunch.

While the economy has indeed picked up, as is true across the region, Alabama is still doing things on the cheap. We’ve got state prisoners housed in county jails and schools still struggling. I knew state employees that experienced the budget cuts that you were so pleased with yet they soldiered on. You slam them as bureaucrats while I can call most public servants. It is amazing to me that your side dismisses government. When Bu$hCo botches Katrina your folks can take a failure and still use for the company line. An effective government program can still do more for less than anything in your beloved market. Are there problems? Certainly so. Yet when you paint with such a broad brush you are simply getting sloppy.

The tax breaks you mentioned above at least shifted some of the burden off the poorest of the poor. The most recent tax legislation did not give breaks to the fat cats that you and yours often do the bidding for yet it did not increase their taxes.

An educated workforce is still the main reason people will come to Alabama in a modern economy. Feet, at least those of much of the more educated population, have been leaving for many years Dick. A reason to stay is what is needed and as long as people like you are running down government it will not happen. Your loathing of government clouds your thinking. I know it sells to a certain segment of our population but no serious person ought to give you the time of day when you start at such an extreme position.

Alabama has been on a “vicious tax-and-spend” cycle? Who knew? Right wing talking points are all you've got at times isn't it?

Anybody that knows their Alabama history and politics can see you are shilling on something that you aren’t qualified to address. Peace … or War!