Balance Sheet



? Contract Job. Last year's welfare reform lets states easily contract management of welfare programs–a $30 billion business–to nonprofits or profit-making companies. Thirty states may start contracting this year, saving taxpayers as much as 40 percent. Govs. Pete Wilson (R-Calif.) and Tommy Thompson (R-Wisc.) already let counties choose private administrators. Texas is taking bids for its entire system. Private welfare managers now include Goodwill Industries, the United Way, Lockheed Martin, and IBM.

? Growth Controls. Reversing a century-old Progressive era policy, Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt says the federal government will use "controlled" fires to help thin forests on public lands. Starting and managing fires on overgrown areas can prevent wildfires that often threaten populated areas. While greens and timber companies praise the change, foresters wonder why they must burn lumber rather than cut it.

? Fed Up. By a margin of 60 percent to 30 percent, respondents to a national Lake Research poll conducted for the Lindesmith Center say doctors should be able to prescribe marijuana for seriously ill or terminal patients. And a larger proportion (68 percent to 24 percent) believes that, in states where medicinal pot is legal, the federal government should leave doctors who prescribe it alone.

? Minor Key. The Supreme Court deals government minority set-asides another blow. By a 6-3 margin, the Court rejects a Philadelphia law guaranteeing 25 percent of its public- works spending to businesses owned by blacks or women. Writing for the majority, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor says any such set-asides are "highly suspect" and should be presumed unconstitutional.


? Tube Boobs. NBC airs Schindler's List, uncensored but with a TV-M rating, deeming it inappropriate for children younger than 17. A record audience watches. In response, Rep. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) denounces the airing, saying it "should outrage parents and decent-minded individuals everywhere" and "simply should never have been allowed on public television." He later apologizes for any Holocaust-related offense but joins Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Sen. Fritz Hollings (D-S.C.) to introduce a bill that would make the FCC establish "violence" ratings for network broadcasts and specify "safe harbor" times in which shows the networks refuse to rate must air.

? Tax Trick. Among the "deficit reduction" measures in the Clinton budget are new taxes that Congress would never approve. Case in point: The White House assumes $92 million in revenue from new "user fees" assessed on medical device and food makers by the Food and Drug Administration. The FDA claims such fees would speed approval of new products. Companies say the agency's bureaucracy, rather than a lack of money, causes bottlenecks. The Medical Device Manufacturers Association calls user fees "a tax on innovation."

? Spin City. The Wall Street Journal, the Chicago Tribune, and The Washington Times unearth Internal Revenue Service plans to aggressively audit nonprofit groups that criticize Clinton administration policies. Asked about the audits, White House spinmeister Mike McCurry snaps that he's "not aware of any credible news organization that's reported anything like that."

? Western Sting. Claiming that speed-related Interstate fatalities have doubled over the past year, Montana's governor, attorney general, and state police campaign for a daytime speed limit. In fact, notes the National Motorists Association, fatal accidents, Interstate fatalities, and total fatalities have fallen in Big Sky country since it set "reasonable and prudent" daylight speed limits two years ago.