Living in the Land of Make Believe on the Taxpayers’ Dime

I hate to keep picking on Senator Charlie Janssen, but he keeps doing stuff that makes my head spin, kind of like that other Charlie … the Sheen guy.

Mean Charlie’s latest caper is a mathematical whiz-bang. Here’s how it goes:

$5,711.235.00 = $0.00

I know. It doesn’t add up to me either, but Mean Charlie wants to get another one of his mean-spirited unconstitutional bills passed, and he knows if there is any fiscal note (an estimation of what a bill will cost the state) attached to his bill, it won’t go anywhere because the state is broke. (Like Wisconsin. Only we balance our budget every two years and we aren’t really broke. Neither is Wisconsin.)

So, miracle of miracles, the fiscal note attached to Mean Charlie’s latest foray into Whoville is blank, even though a similar bill up for debate this year in Wisconsin has an estimated annual price tag of $2,300,000.00 – that’s 2.3 million dollars. (Did I mention Wisconsin is broke?) The state of Indiana passed a similar bill in 2007 and so far they have spent over $12,000,000.00 implementing the law. Apparently Indiana is flush with money.

Here’s the gist of the bill: Mean Charlie wants to force everybody who is eligible to vote in Nebraska to produce “government-issued photographic identification” in order to cast their ballot.

Okay, not every everybody. If you are 80 years old living in a nursing home, no. If you are 80 years old living in your own home, yes. If you vote by mail in the privacy of your marijuana-laden basement apartment, no. If you vote in person at your local polling place where everybody knows you, yes. If you vote early, no. If you vote on election day, yes. Amish? No. Lutheran? Yes.

Things don’t add up and things don’t make sense. Welcome to Charlie Janssen’s world, where silly things like math and reason don’t matter.

We can chat about the philosophy behind forcing people to produce papers in order to exercise a fundamental right all day, but let’s just cut straight to the chase and talk money.

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that requiring identification for voting can only be constitutional if such identification is issued free of charge to all voters, regardless of ability to pay. The Nebraska Constitution requires that “All elections shall be free, and there shall be no hindrance or impediment to the right of a qualified voter to exercise the elective franchise.”

If Mean Charlie’s bill is going to pass constitutional muster, every voter in Nebraska will have to receive a free-of-charge photo identification card issued by the state. So let’s do the math on this again. It’s a story problem, so follow along:

Number of registered voters in Nebraska: 1,142,247.  Cost to issue a one-year state identification card in Nebraska: $5.00.  Multiply the number of registered voters by the cost-per-card to get the total cost of issuing identification cards to every voter: 1,142,247 x $5.00 = $5,711.235.00

So if every voter demands a free “government-issued photographic identification card” in order to vote in Nebraska, as is their constitutional right, Charlie’s bill that he insists has no cost could actually end up costing the state of Nebraska (which is to say: you and me, the taxpayers) over 5 million dollars. Per year.

But Charlie insists his bill is going to cost zero dollars. Just ask him. Ask him again and again and again, like they did in the Government Committee last Thursday:

Senator Avery: “What is the cost of a photo i.d.?”

Senator Janssen: “No fiscal note. No cost.”

Senator Avery: “The state will issue a photo i.d. to people and it will cost us nothing?”

Senator Janssen: “No fee. No tax.”

Senator Avery: “You don’t think the state can make photo i.d.’s at no cost?”

Senator Janssen: (Smirking for the camera) “Zero.”

Senator Price: “Creating an i.d. will cost the state.”

Senator Janssen: “For the sixth time, no cost to the voter, no fiscal note.”

If you feel like pulling your hair out after reading that exchange, you can imagine what it is like to actually be in the Lege, attempting to debate Mean Charlie. It’s like debating a brick wall with a smiley face painted on it.

In his closing, after nobody testified in support of his bill and a whole bunch of people testified against it, Charlie proclaimed happily and loudly, “Nebraskans want this bill! Nebraskans asked for it!”

If you believe in outer space aliens, I think I have one for you.

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