No Panaceas

Thursday, May 22, 2003
GTT: Maybe I'll find those missing DPS documents. Back Tuesday.

The byzantine world of taxation: From yesterday's Post:

But the Senate [version of the tax] bill -- thanks to an apparent oversight -- would allow companies to shell out a windfall dividend on all profits dating as far back as 1913, when the income tax was created. Companies controlled by a few wealthy shareholders could unload all their cash holdings on those owners as tax-free dividends.

Such a maneuver could be worth tens of billions of dollars, said Max Baucus (Mont.), ranking Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee.

Chances are this was just an honest mistake, but it helps illustrate the absurd circus that is tax legislation. The tax code is a hugely complicated labyrinth of interrelated provisions that gets "reformed" in a time pressured, high conflict, low information environment. It's the perfect place for mistakes and exploitation.

Monday, May 19, 2003
Predictable tit-for-tat: From "Redistricting: Revenge Next?" in the May 15 Roll Call,

Emboldened by the hardball tactics of their Republican counterparts in Texas and Colorado, Democratic legislative leaders in New Mexico and Oklahoma told Roll Call on Wednesday that they too may revisit the issue of Congressional redistricting in the months ahead.

Both Democratic-controlled legislatures had the chance to draw new Congressional maps during their regular legislative sessions this year but held back - in part because they feared GOP retaliation in other states.

Now that Republicans are attempting to draw new boundaries in Texas and Colorado anyway, Democrats say they may follow suit during special legislative sessions.

Whether these are mere fighting words or actual Democratic strategy remains to be seen, however. The Democratic National Committee has quietly urged Democratic-controlled legislatures not to engage in any sort of "tit for tat" on redistricting, party leaders said, despite what is transpiring in Colorado and Texas.

"It allows us to remain on the high road," said one key House Democratic strategist.

All of this is terrible news for state governance. Redistricting battles are always incredibly difficult, which is why the courts so often get involved. But at least in the past it was a battle that had to be fought just once every ten years (with exceptions that were court driven by 'one person-one vote' and voting rights). Now the decennial norm is collapsing. Where does it stop? Will we now have redistricting battles every time party control changes in a legislature?

From a philosophical perspective I'd like to see gerrymandering -- of all stripes -- cease by changing the electoral system. There's nothing sacred about the way we elect members to the House. However, from a practical perspective reform will be difficult and, depending on what is chosen, will almost certainly have some negative effects (some foreseen, some unforeseen.) For example, shifting to a classic at-large system will end gerrymandering but dramatically and unfairly punish minority groups (be they partisan or racial minorities). Besides an at-large system faces a high legal hurdle (Branch v. Smith).