June 19, 2008: An Update from the Institute
"It's Not Just About Saving Money...It's About Saving Lives"
We're pleased to announce that our June 11 school choice luncheon was a big success! The event, cosponsored with the Cato Institute, drew a sell-out crowd of over 72 attendees to discuss better educational options for the children of Illinois--educational options that, it turns out, are massive money savers as well. You can read more about the lunch here.
Also, as a side note: Unlike monopolistic education systems (ahem), we are dedicated to achieving excellent results. Have any comments or insights about our school choice luncheon? Please send them, along with your ideas on how we can best market the concept of educational freedom in Illinois, to email@example.com.
"Put up or shut up!"
By John Tillman, CEO
"Put up or shut up!" Have you ever been told that before? It kind of gives one pause. It also makes one think: What is it that I need to do to put my "money where my mouth is," so to speak? What is it that I haven't done to demonstrate my bona fides?
Putting up or shutting up is often a humbling experience, especially if, in the end, you don't put up. These thoughts all occurred to me during the past few months while my hometown, the Village of Golf, considered passing a measure for greater government transparency.
You see, transparency--working to make the government more open and accountable to taxpayers--is one of our key projects here at the Institute. Our efforts are led by the ever-capable Kate Campaigne, who is also relentless. Trust me, I know she is relentless. For example, some time back Kate said to me, "So, John, when is Golf going to pass transparency?"
After all, I'm the president of Golf, a very small village north of Chicago with 453 people, 171 homes and a volunteer government. We have a police force, a part-time village administrator, and well, that's about it.
Not long after Kate's question, I had lunch with Adam Andrzejewski, a good friend and a great Liberty Leader. Adam is the founder of For The Good Of Illinois, and he is working all over the state to bring more openness and transparency to school district spending. He and Kate work closely together. In fact, I'm starting to think there may have been a conspiracy, because he also asked, "So, John, when is the Village of Golf going to pass transparency?"
Did I mention how small the village was? And that we have a part-time village administrator, Bob, who is doing a great job, but who is already overworked? And now I'm going to ask them to take on transparency? I mean, okay, Senator Barack Obama (perhaps you have heard of him?) and Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) joined together to pass transparency legislation in 2006--but they're on the federal level! And, fine, Governor Rick Perry (R-TX), Governor Matt Blunt (R- MO), and Governor Kathleen Sebelius (D-KS) are all implementing transparency in their states--but they have lots of resources!
I know what you're probably asking: If all of these people and governments can do it, why not the tiny Village of Golf?
Well, for one, we don't have a website. We would have to create a new one. Our tiny staff, already overtaxed with work, would have to scan documents and put them up on the website. And so on. These, of course, are some of the many excuses that Kate and Adam hear all the time when they contact local school districts or other local governments. "It takes too much time." "It takes too much money." "It's just too hard!"
Kate told me, in very frank terms, that my excuses were nothing but malarkey and hogwash. (Ok, I'm paraphrasing; Kate would never use the term "malarkey," nor "hogwash," for that matter.) But she's right. These are all just silly excuses.
Here's another one, which I'm proud to say I didn't use: "People can already get all of this information by submitting a Freedom of Information (FOIA) request. Why bother with transparency?" Unfortunately, the fact is that too many governments use FOIA to slow down transparency, and FOIA can sometimes turn into the equivalent of a treasure hunt without a map.
Besides, why make it hard for citizens who want to know how their tax dollars are spent? Shouldn't a nonpartisan principle of good government be to make all of this easier?
Of course it should. And that is why, whether you are a small village like Golf, or the state of Illinois, or a local school district, there is no reasonable excuse for not passing and implementing transparency.
Transparency is like an x-ray machine, allowing taxpayers to look inside government and see how the money is being spent: every check written, every contract let and every vendor receiving money. This is a good thing. It makes elected officials even more vigilant to do the right thing, and it lets the average citizen (and, occasionally, legislators) look into what is being done and make suggestions for improvement.
That has already happened in places like Texas, Missouri and Kansas, where popular, effective transparency programs have already been implemented--at an amazingly low cost, I might add.
And I hope it happens in Golf, too, because on June 9, 2008, the trustees of the Village of Golf unanimously passed a measure for greater transparency. I was thrilled to sign it.
And guess what? It might not be that hard, after all. We're aiming to get that website up by our deadline: September 30th. Fortunately we have a village volunteer, who, along with his teenage son, is building the site for our community. Later this year (assuming we "put up" that web site on time), you too can see that the Village of Golf is doing its part for transparency. You can also, just for fun, watch for the $1 check I receive for the coming year as I finish out my term.
(Note: I had indicated last time that I would be writing about a Liberty Agenda for Illinois. That has been pushed back till next time so that I could tell you about this important victory for transparency!)
Questions? Comments? Like to get involved? E-mail John Tillman at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Brick Walls, "Big Oil," and Big Government
By Greg Blankenship, President
Reality, in many cases, can be a bit of a brick wall. And when it comes to gas prices, you smack into reality at $4 per gallon. That's got to hurt.
It's no secret that our unwillingness to drill for oil at home, along with our penchant for freeloading off the rest of the world's oil producers, would eventually haunt us. The Illinois Policy Institute sounded a warning in April of 2005:
"As high as gasoline prices are right now...just wait. Crude oil prices continue to hover above $55 a barrel--breaking past $58 in the first days of April. This time last year, we were talking $42. The largest oil futures derivatives investor just advised its clients that we are heading for a "super-spike" that will drive oil prices to between $80 and $105 a barrel--double today's price."
The point is not that we told you so. People knew we were on a collision course in this country when it came to gas. As long as that brick wall appeared well down the road (well, two and a half years down the road) the government would continue to reap windfall tax revenues from taxpayers. Both Springfield and Washington have enjoyed this largesse for far too long.
The dramatic caterwauling we hear from politicians against Exxon-Mobile's profits is rather ironic, given those profits are nothing compared to the amount that federal, state and local governments make off of oil. About the same time we warned about the coming of $105 per barrel oil, the Tax Foundation found the government's oil-related revenue exceeded oil industry profits by a factor of 7.3. Put another way, we pay the government seven times more than we do the oil companies that invest, build, drill and distribute the gas we buy.
The political class, both in Washington and Illinois, has a perverse incentive to keep fuel prices high. The more you pay, the more they get. We're finding out that the greening of America begins to wane at $4 per gallon. I fear, however, to discover the price point the political class finds necessary in order to take action on this sad state of affairs.
So next time you hear about the plutocrats in "Big Oil" stealing all of our money, tell them who is really making the bucks here: big government.