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Hear the Echoes #24 - Friday, August 5, 2011

Hear the Echoes No. 24 ALEC Unveiled

 

Whose Voice is Being Heard?

 

 

A group of executives who represent around 300 of America’s largest corporations has labored in the shadows since the early 1970s to promote free market policies to state legislators.

 

The cabal met this week in New Orleans’ Mariott hotel and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal was the luncheon speaker at the mid-week gathering.

 

The influence which the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has demonstrated includes virtual destruction of public employee collective bargaining rights, voter identification requirements that appear to be aimed at restrictive voting, and most importantly a frontal attack on public education.

 

The legislation that created the New Orleans scholarship (voucher) pilot program, the tax credit given to parents paying tuition for private education, the new letter grade accountability system, the common core standards adoption, the uncapping of the limit on charter schools, and the sell-out of certain charter schools to any business that substantially underwrites their creation are tangible successes for ALEC in Louisiana.

Despite the intimate involvement of lobbyists, ALEC officials insist the organization is not a lobbying group, since it doesn't follow lawmakers to try to advance their bills.  Instead, ALEC is a charity, a status it justifies because of its educational mission. This designation allows the group to collect tax-deductible contributions and it eases lawmakers’ travel restrictions to ALEC events. Says Edwin Bender of the National Institute on Money in State Politics: "Corporations can implement their agendas very effectively using ALEC."

In the 2009 legislative session, by ALEC's reckoning, state lawmakers introduced 826 bills which the group conceived -- 115 of which made it into law. That's quite a record and it's going to get stronger. One overlooked aspect of the Republican resurgence has been its revolution at the state level. The GOP picked up more than 700 seats in state legislatures and now controls 25 of those bodies outright, up from 14 before November.

To those following education legislation very closely there was an inescapable conclusion to be drawn:  Many legislators were hardly attentive to hearing from education stakeholders.  They came to the legislative hearings following the cook-book prepared by ALEC and stewed by Gov. Jindal and his key political arm-twisters.

 

That this influential group should gather in New Orleans and escape coverage in the mass media of the state is testimony to the secrecy that ALEC maintains over its operations and agenda.  For 40 years, ALEC has done its work of organizing, training, funding, and honing the performance of an important political movement in America.  It has succeeded in doing this most influential work with remarkably little journalistic scrutiny even in such high profile cases as that of Gov. Scott Walker in the Wisconsin teachers union face off.

 

Louisiana may well be the center of the political storm during the coming 12 months---a state- wide election in which the Governor, Lt. Governor, the legislature, and the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education will face reelection.  Then a new gubernatorial mandate will enable redirection of state education policy.  With little doubt Gov. Jindal has signified that his intent is to foster the ALEC agenda for education.  This ALEC agenda is key to disenfranchising voters from their historic grass roots connection to neighborhood school policy.

 

With more than 1,000 model legislative acts and resolutions in the ALEC arsenal, it is clear that the average American’s interest is not present. 

 

While ALEC hides behind its 501(c)3 Non-profit status that prevents lobby and other political acts, the work they do to facilitate member legislator’s preparation for legislative action programs is very clear.

ALEC claims that "Legislators also contribute to advancing the ALEC agenda by serving on ALEC’s Board of Directors, or as State or Task Force Chairs. Among the leadership of America’s state legislatures, ALEC members hold an impressive presence: 38 speakers and speakers pro tempore; 25 senate presidents and senate presidents pro tempore; 31 senate majority and minority leaders; 33 house majority and minority leaders. ALEC alumni include six sitting governors, four lieutenant governors, two senior cabinet-level positions, and 96 members of Congress.”  The national president of ALEC this year is Rep. Noble Ellington, a rural north Louisiana legislator.

Representatives Kirk Talbot, Tony Ligi, and Sen. John Alario were among the Louisiana delegation attending the ALEC meeting this week. As quoted in the Times-Picayune, Ellington rebuffed the notion that the marriage of corporate leaders and lawmakers somehow cuts the public out of the loop. "They say the people aren't at the table, " Ellington said. "Yes, they are. We are the elected representatives of the people. I am their voice at the table."

Louisiana public education stakeholders might somehow wonder how Ellington’s voice is connected to the people of Winnsboro as he voted to removes the 50% cap on tax credits to parents with children in private schools. 

The legislative fiscal note on that Act follows:  "Personal income tax returns for tax year 2009 indicated $245 million of tuition deduction was claimed. The total amount of tax reduction realized in FY10 was $9.4 million (which would primarily be from these 2009 tax year returns). That implies an effective tax rate for these particular filers of 3.8%. These returns also reflected an estimated number of dependents for which deduction was claimed of 76,900. Thus, the average amount of deduction claimed for each child is estimated at $3,186. Assuming eductions of $5,000 for each of these children would occur under this bill generates estimated additional aggregate deduction of $139.5 million ($5,000 - $3,186 deduction difference x 76,900 children). This additional aggregate deduction would be subject to a 3.8% effective tax rate, generating an additional aggregate tax liability reduction of $5.3 million.”

 

Rep. Ellington’s vote came on the heels of a budgetary shortfall in Franklin, his home parish, that had the school board seriously considering a 4-day school week. 

 

As even RSD Charter schools seek waivers from a state requirement to offer the LA4 pre-school program because of financial shortfalls, Rep. Ellington concluded that giving up $14.7 million in tax collections better represented the voice of his people than paying for an added 4,700 children to take part in the very successful LA4 program which this year is being limited to only 14,000 participants.

 

Apparently the voice of ALEC’s big business supporters was a tad louder than that of the working class folks in Franklin Parish.

 

Don Whittinghill

Consultant

8/5/2011


 

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