Taxing Matters

We think the authors of "The Great Tax Revolt of 1994" (October) misattributed credit for New Jersey's tax revolt to Gov. Christine Whitman. Whitman, an obscure Rockefeller-style Republican, found her usual politics insufficient when running against Gov. Jim Florio in 1994. Trailing heavily in summer polls against the hated incumbent, she desperately moved late to embrace the anti-tax attitude of businessman Jim Wallwork, whom she'd beaten in the Republican primary. The voters responded with a November turnaround. But will Whitman's marriage of convenience with the tax-cut agenda last?

Robert Goodman
Kathy Greene
Morristown, NJ

I was greatly disappointed by the opening paragraphs of Mr. Moore and Mr. Stansel's article in the October issue. For the sake of a dramatic beginning, they demonstrated that they have little grasp of the facts in Colorado.

Mr. Bruce's "Taxpayer Bill of Rights" has had practically no effect, except to increase the cost of government. Voters have overwhelmingly voted to accept their elected representatives' judgment and to support their decisions. The tourism tax and a sales tax increase in Paonia (population 1,485), and perhaps a few others, are the only casualties of Mr. Bruce's attack on representative government. He has given employment to attorneys by filing multiple court challenges, which have almost universally been struck down.

Amendment 1 is only the first volley in an attempt to do away with the republican form of government. While the people of this state are not buying into direct democracy, Mr. Bruce quixotically now proposes an amendment to interfere with the right of contract and property rights.

His latest venture would have every decision of a local board subject to a direct vote on petition of a minimal number of electors within 90 days of a board decision. For example, an award of a paving contract or an annexation decision could not be implemented within 90 days to see if anyone took out a petition. If a vote were forced, a contract could be delayed for two years waiting for an election.

Stanley M. Morris
Cortez, CO

In "The Great Tax Revolt of 1994," our governor, Fife Symington, is lauded for pledging to abolish the state income tax. At the same time that Symington told us voters we had an $85-million surplus, he was not telling us about our $143 million in unpaid debt. He did some creative accounting to disguise the problem by sequestering millions of dollars already allocated to the county hospital and borrowing another $50 million from next year's budget. Not until a Libertarian filed suit in the Arizona Supreme Court did he pay off the debt with the "surplus" and other tax money.

After that, some Republicans down at the statehouse began calling themselves Republican/Libertarians. Afraid that his supporters would decamp to the side of John Buttrick, the Libertarian candidate for governor, who was calling for an end to the state tax, Symington announced that if re-elected, he would abolish the state tax.

Frances Arnesen
Phoenix, AZ

Messrs. Moore and Stansel reply: Unlike Robert Goodman and Kathy Greene, we are less concerned about Christine Whitman's original motivation for pledging to cut taxes than whether she's actually doing it. Whether Whitman is a political opportunist or a genuine supply-side convert is an open question, but there's no denying that her 15-percent rate cut last year was an admirable achievement regardless. We do share Mr. Goodman and Ms. Greene's suspicion that Whitman's tax-cut agenda may not last, though. She has shown scant interest in hacking away at the bloated New Jersey state budget to make room for more tax cut and has announced a postponement of the final phase of the promised 30-percent reduction.

We disagree with Stanley Morris's statement that the voter-approval requirement for new taxes in Colorado has "had practically no effect." Mr. Morris himself concedes that in just its first 18 months it already has led to the repeal of taxes that would have otherwise passed. We think the ultimate impact of Amendment 1 will be to discourage politicians from even proposing new taxes. Perhaps we didn't state one point forcefully enough in our article: We support voter-approval requirements precisely because they do remove unilateral taxing authority from elected representatives and give taxpayers a veto power over any new levies. Why shouldn't Colorado citizens have this veto authority? After all, it is their money. If this is what Mr. Morris refers to as "undermining representative government," then we're all for it.

Frances Arnesen is correct that the Libertarians were the original proponents of ending the Arizona income tax. The fact that Gov. Fife Symington has expropriated that idea and that many in the Arizona GOP feel that it is politically advantageous to call themselves "Republican/Libertarians" should not be cause for lamenting. It's an indication of the healthy impact the Libertarian Party is having on the policy process in Arizona.

Comparable Hurt

Kudos to Robert Higgs for exposing the fallacies in Herbert Burkholz's The FDA Follies ("An FDA Fable," October). Burkholz is blind to the possibility that the FDA may be protecting us to death.

Unfortunately, Mr. Higgs commits a few fallacies of his own. He faults Burkholz for treating the Dalkon Shield IUD and the Bjork-Shiley heart valve as unmitigated disasters. Trouble is, they were.

Mr. Higgs says that the risk of the Dalkon Shield is small compared to the risk of pregnancy. But he ought to compare this risk with the risk of other IUDs. Had he done so, he would have found that the Dalkon Shield, which caused 260 septic abortions, 15 of them fatal, was indeed a disaster.

Similarly, Mr. Higgs considers the Bjork-Shiley heart valve an even greater lifesaver, and quotes the manufacturer's statement that the people bringing lawsuits "were going to die anyway, and they are alive today because of the valve." There were good heart valves, though, on the market, and Mr. Higgs should have compared the risk of the valve against them.

There are good arguments against the FDA. Defending indefensible products as lifesavers, however, is not one of them, and may give the anti-FDA cause a bad name.

Alexander Volokh
Los Angeles, CA

Mr. Higgs replies: Alexander Volokh's comments are well taken. A product whose use is better than nothing may still be worse than an alternative product.

In retrospect, relative product performances for a population can be determined. Apart from the individual differences that reduce the usefulness of aggregative findings, the question remains: Who is best situated to make anticipatory judgments about relative performance?

Remember that when the Dalkon Shield IUD and the Bjork-Shiley heart valve were being implanted, they were FDA-approved and physicians were selecting them in the belief that, all things considered, they would serve certain patients better than existing alternatives. With benefit of hindsight, we may fault the doctors as well as the FDA for giving bad advice. No system can banish all risks, but the FDA's approvals give consumers a false sense of security that blunts their incentive to acquire information.

Preservation Reservations

Rick Henderson's otherwise excellent article on the property-rights movement ("Preservation Acts," October) unfortunately somewhat overstates the scope of the Supreme Court's decision in the Dolan case. Although Mr. Henderson accurately describes the new test of "proportionality" set down by the Supremes, he leaves out the reason why the court found the city of Tigard's requirement that A-Boy Plumbing (a local hardware chain) build a bike path adjacent to an undeveloped flood plain to be a taking: The city demanded title to the flood plain area for a greenway.

The court said there was a legitimate relationship between the bike path requirement and Tigard's local traffic plans. In short, had Tigard not gotten greedy by demanding title to the flood plain, Florence Dolan's A-Boy Plumbing (a local hardware chain) would not have had much of a case.

While, like other property rights advocates, I am delighted by the end result of the Dolan case, there may well be as much cause for worry as for celebration. If the court considers such exotica as greenways and bike paths to be essential public purposes in terms of land-use regulation, what isn't? Until the courts–or state legislatures and Congress–clearly tell the nation's central land planners that they cannot pass unfunded mandates on to property owners, no one's private property is safe.

Tom Holt
Visiting Fellow
Capital Research Center
Beaverton, OR

Rick Henderson's outstanding article led off with the remarkable tale of Brandt Child, whose plans for his property were ruined by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's demand that his land serve as the habitat for the "endangered" Kanab Ambersnail.

Mr. Henderson incorrectly placed Mr. Child's land "outside Moab, Utah," instead of outside Kanab, Utah, nearly 200 miles to the southwest. The western expression, "You can't get there from here," applies to the drive from Moab to Kanab. It's more than 300 miles, equal to the trip from Philadelphia to Boston.

Another aspect of "getting there from here" is the ability of Mr. Child to challenge the claim of covetous bureaucrats to his land in federal court. Mr. Child is "there" today only because Mountain States Legal Foundation (MSLF) represents him for free. Since MSLF–like other conservative, nonprofit, public-interest law firms–depends on public support to assist people like Brandt Child, it would be helpful for REASON to mention that fact.

William Perry Pendley
President and Chief Legal Officer
Mountain States Legal Foundation
Denver, CO

Mr. Henderson replies: I thank Tom Holt for clarifying the Dolan decision. And I appreciate Perry Pendley's pointing out the important role of Mountain States Legal Foundation in the Child case. Public-interest law firms like Mountain States, and the others I mentioned in the story, can help level the playing field for property owners facing regulators with coercive powers and seemingly unlimited resources.

Stamping Grounds

I read, with great interest, Brian Doherty's "Affirmative Reaction" editorial (October). As a postal worker, I could only laugh at an assertion made by Charly Amos, the Postal Service's manager of affirmative action.

Amos "points out that applicants for postal jobs go through objective written examinations. Except for military veterans, who get a slight boost, all comers are treated equally in the test grading." Either Amos is deliberately spreading misinformation, or he is just part of the long line of incompetents who permeate the Postal Service.

In May 1984, I took the clerk/carrier exam. That was objective, in the sense that it involved a rote memory of names and addresses. I scored a 95.8 on the test. But I am a white male of 100 percent German ancestry.

After nearly a year and a half, I was finally offered a $5.00-an-hour casual employee position at Milwaukee's main downtown post office. I was a casual for six months, when my name finally came up for a "part-time flexible" (PTF) letter-carrier position. From our casual group of about eight people, one woman, who was also black, and had a disability from her military service, used affirmative action points from all four criteria to catapult over the rest of us and into a regular machine-operator position.

That's only one example. After being a PTF carrier for 10 months, I transferred back to the downtown facility as a PTF distribution clerk, i.e., someone who sorts mail by hand. Remember my test score, because by the time I made "regular" (full-time permanent position) in a city secondary zone, one black woman was already there. She tested during the same time frame as I had, but had scored an 84.

While the gist of Mr. Doherty's piece was sound, it never ceases to amaze me how much misinformation surfaces when any part of the media tries to grapple with the United States Postal Service.

Brian A. Podoll
West Bend, WI