by Mark Moore
The Legislature is supposed to be “The People’s Branch” of government. It is the one most directly accountable to the individual citizen. If an individual citizen feels they have a bad President, there is little they can do about it. It is much easier for them to have an impact on who their Congressman or state legislator is than who their President is.
As conceived by the Founders, it was to be the “first among equals” of the three branches of government. They were to make the laws, and the executive was only there to enforce such laws as they made. The judiciary was there to interpret such laws. As envisioned, the legislature was the lynchpin of the nation’s government. The other two branches existed only to work with the material given them by the legislature.
That has all changed now. The legislature is by far the weakest branch, almost irrelevant these days (to some extent by their own choice). We all know they roll over for the courts, and that’s not always a bad thing. But they are now dominated by the Executive Branch as well. The bureaucracy attached to the executive branch has almost replaced them as they pass vague laws which empower agencies that churn out “regulations” which give the law meaning. That is, this is what happens when the executive doesn’t simply make up the law themselves via expansive signing statements, or heavy-handed executive orders which either make up fiat law on the spot or announce that laws properly passed will not be enforced.
The continued disrespect that the legislature gets from the executive bureaucracy is a serious problem that has reached epidemic proportions, yet is seldom discussed. Our representatives are only as good as the information they are given. If they are kept in the dark, or even lied to, then they simply cannot make good decisions on our behalf no matter how capable they are as individuals.
The Arkansas Project touched on this issue recently when Rep. Joe Farrar tried to get information about the costs of the so-called “private option” from DHS spokesperson Amy Webb. She kept telling him that he would get the information to him soon. I guess she meant when he read it in the newspapers because the Demo-zette got the data he had been asking for before he got it!
She apologized for it, and Farrar accepted her apology, but I have seen situations where any “apology” would be insincere, should not be accepted, and even if it was accepted should not serve as an excuse to get out of accountability to “the People’s Branch.”
The ledge is constantly being given bad information, or kept from information, that they need to do their job. Let me tell you this story so that you will see how bad the problem is: I was part of an effort to get a bill passed which would allow parents of autistic children to direct home or other services, under and in accordance with an Individual Education Plan devised by state certified personnel, using the money we would already be spending on them in the public school classroom. It was not a voucher program, and it was not applicable to the general student population, but it was close enough to all that to scare the educrats.
What they really hated about it though, was that it gave the parents more leeway on who was to educate their child and where than parents of children with autism had ever had before. Oh, they could get tossed from the program if they were not implementing the IEP agreed to by the state personnel, but the state had to jump through hoops to toss them instead of the parents having to jump through hoops to get permission from the DOE to take each step forward.
I am here to tell you now that the bureaucracy lied repeatedly to the legislators over that piece of legislation. They told them anything they had to in order to scare them out of voting for that bill. They told them that we could lose our title X federal funding if it passed. The educrat (I would mention her name if she was still working there, but I understand she has since been canned) also filibustered. Parents who drove hours to speak got no chance to tell their side of it because this DOE person who was right next to the legislators every day of the session took up all available time.
The House Education Committee voted it down, but the sponsor called for an interim study on the question, and it passed. Usually, these studies are just a polite place to send bills to die, but we found a good lawyer (Greg Brown of Rogers) who found the applicable case law proving that courts had ruled in some cases that states had to go beyond even what we were asking for.
We has asked a devastating series of questions in our interim study, but the DOE simply did not respond. Bear in mind that when they voted for the interim study, the legislators were voting to have these questions answered. When it came time for the big meeting to discuss the findings of the study, the other side did not even show up. The joint committee on education endorsed our findings right down the line. There was no threat to the state’s federal education money poised by the bill in question, in fact the state might be more open to an expensive lawsuit by the failure to pass it.
The next session, we were back again. This time they could not claim that the bill would cost us federal education dollars, but State Budging did present a cost study where they claimed implementing the bill would cost the state $84 million.
Strangely enough, two years ago this same state agency presented a cost study which claimed that implementing the bill would cost the state zero dollars per year! And under static budgeting assumptions, that was correct. Since the bill would only use existing dollars in one pot and put those dollars in another pot, under static budgeting assumptions the obvious answer on how much the bill would cost was zero additional dollars. And static budgeting was all they ever did.
When the first barrage of mis-information (that the bill would cost us federal education dollars) was defeated they had to come up with a back-up plan. Apparently that plan was to change how they scored the bill for spending state dollars so that the same program which they said would cost zero additional dollars two years before would cost $84 million additional dollars!
How did they do that? For the first time I or the sponsor had ever seen, they switched to dynamic scoring instead of static scoring to estimate the cost of a bill. Under static scoring rules, the number of people in some state education program was a constant. They would just move from the public school classroom to this program and back again. Dynamic scoring recognized that there were children out there who were not being served in public school but who might be enticed to participate in this program. I agree that this would be the case, but the point is they only used static scoring before. They only dusted dynamic scoring off and used it in this one instance- where a really big cost number would scare off the legislature.
Their dynamic scoring assumptions were also insanely far off. For the numbers to work, Arkansas would have had to have had far more autistic school age children than the national average, none of whom were presently being served. They also double-counted the expenses for these children- they gave the local districts the money and then gave the proposed program the money too.
We called them on the numbers, and finally budget Director Weiss got involved. He told the legislators that they had revised their estimate and that the program would cost “$5 to $10 million” to implement. That was quite a discount from the $84 million they said it would cost the previous day, but he still had to use dynamic scoring assumptions to get the cost even that high. And if more children are being served by the program, if there are children out there right now not in school and not being served but get served because their parents finally feel there is a state program which can help them be appropriately educated, then why shouldn’t serving more children cost more money?
What should be done about behavior like this? Simple. Bureaucrats should lose their jobs. They are there to execute the laws the legislature passes. They are there to provide accurate information so that the legislature can make rational decisions about what the law should be. If they don’t do that, or worse if they provide mis-information, then they should be gone. Period. I think legislators should vote on who among the bureaucrats ought to be gone. If a bureaucrat named Alice Jo Webb conceals information from state legislators who have been asking for it, if she is the worst offender, then members of the ledge should ask the Governor to remover her. And if he doesn’t, then put a line in every single appropriations bill which says “no monies from this bill may be used to pay a wage, salary, or any other employee compensation to one Alice Jo Webb presently of (their address).”
If that sounds harsh, let me tell you that if we don’t the results on you and your children will be even harsher. Good legislators cannot effectively function in an environment like the one I described above. I realize that is not always the environment, but when it is, someone should go. This problem of disrespect of the legislature is serious, pervasive, and its not going away unless and until they take measures to defend their turf, which is also your turf, from executive branch assault.