A new article from the Guardian reveals that the State Policy Network (SPN) is planning a significant assault on the rights of working families in 2014 state legislative sessions. Through the Searle Freedom Trust, a foundation it created in 2011, SPN plans to offer sizable grants to supposedly independent, non-partisan think tanks in the states. SPN collected 40 grant proposalsfrom these think tanks and will grant funding through Searle to 20 of them. The proposals are for numerous extreme right-wing policy options, very similar to those proposed by groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council, and the think tanks already receive funding from the typical extremist anti-working family funders like the Koch brothers.
While SPN claims tax-exempt status that limits their lobbying efforts and the group says that it and the groups it funds don’t engage in lobbying, those claims don’t quite pass a commonsense examination. As the Guardian notes:
Most of the “think tanks” involved in the proposals gathered by the State Policy Network are constituted as 501(c)(3) charities that are exempt from tax by the Internal Revenue Service. Though the groups are not involved in election campaigns, they are subject to strict restrictions on the amount of lobbying they are allowed to perform. Several of the grant bids contained in the Guardian documents propose the launch of “media campaigns” aimed at changing state laws and policies, or refer to “advancing model legislation” and “candidate briefings,” in ways that arguably cross the line into lobbying.
Depending on which 20 proposals it chooses to fund, here are 12 ways that SPN could assault the rights of working families in 2014:
1. Alabama Policy Institute: Requested $25,725 to fund the “spark plug” for eliminating the state income tax. Such a plan would lead to the cutting of services for working families. (Also requested for tax cuts or elimination: Advance Arkansas Institute, $35,000; Georgia Public Policy Foundation, $40,000; Nebraska’s Platte Institute for Economic Research, $25,000; New Mexico’s Rio Grande Foundation, $30,000; Ohio’s Buckeye Institute for Public Policy Solutions, $40,000; and Opportunity Ohio, $35,000).
2. Delaware’s Caesar Rodney Institute: Requested $36,000 to fund strategies to repeal the state’s prevailing wage law, which would lower wages for working families.
3. Florida’s James Madison Institute: Requested $40,000 to fund efforts to promote vouchers (which they call Education Savings Accounts), which would reduce funding for public schools. Lower public education funding would lead to worsening student performance and teacher layoffs. (Also requested on this topic: Oregon’s Cascade Policy Institute, $40,000.)
4. Georgia Center for Opportunity: Requested $65,000 to fund opposition to Medicaid expansion, which would mean fewer residents have health care. (Also requested on this same topic: North Carolina’s J.W. Pope Civitas Institute, $46,500; Texas Public Policy Foundation, $40,000; Utah’s Sutherland Institute, $50,000.)
5. Illinois Policy Institute: Requested $40,000 to fight to change Chicago’s public employee pension system to a defined-contribution plan, which would mean less retirement security for working families. (Also requested on cutting public employee pensions: Arizona’s Goldwater Institute for Public Policy, $40,000; Minnesota’s Center of the American Experiment, $40,000; Missouri’s Show-Me Institute, $25,000; Pennsylvania’s Commonwealth Foundation, $35,500.)
6. Maryland Public Policy Institute: Requested $40,000 to push for cuts in corporate tax rates, which would lead to the cutting of services for working families.
7. Maine Heritage Policy Center: Requested $35,000 to fund a campaign to eliminate state and local income taxes and institute “right to work” for less in one county as a model for future endeavors. If the campaign succeeds, working families will face service cuts and lower wages.
8. Mississippi Center for Public Policy: Requested $30,000 to oppose gas tax increases and privatize the state Department of Transportation, which would lead to weakened services for state residents and lower accountability on transportation issues. (Also requested on privatization: Massachusetts’ Pioneer Institute, $40,000).
9. Common Sense Institute of New Jersey: Requested $50,000 for a campaign to eliminate the compensation of public employees for unused sick leave, which would lower the overall compensation package for employees and encourage public employee absenteeism.
10. Nevada Policy Research Institute: Requested $35,000 to fund a campaign to get union members to leave their unions, which would weaken the collective bargaining rights of working families.
11. Empire Center for New York State Policy: Requested $36,500 to fund efforts to eliminate the estate tax, which would lead to service cuts for working families and shift the tax burden in the state from the wealthy toward working families.
12. Washington Policy Center: Requested $35,000 to launch a campaign to require local governments to have a super-majority to raise taxes, which would cripple local governments and lead to cuts in services for working families.