Ogmius, Issue 49 is Now Out

Issue #49, Spring 2018

Tax Reforms, Tuition Waivers, and the Role of Policy-Relevant Knowledge Production in a Contemporary Society by Steve Vanderheiden

In the wee hours of Saturday morning, December 2, the Senate passed its long-anticipated tax reform bill, having circumvented the filibuster-proof supermajority requirements routinely used to obstruct ordinary legislation when Democrats controlled the chamber with a 51-49 majority. In announcing the vote, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell remarked that he was “totally confident” that the bill would be at least revenue-neutral, and that he personally believed “that it’s going to be a revenue producer” (Tankersley, Kaplan and Rappeport 2017).

The basis for such a belief is unclear. The Joint Committee on Taxation, which was established in 1926 to assist legislators in “making objective and informed decisions with respect to proposed revenue legislation,” projected that the bill would add over $1 trillion to the federal deficit over a decade, after accounting for any economic stimulus effects.

Only one Senator crossed party lines, with Bob Corker (R-TN) opposing the bill on stated fears that this congressional advisory body might possibly be correct in its estimates.  According to analysts, his 51 Senate colleagues voting for the bill rejected the findings of the institution’s in-house and non-partisan experts “because they felt burned by unflattering analyses of their health care proposals issued this year by the Congressional Budget Office” (Tankersley, Kaplan and Rappeport 2017).

The message sent by McConnell and his fellow congressional Republican colleagues was clear: rather than seeking to make “objective and informed decisions” about public policy, where facts and evidence inform legislative decision-making and relevant forms of expertise are valued for their contributions to the understanding of such facts, questions such as the budget impact of tax cuts are to be settled by reference only to the personal beliefs of individual politicians. Where unbiased expertise becomes an obstacle to partisan or ideological objectives, expertise itself is to be denigrated and cast aside, to be replaced by whatever personal beliefs accommodate the interests of the nation’s donor class. Critics have lamented this “post-truth” turn in U.S. politics and public life as endemic to the Trump era (See, for example, The Economist 2016; Bomey 2018). CSTPR founding Director Roger Pielke, Jr. has actually chronicled that the politicization of science has a longer history. Read more …

Fostering Scientific Integrity in Policymaking: Opportunities at the State Level by Matthew Druckenmiller

Scientific integrity is the foundation for science and scientists to be useful to, and trusted by, those consulting science to make decisions.  The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) defines scientific integrity as “processes in which independent science fully and transparently informs policy decisions, free from inappropriate political, ideological, financial, or other undue influence”. In today’s climate of divided politics, partisan rancor, and rampant spread and availability of misinformation, efforts are underway to safeguard what UCS defines as the four principles of scientific integrity in federal policymaking: (1) independent science, (2) scientific free speech, (3) transparent decision making, and (4) statutory compliance. The first two are at the core of what it means to be a scientist. By and large, scientists commit to the deeply held belief that their work must be free from conflicts of interest that may bias their science, and that they are free to express their personal views on the science with appropriate disclaimers. The third and fourth principles, however, are perhaps more in-view for those scientists working at the interface of science and policy; those immediately concerned with bringing science in service of the public good. (While the proportion of basic research funded by taxpayer dollars is dramatically down from previous decades, federal funds remain by far the largest supporter of research.) Implementing statutory compliance to scientific integrity refers to legal frameworks that require that the best available science be brought to bear on policy decisions. Knowing where and how such frameworks apply requires experience, and is key to identifying opportunities for bringing transparent, independent science to bear on federal policy deliberations.

However, any momentum toward greater evidence-based governance in the U.S. and action on some of the most pressing issues we face requires progress at the state level as well. Policy issues debated in a federal context often mirror discussions underway across the states, whether, for example, related to health-care, education, environment, or extreme weather events. Also, in terms of opportunity, it is important to keep in mind that the vast majority of states (if not all) are not experiencing the gridlock of the U.S. Congress. (For example, in Colorado, 62% of bills introduced last year passed both chambers, and were passed onto the Governor. By comparison, the 114th U.S. Congress sent only about 3% of introduced bills to the President.) While there are some nonpartisan resources at state legislators’ disposal, most states lack adequate resources to support informed legislative policy. Yet, they are encountering issues that are increasingly technically complex without the scientific or technical expertise to address them. Read more …

On the Ground Learning Over Spring Break: Law Students Travel the Colorado Plateau by Alice Madden

None of us would have guessed that the most impactful part of an eight-day, adventure filled field-trip around the Four Corners area would be a short walk around a mesa in northeastern Arizona. But that was before we met Nicole Horseherder.

Let me backup. I have the pleasure of teaching the Advanced Natural Resources Seminar at the Law School this Spring. Initiated by Prof. Charles Wilkinson 30 years ago, this unique seminar examines issues facing a specific geographic area and culminates with a field-trip. Past seminars have studied important watersheds across the southwest, the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, and the Grand Canyon.

This year, we studied the Colorado Plateau—these canyons and high deserts are home to more national parks and monuments than any place in the world. Native American Tribes hold one-third of the land. From Durango to the shadows of Bears Ears, from Glen Canyon Dam to the south rim of the Grand Canyon, through Monument Valley and the expanses of Hopi and Navajo lands – we racked up over 1,300 miles meeting with federal land managers, Native Americans, environmental organizations, land trusts, and others who shared what they know about this unique landscape.

Throughout the semester, 12 law students learned about the area’s history, culture, and current challenges such as a raging public land debate, habitat loss, grazing, increased aridity, electricity production, drilling, and mining. But walking on Nicole’s ancestral lands with her nine year-old son and 14 year-old daughter is what put everything into perspective. Read more …

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