VA: Government health care runs its course

Every week, NPRI President Andy Matthews writes a column for NPRI's week-in-review email. If you are not getting our emails, which contain our latest commentaries and news stories, you can sign up here to receive them.


VA: Government health care runs its course

Overwhelming evidence now shows that the Department of Veterans Affairs has for years manipulated records to give the appearance of satisfactory performance. The manipulated records left dozens of veterans to die without receiving the treatment they were promised, thousands made to wait for months or years, and Paul Krugman writing that the VA is a “huge policy success story, which offers important lessons for future health reform.”

Krugman’s actually right about one thing. The VA scandal offers a very important lesson for health care reform: Government-run health care is a failure. A failure that has literally killed our nation’s heroes, our servicemen and women.

Dr. Ben Carson recently described this failure as, “what happens when you take layers and layers of bureaucracy and place them between the patients and the health care provider.” 

Dr. Carson’s statement highlights how liberal big-government policies fail to account for the two big problems facing every sector of the economy: the information problem and the incentive problem.

The information problem is a recognition that no one person or agency or government has all the information needed to make the “right” decision. In this situation, this is most obviously seen with the 1,700 names that disappeared from the Phoenix-VA waiting list.

In a free market, the information problem still exists, but prices — outside of government interference, of course — synthesize millions of data points into a concrete indicator showing the supply and demand of a certain product.

And if prices — and profits — rise, that price increase is an indispensible signal to companies and entrepreneurs to start creating more of that good or service. In the long term, higher prices are actually what ensure an adequate supply of a given good or service, especially since higher prices also decrease demand.

And what about the incentive problem? For too many workers in the VA bureaucracy, their incentives led them to keep their heads down to protect their jobs and pensions, instead of providing better service to those who’ve served us.

How are incentives different for private-sector workers? Because of competition. If you don’t like the service you receive at your doctor’s office, you’ll go to another one. This means that if workers want to keep their jobs, they have to provide good service to you, the customer. They have many incentives to find problems and eliminate them.

Too often in government, workers who find problems in the system and try to change them are ostracized for “rocking the boat” or attacked for trying to eliminate someone’s job. Without the pressure of competition, though, government bureaucracies become bloated and focused on inputs, instead of outcomes.

The VA failures are not isolated; they’re systemic. These problems have lasted for years, spanning both Democratic and Republican presidencies. These problems aren’t just the result of managerial or administrative incompetence; they’re the inevitable outcome of modern-day liberalism.

We will continue to see such failures so long as government is the source for services, instead of the free market.

By the way, yesterday, I was a guest for the full half-hour on Las Vegas Channel 3’s What’s Your Point show with Amy Tarkanian. We talked about the VA scandal, the proposed margin tax, Metro’s subsidies of the Culinary Union’s protests, and more. I encourage you to check it out here.

Andy Matthews
NPRI President


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Andy Matthews co-hosts "What's Your Point" with Amy Tarkanian

 

Playing favorites

Every week, NPRI President Andy Matthews writes a column for NPRI's week-in-review email. If you are not getting our emails, which contain our latest commentaries and news stories, you can sign up here to receive them.


Playing favorites

If you’ve driven past the Cosmopolitan in the past year, you’ve likely seen protestors from the Culinary Union Local 226.

And unless you were the target of one of the union’s well-reported verbal attacks aimed at anyone who dares cross the picket line, you probably kept moving, thinking the dispute had nothing to do with you or your family.

But it turns out the protests do have something to do with you — because as a taxpayer, you’ve been subsidizing the demonstrations for a year.

As reported by NPRI’s Nevada Journal, Metro gifted the union $195,964.60 in free police services at these protests from June 14, 2013 to March 8, 2014, charging the union only once: when members intentionally got themselves arrested. Aside from playing favorites with the union — something I’ll get into in a moment — the doling out of public funds has come at a time when Metro would have the public believe it’s strapped for cash.

For the better part of the past year, Sheriff Doug Gillespie pushed a proposal to increase the sales tax, seeking new revenue to hire more cops. Just over a month after the proposal was shot down by the Clark County Commission in late January, Metro announced it would stop responding to non-injury traffic collisions for lack of officers, making the post-accident insurance nightmare even worse for many drivers.

Now, get this: Just days after the new, non-response policy took effect, Metro policed another Culinary protest, comping the union $3,769.47 in officer costs. So while Metro doesn’t have the money to assist you when you get into an accident, it’s somehow managing to find the resources to man the union’s protests free of charge.

Union members have every right to protest, of course, but they shouldn’t be entitled to special treatment from a government agency, especially when that same agency is cutting back on services to the public. Other events, like concerts and boxing matches, must reimburse Metro for the costs they incur while providing security. So why not the Culinary Union?

Metro Public Information Officer Jesse Roybal told Nevada Journal that the department doesn’t seek reimbursement from unions because it wants to maintain neutrality in labor disputes. Providing almost $200,000 worth of comped services, however, is the complete opposite of neutrality: It’s an example of government picking winners and losers. The real way to maintain neutrality is to treat all event organizers the same, not to provide unions hundreds of thousands of dollars in free services.

Thanks for reading, and have a great weekend.

Andy Matthews
NPRI President


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Unions in North Las Vegas pushing city toward insolvency

North Las Vegas is on the edge of the solvency cliff, and its public employee unions are lining up to push it off.

Hi, I’m Andy Matthews.

In 2012, as North Las Vegas struggled to deal with the aftermath of the Great Recession, city officials tried to declare a state of emergency so it wouldn’t be forced to give $25 million in pay increases to its employees. Its unions sued, and a judge has ruled that the nearly bankrupt city and its taxpayers must pay that $25 million in back raises.

North Las Vegas has offered a $7.7 million settlement to its employees, who, because of Nevada’s collective bargaining laws, are able to extract massive pay and benefit increases even in a recession.

The alternatives are to lay off city workers or turn its finances over to the state.

The idea of getting less-than-expected pay raises during isn’t sitting well with the unions.

The president of the North Las Vegas Firefighters Association, Jeff Hurley, said he was “disappointed” by the settlement offer. Hurley made over $197,000 in pay and benefits in 2013. What could be disappointing about that?

Maybe he’s disappointed that over 125 of his North Las Vegas colleagues made more than him in 2013, including library director Kathryn Pennell who pocketed over $427,000 in total compensation.

Unfortunately, six-figure compensation packages in the almost-insolvent city are the norm. In 2013, over 800 North Las Vegas employees made more than $100,000.

And now, the unions appear ready to force the city into insolvency so they can get even more.

It’s time to reform or eliminate Nevada’s local collective bargaining laws and break the grip unions have over cities’ finances.

 

County proposes bribing current employees to cut pay for future employees

Every week, NPRI President Andy Matthews writes a column for NPRI's week-in-review email. If you are not getting our emails, which contain our latest commentaries and news stories, you can sign up here to receive them.


County proposes bribing current employees to cut pay for future employees

Imagine a parent offering his 10-year-old boy this deal:

“Son, you make $15 a week in allowance. I’m going to give you a one-time $5 bonus if you permit me to pay your future siblings — who aren’t born yet — $1 less per week once they turn eight years old.”

This would strike most of us as completely ludicrous. Why should a parent have to seek the permission of an older child to change the allowance of a child not even born yet?

Amazingly, that’s analogous to what’s happening right now at UMC, the government hospital run by Clark County. Here’s how the Las Vegas Review-Journal describes the situation: “Clark County has offered University Medical Center employees a $500 one-time bonus if they agree that new, future hires no longer will receive longevity pay.”

In short, county officials are offering a bribe — not an illegal one, of course — to current employees so they can reduce compensation for future ones.

The “bonuses” would cost Clark County $2 million today, but save UMC $150 million over 30 years, although there would be no savings for eight years. That’s when longevity payments currently begin for new hires.

So have Clark County officials lost their marbles?

Actually, no — because county officials are restrained by something no parent is: state-imposed collective bargaining.

You see, even though UMC has lost hundreds of millions of dollars over the past decade, county officials can’t just eliminate longevity pay for future and current hires.

That’s because Nevada’s collective bargaining law, NRS 288, gives government employee unions incredible leverage over county officials. Provisions like “evergreen clauses” and “binding arbitration” have put so much power into the hands of union bosses that the county is now resorting to bribing current employees to eliminate pay increases for future employees.

Given the perverse incentives at play in the system, the county’s proposal actually makes sense.

Which is a powerful indication that Nevada’s collective bargaining law doesn’t make sense. And this is far from the only example.

For the sake of sanity, and our fiscal future, Nevada’s collective bargaining law must be repealed or substantially reformed.

Until next time,

Andy Matthews
NPRI President


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A tax hike not even liberals can love

Every week, NPRI President Andy Matthews writes a column for NPRI's week-in-review email. If you are not getting our emails, which contain our latest commentaries and news stories, you can sign up here to receive them.


A tax hike not even liberals can love

Close your eyes and remember Nov. 6, 2012. President Obama had just won a seven-point victory here in Nevada on his way to a second term. Freedom-lovers were disappointed and discouraged. Leftists were predicting years of liberal dominance. 

Imagine if I told you then that less than two years later, these three things would happen:

  • The highest-profile Democrat on Nevada’s November 2014 ballot would come out in opposition to a tax increase on businesses.
  • The AFL-CIO would come out in opposition to a tax-increase measure it helped get on the ballot. In its resolution opposing the tax, it would reference how raising taxes kills jobs and harms the economy.
  • Delegates to the Clark County Democratic Party Convention would decline to support a tax hike on businesses.

You’d have said I was crazy, right?

But that’s exactly what’s happened in the last two weeks.

Two Mondays ago, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported that Democratic lieutenant governor candidate Lucy Flores told a Spanish TV station that she opposed the margin tax because “it can have negative effects on our jobs.”

Last Friday, Nevada’s AFL-CIO voted, by a nearly 3-to-1 ratio, to oppose the margin tax. Yes, you read that right: The AFL-CIO is opposing a tax increase.

Then last weekend, delegates to the Clark County Democratic Party Convention refused to take a position on the margin tax.

I’m been pinching myself all week, but I promise, this isn’t a dream.

Instead, the reality of the impact of a massive tax increase — especially one as poorly written and structured as the margin tax — has caused traditionally liberal individuals and groups to acknowledge that raising taxes kills jobs and hurts the economy. They’re absolutely right, and it’s great to hear them say so.

Our next challenge is to help them remember this important lesson — that raising taxes hurts employees and small-business owners — during the legislative session.

Our biggest challenge, though, is to help these same groups understand that spending more on education won’t increase student achievement.

I’m optimistic. After all, just think about what was “impossible” less than two short years ago.

Until next time,

Andy Matthews
NPRI President


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6 facts you should know about the City of Henderson’s finances

Over the last several months, City of Henderson officials have been trying to lay the groundwork for proposing a massive property-tax increase. City officials have been paint a bleak picture for city residents while trying to ignore the elephant in the room — its employees' compensation has been increasing while its resident income has declined dramatically.

Here are six facts you need to refute their spin.

1. The City of Henderson’s general fund spending has remained remarkably consistent throughout the recession. It peaked at $221 million in 2008, fell to $203 million in 2011 and is projected to be $219 million in 2014.

2. A city spokesman has admitted that, despite the City of Henderson’s claim to have made $127 million in “cuts,” many of those “cuts” weren’t actual reductions in expenditures, but desired increases in spending that didn’t come to pass. In real terms, they weren’t cuts at all.

3. As reported by the Las Vegas Review-Journal, City Manager Jacob Snow told a panel looking at Henderson’s budget to ignore 80 percent of Henderson’s budget — pay and benefits for its employees.

4. Pay and benefits for City of Henderson employees has increased dramatically over the last 6 years. Henderson employees who worked full-time at the city from 2008 to 2013 saw their average base salary increase from $75,204 to $81,220, an 8 percent jump.

Full-time workers employed by the city from 2011 to 2013 saw their total compensation increase from an average of $117,487 to $123,560, a 5.2 percent increase.

5. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the median household income in Henderson dropped from $67,617 in 2007 to $61,404 in 2012, a decrease of 9.2 percent.

6. In 2013, 462 City of Henderson employees made over $150,000 in total compensation, including 84 who made over $200,000.

Henderson’s budget challenges are driven by the compensation increases given to its highly paid employees. Henderson officials owe it to city residents to be honest about how public employee compensation increases have caused its budget problems and the role collective bargaining has played and continues to play in driving up employee compensation.

 

AFL-CIO abandons margin tax

It’s not often NPRI agrees with the AFL-CIO, but in the case of the economic problems that would come from the proposed margin tax, it seems everyone except the Nevada State Education Association understands the tax is terrible idea.

Today, the AFL-CIO — which once supported the tax and assisted the NSEA get the initiative on the ballot, voted overwhelmingly to oppose the measure that would result in lost jobs and an even weaker economy than we have now.

NPRI highlighted this reality just days prior to the vote in telling the story of a long-time Las Vegas construction company that could be forced to close and lay off its 70 employees if voters approve the margin tax in November.

AFL-CIO Executive Secretary Treasurer Danny Thompson was quoted in the Las Vegas Review-Journal as saying:

The vote today in opposition to the margins tax initiative is not a vote against education. It is a vote against a flawed initiative that will cost many of our members their jobs and raise the cost of living on Nevadans on a fixed income and on citizens that are still struggling to make ends meet after years of a terrible recession.

The full resolution, reportedly passed in a 229-78 vote, was published by Jon Ralston as follows:

Resolution # 3 (as amended, May1, 2012 in Committee)

RESOLUTION CONCERNING THE “TEACHERS” EDUCATION INTIATIVE

Whereas:   we feel tax policy is best established through the Legislative Process where the effects and implementation can be discussed and the issues resolved; and

Whereas:  we understand the need for implementation of tax policy where the effects, the levels of revenues and the utilization of those revenues are clearly defined; and

Whereas:  the Education Initiative does not clearly address the effects on all businesses in the State of Nevada; and

Whereas:  the Supporters of the Education Initiative have themselves argued different applications of the tax on businesses in the State of Nevada; and

Whereas:  the provisions of the Education Initiative do not clearly define how it would be applied to the construction industry; and

Whereas:  Supporters of the Education Initiative have advertised the tax as a Net Profits margins tax when in fact it is a Gross Income tax;  and

Whereas:  many of the signatory contractors of the Building and Construction Trades Council have been operating on their reserves for the last several years as the State of Nevada tries to work its way out or poor economic times;  and

Whereas:  the Education Initiative does not take into consideration the losses those contractors have endured but instead burdens them with a tax based on the Gross Revenues from work they may perform; and

Whereas:  many contractors have gone out of business during these poor economic times and the Education Initiative may place a tax burden on the contractors and business which have been surviving on marginal returns forcing them out of business as the tax burden may be higher than the profit margin; may it therefore

Be Resolved:  that he Nevada State AFL-CIO and our affiliated Unions oppose the passage of tax policy while it is not clear what the effect on our signatory partners will be; and be it  

Further Resolved:  until the effects of the Education Initiative are clearly defined we oppose the passage and implementation of the measure, and that the Nevada State AFL-CIO will review and reevaluate its position relative to this measure at the 2014 Constitutional Convention.

 

 

Fact-checking the RGJ’s fact ‘checker’ for failing to check on his ‘facts’; UPDATE

Update 5/2/2014: I just had a very nice conversation with Kelly Ann Scott, executive editor of the RGJ about Mark Robison’s column. Mark is currently on vacation.

It turns out that searching for Reno firefighters one way produces accurate data, as reflected in the below statement, and searching for it the way Robison did produces duplicate entries and does show there’s something wrong with the way the site is compiling data. It’s important to note that none of the records were inaccurate, but searching in a particular way did produce some records twice.

I apologized to Kelly for my inaccurate charges and have emailed Mark an apology as well.

Of course, I’d like any reporter to call for comment before writing something negative about our site, but I know deadlines made that challenging in this case.

As I said in my statement, we do make mistakes and this was one. I’m happy to report we’ve identified the problem and are about to fix it.

________

We’ve just sent the following statement to the Reno Gazette-Journal about an inaccurate column today impugning NPRI’s TransparentNevada.

Mark Robison, in his May 2 “Fact Checker” column, inaccurately describes the government-employee-compensation data at TransparentNevada.com, which comes directly from the City of Reno, and then implies that the website’s information is inaccurate and unreliable.

The inaccuracies, however, are Robison’s.   

Among his column’s many factual errors are two that stand out in particular. First, there are no Reno firefighters with duplicate 2013 compensation records at TransparentNevada, despite Robison’s claim to the contrary. Many Reno firefighters have 2012 or 2011 salary records, but those aren’t duplicate records that require “cleaning up,” as Robison puts it.

Second, TransparentNevada’s records include 127 Reno firefighters who meet Robison’s compensation criteria — not 101, as Robison claims.

The bigger problem, however, is that Robison never reached out to the Nevada Policy Research Institute, which operates TransparentNevada, to ask for an explanation of what he believed to be problems with the site. This would have been an important thing for a “fact checker” to check.

Everyone makes mistakes — including us — but if Robison had simply called, we would have been happy to point out his mistakes before his error-laden column went to print. Unfortunately, his decision not to check with NPRI before impugning our site in print and online has left his readers misinformed.

The RGJ should immediately correct his column online, and notify its print-edition readers of the errors.

You can read Robison’s column to get the full context, but rest assured the data on TransparentNevada comes directly from the government entities. It is the most reliable and accurate source for government compensation data in Nevada.

 

Stalling

Every week, NPRI President Andy Matthews writes a column for NPRI's week-in-review email. If you are not getting our emails, which contain our latest commentaries and news stories, you can sign up here to receive them.


Stalling

We all knew that kid in school who was full of excuses when it came to missed homework assignments.

One day he was sick and couldn’t finish the essay, the next day he forgot it at home.

Unfortunately, lawyers with the Clark County School District are taking a nod from some of their more delinquent students when it comes to responding to our public records lawsuit against the district.

CCSD’s lawyers have filed not one, not two, but three 30-day extensions for their answering brief.

You may remember that NPRI has sued CCSD for refusing to follow Nevada’s public records law by not releasing the government-created, government-provided email addresses of government employees. Our case is currently before the Nevada Supreme Court, where we filed our opening brief on Jan. 16, 2014. The Americans Civil Liberties Union of Nevada also filed an amicus brief on our behalf on Jan. 28.

In its effort to defy Nevada’s public records act, CCSD has available its internal legal staff of about 10 lawyers and a budget of nearly $3.1 million, and CCSD has hired an outside firm with a staff of at least 40 attorneys in its Las Vegas office to respond to our lawsuit.

Yet on Feb. 18, when its answering brief was due, CCSD filed a 30-day extension. Fine. But when March 20 rolled around, guess who filed another 30-day extension. That’s right: CCSD and its team of lawyers.

Joseph Becker, the head of NPRI’s Center for Justice and Constitutional Litigation, immediately filed an opposition to these stalling tactics.

In its response, CCSD wrote that the “requested extension (only three short weeks away) will ensure that this case is carefully considered on its merits.” So what happened in “three short weeks,” when CCSD’s answer brief came due?

Another 30-day extension motion.

It’s beginning to feel like we’re in a Charlie Brown cartoon, with Lucy holding the football and promising, “This time will be different.”

I understand why CCSD wants to delay. The Nevada high court has a history of overturning decisions of lower courts that limit the public’s right to transparent government, and this case has garnered public support from the Nevada Press Association, the Las Vegas Review-Journal editorial board, Steve Sebelius and, as I mentioned before, the ACLU.

My only question for CCSD is this: Which excuse will you trot out when you request your next 30-day extension? That the dog ate your brief?

Until next time,

Andy Matthews
NPRI President


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Total Records: 1814

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