Examining the candidacy of Mike Wilson

After Cincinnati Tea Party founder Mike Wilson won the republican primary for the Ohio House seat in the 28th district, I figured it would be worthwhile to read up on him a little more and learn about his core issues and beliefs. I went to the issues page on his campaign website, hoping to find the depth and nuance that I find so sorely lacking in the Tea Party. What I found was kind of a mixed bag.

The page starts with his vision, which contains elements that I'll get to later. He then lists his "core issues". These are three one-sentence bullet point statements. He's against the public funding of abortion (which I thought was already decided in HCR, but ok), he wants the 2nd amendment protected (even though there hasn't been, and there are no plans to, challenge the 2nd amendment during the Obama administration, but good to know), and he believes in school choice. I would really have liked for him to have gone into greater detail about the last one, because there are a bunch of directions that could go. Regardless, these are his core issues, but there's no specifics about what exactly he plans to propose or do about them if he's elected, so it's just basic slogans.

He goes into much greater detail about his "other issues" positions, and this is where things fall apart a bit. Wilson wants to "create jobs in Ohio", which is admirable. He wants to support small business, but cites a study from a partisan institute with a reputation for publishing misleading - and sometimes false - numbers to prove that the state is unfriendly to small business. His five point plan to address this is as follows:
  • Support John Kasich’s plan to eliminate the state income tax over a 10-year period
  • Support plans to eliminate Ohio's death tax which causes the successful to leave Ohio.
  • Work to reduce the size of state government by consolidating cabinet agencies and eliminating overlap.
  • Promote reform of Ohio's broken workman's compensation system
  • Advocate for right to work legislation that gives workers the freedom to make decisions about union membership for themselves.
I will stipulate to having no knowledge of the workman's comp system in Ohio, though I would be curious how it addresses the issue of small business. But that's not surprising, because the above points don't really address that issue either.

Right to work laws are not much more than a right-wing creation to reduce the role of unions in the workplace. They allow workers to enjoy all of the benefits of union membership without actually paying dues. Non-union workers earn less, and states with right to work laws have significantly higher fatality rates than those that do not.

The biggest problem with this piece is the tax eliminations that he wants to enact. The estate tax in Ohio only applies to estates with a gross value exceeding $338,000. This is a fairly low ceiling relative to other states with an estate tax, and if he wanted to argue that it should be raised I could get on board with that. But he doesn't. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Ohio collected a little less than $67 million in "death and gift taxes" in 2009. For a $1 million estate, the total estate taxes would run $58,600, or less than 6% of total estate value. If we assume that the average estate that this applies to is $1 million (total top-of-my-head guestimate), this tax applies to less than 1,200 estates per year in Ohio, all of which is paid out by people that received an inheritance. This is what he's fighting for?

(It should also be pointed out that an attempt was made to repeal the tax back in 2001, but was beat back because of declining state revenues and a group of municipalities that demanded a continuation of the tax. More on the reality of tax revenues in a minute.)

Eliminating the state income tax gets to an even bigger problem. The Census Bureau shows that Ohio collected $8.3 billion in individual income taxes in 2009. Wilson wants to eliminate those taxes, which would delight people since no one likes paying income taxes. But, there's nothing in his plan that outlines the spending cuts he would make to cover the decrease in tax revenue.

Oh wait, there is the part about consolidating cabinet agencies. Which agencies? How much will that save? Wilson doesn't say, but this is par for the course with the Tea Party in general. Tax cuts are great, but you have to find a way to pay for them through spending cuts, and no one ever seems to want to provide details on where those will come from, because people like services, and telling them that those services are going to go away isn't going to make them happy or likely to vote for you.

I can't stress this enough. Wilson (as well as gubernatorial candidate John Kasich) is proposing to eliminate $8 billion dollars of tax revenue without any sort of plan for how to balance the lost revenue with reduced spending, and this is considered a serious fiscal policy position. I'm sure that the republican response will be "we'll find the spending cuts we need to make this work", or something along the lines of trickle-down economics with no hard numbers to explain how this will all balance out. This is lunacy. Imagine if you and your wife were struggling to make ends meet, and then one day you came home and said, "Honey, I just bought a Maybach!" And then when she said, "We're already knee-deep in debt, how the hell are we going to pay for it", you just replied, "Oh, we'll figure it out as we go along." How well would that go over? Flip the spending and revenue sides of the situation, and that's exactly what Wilson is proposing.

Wilson then moves on to his next "other issue", transparency in government. Again, a pretty good idea. Here are his points:
  • Blog on each piece of significant legislation I vote on so my constituents know where I stand.
  • Share my cell phone number with my constituents - 513-494-OH28 (6428).
  • Introduce legislation to require state agencies to publish a searchable database of their expenditures on the Internet.
  • Work to recreate the Legislative Budget Office who's mandate is to provide non-partisan analysis and scoring of bills before the General Assembly.
I think the first two points are great, though I wonder if he's going to regret giving out his number, but good for him to want to be held accountable to the people. Actually, the last two are pretty good ideas as well, except for one little problem (outside of the typo in the fourth point). Creating a statewide database costs money to create, implement, and maintain. Creating a budget office costs money, and also creates another layer of government, both of which Wilson says he's against. Again, how will these be paid for? Wilson doesn't say. (UPDATE: in the comments, it's stated that a version of his proposed LBO already exists in the form of the Legislative Services Commission.)

The last section deals with "fighting back against an out-of-control federal government". According to Wilson, "[o}ver the last 120 years, arrogant politicians have subscribed to the fatal conceit that a one-size fits all federal government could more effectively direct our country than the 50 states or hundreds of millions of people scattered across our fruited plains." Setting aside that no one has used the term "fruited plains" in about 120 years (and I'd be curious why he picked 120 years), the utter mess that would be created by having essentially 50 individual republics is hard to express in words. Having that system 120 years ago may have worked well; it's kind of a different world now.

Anyways, citing the 10th amendment, Wilson promises to:
  • Fight to pass a sovereignty resolution in the House identical to S.C.R 13 which passed in the Ohio Senate in September, 2009.
  • Support nullification legislation should Congress pass a health care bill that requires consumers to purchase government-approved insurance.
  • Support firearms freedom legislation that nullifies federal regulations for firearms and ammunition that do not cross Ohio’s borders
State sovereignty is a huge mess that deserves a post of its own, and I'll leave well enough alone on the firearms point. Healthcare, however, I'll take that one on.

Wilson doesn't seem to want to fight the part of healthcare reform that essentially tells insurance companies that they can't use pre-existing conditions or recissions to trim their enrollment of subscribers that get extremely sick or are considered "unprofitable". If that's the case, then there absolutely has to be a mandate that everyone have insurance - and anyone associated with the health insurance industry will tell you that. Otherwise, there's no incentive for someone to purchase health insurance until they get sick. The insurance companies need to collect premiums from healthy subscribers to subsidize the costs of the unhealthy, or else they'd go bankrupt quickly. Incidentally, this was a conservative idea back in the early 90's, when the Clinton administration tried to pass healthcare reform.

However, if Wilson really wants to pursue this route, he needs to go even bigger. You see, the 10th amendment states that any powers not delegated by the Constitution to the federal government are yielded to the states. And the Constitution empowers Congress to "lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts and excises," to "provide for" the "general welfare" of the United States, and to "make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution the foregoing powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the government of the United States, or in any department or officer thereof." Putting laws into place to help cover the millions of uninsured citizens in this country would seem to fall under the "general welfare" clause.

It should then follow that, if this doesn't fall under the general welfare clause, then neither does Medicare. Or Medicaid. Or Social Security. Or the VA system. So if he believes that a federal government mandate to have health insurance violates the 10th amendment, then I say he needs to go big and nullify all of the above for the state of Ohio. You shouldn't pick and choose from things you like and don't like.

Look, all of the above being said, I do have a lot of respect for what Mike Wilson is doing, and I have a feeling that other than our political differences I'd like the guy. I've challenged the Tea Partiers to step up and put their money where their mouth is, so good for him. And it takes a lot to commit to running a congressional campaign, it takes a physical and mental toll on you, you have to spend pretty much every weekend meeting and greeting people, and with three kids that can't be easy. Having said all that, you need to have defensible policy positions, and I'm just not seeing that here. Maybe there's something more that will surprise me, but it just seems like a lot of republican slogans, and I think that if he gets elected to Congress, he's going to find out that governing is a lot harder than just going in and trying to cut taxes.

1 comment:

Connie said...

Ohio already has a Legislative Service Commission, which provides research, analyses, and fiscal impact statements on each bill to all members of the Ohio legislature. It is a non-partisan agency with very talented attorneys, researchers, and other professionals. Wilson's idea is not only old, but it infers that we do not have such an agency.