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Doris writes a weekly column for LaGaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper, which has pages in English, Spanish, and Italian.  Begun in 1922 for Tampa's immigrant community, it continues to thrive more than a century later.  Her column is titled "In Context," as it aims to put contemporary issues in the context of the past.

In Praise of….Jersey?!

I like to see Republicans dispute each other, especially when one of them is a know-nothing, no-to-everything guy and the other is the endangered species, a moderate Republican. That happened last week, with Kentucky’s Rand Paul and New Jersey’s Chris Christie. It’s also nice when one of them – Governor Christie -- actually has to govern, while the other, US Senator Paul, is an ideologist who doesn’t have to run anything except fundraising.

Anyway, they got into a contretemps about which states are takers and which are donors. With the simplistic, fact-free approach that Rand Paul kind of people use, he assumed that Kentucky subsidized New Jersey – which not only is egregiously wrong now, but never has been true at any point in the nation’s history.

The Tampa Bay Times’ PolitiFact – a local feature that is gaining a national reputation for objectivity -- checked it out. They found that New Jersey residents received 61 cents back for every dollar they pay in to the federal government, while Kentuckians get back $1.51 for the dollar they put into the pool.

Informed of his factual error, Paul – the son of Texas tea partier Ron Paul, who also draws a regular paycheck from the government they love to hate – again displayed his ignorance. He argued that federal spending in Kentucky was high because it has two major military bases. Christie shot back that New Jersey has five.

I suspect that Parochial Paul never has seen anything of New Jersey beyond the Newark airport (which needs money, btw). I’m almost positive he’s never read enough history to know how vital those Jersey military installations were in World War II, and how much we depend on its shipyards even now. To say nothing of the reasonableness of it being a terrorist target, compared with Kentucky.

Indeed, in any reasonable spending budget, Jersey should get back more because it contributes much more in actual industrial goods, as well as innovations by such companies as Bell Labs and Johnson & Johnson, the health research folks. Kentucky has nothing in comparison. So what’s the reason why Kentucky gets so much back? Subsidies for two lung-killers: tobacco and coal. And of course, ultimately because of the PACs that elect Rand Paul and his Senate colleague, Mitch McConnell.

Yes, that would be the McConnell who has misused his Senate leadership position to repeatedly filibuster anything that might be a success for our twice-elected president – even though the Constitution does not authorize filibusters. He’s especially opposed to health care, particularly a sensible system of preventive care. Presumably he would prefer to see his fellow Kentuckians die of black lung disease and heart attacks caused by cigarettes.

McConnell is up for reelection this year -- and yes, because he so negatively influences the lives of people outside of Kentucky, we have a right to get involved. Send money to whoever is on the other side, OK? But back to taxes: besides its subsidies, the other reason why Kentucky gets back 50% more than it pays in is because their contribution is so small. Most Kentuckians are poor, and thanks to Democrats, we still have a graduated income tax that is (or should be) based on ability to pay. The main reason, however, that incomes are low compared with New Jersey is that Kentucky does not invest in its people.

New Jersey has Princeton and Rutgers, schools that have produced the scientists, mathematicians, and yes, even politicians who have lifted America to global leadership. President Woodrow Wilson, the first true internationalist, first was president of Princeton. Thomas Edison set up his first labs in New Jersey, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton led the worldwide women’s movement from there. Albert Einstein founded his inestimably important think tank there. The University of Kentucky? Basketball, I guess.

* * *

Yet I can’t believe that I’m praising Jersey. When we were young and often traveled to New England, hubby and I took longer routes to avoid going through that state, sometimes called the “armpit of America.” The air pollution along I-95 was daunting, and because he had just been released from hospitalization for tuberculosis, we went west before swinging back east. But that was the late sixties, and environmentalists – acting largely through our federal government – improved the situation so that we no longer avoid the state.

Indeed we spent one summer at Princeton, a lovely if too-expensive town. We took busmen holidays to Trenton, the capital, where the legislature meets year-round. Yes, Jersey is so geographically small that legislators maintain only a district office, and they come to the capitol once a week. We thought this a terrific idea: it prevents the last minute, end-of-the-session rush that gives us so many bad bills in Florida. It allows representatives to be much more representative, as they can respond to current events when they are current.

We don’t spend enough time thinking about how other governmental systems are organized, and it’s rare to see a state adopt an innovation that another state has found works for them. New Hampshire, for example, has a huge legislature – some 400 people – but they are essentially volunteers who meet annually for what is, in effect, a statewide town meeting. Nebraska went to a unicameral – one chamber – legislature as a money-saving measure back in the Great Depression, but even states with smaller populations have not emulated that. Or thought about it.

The fault lies in the field of political science, where most academicians seem to prefer being academic, as in irrelevant. Few get out of their classrooms to lead any sort of advocacy for improved systems. Its an amazing contrast to colleges of business, where almost all professors also are management consultants, serve on corporate boards, and otherwise are active in the business they teach. In political science departments, however, such activity is seen as “too political.” Everything is political, though, and we should acknowledge that.

* * *

Finally, PoliticFact used 2005 stats for its analysis, so I guess I can do the same. The below is something I wrote back then, just after Democrat John Kerry lost to Republican George “Dubya” Bush. I said:

You’re familiar with the blue states that voted for Kerry and the nearly sea-to-shining-sea spread of red representing Bush. Blues are packed into the Northeast and Upper Midwest, where (they say) the tax-and-spend liberals live. Republican red covers the South, Lower Midwest, and Rocky Mountains -- the presumed home of fiscal conservatives who pulled themselves up by their own bootstraps and expect others to do the same.

But let’s look at the facts.

Red states, truth be told, bleed red ink. Far from the strong, silent, taken-advantage-of image that they cherish, they actually crowd the receiving end of the public trough and gobble up much more than their fair share of the national pie.

Want to wager on which state gets the most federal revenue per tax dollar paid?

It’s North Dakota. Those fiercely independent farmers and ranchers get back $2.03 for every $1 they pay to the national treasury.

Second is New Mexico, with a ratio of $1.89 received for every $1 paid. New Mexico voted for Bush in 2000 and switched to Kerry this year. That was exceptional, though, as it was the only top dollar-receiving state to vote Democratic.

Other states that consider it more blessed to receive than to give?

Mississippi. The conservatives there make a profit of $1.84 per $1 from the rest of us.

Alaska. So much for their rugged wilderness go-it-alone image! Despite revenues from oil so huge that Alaskans have no state taxes and instead get an annual check gratis their state government, these tough-guy pioneers nonetheless have their hands out for $1.82 in federal monies, compared with the average $1.

West Virginia. I’d be happier about the $1.74 they get if (a) the money truly helped Loretta Lynn’s coal miners, and (b) if they would stop bad mouthing the source of their checks.

Montana is next at $1.64. See West Virginia.

Alabama follows at $1.61. See Mississippi.

Then comes South Dakota. It’s tempting to say see North Dakota but there’s more to this story.

South Dakotans sent Democrat Stephanie Herseth to Congress in a special election earlier this year, and in doing so, belatedly replaced Republican Bill Janklow. Forced to resign because he was on his way to prison, he was convicted of manslaughter while driving drunk and had a decades-long record of dangerous driving, as well as rape accusations.

Still, Herseth did not prove a harbinger. In November, South Dakotans not only went red on the presidential map, they also kicked out Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, a sterling-reputation guy who helped ensure their $1.59 edge.

By now, you probably are wondering how we Floridians do on this dollar deal. Amazingly enough, we had an exact match: we got back exactly $1 for every $1 we paid. After this year’s hurricanes, though, we doubtless will move over to the receiving line.

So who IS supporting the nation?

Turns out to be people in those much-maligned blue states who write the checks that benefit the red ones.

New Jersey tops the 2004 list, getting just 62 cents back on every dollar invested in America. Connecticut is second, with 64 cents. Both usually vote Democratic, but sometimes take a flyer on a Republican.

New Jersey’s Christine Todd Whitman is a good example of such a Republican, and we didn’t hear a lot from her this election, did we? She made the mistake of actually doing her job as EPA head, a silly notion that ended badly.

Connecticut’s Nancy Johnson could have told Whitman. Back when Johnson took a hard look at Newt Gingrich and other fellow Republicans, she lost her House Ethics Committee chairmanship.

Donor states # 3 and 4 are New Hampshire (68 cents) and Nevada (73 cents). New Hampshire switched from Bush in 2000 to Kerry this year, while Nevada maintained its Republican record. Yes, Nevada, where prostitution is legal and most residents make their living from gambling, is part of the 2004 values voting victory.

Illinois and Minnesota, both with a healthy mix of urban and rural economies, lean Democratic and have the same ratio of 77 cents per dollar. At 79 cents per dollar, we have the seemingly mismatched states of Massachusetts (reliably blue) and Colorado (reliably red).

Colorado joins Nevada as the only red states among the top ten donors. The last in the donor-state list are the two states that receivers most love to hate California and New York, at 81 cents per dollar.

Despite the fact that those two absorb most poor immigrants; despite ethnic mixes that right-wingers assume are draining the country’s coffers with welfare payments; despite genuine risk factors that invite terrorism, New York and California still give more than they get.

And meanwhile, the angry red states keep biting the hands that feed them. So I’m asking Congress to give them what they say they want - a smaller federal government from which they get less money. That way, everybody should be happy.

Doris Weatherford writes a weekly column for La Gaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper. With pages in Spanish, Italian, and English, it has been published in Tampa since 1922.
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